Five Ways to Heal Your Menstrual Cycle
by Rebecca van Horssen
Kinesiologist & Naturopath
The Psychosomatic Level –
In this article we are going to explore how the mind-body connection is an important component of the menstrual cycle, and how this understanding of your body can support healthier, happier periods. We’ll look at specific symptoms that may arise and how that could be translated for deeper meaning and understanding. But before we learn to decipher the messages within our body’s language, we need to learn how to listen to her, and how to create space and time for the sacred act of deep listening.
Choosing to listen to the language of your cycle
Listening is a skill and an art when done properly, and something that culturally speaking, we tend not to be particularly good at. Hand in hand, we have been socialised to ignore our body’s messages, as often they are counter-productive to what the mind wants, what we expect of ourselves, or what society prioritises (to ‘soldier on’, as advertising would have you believe!). Tired? Coffee time! Pain? Quiet, have a painkiller. Foggy mind? Push on through. To know what our body, mind and heart need, first we need to learn how to listen, interpret what is being said, and strip back the mufflers and buffers and walls we have set up to dilute these messages. And then we need to learn how to honour those messages. The body can speak in many different languages – from pain, to cravings, to gut feelings, to what you see or find or experience in meditative states – and I am going to set you on the path of learning how to hear them, and then how to respond.
But what good is sitting through pain if we don’t have to? Why be tired and miserable if there is a quick-fix or substance that will help us get through it? Because symptoms are your body’s language, and they are trying to tell you something. And the more we repress her and stifle her voice, the more she will have to kick and scream and wave frantically to get your attention, until you finally decide to sit, crossed legged in front of her, look her in the eyes, and say the magic words she’s been waiting for – “I’m here. What do you need?”. And by listening when she first speaks, we have a better chance at addressing the root cause of the disharmony, rather than having it escalate over time into something more difficult to live with and heal.
Menstruation, both for men and women, is most often treated as a seen, hopefully-not-heard-about kind of deal, and that needs to change if we want to be able to more fully embrace ourselves, and the wild magic within that comes from an open channel with our body. This natural cycle has the potential to be so much more than a nuisance. And although stripping back the layers and years of ignoring and covering up can be challenging, painful or confronting (or not!), it is a journey worth taking if you would like to get acquainted with an essential and magical part of yourself. So often the answers we seek outside of ourselves are actually waiting within, and your menstrual cycle can act as a roadmap to finding them.
Making space for what you might hear, and Self-Responsibility
To listen, first we need to allow our body’s voice to come through. This means no more ignoring, no dampening down, and no avoiding if we can. This is no small thing, and takes courage, strength, planning, and good discernment of appropriate place and time. A crazy busy day at work is not the ideal time to decide to throw painkillers to the wind on the hardest day of your cycle!
It also requires brutally honest self-responsibility, as sometimes our body’s voice is too loud without added assistance and support, and going slowly and gently with your tender body and heart is both an essential gift to yourself, and preventing possible further harm. Deciding to go it alone if your menstrual experience involves more severe pain such as with Endometriosis or PMDD may not be the best first step. Thankfully there is extra support available in the form of Naturopaths, Chinese Medicine Practitioner’s and other Complementary Medicines!
Pick your time and space well, for it will make all the difference on how deeply you are able to hear yourself. And the great news is, that just by offering yourself the appropriate time and space for your body’s unique needs, you are already listening to your body, and she will thank you for it. A really common block at this point is the “I don’t have the time’ argument, and often this is a very real obstacle. However. Taking some time (minutes, hours, days, whatever you can spare!) for this introspection has the capacity to improve so much, and not just for the short term. Being more in tune means better negotiation of our natural rhythms that can lead to increased energy and creativity, reduced stress and anxiety, more embodied sensuality, and easier connectivity with our intuition and innate clairvoyance. Just for a start!
Preparing your Space, or ‘Casting Your Circle’
Prepare for your self-care so it can flow as gently and easily as possible. Find your wheat bag/hot water bottle, stock up on cacao or tea and your favourite
milk/mylk, have your journal or some blank paper and a pen for writing or drawing how you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing, put a good book on standby, throw the phone on silent and settle in for the day. You may like to write down a few affirmations or lines about what you hope for, how you imagine it would feel or look like if you were more aligned and in tune with yourself. And as has been said to me by my teachers, open the ears of your heart first, then gently follow with your mind. You have created your space and by doing so, set the tone and intention for it. You have effectively cast your circle, your sacred container for deep listening and ‘being with’. You are now ready to listen.
