Did you know that every month when you have your period and your uterus sheds its lining, you are going through a kind of ‘mini-birth’?
Your cervix (entrance to your womb) opens to allow your body to release the blood, and your hard-working uterus - which is one of the strongest muscles in your body (it’s designed to push a baby out after all!) - contracts and releases for at least several days. And, interestingly, the same hormones that cause period cramps - prostaglandins - are also involved in early labour! So, would you run a marathon, stand on your head, work a long day in the office, or otherwise push yourself when you’re giving birth? Well, of course not!
Just like in childbirth, menstruation is a time to 'get out of the way' and let your body do its thing. So, how can you take care of yourself better when you’re ‘on your rag’ and transform your experience of your monthly bleed from a ‘curse’ into a ‘blessing’?
Here are my 6 top tips for more comfortable, and even enjoyable, periods. Yes, it is possible!
1. Take a rest! I mean it!
Take some time out to rest during your period. This is when your energy is generally on a low anyway, and resting is like putting money in your ‘energetic bank’ - it’ll pay back later in the month, giving you more energy and vitality. Plus, if you suffer heavy periods, period pain or any menstrual imbalance, resting when you bleed is the first step to helping you redress your hormonal balance.
In an ideal world you’d take the whole day off on day one of your period. While some companies are instituting menstrual leave for employees, generally we live in a man’s world and it’s not possible to ring in sick every month. At the very least, try to schedule easier and less demanding work tasks for when you’re on your period - especially on your heaviest days. Your nervous system is more susceptible to stress and suffering from overdoing it at this time of your month.
And, at the end of your day give any social or extra-curricular sporting events a miss and stay home in your own menstrual-cocoon. The time to get out there, work out and socialise is later in your cycle.
On the home-front, ask your partner to cook, or plan ahead and make sure you have a frozen meal in the freezer to support your little ‘menstrual holiday’.
Get plenty of sleep and enjoy a nap or two, if you can!
I promise you, resting and easing off the throttle on your obligations is the best thing you can do for yourself when you menstruate. It’ll be key in transforming your attitude towards your period—you’ll actually look forward to this special, sacred time for yourself every month.
2. Nourish yourself
Eat nourishing, warming foods. Your system is at its most sensitive each month when you bleed, so this is the time to skip the junk food and eat foods that will support your energy and leave you feeling loved-up on the inside! From an Ayurvedic (the sister-science to yoga) and Chinese Medicine point of view, it’s best to avoid raw foods and instead eat cooked foods like soups and stews that include grounding root vegetables. You may want to top up your magnesium levels to help with excessive cramping, and there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of low/no-sugar dark chocolate - a yummy way to boost your magnesium levels, and good for the soul too!
3. Sip soothing teas
While you’ve got your feet up, skip (or minimise!) the caffeine and instead sip on some soothing herbal teas. These will be calming on your nervous system and will help restore, rather than deplete, your energy. Some good ‘menstrual teas’ include camomile, lemon balm and passion flower. Red raspberry leaf tea is said to be good for toning the uterus and relieving nausea. And if you’re bleeding heavily you might want to drink some nettle tea to boost your iron levels. Personally, I like to drink any of the ‘red teas’, like rose and rose-hip teas.
4. Journal and reflect
Women are cyclical and this is a gift! It means that every month when we bleed it’s like a kind of ‘re-birth’ (as well as the ‘mini-birth’ I mentioned before).
According to Miranda Gray, author of The Optimised Woman, your period is your ‘Reflective Phase’ in your cycle. This is because it’s the time in the month when, while we’re resting and taking it easier, we have the opportunity to reflect on the month that’s been and to set some intentions for the month to come.
In traditional cultures, before the advent of artificial lights and urban, industrialised societies, women would often quite naturally bleed in sync with the new moon, which is very fitting when you consider the new moon represents the time in the lunar month to set new intentions, planting the seeds for our hopes and desires.
The new or dark moon is also a time that aligns with a more internal, introverted focus, which is usually how we naturally feel when we bleed. Therefore, this is the perfect time to reflect in your journal or meditate on your purpose and where you’re at in your life’s journey - chances are, you’ll gain some valuable insights and experience some ‘aha!’ moments.
5. Use period-proof underwear
According to yoga’s sister-science and the ancient healing modality of Ayurveda, there is an important downward movement of energy called ‘apana’ during menstruation. It’s important for our menstrual health to facilitate, not block, this energy.
One really simple way we can do this is by avoiding tampons when we bleed. By using AWWA’s nifty, period proof underwear, we’re avoiding harmful bleaches and dioxins and cultivating an ‘honouring’ of our bleeding-time, helping us reconnect with the flow of our blood, as a natural, essential, and joyful process of being a woman.
I like to water my garden with the soaking water from my period knickers as a ritual of giving my blood back to the earth, and symbolically contemplating the things I’d like to let go of in my life. It’s cool! I promise you!
Plus period proof underwear is much more environmentally responsible, not to mention, cheaper!
6. Practise ‘menstrual-friendly’ yoga
If you like to do yoga, skip class, and instead stay home and gift yourself a lush, nurturing and restorative Dark Moon yoga-for-menstruation practice.
Unless your yoga teacher is trained in women’s yoga or teaches a very gentle yoga style, you’re better off doing your own yoga practice at home when you’re on your period. The right kind of menstrual-friendly yoga will ease the discomfort of menstrual cramping and heaviness and can help balance menstrual anomalies like endometriosis.
Even 20 minutes of gentle, menstrual-friendly yoga can be so rejuvenating for your tired, achy body and will leave you feeling mentally refreshed, calm and grounded. See my book Moving with the Moon: Yoga, Movement and Meditation for Every Phase of your Menstrual Cycle and Beyond for plenty of ideas on setting up your own menstrual-yoga (Dark Moon) home practice.
Ana Davis has been teaching yoga for almost 25 years. She is Director and founder of Bliss Baby Yoga, which specialises in teacher training in pre and post natal, fertility, and restorative yoga. Find out more about Ana’s work and her new book, Moving with the Moon: Yoga, Movement and Meditation for Every Phase of your Menstrual Cycle and Beyond, at www.movingwiththemoon.com