I’d like to share some thoughts on an aspect of our lives that does not get nearly the attention and respect it deserves. As women, we have a unique ability that has been so demeaned by modern culture that we have no idea how to approach it in a positive way. Our menstrual cycle is that ability, that “superpower” that we carry. Think about how powerful it is, considering that without it there would be no humans on earth! Our cycle carries a regenerative, life-giving force, and yet we have been told nothing positive about it. We’re encouraged to suppress it, medicate it, tolerate it, and ideally act as if it is not even happening, as if it were a weakness, and we would be better off without it!
What if, instead, there were a model for menstruation that was based on positive associations and images? Instead of being a joke, a burden, or an embarrassment, what if your monthly cycle could be a personal rhythm, a meaningful experience, or even a blessing?
It’s hard to imagine, given the fact that modern culture so thoroughly demeans and dismisses this aspect of our lives. Really, though, distancing ourselves from our own experience, and trying to ignore something so central to our lives, is what causes much of our distress. We are literally fighting ourselves each month! When we think about it, it’s obvious that this is not empowering, or healthy. There are a few simple ideas, shared by many cultures throughout the world, that present the menstrual cycle in a very different light, and can help you have a much easier time each month. Believe it or not, you could even begin to look forward to your period!
• You can learn to anticipate your needs and optimize your time, so that you approach different projects when you have the most energy for them.
• You can learn to take loving care of yourself, with “time out” when you need it most!
• You can also learn to interpret your menstrual challenges in a more holistic way - looking for ways to balance your energy and expectations, instead of blaming yourself for not being able to do it all, all the time!
It’s really about getting back to the basics: learning what our cycles were designed to do, and how we can support them so that we can feel our best. This is a rhythm, after all, that operates at the center of our bodies and lives for several decades. Our cycles affect everything we do, so wouldn't it be wonderful to learn how to live in harmony with them? We ourselves, and everyone around us as well, would benefit from that!
I’d like to share, today, how using the seasons or the moon as a model for our own rhythms makes it easy to visualize an entirely different way of approaching the changes that we go through from week to week. In Part 2 (to be published in June), I’ll go into further detail about the premenstrual and menstrual times of the month, which tend to pose the most difficulty for most of us.
I have found that observing the similarities between the menstrual cycle and the rhythms of nature changes everything. The moon and seasons have phases that are easy for us to visualize and relate to. Looking at the rhythm of the moon, or the seasons of the year, we can easily see how the light grows and brightens, expands into fullness, and then decreases and wanes again.
Once you begin to interpret your own experiences similarly, in terms of “seasons” or “phases” that have a natural, predictable rhythm throughout the month, your own month makes much more sense. You’ll have a reliable pattern to follow and will finally be able to work with your cycle instead of against it! You’ll begin to develop a personal practice that takes advantage of your own optimal times for different types of activities. You’ll anticipate your needs and make plans for self care. Your month will become immeasurably easier and you’ll probably end up wondering why you did not learn this long ago!
Let’s take a closer look:
This model shows the 28-day cycle of the moon’s phases, as the moonlight grows brighter until it reaches full moon, and then returns to darkness again before the new cycle begins. The wonderful thing is, you can place any other cycle onto this same model and see the same pattern of expansion and contraction. This is how everything in nature works, from the inhale and exhale of a single breath, to the circling of the largest galaxies. Everything has a pulse or a rhythm of movement.
When we place the four seasons of the year onto this model, we easily see that summer is similar to full moon, while winter, at the opposite end of the cycle, resembles the dark of the moon. Springtime is similar to the growing light after new moon, and Autumn corresponds with the waning light that occurs after full moon, as the light descends toward darkness and the completion of the cycle.
It is a predictable rhythm of expansion and contraction, and it has much to teach us about ourselves, as well! This pattern of growing outward and returning inward offers a balance of energies, and it also allows for different types of expression, and different perspectives. If things stayed the same all the time, nothing new would ever happen! So, when we apply our own menstrual cycle to this model, we can see how it reflects the fact that we go through profound rhythmic changes each month. Remembering how our cycles resemble the wise design of other rhythms of nature can help us appreciate our own different types of expression, and different needs.
It’s easy to see, when looking at the model of the moon and seasons, that full moon is very different than dark moon, and summer is very different than winter. In a similar way, something very different is going on within us, depending on whether we are ovulating or menstruating! Why would we expect ourselves to act or feel the same from week to week, when we are in a completely different personal “season?”
Our menstrual time is like our own winter or dark moon, when we retreat more into ourselves. Our ovulation is like our own personal summer, or full moon, when we are more radiant and social, and our energy is expansive and focused outward. (These are generalizations, I realize, but most women will find that they have a personal rhythm that is somewhat similar to this model. The thing is, when we approach our cycle with curiosity and interest, we can discover what our own rhythms actually are!) For half of our cycle, our energy is building toward ovulation, and most of us will tend to feel more social and capable at this time. These are the qualities that are rewarded in modern culture! But for the other half of the cycle, our outer focus tends to wane as our attention naturally turns back toward ourselves, toward our own feelings and needs. This tends to be a more introspective time, a time to re-balance, to catch up with ourselves, to notice what is not working so well, and to correct anything that needs our attention before it gets worse!
This knowledge of the value of our cycles is a “wisdom teaching” that women have shared with each other in various ways for thousands of years. But as modern culture has divorced itself from nature, these wise traditions have also lost favor and been forgotten. The expectation for women to be agreeable, available and productive at all times, entirely negates our own need for self-care, rest, creativity, and time alone. We need some deep introspective time, from which renewal and inner guidance can emerge, for the good of our entire family and community. We need time for balance and self care. We can’t be focused on others all the time.
I love to think of trees as such a great example of this cycle of self care! Most trees lose their leaves or become dormant in some way in winter. They are not in full bloom all the time! They withdraw underground and descend into their roots. Does this mean that they are lazy, unreliable, or selfish? Of course not! They withdraw into their roots to gather strength from the nourishing soil, so they can emerge fully in the coming season of flower and fruit and have energy for the year to come. Anything else would be a recipe for burnout!
It is easy to see the value of this rhythm in the lifecycle of trees, but can be harder to see in ourselves! But we, too, can take time for ourselves and give ourselves the time to recharge. Our cycles are actually designed to help us do this; to create these healing practices in our own lives.
I look forward to sharing more with you in Part 2 of this guest post to be published next month, about specific tools, perspectives and practices that you can begin to incorporate into your life. Many blessings to you until next time!
My Foundation Class, Welcome Your Rhythm, begins on June 22, for 5 weeks, by phone. If you and a friend wish to enroll together, you may each receive a $30 discount. Please let me know your names and I’ll send you each a discount code to use when you enroll! This is a great way to take the class, since you’ll be able to compare notes about your experiences. www.WelcomeRhythm.eventbrite.com
The first four women to enroll will also receive a complimentary Cycle Comfort Coaching Session with me, which can be used either before or during our 5-week course! You can discuss any aspect of your cycle, or work on creating more healthy habits in general.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, weightlifter, yoga and movement instructor, chakra reader, and Reiki practitioner.