I recently read this fabulous book called “Code Red: Know Your Flow, Unlock Your Super Powers and Create a Bloody Amazing Life. Period” by Lisa Lister. It is a fascinating and inspiring book, which every menstruating lady should read regardless of how well she thinks she knows her menstrual cycle and all that it reveals to her on a monthly basis.
I thought I knew mine rather well after years of getting familiar with it in an effort to manage hormonal imbalance and depression, and from the knowledge I have gained through my spiritual practice and healing work. However, Lisa shares some beautiful nuggets of wisdom and some wonderful suggestions of how to deepen one’s connection to the power and energy of the Divine feminine that I have certainly embraced and incorporated each month.
If, like me, you have always been a little bit dubious and resistant to anything that sounds like it’s throwing the feminine-in-a-feminist-type-way thing down your throat (I’ve never been a fan of feminism, far too masculine and aggressive in its energy), then you needn’t worry, this is a whole new paradigm, which isn’t so new at all, but is old and ancient and steeped in wisdom, vulnerability and rawness and yet full of strength, beauty and empowerment.
There is beyond doubt a “Red-volution” going on, you’ve only got to read Sera Beak’s book, “Red, Hot & Holy” and Meggan Watterson’s book, “Reveal” to recognise this. Both these books and others like them are becoming increasingly popular reads for women, especially those of us on our spiritual journeys, who are being called, yes called (yes you too if you are reading this) to embrace our souls, trust in our unique paths, create our own spiritual love stories, unleash our true selves and, as Sera Beak would say, “burn, baby, burn with divine love”.
I have also recently read “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant, which is an absolutely fascinating tale of ancient womanhood and family honour as it looks at the daily life of a biblical sorority of mothers and wives and their one and only daughter Dinah. The Red Tent is a place where these women gathered together during their cycles of birthing, menses and illness - each new moon for example they would retreat from the rest of the world for three days and take to their tent to bleed, chatter and spend time together.
Not only does this story confirm the well-known belief that women in close proximity menstruate at the same time of the month, but serves as a reminder that today we women are often so out of touch with our own innate nature and cycles that we may have forgotten, or never known, that we are indeed cyclical in nature and not linear as one would have us believe in this masculine-orientated world in which we have tried to fit in and often end up doing battle within in our quest for an equal, “we can do anything you can do” approach to living.
We see this showing up all over the place, and never is it clearer than in those awful sanitary product adverts that have us roller-skating in white trousers when we have our period. I mean honestly, come on, who really wants to wear white trousers when they are bleeding and who really feels that they want to be out in public exercising. When I’m menstruating, I barely have the energy for a gentle stretch on my mat or a gentle stroll along the beach let alone a roller skate and all I really want to do is retreat from the world wearing my PJs, and keep a very low profile.
Furthermore, I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea that we cyclical women should try and live our lives in a linear fashion so that we are expected to feel the same each and every day, negating the natural cycles that see our mood change depending on where we are at in our menstrual cycle. Whomever it was should bog right off. We are creative, ever changing and fluid creatures, who are joyfully and sometimes less joyfully affected (and effected) by our hormonal changes and the moon cycle. Our moods are meant to change, that is the joy, the wisdom, the beauty that comes from being female, being a woman; we are alive and full of potential.
Only that we are not encouraged to embrace this. These days too many of we ladies are de-sensitised from this aspect of our selves. We don’t talk openly about our periods or our moods or our menstrual cycles. I can’t remember the last time I talked to one of my friends about this, other than to discuss fertility or whether periods have resumed after having a baby. But in fairness, I do have two special friends with whom I used to chat quite openly about my period and them about theirs. One now lives in Australia and another in America so we don’t get too much opportunity for these discussions these days.
Together we have shared many a happy adventure travelling throughout the world together and we have also spent quite some time hanging out in London when they both lived there and we came to recognise that our periods would indeed align with one another - usually led by our American friend whose hormones, we joked, were obviously far stronger than that of my Australian living friend and I. Funnily enough she was the one, the American friends that is, to get pregnant on her first attempt, just like that, at the age of 38. If only!
