This is Part One of a 2-part article.
There’s this Tampon TV commercial I saw in my teens that left a lasting impression on me. A washboard stomach super-model dressed in a white string bikini was galloping on a white horse across a white sandy beach with her long hair blowing in the wind behind her. I remember asking myself what planet did she come from and then began wondering, isn’t that risky? How many gallops would it take before total penetration and you lose the string? Eventually I questioned what was wrong with me, how come I don’t feel like mounting a horse when I bleed?
Each month the image I see in the mirror is far from the wild and free horse riding warrior goddess I am told I should be. Instead, I see an un-showered, bloated, pastier version that is more comfortable sporting baggy sweatpants and an old loose fitting shirt. How do I feel? I just want a nap. Desiring to go parading practically naked down a hot sunny beach is usually the last thing on my mind.
When, why and how did we manage to try and convince all females on this planet that at the time of bleeding, having low energy and feeling introverted are wrong, weak and should no longer be permitted?
This ‘monthly curse’ is sustaining the very existence of humanity. Shouldn’t we be respecting it and taking it more seriously?
I began to bleed fairly young at the age of 12. As my initiation into womanhood, without any prior warning, I received a very hard slap across my face by my mother. After the shock and tears subsided it was explained to me that it was a religious superstition to slap the girl in order to keep good blood circulating in her for the rest of her life. Trust me, I would have benefited much more with just a little guidance on how to respect this monthly occurrence and how to replenish my system instead. The slap didn’t work. I was depleted early on and didn’t understand what was wrong until my 30s.
In high school I can recall skipping gym class often, although that could have been at anytime as it was not my favourite subject. I would use my period as an excuse but the gym teacher finally caught on as I used the same line the week before. I just never felt like going out, being active or social when my period came, but of course, I was forced to. By the age of 17 it was seen as a curse, something to fight against and avoid as much as possible. Just get through it, work through it, exercise through it and continue as is. Don’t let your period get you down, just plug it so you can go out and be normal. Nothing needs to change.
By the time I was 24 and an aspiring vegetarian, it was common for me to have bouts of low blood pressure and dizzy spells. I learned to live with them and considered it ‘who I was’. My doctor warned me to not go off the pill and to not give up eating meat, as I was borderline anemic. But I did anyways. Four years later I was paying the price. It was always much worse around my period. No amount of iron pills and B12 supplements did it for me quite like steak or a piece of liver did. I was told by my yoga teachers, as well as an Ayurvedic physician, that I must eat meat and my body knew it.
All my yoga teachers were female and for years not one of them went into any detail about adapting the practice during our cycle other than to stay away from the inverted poses. I was still permitted entry to the classes and not given any modifications. The way I felt kept me from attending a class or two just to relax but with the help of Tampons I didn’t miss many.
It wasn’t until the age of 33 when I met my current yoga teacher that I was given permission to feel all that goes on during my period and taught how vital it was to acknowledge it. I crossed the ocean to study with this teacher and in my very first course I was not permitted to participate in the classes while bleeding for 3–4 days. I had to sit on the side and watch.
I learned so much about being a woman from this MAN !
How relieved I was not to be forced to exert myself in a time of little energy to spare. I got just as much out of watching the classes and soaking in the information while not having to physically do it. I learned from observing the others move and once I returned home I was no less informed than any other course participant. I wasn’t drained and I was able to take in more information in a state of rest rather than survival mode. I was taught not to reject my monthly cycle as a curse but to respect its signs and offer the break as a gift to mySelf. It felt very appropriate to not practice for 3 days and to adapt the routine a couple of days before and a couple of days after my flow. I naturally fell into a new rhythm of Self-care that has nourished me ever since.
Women all too often make the mistake of believing they are missing out on something, that they will not be able to ‘get it’ unless they ‘do it’. When it comes to yoga and getting it, less is more, especially while bleeding. Information comes in many forms and ways. There will be time for physically taking action and time to absorb and process. These are the cycles of expansion and contraction, inhale and exhale, the waxing and waning of the moon. To only live a life of expansion is unnatural and will eventually lead to a much greater contraction at some future breaking point. Better to care for it monthly and reduce the risk. Nature has a much greater plan than your limited schedule so best adapt to hers.
After 354 cycles of blood loss, at the age of 41 I began working for a doctor of Chinese medicine and I discovered an herbal decoction that has changed my blood levels, muscle tissue and vitality in general. I wish I had known about the formula Si Wu Tang so much earlier on in womanhood. I think it would have helped me out in life much more than a hard slap. It is so important to replenish the loss of blood and boost the system after each monthly drain. Doing so may help ease much female suffering. Even though it is a generic plant based, mostly food grade formula, it is still best to seek the advice of a qualified doctor before taking any medicine.
Women are not properly educated or guided through this unavoidable and inevitable monthly period. How she copes, cares and replenishes can truly make or break her vitality and affect a woman’s entire life, including the lives of those around her!
My husband understands and recognizes the signs of ‘starting to bleed soon’ as well as my change of mood indicators. He even shares some with me. He’ll get tired and sleep in longer than usual, or he’ll feel heavier in his legs. I tease him that he’s going into the tent with me and he grumbles but has to agree. Men also have rhythms and cycles.
We are ALL affected by the moon cycle. Trying to deny this goes against the universe’s design and is a rejection of our own nature. Unfortunately, it is now hard to connect with these lunar cycles with the introduction of artificial electrical lighting. Our view of the sky has greatly diminished among the tall concrete walls that surround us. The difference between day and night, full moon or dark moon has become less perceptible.
All I have to say is I’m going into the tent and my husband knows the drill. Preparation for the upcoming week of ‘woman’s holiday’ starts with cleaning and tidying up, groceries and provisions are bought, maybe some cooking in advance. I set up as best as I can to have nothing to do for the first three days of my flow. No practice, no chores, no going out unless I absolutely need to. A monthly urban retreat where I get to be queen.
Of course this is not always possible. Life throws at us what it wants. I’ve had emergencies, funerals, meetings, weddings, flights to board and workshops to teach, so many things over the years. We can’t control all events. But we can take the necessary precautions and choose wisely when choice presents.
So instead of putting on that bikini and jumping on a horse believing you need to rise above and fight it off, see what happens when you listen to nature’s call and go to bed instead. I trust you won’t regret it.
*This is Part One of a 2-part article. Read Part Two Here.
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Radhasri (Rhonda Fogel) has been teaching yoga in Canada since 1998 and is the founder of Hatha Yoga Shala currently based in Montreal. She is an authorized Shadow Yoga teacher since 2005.