TRADITIONAL CHINESE WISDOM OF SELF-CARE DURING MENSTRUATION
Updated: Nov 8, 2022
Problems during menstruation are so common that women accept them as a normal part of being a woman. But are they really?
Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches: »Blood is the root of a woman.« It also teaches that menstruation or Heavenly Water is a reflection of women's overall health. If a woman's health is strong and in balance, there should be no disturbances related to menstruation nor its cycle. On the spiritual level, disrupted menstruation is the clearest indicator that a woman is cut off from the sources of her power.
Undisrupted menstruation lasts 3-5 or maximum 7 days and is painless. Blood flow is uninterrupted. Menstrual blood should be vivid red initially, becoming somewhat darker in the course of the bleeding. It is completely free of clots, odourless and not at all watery or slimy. When bleeding has ended, there is no spotting.
Any disturbance during the time of Heavenly Water, such as breast tenderness, headaches, irritability, is cause for concern! These symptoms indicate there are imbalances in the body that, if left unchecked, may progress to cysts, lumps, possibly tumors, and problems during conception, pregnancy, childbirth and menopause.
Since disturbances in menstruation are principally rooted in the Liver, Spleen and Kidney organ systems, we should undertake self-care treatments that support these networks.
LIVER SYSTEM & EMOTIONS
The syndrome known as PMS in the West is most often a pattern involving stagnation of Liver Qi. The Liver regulates our emotions that are manifestations of Qi or our vital energy. In terms of Heavenly Water, it is primarily our relationship with our emotions that is most critical to health.
Stagnant Liver Qi can manifest on a physical level as backache, feeling bloated, tender breasts, headaches, breast masses and painful periods (dysmenorrhea). The Liver is also responsible for storing the Blood. The accumulation of Blood stasis in the pelvic area restricts the flow of Blood to the ovaries and uterus. This can result in blood clots, cramps, fibroids in uterus, infertility, pain during intercourse and amenorrhea. Stagnating Liver Qi and Blood are generally a result of suppressed, unexpressed or excessive emotions.
Also birth control pills, in TCM are said to cause Liver Qi stagnation. The conditions and symptoms that arise may manifest while you are on the pill, and even later on in life.
COLD – THE GREATEST EVIL DURING MENSTRUATION
Along with disruptions triggered by blocked Liver Qi and stagnating Blood flow, cold is the most significant cause of painful menstruation. The pains caused by cold are particularly severe and return month after month once cold has infiltrated the body. For this reason a woman who takes care of herself protects herself from cold. She keeps her lower body warm at all costs! She avoids getting cold in a wet swimsuit and never stands on cold floor in bare feet while menstruating. When necessary, she uses a pullover or woollen shawl as a seat pad to warm and insulates her organs. She does not freeze herself for the sake of fashion.
A conscious woman knows that the stronger and warmer her lower body is, the less any negative influences from outside can harm her, whether it be words of unpleasant people, or physical cold or dampness.
SPLEEN SYSTEM & DIET
In general, and especially during the time of Heavenly Water, excessive amounts of cold foods and fluids, and raw and frozen foods should not be ingested as they can obstruct your Qi and tax and devitalize the Spleen. This will lead to Spleen Qi deficiency, which will produce pain, and may increase bloating, cramping, digestive problems or cravings for sweets. It can also result in Spleen's inability to fulfill the function to contain the Blood within the vessels which can manifest as heavy menstrual flow.
WHAT FOODS AFFECT QI DEFICIENCIES?
- Foods, even slightly cooked, are more easily digested, with nutrients more readily absorbed.
- Hot drinks and soups help to alleviate painful periods.
- On the other hand, coffee, alcohol, hot and spicy foods, large amounts of red meat should be avoided during menstruation, as they stagnate the free movement of Liver Qi.
- Rich, fatty foods affect the free movement of both Liver Qi and Spleen Qi. Sweets and oily foods that are rich and greasy, can produce Spleen Qi deficiency and should be avoided. A high-fat diet increases Qi stagnation and dampness, which is related to depression and loss of energy.
- Avoid eating excessive amount of dairy products and raw foods to reduce dampness (which weakens Spleen).
- Salt intake should be reduced to ease its effect on the Kidney system. Salt in excess can create Kidney Qi deficiency that may result in water retention, lower back pain, or urinary tract infections.
- To replenish Blood that is lost during menstruation, eat foods that are rich in Blood-enhancing properties, such as dark green leafy vegetables, like spinach, kale, dandelion leaves, and red meat, liver, poultry, sweet rice, fish, eggs and raisins.
EXERCISE & LIFESTYLE
During menstruation is important to take more rest, not to lift heavy items or engage in strenuous exercise. A very effective way to support Qi is to practice the ancient Chinese art of Qi Gong or Tai Chi, yin yoga, meditation or breathing exercises.
In general, we can best tend to our Heavenly Water by dealing with our emotions, have a supportive diet, moderating our physical activity and making appropriate lifestyle changes. Being relaxed is very important to the smooth movement of Qi and Blood.
GENERAL SELF-CARE RECOMMENDATIONS
- Stay in touch with your emotions, and find ways to constructively express them.
- Maintain internal harmony and peace.
- Eat foods and herbs that support the body and prevent illness.
- Work towards a balance between work and rest, physical and sedentary activity.
- Use self-massage to stimulate the flow of Qi.
- Dress according to the weather.
- Avoid excessive work.
- Avoid swimming during menstruation.
- Do not walk in bare feet on cold floors.
OTHER MEASURES TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF DURING HEAVENLY WATER
- Use sanitary pads rather than tampons! Blood and Qi move downwards and out when we are menstruating, and tampons block this natural flow. Also, if we experience heavy bleeding, the Blood can move backwards, resulting in blood stasis, or old stagnant blood not being eliminated. If blood becomes obstructed in tissues, it can produce lumps and masses such as ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids or, in some cases, endometriosis.
- It is important to maintain balance between work and rest. Engaging in an extended period of work, whether it is physical or mental, will deplete Kidney Qi. The physical strain that arises from sitting or standing too long can weaken the body's Qi. If we seat at a computer for an extended length of time, the strain on our eyes will also affect Liver Qi, since eyes are the sense organ associated with the Liver.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Also, try not to eat before you go to bed, and abstain from stimulants such as coffee, alcohol and cigarettes that could affect your sleep.
- If you have painful periods, applying heat in form of a hot-water bottle, for instance, relieves the cramping.
- Massage the lower abdominal area with warm castor oil.
However, self-treatment has its limits. The diagnosis and treatment of menstrual disorders is an extensive and complex speciality of Chinese medicine. For instance, very heavy bleeding and haemorrhage require professional treatment with Chinese herbs.
Observation of menstruation can help a woman understand herself better. It is very important to be aware of the subtle and not so subtle shifts that occur, which may be the precursors of disease. If we can see how our health depends on the activities we engage in daily, the emotions we express, the attitudes we maintain and the food we ingest at every meal, we may become closely connected with the functioning of our bodies and feel empowered in moving ourselves towards health.
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* Xiaolan Zhao: Traditional Chinese Medicine for Women – Reflections of the Moon on Water (2006)
* Christine Li, Ulja Krautwald: The Path of the Empress (2015)