In the days of the old testament, menstruating women were considered unclean or unfit to participate in everyday society, and separated from men during their cycles. For me, this phenomena was best captured in Anita Diamant’s bestselling historical fiction novel, The Red Tent. The book refers to an actual tent where women of Jacob's tribe were required to take refuge while menstruating or giving birth. During their tented reprieve from society, they were free from traditional womanly duties of the time like cooking, cleaning and pleasing their husbands. Most importantly, they were free to bond together as women, like sacred Goddesses, discussing everything from childrearing to the best tonics to alleviate pain during their cycles.
Though billions of women around the world menstruate approximately every twenty-eight days, today, there are few social ceremonies that honor this special time. In some cultures, even discussing a woman's cycle publicly is considered taboo. This has led many to use euphemistic code words like "Auntie Flow", moon cycle, or “on the rag” to describe this special time of the month.
Can we blame them? Outside of Ob/Gyn’s or women suffering from symptoms, who in their right mind would enjoy discussing bloating, cramping, PMS-induced mood swings, and perhaps scariest of all, copious amounts of blood letting? At what point during civilized dinner conversation should one extol the virtues of period underwear, tampons vs. pads, or spotted undergarments? Before, or after dessert?
In honor of women everywhere, it’s time to proudly reframe our cycle as a time of divine rebirth, rejuvenation and feminine healing. To help you embrace your sacred time, I’m sharing a few of my favorite ways to stay happy, healthy, and dry when the Red Tent comes to town.
1. Practice Self-Care. Your period is a great opportunity to break from the rat race and take better care of the Goddess within: You! Dress comfortably, even if it means pulling out the oversized period underwear, your favorite fuzzy socks or polka dot PJs. Indulge in a hot bubble bath or massage. Take a long nap. Eat a bowl of cherries. Journal, meditate or relax into a netflix rom-com marathon. The point is doing whatever soothes you best.
2. Manage the Flow. There’s no better way to ruin a perfect day, the sheets, or an outfit than leaving behind a pesky blood stain. Though tampons are generally neater than pads, unless they’re organic, they’re both dipped in toxic bleaching agents and other chemicals that have been linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), a potentially deadly health condition. Where possible, opt for organic cotton products, which breathe easier and are far less carcinogenic.
In addition to tampons, pads, and reusable cloths, we now have a fourth option: menstrual cups. Instead of absorbing the blood, these either collect it in a receptacle (like the Diva Cup) or create an inner barrier to keep you dry (like SoftCup). Depending on your flow, they will need to be emptied and rinsed out a few times throughout the day. Though a bit messier, this is more environmentally conscious than tossing a pad or flushing a tampon after just one use.
The Softcup is an insertable medical-grade plastic ring free of BPA, PVC and other toxins, and kind of looks like the old female condom when removed from the package. It molds to your internal shape with a personal fit, so it can be worn longer than tampons and pads. For many, it can be worn up to 12 hours without changing, making it convenient for sports, yoga, and even mess-free sex (though it does not prevent pregnancy). Though the most convenient option for me, if not inserted properly, it's also prone to leaking. As such, doubling up with a pad at first is a good idea until you get the hang of it.
3. Get Moving. According to Chinese medicine, cramps are caused in part by old, toxic blood that needs to get moving out of your body, and cramps help the body release these toxins. Once I followed my acupuncturist’s advice to kick up a lower body workout routine two weeks prior to my period (with walking, running, or yoga exercises like cobra and reclined star pose with bolsters), the cramps stopped crippling me. Walking and running during my cycle also helps.
4. De-Tox Your Diet. Exercise not your thing? No worries. Get your juices moving with regular detoxing, which helps purify the blood and organs. Your cycle is a great time for colonics, as your body is already naturally releasing. If going on a raw detox or doing colonics seems too extreme for your lifestyle, think about laying off additives like sugar, caffeine and alcohol, which can intensify cramping, bloating and PMS-related mood swings.
5. Cure Cramps, Naturally. When all else fails and cramps arrive, there’s no need to suffer needlessly. Instead of reaching for symptom-suppressing (and toxic) Advil or Aleve, consider trying plant-based Chinese herbs. Over time, they can help regulate the entire reproductive system, including mood-altering hormones. I also swear by Epsom salt baths, castor oil packs (on the belly under a warm heating pad), and plenty of herbal tea (organic chamomile, peppermint, ginger and raspberry leaf are great) to ease tension and tone the uterus.
6. Embrace the Goddess Within. No matter how messy or inconvenient your cycle may seem on the rough days, try to find something about it that you can appreciate. Be grateful for your body's natural rhythm. Make it sacred. Give thanks for having a few days to relax, renew and back off from the usual rat race, or for simply being a woman. Embracing the natural processes of death and rebirth within your body will make it easier to honor and accept the ebbs and flows in your outer world with patience, love and grace. This is what being a Goddess is all about.