And now that our hearts and minds are open, here’s the kicker – it’s time to trust yourself. Yikes! Yes, now that the stage is set for the voice to make herself known, the last thing left to do is trust that she is right, that she knows what she’s talking about, and that she is ever so worthy of being fully trusted, held and heard. So many of my clients come in searching for answers or clarity that has eluded them for days, months or years. And every, single time, the answers that come up in session will be confirmations, not news. Because deep down there was already a muffled little voice sticking her arm in the air saying “Me! Me! Pick ME! I know all the things!” And often we respond with quiet you, I have other shit to sort out!
Let me tell you something no money oriented uber-spiritual super-powered all-knowing guru of everything doesn’t want you to know. You already have the answers. Sometimes a healer or support of some kind is needed to help you navigate the pathways and maps to what you seek, but at it’s heart it rings true. What you need is already there. It’s just a matter of learning the tools, the language, the territory, and that is what we are here to do. And so often, the first thing you hear holds the truth you’re seeking.
This brings us to a beautiful formula – ask, trust, receive. Once your space is setup (literal space around you, headspace, emotional space etc), you can start this process. Ask the question, trust the answer, and receive its meaning. Start small and build up this trust, like a muscle, before diving into deeper or more complex issues. And remember that there is a difference between something that is uncomfortable, and something that is bad. Learning to be with discomfort is sometimes a difficult but valuable skill that will hone your deep listening skills.
A Little Important Disclaimer, AKA – “Is this the right approach for me?”
It’s important to remember that there is no such thing as a ‘one-size fits all’ – not for pantsuits, not for hats, and certainly not for periods. These explanations are generalisations, for your consideration as extra insight to the only all-knowing master of your body – you! Right down to the cells, each of us holds every moment of memory we have ever experienced, from pre-conception to the present moment. Our brain is pretty clever, and it knows that if we had to sift through the sheer enormity of every piece of sensory information we’ve gathered to get through daily life, we’d probably never make it out of bed in the morning! So our conscious mind knows how to navigate the territory of what is important now and what is not so much, and stores whatever isn’t important for now in the sub-conscious, or psyche. What this also means, is that while access may not always be great, within us is stored all the information about our own lives and experiences we’ll ever need! Combine this with intuition, the space and time you’re making, an open heart, and a little energetic and esoteric knowledge, and you’ll have all the information about yourself you’ll ever need.
One last obvious but important note – always work on yourself in consultation with your healthcare provider for abnormal or significant symptoms to rule out more serious symptoms or dysfunctions, or if you have a difficult menstrual history. While I believe there is deep healing to be done around de-pathologising our menstrual cycles and re-framing the language that makes us feel that our cycles voice is all the product of something horribly wrong, it is important to make sure there isn’t actually an underlying physical manifestation of illness occurring. For a more balanced approach to women’s health I can recommend Naturopaths, Chinese Medicine Practitioners, or Integrative GP’s, as they will have both working knowledge of the underlying physiology as well as a more holistic and balanced approach to the interventions available. These issues need to be worked on in a holistic approach – not just on the emotional level, not just the spirit. The physical is important too.
Without further ado, here are some explanations of what the voice of your cycle may be telling you.
Decoding Your Period – PERIOD PAIN
There are many potential root causes of period pain, some more serious than others, and 99% of the time it’s a combination of pathways rather than one or the other (inflammation will be at least a small part of all cycles, for instance). At it’s core though, the pain we feel is the uterine muscle beneath the uterine lining contracting and moving, in an attempt to help the uterine lining slough away. These spasms are often painful, and as you can imagine, the harder a time the body is having releasing the lining, or the thicker the lining is that needs to be shed (excess oestrogen or low progesterone can do this, for example), the more the muscles contract and spasm to shake off the tissue, and the more we writhe about in unholy agony. This is extremely common, though not entirely normal or necessary, and can relate either to fairly superficial issues, or deep-seated problems that will take some time to root out and heal.
So to make a rather sweeping generalisation, period pain is usually present when something isn’t moving well, easily, or the way it’s supposed to. What are you holding on to that needs to be released, moved, or allowed to enter the cycle of death-rebirth? Here are some examples of the way pain presents itself, and how that relates to both physiology and manifestation of the mind-body connection. Remember though, that in your space of deep listening, put your own knowing and body’s voice ahead of the suggestions I have outlined here. These are just a launching off point for deeper enquiry.
