by Clara Bitcon
This article is in addition to Clara’s presentation at the 2019 Wise Women Gathering, regarding the Wise Work of menstrual self care.
Menstruation is the phase of the menstrual cycle where all the hormones that have been ebbing and flowing through peaks and troughs, ease down and smoothly careen. You know that glassy look of the ocean when the wave has crashed on the shore and the tide begins to retreat back to the horizon? That’s menstruation. Often, it’s the premenstrual phase that can be the rockiest, and by contrast, menstruation is the calm. If we are able to hold ourselves in that stillness, reach within and practise period self-care, we can be far more available for the rest of our cycle.
Lara Owen, the author of “Her Blood is Gold” puts it beautifully:
“The whole menstrual cycle is an alchemical process in itself, during which every woman who bleeds goes through a transformation inside herself. To menstruate means to live through a cyclical transmutation in which the past is shed and the new is embraced. Experiencing this transformation through conscious ritual awakens us to our connection with the cycles taking place all around us and to our relationship with all life.”
I’ve been following the red thread of embracing menstruation as a sacred time since I was in my early twenties. Going straight into the world of naturopathy at 18 meant that my impressionable young self was exposed to some fairly unconventional ways of understanding menstruation. I never went on the pill, I made my own cloth pads, I understood that PMS was often a signpost that something in my life was stuck or needed attention and I would make certain foods and herbal teas (recipes kindly gifted from me from some older, wiser ladies) as my beginning entry into period self-care.
However, it was not until almost 11 years later that I fully stepped into the spiritual practice of menstruation – the deeper current that is available to us – and it has impacted my life remarkably in both dramatic and subtle ways. And the beautiful thing is, all it requires is thinking about it differently and understanding what is available to us if we can slow down enough and listen.
This is a conversation that I’ve been having more and more in practice with my clients.
What menstruation has to offer us…
Am I the only one who cringes at the term “that time of the month”? It has an edge of matron to it. There is a more poetic lexicon out there that is far more inviting:
- the holy rest
- the sacred pause
- the inner winter
- moon time
So, what is menstruation all about?
- Creating space for self and protecting it
- Disengagement with the outer world.
- Letting go
- Inner connection and tuning into inner guidance
- Visioning and planning
- Bliss and euphoria
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Resting in stillness & period self-care as a gateway to power
“Menstruation is the engine room of your power – the ultimate antidote to procrastination. It’s the prime time to plant the seeds of your intentions for the coming cycle and beyond”– Wild Power, by Alexandra Pope & Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer
There are many ways to intentionally approach period self-care. Ranging from a subtle change in mindset in giving yourself permission to go that bit slower, or you can go all out and arrange a proper getaway retreat. If taking a retreat is something that you practise anyway, I invite you to time it with your menstrual cycle and witness yourself dropping into a deeper state of relaxation than you would be able to do at any other point in your menstrual cycle.
My personal period self-care practice is ever evolving. I am lucky that I run my own business and that I can call the shots as to when I schedule in a rest day for my day one (if I’ve got a busy schedule, I’ll use my ovulation phase to pull off some late nights to store some time away for menstruation) and then for the rest of the time I give myself lots of leeway. I only book in meetings that are not overly demanding. I don’t schedule in big social events. I allow myself to go to bed earlier and push my alarm forward to give me those precious extra hours of sleep.
Entering the Temple – 14 Period Self-Care Ideas
1. Protect – Mark menstruation in your diary and calendar and keep it as free as possible. If you have flex-days available with your work – align them to menstruation. Go to bed just that bit earlier and, if you can, set your alarm just a bit later.
2. Go slow – If you can’t take the day off. Go as slow and as gently as possible.
3. Stock up – Just before your period is due, cook up some nourishing soups or stews. If you are vegan or vegetarian, Kitchari is an Ayurvedic one-pot dish of soaked moong dal, rice, vegetables and warming spices that brings warmth to your digestion and womb. If you’re an omnivore, a classic beef stew or borscht made withbone broth is restorative and nurturing. (For more on specific foods, see this post on eating with your menstrual cycle phases).
4. Candlelit bathing – Take a bath with 2-3 cups of Epsom salts and a few drops of a favourite essential oil – clary sage, rose, lavender or geranium are all particularly lovely during menstruation. The magnesium in the Epsom salts is very relaxing to the muscles and, if you experience period pain, it is a very effective remedy. Make sure you include candles, tea, and music!
