I've been charting my menstrual cycle for about six months now, and I'm struck by how differently I feel about my period as a mother than before I had my babies. Pre-babies, my period was unrelated to my fertility, it was just a bit of a drag. For around 3 days of each month I'd feel a super low ebb drift through me; moderate cramps hummed in my abdomen and I'd become so and highly sensitive, and filter-less that any kind of interaction was a disaster waiting to happen. I'd shove a tampon up there, pop pain killers, deploy water bottle duty to my partner and try grumble on without tearing any significant relationships apart.
Since having children, and experiencing the return of my menstrual cycle at 6 months postpartum, I have developed a great honour and respect, not only for the miracle of fertility but for myself as a cyclical woman. Charting my cycle over the past six months has enabled me to see patterns in my levels of energy, mood, discharge to reflect where I am at in my cycle. It's been incredibly enlightening and I'm in the habit of taking much better care of myself during the low ebb days now.
To being practicing self care for your menstrual cycle, I believe the single most important thing is... TUNING IN and listening to your body so you can become conscious of how you feel (and what you need). Here are a few things you can do to become more conscious and caring towards yourself during this often intense time of the month.
1) Track your cycle.
There are apps you can use, or if you're old school, you can make a chart with coloured pencils and note down: the date, the day of your cycle (the first day of your period is day one) and... how you feel? Take particular notice of your energy level and your emotional landscape. After doing this for a few cycles you may start to see a pattern, and notice yourself becoming more attuned.
2) Honour how you are feeling.
On the days leading up to and during your period you may feel more irritable, tired, sensitive. If you are tired-- rest! If you are sensitive or irritable, try not to have difficult conversations or make big decisions until your bleed is finished.
3) Home remedies for cramps
I'm sure you are aware of many home remedies, and could easily find more by googling, but here are a few of my favourites:
* Hot water bottle/ heat pack
* Herbal support- I use chamomile tea, clary sage oil and lavender oil because these plant allies support the body to reduce tension and anxiety.
* 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 (ask your GP about this treatment if you suffer from extremely painful periods).
4) Take a personal monthly home retreat.
If your period is normally a time of the month when you'd rather hide from the world than go out and socialize, I highly recommend creating an enjoyable experience for yourself at home, which allows you to respond to your inward focused energy. Set aside a portion of time: a day, a half day or perhaps just a couple of hours to truly honour yourself and this time of the month.
** A lush candle lit shower. You may not feel much like taking a bath but what about a candle lit shower with some yummy body oils? Rub in the oils while giving thanks to your amazing womanly body.
** Make time for something relaxing and meditative, perhaps a creative project-- nothing complex or stressful though! Think simple and calming activities like colouring, knitting, sipping tea or taking a slow mindful bush walk. Do whatever makes you feel peaceful and joyful.
** Create a 'red tent' for yourself- light a candle, commune with your womb via a gratitude prayer, then curl up and rest (I love this one in particular, you'll often find me in bed curled up with a hot water bottle!)
** Have someone make/ bring you delicious food. On day 1 of my cycle we have an agreement where my partner always commits to making me dinner, and serving it to me to eat where-ever.
5) 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. Disposable products (including menstrual products like pads and tampons) make up 1/3 of the landfill in Australia, you can make a difference by choosing a moon cup or using cloth pads to collect your menstrual blood.
Check out Eco Pads Australia- a fantastic eco-friendly cloth pad company founded by a young woman entrepreneur in Australia. For each gorgeous cloth pad you buy they donate one to a woman who wouldn't otherwise have access to menstrual care products. Caring for yourself, the earth and other women: It doesn't get much better than that!
6) Do a little yoga
To relieve cramping, encourage restfulness and relaxation through-out the whole body try these 3 yoga practices.
Reclining Hero's Pose/ Supta Virasana: If can seems counter intuitive to you to bend backward while on your period, so if your aching womb is screaming out to be folding in the foetal position instead, feel free to opt out of this one. Though, it is effective to move stagnant energy through the front of the hips and give an opening to the front of the abdomen/womb region, which can reduce cramping. 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 foetal position. If having your fist there feels too strong, you could try folding over a heat pack or water bottle too.