Special friends aside, on the whole, weladies have very little knowledge of the menstrual cycles of other ladies in our lives. And for many, periods are viewed very negatively, as a monthly pain in the backside (or front side to be more exact), as an inconvenience and as something further to consider in already hectic lives. For some it means bloating, depression, acute mood swings, cravings, pain and the need to take time off from work. For others it means another month without getting pregnant and all the heartache and frustration (and indeed self-pity) that that can bring.
I know all these feelings well, I’ve been there myself. In the days before yoga I used to suffer with PMS that made me feel dreadful, a combination of bloated, insecure, miserable, moody, anxious, paranoid and depressed. In fact, it was the depression that was particularly all consuming, and while I have written about it before, it is still worth mentioning, because what I hadn’t recognised initially, when I sought help from the doctor and was prescribed Prozac, is that my depression was cyclical, and therefore hormonal, rather than something that needed prescribed medication.
It was the depression and the detrimental effect this was having on my general sense of wellbeing and the resulting impact this was having on my life - plus the prescription for Prozac that I never ended up taking - that initially led me to yoga. So for that, I am eternally grateful to the PMS, what was once a curse (or so it felt, a monthly one at that), soon became a blessing because it opened my world to the joy of yoga and healing and Reiki and holistic therapies and all those wonderful things that have helped to transform my life in ways I could never have dreamed or indeed imagined.
Over time I have gained an understanding of how diet and lifestyle impact hugely on my experience of my menstrual cycle. So too I have come to recognise how much my cycle and my relationship to it, has been influenced by my relationship to my body and how well (or not) I am treating it. So too I have come to notice that the more I live my life in alignment with the whisperings of my heart and my soul, the less I experience any bouts of depression, and the more balanced I feel both within myself, during my monthly cycle and on my yoga mat, now how amazing is that? The body is always trying to tell us something!
It was this awareness that helped me to recognise how much I had come to neglect my divine feminine energy in my pursuit of trying to fit in and be strong in this male dominant world. I wanted to be as equal as the next – I wanted it all - but for we women this often means a lot of extra work, so that now we have to juggle careers, child rearing, shopping, running a home and – ha, depending on the time of the month: wink – still try to be good and kind human beings. It is perhaps not surprising that so many of us ladies end up exhausted and with hormonal and menstrual problems, let alone strained relationships!
The truth is, there is another way. It has taken me an awful long time to learn this, that indeed there is much strength that comes from simply being female, in embracing the feminine energy within. You know us women are pretty amazing. We are far more powerful than we realise. All the discomfort and yucky-ness we may feel at certain times of our cycle is generally our body’s way of trying to commune with us, of trying to let us know that something is out of balance, that we need to pay greater attention, get more intimate, understand ourselves that little bit better perhaps.
Which begs the question, why do we try to suffocate the body’s messages with synthetic pills and potions? Why do we think that doctors and other practitioners know our bodies better than we do ourselves? Why do we constantly give our energy away and negate our ability to know ourselves? Why do we not embrace our imbalances as opportunities to heal, get to know ourselves a little better and connect a little more with our innate wisdom? Why do we see our monthly bleed as such an inconsideration, why do we not celebrate its arrival as providing us with an opportunity to rest and renew, to let go of that which we no longer need?
Admittedly the arrival of our period is not always a cause for celebration. I too have known the heartache, frustration and sadness that comes with the arrival of blood and the knowledge that once again I was not pregnant when I so longed to be. It meant another month of a dream unfulfilled and another month where I wondered what was wrong with me. As it happens there was nothing wrong with me per se, but there followed a whole heap of tests and IVF, which all gave me an insight into how upsetting this can be – especially when we have spent so much of our lives trying not to get pregnant in the first place!
It was through this that I became even more intimate with my cycle and while it went against everything I believed I subjected my body to a whole heap of synthetic hormones to be able to conceive through IVF. We were lucky in that Elijah was conceived on our first attempt, but we have since experienced a failed attempt that saw more blood and more tears and more frustration at not only putting my body through such stress but at not getting your wish granted. Still, it is all a process, a part of the journey and often a test of one’s faith, patience and trust.