5. Herbal allies – If you do suffer from period pain the herbal world has a lot of support to offer (herbs in general are wonderful guardians of women’s health). Depending on where you are, you may need to find a naturopath or herbalist to dispense these herbs. In other countries, you may be able to source easily. Follow the grid to build a formula specific to you with 1:5 herbal tinctures…
Remedy for Pain: Period Self-Care Herbal Tonic
6. Drop in – I also find that 10 drops of Californian Poppy can be wonderful for women who are finding it hard to settle into the stillness (i.e. still have their head in the outside world). It helps you to surrender and ease into a softer, dreamier space. Higher doses (20-60 drops) work for pain, but if you go too high, you will feel groggy. There is a sweet spot of feeling relieved but clear enough to read or write. So start small, and add 10 drops every 15 minutes until you hit that lovely place of being pain-free and relaxed.
7. Massage – Give yourself a womb massage. This is particularly lovely before a bath. Make sure the room is warm, take some almond oil (or other massage oil) and slowly massage your lower abdomen in a clockwise direction. Then after two minutes, switch and go anti-clockwise. If you’re lucky enough to have access to some mugwort or motherwort-infused oil, this adds another releasing layer of medicine.
8. Practice Yoga Nidra – Yoga Nidra is a deep relaxation meditation technique that goes through a sequence of processes that gently encourages you to surrender and drop in.
9. Do Some Restorative Yoga – Menstruation is not the time to be doing your HIIT workout or highly active yoga class. It is the time for walks in nature, gentle swimming or restorative yoga. Anita Goa’s yoga YouTube channel is a particular favourite of mine and she has lots of restorative classes.
10. Lounge – Lie in bed with a heat pack, an eye mask not far away, a stack of books and a big pot of tea (or any such variation!)
11. Journal – Because menstruation lends itself to clear thinking and ease of connecting in with self, it is the best time in the entire cycle to journal your truths, gain deeper insight into what didn’t work for you this cycle or what tripped you up. It’s also a time to celebrate what worked, reflect on where you’ve come and vision up and plan. A practice that I’ve learned from Lisa Lister is to journal in a red pen when you’re bleeding. When you’re flicking back through a journal, you know that the red pages are likely to be filled with vision and insight.
12. Create a Bleeding Box – I LOVE this one! And it comes from Claire Baker, coach, and author of ‘Adore your Cycle’ – “fill a box with period self care bits and bobs that you open on day one of your cycle. Essential oils, chocolate, crystals, a heat pack, herbal tea, oracle cards, soaps, books, a journal… things that are going to make you feel nurtured, held and loved”.
13. Red Linen – This is another from Claire. On the days you are bleeding, use red towels and sheets – because you’re a Queen.
14. “The Big Bleed” – This is a concept from “Wild Power” by Alexandra Pope and Shane Hugo Wurlitzer. “The Big Bleed” is curating an experience for yourself that involves fully retreating away from the world. It’s akin to the idea of the red tent or the moon lodge – traditionally women would take time away from their community responsibilities to rest and be with other women or alone. It was recognised that women would be able to contribute far more if they were able to have this time. This could be a matter of seriously clearing your schedule for days 1 2 (or even 3), put on the autoresponder, turn off the phone and just be. Or you can book that AirBnB in the mountains, take a basket of delicious food, gaze at a crackling fire while listening to music or spend endless hours in nature…
…okay that may be my fantasy.
For you, it may be in a sweet fibro shack by the sea. Or a tent in your nearby national park by a lake. Or a complete luxury villa with spa and daily massages. The sky is the limit.
Have I convinced you yet?
So I invite you to mark out your next period in your diary and pick 1-3 of the above suggestions (or make up your own). It may be as small a step as going to bed half an hour earlier. Or making a double batch of dinners so you don’t have to cook. The beautiful part of this practice is that you can go as deep as you like. But I’ve noticed in myself, and others who practise menstrual cycle awareness is that once you start, you begin dreaming about how you’re going to spend your next period.
As a final note, here’s a thought from Wise Woman Gathering educator, Jane Hardwick Collins:
“Through honoring your menstrual cycle, you help heal the “wounded feminine” the symptoms of which ravage the Earth and most of her people. By honoring her cycle, a woman honors the feminine, the dark, the juicy, the mysterious, the feminine power of creativity, sexuality and our Mother Earth.”
It’s big stuff.
It’s old and it’s revolutionary at the same.
Clara is a naturopath, herbalist and fertility awareness educator in Sydney’s inner west who helps women feel healthy and at home in themselves again. She offers consultations for women struggling with chronic health issues relating to energy, hormones, fertility, digestion or immunity. And she runs classes on using the fertility awareness method, menstrual wellness and using cyclic self-care. She loves helping women step into their flow and power through working with their inner rhythms and natural medicines.