Stagnation – your pain improves when the blood really starts moving, and you may have a few days of cramping and/or spotting before your bleed really kicks off. Blood may be darker (dark red or purplish) at times, and there may be many/large clots moving.
Where is there stagnation in your life or body, and what can be done to encourage gentle movement and flow? What are you putting off that needs to be let go of, or released? What area of your life isn’t moving with ease or in right timing and rhythm? Are you putting off the ending, death or loss of something within or around you that would better serve you as fertiliser for what’s to come?
Tension – your pain improves with warmth and gentle movement or exercise, you tend to be more sensitive to cold generally or around your period, and you get muscular aches particularly of the lower back or down the legs before or during your bleed.
Are you exhibiting rigidity or a lack of flexibility? What area’s need more attention, warmth, focus or gentle movement? Is it a pattern for you to use numbness or ‘coldness’ as a way to avoid an emotional process, thought pattern or held trauma? Where could softness and gentleness promote healing, where hardness or stiffness has been creating pain and discomfort? Has there been a need for hardness in order to be resilient, and what can be done to create an environment of safety, trust and receptivity?
Inflammation & Heat – your bowel movements may vary around your period, and your pain settles with panadol or naprogesic. Tendency for hot flushes, general heat or sweats during your bleed, more sensitive to alcohol, coffee or greasy food. Irritability and emotional reactivity is higher than normal.
What is building up and waiting for an opportunity for expression and release? What is irritating you that you are less able to accept while you’re more sensitive during your bleed? Are you holding on to anger or bitterness that could be creating a toxic emotional build up? How could you better allow yourself to express yourself in alignment with your truth and self-compassion? What tools could you collect to assist with flare-ups and/or the movement of difficult emotions?
A note on Tampons and period pain – if tampons are increasing your period pain (like it does for me), this can be due to a strong need for downwards flow and movement to occur which is being literally blocked by the tampon, or due to a build up of local toxicity and inflammation. If replacing tampons (either all the time or some of the time) with a menstrual cup, period undies or reusable pads isn’t an option, grounding exercises can be helpful. Imagine the downward flow of energy you don’t need moving into the earth, and imagine roots beneath you, while bringing up the nourishing energy you need for health and healing. Qi Gong or Yoga postures that facilitate gentle downward movement may also be helpful.
Decoding Your Period – BLOOD COLOUR, FLOW & CONSISTENCY
Your blood colour, flow and consistency is an excellent barometer of your overall health, and can be a reflection of the month gone by. Getting to know these different signs can give great insight into to your physical, emotional & mental health, month by month. Most of your bleed ideally should consist of bright red blood (new/fresh blood) that moves at a relatively consistent pace, tapering in and then out again at the end of your period, which usually lasts 4-5 days. A few smallish clots here and there is normal too. An important thing to remember is that a ‘normal period’ (aside from being a total misnomer) is very much dependant on what is normal for you. For example, if you have always have a 3 day bleed, then great! That’s your normal. If you’ve always had one day that’s heavier than the rest, than that is likely your normal too. If you’ve never passed a clot before, then cool! That’s your normal!
The darker the blood, the more trouble your uterine lining is having sloughing off properly, and the more spasms that may occur in an effort to move it.
Pinkish or pale coloured blood, or light bleeding – Usually due to very light periods, or blood mixed with discharge/mucous/fluid. It can also be due to anaemia, low oestrogen, low body fat or a highly active lifestyle (such as with athletes), or reduced nutrient intake/assimilation.
Where do I need to nourish myself more deeply? Are there elements of my life I am not fully taking in, or things I need that I am struggling to acknowledge or accept? Is there something that I am finding difficult to digest that is keeping me from moving to whatever comes next? Am I fully embodying my natural strengths, talents and gifts, or shying away from them? Am I ensuring that I nourish and nurture myself at least as much as I do others?
Brown or rust coloured blood – This often happens toward the end of the bleed which is normal in small amounts, and is usually slightly dried or thinned blood. At the beginning of the cycle this can indicate that the last cycle did not fully shed/move.
What is awaiting full completion, or are you missing some parts of the completion process for something to be fully ended? What keeps repeating or carrying itself over from cycle to cycle that hasn’t yet been fully addressed? What old story, issue or pattern is showing itself for a more thorough release, or a deeper level of healing?