All of these experiences have led me to embrace my monthly cycle and all that it reveals to me. I have come to recognise that certain times of the month will bring inspiration, insight and the creativity to birth new ideas, other times I feel to retreat from the world and undertake some restorative yoga, keeping low to the ground, and resting quietly, yet other times I have boundless energy and can go, go, go and when I am bleeding I like to wear something red and bleed back into the earth to give thanks for all that it has given to me. There is a time for arising, a time for abiding and a time for dissolving. It happens each month. Its amazing, just like us.
I long to see a world where women join together to celebrate their womanliness, where they share and weep and talk and heal and laugh and dance and commune with the moon without fear of being classed mad or crazy, feminist or flaky, as you may well have concluded about me now! A world where women support each other on their womanhood journey, feel that they can openly discuss their monthly flows, their births, their insights, their creations, their child rearing, the highs and lows and everything in between.
I long to see a revival in these ancient customs, so that women come to recognise, respect and honour the magnificence of their bodies and the power that comes from this. A world, where women join and bond together in protest at the inequality still experienced by so many other women around the world today, where women join together to support each other rather than fight against each other, where we collectively acknowledge that it’s time to slow down, to embrace our femininity, vulnerability and cyclical nature, rather than exhausting and compromising ourselves in trying to fit into a linear masculine world with all its striving and ego.
I long to see a world where women are conscious of their decision to pump themselves full of artificial hormones each month and haven’t just chosen to do so because that is what you do to stop yourself getting pregnant, and yet don’t question the short or indeed long term impact on their health and wellbeing of doing just this. Of course there are always exceptions where there is little option but to take this, but to do so consciously is a huge step in becoming more empowered and respectful of our bodies.
I long to see a world where we are not expected to wear tampons and simply carry on as normal when we are bleeding, a world where we don’t even consider that perhaps blocking our flow for hours at a time is not going to have some impact on our energetic flow and the ability for the body to release that which it is shedding. Where we may be a little more accepting rather than repulsed by the blood itself and give back to the land that which we have been given.
I long to see a world where we acknowledge our magnificence and our beauty, where our womanly curves and our flabby bits are celebrated as a mark of our womanliness, where we come to revere our monthly cycles and our ability to birth new life into this world, where we allow our vulnerability, our creativity and our tenderness some expression in the world, where we laugh in the face of adversity and embrace our souls, our hearts and our divine femininity. Watch out, the red-volution is here, lets make this world a better, more feminine place.
Here are some of my tips for getting more intimate with your cycle and your flow:
· Journal. Journal your cycle and how you feel to get more intimate with yourself and start to notice commonalities at similar stages of your cycle.
· Honour your body’s messages, at certain times of the month you will have more energy than at others. Your cravings will change, sometimes you will absolutely need some dark chocolate and other times not.
· If you are trying to conceive then notice changes in discharge and come to recognise when you are ovulating. Perhaps read “Fertility & Conception” by Zita West and do what you can to boost your fertility, If you still don’t manage to conceive then go and see your doctor for advice.
· If you suffer with PMS then look at your diet and lifestyle and see how these may be impacting on how you feel. Read “Natural Solutions to PMS” by Marilyn Glenville and practice regular yoga and holistic therapies.
· When you are bleeding wear something red, so that you come to recognise and ritualise this time of your monthly cycle. Or perhaps place some red jasper in your purse or by your bed.
· When you are bleeding perhaps take to the earth and give thanks by allowing the blood to flow directly onto it (it’s not as yucky as you may imagine, its actually deeply intimate and empowering).
· When you are bleeding try and allow the blood to flow, so as not to block the energy of this downward motion, and wear natural sanitary products where you can.
· When you are bleeding avoid rigorous exercise and keep your yoga practice gentle with restorative poses and poses to open the sacral chakra and allow the energy to move down, down, down. Do not invert the body.
· When the moon is full go outside and bask in her rays and give thanks for her wisdom, nourishment and beauty.
· When you feel active and clear and alive then embrace this stage of your cycle and give birth to new ideas.
· Join the Red Tent and Moon Lodge movements springing up all around the world and set up your own with your female friends when you can chatter about all things female, drink some wine and eat some chocolate together.