How do you feel about your menstrual cycle? Do you utterly dread the arrival of your period? Or do you celebrate your blood with rituals of reverence and respect?
There’s a radical wave of menstrual cycle awareness sweeping the western world, as women become more in touch with themselves and their cycle as a path to deeper self-awareness and reconnection with inner wisdom.
When I was in my early 20s, well before having babies, my period felt like a total drag. My self-care was limited to shoving a tampon up there, popping some pain-killers, and deploying my partner to hot water bottle duty. I’d then proceed to press on with all my regular activities, grumbling while trying to exercise just enough self-awareness not to tear any significant relationships apart!
Since having children and experiencing the return of my menstrual cycle, I now have a great honor and respect for my period, not only for the miracle of fertility but for myself as a cyclical woman. Charting my cycle over the past twelve months has enabled me to see patterns in my levels of energy and mood. and I’m able to reflect on changes as they are occurring, while also taking a kind of bird’s eye view on my life through the lens of my menstrual cycle. It’s been incredibly eye-opening and I’m now in the habit of taking much better care of myself during those low ebb bleeding days.
To begin practicing intentional self-care for your menstrual cycle, I believe the single most important thing is attunement: listening to your body so you can become conscious of how you feel during different phases during your cycle and act accordingly.
Here are 5 ways to nourish self-care during your menstrual cycle.
1. Track your cycle
Get to know your cycle! There are apps you can use to track, or if you’re old school like me you can use paper and pencils; write the date + day of your cycle + how you feel. Take particular notice of your energy level and your emotional landscape. After doing this for a few cycles you will start to see patterns emerging. If you are planning or avoiding pregnancy this is also helpful to become aware of your most fertile days.
2. Home remedies for cramps
I’m sure you are aware of many home remedies for cramps, so here are a few of my favorites that really work for me:
- Hot water bottle/ heat pack—essential.
- “Clary Calm” essential oil blend (including Clary Sage which is known to support hormone balancing and soothe period pain—it’s also very effective to advance labor for expecting mamas!)
- Chamomile tea because it relaxes muscles and is one of the best anxiety reducing herbs.
- Magnesium, which is know to muscle reduce cramps, and found in high quantities in cacao—now that explains the chocolate cravings!
- Large doses of vitamin D have been shown to reduce the spike in prostaglandins which trigger menstrual cramps (you can ask your care provider about this treatment if you suffer from extremely painful periods).
3. Take a personal “Red Tent” retreat.
If your period is normally a time of the month when you’d rather hide from the world than go out and socialize, why not create an enjoyable experience for yourself during this time which allows you to respond to that dreamy, inwardly focused energy. Set aside a portion of time: a half day or perhaps just 30 minutes to truly honor yourself and your cycle.
Ideas for your Red Tent.
* A lush candlelit shower. You may not feel much like taking a bath while you are bleeding, but what about a candle lit shower with some yummy body oils? I love my sacred showers while I have my period, the hot water is deeply relaxing for me and afterwards I massage oils in to my skin while giving thanks to my womanness.
* Make time for a relaxation or a creative endeavor—nothing complex or stressful though! Think simple and calming activities like journaling, coloring, knitting, reading or whatever makes you feel peaceful and joyful.
* Light a candle and commune with your womb via a gratitude prayer, or simply bring your awareness to the womb-space and feel into being present with the sensations there.
* Have someone make or bring you delicious food. If you are the one who always cooks in your home, you’ll enjoy a night off, especially on Day 1 of your cycle. Ask for help and support with this in advance or order take-away!
* Do what feels good, and ditch anything else. On the days leading up to and during your period you may feel more irritable, tired, sensitive. Do as you need and try not to have difficult conversations or make big decisions, when possible.
4. Be earth conscious and community minded…
… because we’re all connected! I believe in self-care concentric circles; practicing self-care starts with yourself, sending the love inward. Then when our cup is full we can actively care for those around us, uplift the lives of others and make kind choices for our planet. Disposables make up 1/3 of the landfill in Australia. You can make a difference by choosing a moon cup or cloth pads to collect your menstrual blood. Caring for yourself and the earth at the same time, it doesn’t get much better than that!
5. Practice gentle yoga
To relieve cramping, encourage restfulness and relaxation throughout the whole body try these 3 yoga practices.
Reclining Hero’s Pose/ Supta Virasana: This gentle supported backbend opens up the area in front of the hips and is very effective to move stagnant energy front of the abdomen/womb region, to reduce cramping. It can seem counterintuitive to bend backward while on your period, so if your aching womb is screaming out to be folding in the fetal position instead, feel free to opt out of this one. I’ve found this pose to be very effective, but see what works best for you!
Sit with your knees wide and your heels under your buttocks, roll back on to a bolster (or collection of pillows and blankets), make sure the whole spine is well supported and you experience no pain in your lower back. Rest here while breathing slowly in and our through your nose.
Churning the Mill/Chakki Chalanasana: This practice stirs up shakti bandha/stuck energy in the lower abdomen, hips and pelvic region. Practice this in the lead up to your bleeding days and see if it reduces your cramps. I have personally had HUGE success with this practice to reduce the intensity and length of my period pain.
Sit with your legs wide and make circles through your hips- one direction, then the other. You can outstretch your arms as if you are holding a big spoon and stirring a pot in between your thighs.
Child’s Pose/ Balasana: Prepare for child’s pose with fists nestled in your hip creases. As you fold forward your fists will gently press in to your lower abdomen. This can feel really nice for many women who are experiencing cramping, as we often have a natural inclination to fold into the fetal position. If having your fist there feels too strong, you could try folding over a heat pack or water bottle, too.
Art by Chelsea Leigh
Kate Alexandra is a yoga teacher, women’s circle facilitator and co-founder of Radical Self Care Project. Kate’s gift as a teacher is in creating for space for wholehearted learning through embodiment; encouraging students to explore and apply yoga teachings to the wisdom of their own body. She is the mother of two young children and a passionate advocate for women’s health and empowerment through the practices of self care, self study and conscious activism. Kate Instagram, Radical Self Care Project Instagram.