Dark Red, crimson, or purple blood, lots of clots/uterine tissue, or heavy bleeding – This is a sign of stagnation or tension, or both. The darkening colour of the blood is due to poorly oxygenated blood, meaning the blood is older, thickened, or moving too slowly. Heavy bleeding (a rough measure for heavy bleeding is a total blood loss volume >80-100ml) can have many potential causes but can coincide with darker coloured blood.
(See the information under the stagnation and tension headings above, as they go hand in hand with this type of bleeding.) Is there something that has been building up that needs to be broken down into small parts to be properly addressed? What is accumulating in your life that could do with some spring cleaning or re-prioritising? Do you have good energetic boundaries in place, or do you find yourself giving more than you should be or are aware of? Where in your life are you giving too much which results in you being depleted?
Blood flow that takes a while to get moving – If your bleed can’t quite get started and causes discomfort or pain, your period is telling you there’s a blockage that needs to be addressed. What isn’t moving well? What are you stuck on, or takes more energy than is needed to push through? Where do you feel you are ‘out of your flow’? Is there somewhere in your life or health that needs a more solid commitment to get started?
Decoding Your Period – PRE-BLEED SYMPTOMS & OTHER MANIFESTATIONS
Cravings – Our body craves certain things/tastes/sensations as it is looking for a quick result to address an issue. The perfect example is sugar cravings at 3pm – a sudden drop in energy can cause the body to demand a quick hit of fuel, and nothing is going to satisfy that need more quickly and efficiently than easy to access glucose as found in refined carbohydrates! What the body is REALLY saying though, is that underlying there is a need for better management of energy release in the blood overall, over the course of the day.
What area needs nurturing or more energy? Where are you ‘quick-fixing’ that might need deeper nourishment and attention? Is there a loud voice or intuition that you are ignoring, or that you are trying to keep satisfied without really delving in to the solution? Are there any addictive behaviours that need to be addressed and healed? Where in your life are you looking for something, but feeling disappointed or let down by what you are receiving or ending up with?
Fatigue – It is natural to be a little more tired than normal during your bleed, but not so much if you get significant fatigue leading up to, during or after a bleed. Fatigue is often the body’s way of forcing you to slow down, and can be actually be a potent ally.
Are you over-committed or not spending enough time deeply nurturing my self? Do you have a good routine that supports healthy sleep and dreams? Have you been taking enough time to drop into a more restful, meditative state to hear the calling of your dreams, psyche and subconscious? Are you putting more energy into a particular process or project than what is needed? What kinds of things is your body telling you when you really truly stop for a moment? Do you allow yourself and accept the value of rest, going slow and taking it easy on yourself?
Insomnia, Depression, Anxiety or Mood Swings – It has been said that when we are bleeding, we are most introspective, and that we are least able to pretend to cope or put up with things we don’t want or need. From this perspective, it could be that depression or feeling low, worries keeping you up at night, or a lesser tolerance to stress (or bullshit!) is an insight into something your body/psyche is carrying all the time though not reacting to it – we simply notice it more when our barriers between our true and projected selves are thinnest.
What difficult feelings are you avoiding that are more difficult to control this time of your cycle, and how can you address or sit with them? What unpleasant or uncomfortable emotions could you be ignoring that need a voice or an outlet? Are you putting up with things/behaviours/circumstances that don’t serve you, or keep you out of alignment with your authentic self? Is there an emotional pattern such as grief, sadness, disappointment or frustration that is needing healing? What kind of ‘last straw’ scenarios come up for you during your bleed? Do you frequently put yourself last, and find it more difficult to keep this up during your period?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and these are not the only psychosomatic manifestations that can occur – the answers are as individual and unique as each one of us! Some of these questions and prompts may resonate, while others may not at all. Which is why it’s so important to always come back to your new favourite mantra – ask, trust, receive! When in doubt, ask of yourself, trust the answer is right, and receive the information and the healing that comes with deep bodily knowing.
I hope that this has been useful, maybe a little enlightening, and inspiring for you to get to know your body a little better. If exploring this further interests you, book yourself in for an appointment and we can map out a beautiful treatment plan to get your cycles working for you, not against you. Below I have listed a few simple suggestions I recommend to help you listen to your body more deeply, and to help put this information into practice.
