This is Part Two of a 2-part article. Read Part One here.
The curse, on the rag, that time of the month, leak week, the flow, monthlies, got IT, girl flu, code red, her period, in the tent, bleeding, leaking, moody, hormonal, hysterical, lunatic… society has come up with many ways of making menstruating women feel like rejected outcasts.
This ‘monthly curse’ however is sustaining the very existence of humanity and is not to be taken lightly.
It wasn’t always like this. While bleeding, women were cared for by others. They used to gather into menstrual huts and moon lodges and not have to cook, clean or take care of anything. It was understood that a woman’s energy is low, her body weaker as she’s being depleted at this specific time.
Our cycle used to be a time of introspection, a time of receiving visions and insights into how to go about caring for the tribe in the upcoming month. Women were given time off of chores and responsibilities during their bleeding time in order to rest and restore for the duties that she will be called upon to carry out in the following phase of the month.
When did it change? When did we become tired of listening to our bodies, wanting to be just like men or to be other than our given nature? Our bodies are very different from men’s and require different care and treatment. This should be obvious, no? How can we deny such a female fact and what are we trying to prove?
It is not uncommon for female athletes, professional dancers and obsessive yoga practitioners alike to not have regular cycles or for some to not menstruate at all. Their bodies have shut down any dispensing of blood on account of lack of it. It has been released through sweat as an energy source and the body will not risk losing more fluids.
The Chinese text Huang Di Nei Jing (Yellow Emperor’s Classic of internal medicine) writes:
“A person who has lost large quantities of blood does not sweat anymore, and the one that has lost large quantities of sweat does not have any blood anymore.”
Women who start meditating early without proper preparation have also been known to skip or cease cycles due to the reversal of the life force going up into the mind and spirit realm as opposed to down into the physical body. This is a disturbance of Prana (life force), an incorrect direction of what’s known as Apana Vayu, the downward moving wind as well as a high level of Vata dosha, (the Ayurvedic constitution of ether and air).
Meditation is prescribed in yoga texts for the later stages of life, when the blood is thinner and we are less anchored to the physical, when our life force is naturally rising and leaving the body. We are more inclined to enter subtler realms and work with the subtler elements in the Vata stage of older age. Practiced too early without proper guidance can lead both women and men into unforeseen dangerous territory.
All animals and humans, regardless of gender, are affected by the moon cycle.
What happens to us? A full moon, bright and full of life, ovulation time, begins to wane taking our energy levels with it. As we approach the new moon we may want to sleep in, our digestion is weaker, our movements slower and more sluggish, our desire to go out may decrease.
Traditionally, the dark moon is the time for menstruation when the downward energy or yin state is in play. It is the contraction phase of the month, the restoring, hibernating, exhalation phase. Full moon energy is the opposite. When we bleed at the time of the full moon, things don’t seem quite as relaxed.
With the introduction of artificial electrical lighting darkness is rare. Our views of the sky and our connection with the lunar cycles have been obstructed. The difference between day and night, full moon or dark moon has become much less perceptible. Lighting is switched on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We have lost touch with the natural rhythms of our fluids. Hormones are affected and altered creating disturbing results for many women who now suffer each month unnecessarily of PMS. Some other women may suffer during ovulation time. Others may develop cysts, fibroids and tumours or have trouble conceiving. This hormonal imbalance is not only due to unnatural lighting but includes her diet, medications, work ethics and lifestyle habits as well.
A menstruating woman is not too difficult to spot. She’s generally the one with the blood drained from her face talking and moving in slower motion. She may seem more irritated than usual, less patient, sighing and not wanting to be touched. Women just do not have the same vigour while bleeding. This should be expected, we are being drained and depleted of life’s blood.
Agni, our digestive and transformative fire, is at a low at the time of menses. Ayurveda advises menstruating women to stay indoors, away from the public, protected from the sun, fire and any heat, to avoid cooking, using knives, cutting nails or hair, and to eliminate all physical exertion. This is not to repress us. It is a deep understanding of how the body and its elements function. The suggestions are an attempt to preserve any more loss of energy and to keep the woman healthy well through menopause and beyond.
Women today don’t have as many babies as before therefore we bleed much more often than our ancient sisters. Babies drain us in other ways but the loss of monthly blood needs to be replenished immediately after or we get weaker with age. Think about it, if we bleed for just 3 days out of every month and have been bleeding for 36 years, have never had children, that is over three and a half years worth of blood loss! As women, we are blessed to possess such a self-cleaning filtration system but let’s do our part in helping it out.
When we are young we can get away with some self-abuse as Agni is strong. However, at a certain age payback becomes due. How we have treated ourselves in youth will become more evident by the age of 40 and very clear once we hit menopause. Best to care for ourselves right from the start to ease our way into old age as gracefully as possible.
Each woman’s cycle, symptoms and flow will vary based on her unique constitution and how balanced she is. A Vata woman may tend towards irregular cycles that are farther apart and shorter or cycles that never come at all if truly imbalanced. A Pitta woman will tend towards longer cycles with abundant flows that are closer together and more frequent. A Kapha woman may tend towards being right on schedule with 28 day cycles of regularly heavy flows.
The premenstrual symptoms will vary, the intensity of pain or mild discomfort varies, the colour of the blood all differ for each constitution. There are many books and information out there that one can find through a bit of research. I recommend starting with Dr. Robert Svoboda’s book ‘Ayurveda for Women’.
Yoga starts at the blood level. What does that mean? A polluted or deficient blood stream will lead to bad breathing, painful movement and uncontrollable thinking. Therefore the state of our blood greatly affects our ability to practice yoga. We may be too acidic, leading to stiffness, overly alkaline leading to spaciness, or too lethargic, heavy and depressed. Of course diet and life choices are large components but also relevant is how we care for ourselves during menses. Over-exertion while bleeding causes overheating and an increase in Wind (movement) leading to a possible upcoming month of even greater hormonal trouble and maybe not so great yoga practice.
A woman’s yoga practice may have to be adapted for up to 9 days out of every month. This will also change due to pregnancy and menopause. There are general poses that are good for all but really each woman is unique with different skill levels and it’s best to learn closely from a qualified teacher.
Yoga practice and any physical exertion should stop during the first 3 days of heavy flow. Eat lightly and consume easy to digest foods. Rest should be taken as much as possible. Reduce socializing to a minimum and see if you can recruit some help with chores. Regard it as a monthly holiday, a time to renew. A woman’s intuition is in high gear during this time so use it wisely and open yourself up to receive spiritual guidance.
Keep a calendar so you can prepare for the upcoming ‘ladies holiday’. Get provisions and maybe do some cooking in advance. Set up as best as you can to have nothing to do for the first three days of your flow. No practice, no chores, no going out unless absolutely necessary.
Obviously this is not always possible. Life throws what it wants at us. We can’t control all events, we can only take the necessary precautions and choose wisely when we are able to. It will be these tiny preventative measures that may lead you to a much fuller and more vibrant way of living.
Young girls learn and follow from example so be sure to offer yourself your ‘red tent time’ as future generations depend on it.
Enjoy your monthly holiday ladies!
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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.