Every month, is the dull ache in your low abdomen a harbinger of more pain and misery to come? Do you experience severe menstrual cramps, headaches, and even nausea with your period? Have you come to accept that this is how you’ll feel each month, and there’s nothing you can do about it? As someone who has experienced painful and debilitating periods for much of my life, I’ve adopted some routines that help me stay in rhythm with my body, so that my periods will come and go peacefully.
In Chinese Medicine, we look at the monthly cycle as having 4 phases: blood, yin, yang, and qi. The blood phase corresponds to days 1-5, when menses occur, then yin is the follicular phase, when your egg is maturing optimally toward ovulation. After ovulation, your luteal phase is yang. Moving qi is most important around ovulation and just before the menses.
So, what exactly does that mean?
First, during the menses we want blood to flow smoothly. In order to keep that happening, it is important that we regulate our body temperature and don’t overly exert ourselves while we’re on our periods. Think about keeping your feet, ankles, legs, abdomen and low back warm during this time. Avoid cold weather and sitting on damp ground. Maintain a regular exercise routine, but don’t exert yourself so much that you are sweating profusely. Walking, stretching, and leisurely bike rides are ideal. You may enjoy yoga, and twists, if you’re having cramps that are relieved by pressure, but don’t do inversions or poses that will reverse the downward flow of your blood. Replenish your fluids even more than usual while you are bleeding, using room temperature water or warm tea (I recommend Raspberry Leaf and Nettles to build blood). Give your body plenty of rest— no late nights during your period! Be sure to eat foods containing iron and iodine to replenish what you’re losing. These include legumes, whole grains, and most vegetables, and seaweeds are a great source of iodine. Eat foods containing vitamin C, like broccoli, sprouts, cabbage, bell peppers, and parsley as well, to aid iron absorption. Cut out sugar, alcohol, and caffeine from your diet as much as possible.
Take care of your emotional health too by maintaining a regular journaling practice. Getting your worries out of your mind and onto paper will keep you from bottling up your emotions. If you don’t let things go, they can wreak havoc on your insides, which can actually make your periods more painful!
After your period is over, you’re now in your follicular phase, when your egg is maturing. This is your Yin time, when your body wants to recover from bleeding and needs you to be gentle. You still want to avoid profuse sweating, get plenty of rest, move regularly, and drink warm tea. Eat green vegetables and carrots to replenish B vitamins and fish to get plenty of good fats. You also want to be sure to get enough vitamin E, so include whole grains, seeds, and nuts in your diet. A great practice during your yin phase is to do a ginger soak, by filling a bucket with hot water 3 inches above your ankles and adding sliced fresh ginger. Soak for 20 minutes, or until the water is no longer warm.
In the middle of your cycle, when you’re getting ready to ovulate, you may feel some abdominal cramping or breast distention. Around cycle day 11 or 12, depending on the typical length of your cycle, it’s a good idea to really move your body. Go for a hike, ride your bike for 10+ miles, or split it up and do yoga in the morning and a long walk at night. You want your energy to be moving smoothly so that your egg will harmoniously arrive in your uterus and set you up for a painless period.
Now that you’ve ovulated, keep that energy moving! You’re in your Yang phase, which means it’s time to embrace the more active side of life. Wake up early with the sun and pay attention to the amount of energy you have. Use your extra energy for social and creative pursuits, and be sure to keep up regular exercise. If you feel ok without it, skip the morning coffee, and try to wean yourself down to no more than one cup per day.
As your period approaches again, don’t panic! If your cramps are bad after the first month of making these changes, know that it will eventually improve, and that acupuncture and herbal medicine can help you on your way. Try not to cave into the sugar cravings of PMS, and commit to talking better care of yourself so you can feel your best.
We all over-indulge in alcohol and overeat sometimes, we stay out too late, and we find ourselves out in the cold on the first day of our periods. We can only do what we can do, but staying committed to following your body’s rhythms will set you up for the best chance of a smooth, painless period. Forgive yourself if you get off track, and remember you can always re-commit to honoring your body’s rhythms. Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal medicine work with your body to keep this harmonious rhythm, and I would highly recommend acupuncture to anyone hoping to regulate their menses. Call now for a free consultation (970) 599-1027, or schedule your first appointment here.
I hope these tips help you to have happier periods!