Cycle Tracking – tracking your cycle regularly will help you see patterns and irregularities more clearly. It is also a fabulous way to get to know where your creative and visionary strengths will lie each month! For instance I know that when my bleed is winding up, I get about a week on my way to ovulation where I’m hyper-creative and productive. Utilising that energy is extraordinarily powerful, and helps me remember a week before my next bleed that it’s ok to wind down a little as I don’t have the same amount of steam!
Tracking your cycle can be as simple as a graph in a plain notebook, there are heaps of great apps (find one that suits your taste, Natural Cycles is good), and there are lots of great pre-structured journals that are wonderful if you know that will make it easier to commit to. I am using the Thirteen Moons cycle charting handbook and journal by Jane Hardwicke Collings, but there are lots out there!
Journaling your ‘ask, trust, receive’ Journey’s – write down even the random stuff. Visions, feelings, guides or people that appear. It can be a wonderful way of seeing how the information you receive is playing out, and can be a powerful way to learn to trust your intuition. For instance, if you ask how to reduce pain in your cycle, and the answer is to change some dietary aspects, when you look back you can determine whether that helped and to what degree. This, along with cycle tracking, can start acting as your roadmap back to yourself when you feel stuck or lost.
Creating Space & Time – This is half the battle, isn’t it? But sometimes the space and time is actually all that’s needed for the shoulders to drop, the facial muscles to relax, and the nervous system to unwind. You can view it as money in the back for all the busy days you have, as allowing yourself to rejuvenate and honour your body’s rhythms makes the rest of the cycle smoother and easier to navigate. It can also be helpful to have a little space or altar that acts as an anchor that you can revisit each bleed, or when you are tuning into your body/cycle. Having these kinds of cue’s helps fire off the neural pathways so that you become able to ‘drop into space’ more quickly and easily.
Clearing your Mind for Listening – Spend time in nature, shoes off. Feel the ground, the wind, hear the rustling trees and grass, smell the rain or the dew or the flowers, watch the clouds drift by and the bees buzz about their business. The earth has cycles too, which we will talk about in a later article, and sitting with her, you can learn from the master. There is a science between grounding (ionic exchange, have a google if it interests you!), as it helps us exchange energy and become more present.
If getting outside isn’t possible, never underestimate the power of imagination and visualisation! These too act like cues, and can help you reach a place within without having to go anywhere or do anything. One of my favourite meditations is as follows, it can go for 30 seconds or several minutes:
Close your eyes, and allow yourself three long, deep breaths.
Picture yourself in a great field, with a big, beautiful tree in it’s centre.
Before walking over to it to sit beneath its strong branches, you hear a gentle wind coming. The tree moves slightly (deep breath in), and is the wind fully reaches it, it moves through the tree, and any leaves, flowers or other material that no longer serves or is ready to be let go of is gently blown away with the wind (long breath out through the mouth).
Once the wind has settled, head over to the tree and sit with your back toward his/her trunk, and spend a few minutes engaging your senses (what do you see/hear/smell/taste/feel?).
When you are ready, say goodbye (and give the tree a hug if you are so inclined), gently open your eyes.
There are a few places you can check in with yourself here for extra insight – what is the environment around the tree like? Is the grass dry and in need of water? Is the ground around the roots solid and stable or crumbly? What season is it? Is there lots of new growth coming through, or lots of leaves about to fall? Did lot’s blow off the tree, or only a little?
I use this visualisation when I’m feeling a little tired or out of sorts. The blowing away of the leaves can help make sure you are not holding others energies, and can be very clearing and grounding.
Sitting with Pain – Whenever I think of this, I always hear Bjork singing ‘what we resist, persists’ in my head, and it’s such a perfect analogy. When we are washed over by pain, we tend to clamp up, tighten our muscles, and attempt to push it away, which creates more tension and often contributes to the pain. Learn to stay soft, to surrender to it (obviously within reason and to a point), and to not push at it. Breathe through it and stay present. If it makes you need to stop and close your eyes for a moment, or lie down, or engage some other form of self-care than do that. The pain has a message for you, honour yourself by listening to it. It is also actually a pretty potent way of preparing for birth, if that is in your life path, as ‘being with what is’ is the majority of the process. And please remember, excruciating period pain is NOT normal. See a Naturopath to explore how this can be reduced and healed.
Rebecca Holly xx
Rebecca is a practising Naturopath, Kinesiologist and witch at Kundalini House, and specialises in de-pathologising and rewilding the menstrual cycle. Click here for Kinesiology and Naturopathy bookings.