Women’s Health: Living with your natural rhythm
Did you know that acupuncture is excellent for women’s health? When treating women for menstrual difficulties (PMS, menstrual cramps, irregular menses, hormonal headaches, etc.), or for menopausal symptoms, (insomnia, hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, etc.) working with the natural rhythm of a women’s body is the best thing to do. A menstrual cycle is like a report card; it provides a strong indication of the health of your organ systems and any imbalances amongst them.
Many women believe that cramping and/or PMS is normal but, this is simply not true. When your body is functioning in proper balance, your menstrual cycle should come and go smoothly, with no mood swings, breast tenderness, pain, headaches, or other unwanted effects.
A report card? What can you tell from my menstrual cycle?
The menstrual blood itself- the color, amount, and the presence or absence of clots- tells a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) about the status of your organ systems, as do, any symptoms preceding, during, or after your menses, as well as, the duration and regularity of your cycle. In TCM, the Liver is the primary organ system affected. The Liver is responsible for the free flow of qi and therefore, blood. Clots, cramps, irregular cycles, and even headaches point to an imbalance in the Liver organ system. Using acupuncture to treat the Liver, as well as, to move the energy of the Liver organ system, is paramount in most conditions relating to women’s health.
What do you mean by ‘the natural rhythm of my menstrual cycle’?
According to TCM, there are 4 phases of the mensural cycle and they overlap with the 4 phases according to Western Medicine.
Phase 1: Blood
Phase 2: Yin
Phase 3: Yang
Phase 4: Qi
Phase 1 is the Menstrual Phase, approximately days 1-7 of your cycle. It runs from the first day of your menses to the last day you bleed. During this time it is important to nourish and replenish the yin of your body, especially, the blood.
Phase 2 is the Follicular Phase, approximately days 7-14 of your cycle. It lasts from the end of your menses to the day you ovulate. During this phase, it is also important to nourish and replenish the yin of your body, so that the ovaries can produce follicles, containing immature eggs.
Phase 3 is the Ovulatory Phase, approximately days 14-21 of your cycle. It lasts from ovulation until about a week before your menstrual cycle. During this time, the body is getting warmer and transitions from a Yin to a Yang state. Yang energy is needed for the ovary to release a mature egg.
Phase 4 is the Luteal Phase, approximately days 21-28 of your cycle. It starts on approximately day 21 and lasts until the start of your menses. During this time, the body needs energy, or Qi, to start the process of shedding the endometrium.
How can I follow the natural rhythm of my menstrual cycle?
In addition to acupuncture, you can use nutrition and lifestyle strategies to keep your body flowing smoothly between all 4 phases:
During Phase 1, your body is losing blood so, it is important to eat plenty of nourishing foods, especially ‘blood-building foods’. In Chinese Medicine, these types of foods are generally red and, not coincidentally, they contain high amounts of iron. Examples include beets, grass-fed/ organic beef, cherries, and dulse seaweed. See the recipe at the end of this blog post for a deliciously salty and blood-building food that is great to snack on during this time: Dulse chips.
During Phase 2, the Yin phase, it is important to nourish the Yin of the body. Beside acupuncture, this is best done with lifestyle. Yin equates to rest and relaxation. Try to rest during this time, do your best to avoid/diminish stress, and get plenty of sleep. Since, blood is a yin substance, consumption of blood-building foods mentioned above should be continued during this time. Yin-building foods include watery fruits and vegetables like watermelon and cucumber. And, eggs are especially good for building yin. Staying hydrated is also important during this time.
During Phase 3, the Yang phase, the body is transitioning from a Yin state to a Yang state. To aid it in doing so, it is best to be more active during this time. Increase the frequency and/or intensity of your exercise routine, even if that means taking brisk daily walks or doing a few rounds of jumping jacks during the day. In addition, keeping the lower abdomen warm, is important to keep things moving and prevent blood stagnation that will cause cramping/pain during menses. Avoid iced drinks and raw foods, in leu of warm herbal teas and cooked vegetables. If you routinely have problems with menstrual cramps, using the heat therapy, moxibustion, can be very helpful during this time; see an acupuncturist for more information about how to use moxibustion at home.
During Phase 4, the Qi phase, the body is using energy or Qi, to start the process of menstruation. Qi is a yang energy so, continue to keep active and exercise. Deep breathing is an excellent way to strengthen the qi of the body, as is, qi gong. You can find many qi gong videos to follow along to on the ‘References’ page on my website, basicbalancekeene.com.
How do I follow this rhythm if I’m going through menopause or my cycle is irregular?
If you don’t have a clear idea on where you are in your cycle, try to decipher where you may be by taking notes or keeping a journal of any type of symptoms that seem cyclical. You will likely find that a certain time of month may be more challenging emotionally or, that you get warmer at night or wake in a sweat more often. If in doubt, seek acupuncture to help reset the natural rhythm. You can also try to correlate your phases with the cycles of the moon (expecting menses, or Day 1, to begin on the Full Moon) to try and reset your cycle, yourself. Even if you are experiencing menopause and not having cycles, it is helpful for the body to maintain this natural rhythm.
Do Birth Control Pills & IUDs affect the natural cycle of my menstruation?
Yes, they do. Menses is a cleansing process in the body. Many hormones that our bodies make during the process of menstruation have health benefits that you do not get when you are taking a synthetic (ie. man-made) substitute. It is important to carefully weight the pros and cons before deciding to use these methods of birth control. If you do decide to take birth control pills or use an IUD, receiving acupuncture regularly is important in order to maintain a natural rhythm in your body and to prevent any detrimental effects of not doing so, down the road.
Dry-Fried Dulse Seaweed:
Buy dulse in a package. Break the dulse apart, to roughly, 1 inch strips. Heat up a dry frying pan, without water or oil on medium heat and then add the Dulse strips. Stir gently and constantly for about 1 minute, until the strips turn to a light brown color. They make a great salty substitute to potato chips! Snack throughout the day.
For more information, check out the videos, “Women’s Health: Part I & II” on my Educational Video Series! https://www.basicbalancekeene.com/educational-video-series
Thanks for reading and best of health!