There is quite often a tendency in the West to separate ourselves from nature. This goes for some farming practices, the ways in which we eat, and also in the way we view our bodies – this peculiar idea that bodily functions are things that occur TO us, rather than being a part of us. Perhaps that is why it is so refreshing that a lot of the terms, theories and practices within Chinese medicine bring us back into nature, where we belong. When we bring the abundance of information within science AND Chinese medicine theory together, we’ve hit the integrative jackpot.
In Chinese medicine, the menstrual blood is referred to as Tian Gui, or Heavenly Water. HEAVENLY! What a treat to see it described as such. Our menstrual blood is not simply something we excrete; it is a cocoon of transformation that we shed each month to regenerate the fertile space within us – whatever that means for the individual, whether they are hopeful for conception or just living their best life. Our menstrual cycle and fertility is a gentle/or not so gentle reminder of how our body is doing. I’m sure you will have heard the ‘monthly report card’ analogy.
In a Chinese medicine consult, we often ask a ton of questions about your menstrual cycle even if you are post-menopausal or seeing us for an entirely different reason, because there is so much juicy information we can get from how you experience or experienced it. And no, this does not mean just your last period or two. We may go as far back as your very first bleed – maybe even your Mumma’s – we want a clear picture of your menstrual experience.
There are a few funny little facts as far as our cycles go: firstly, we begin counting days when tracking our cycle from the 1stday of the bleed as though it were the main event, but ovulation is arguably the big deal that a lot of people are ignoring! As we move towards ovulation our temperature has a quick spike up by about 1 degree – quite a jump in the scheme of things. This reflects the interchange in our cycle from the Yin phase (follicular) to Yang (luteal). You can read a quick run down of the activities taking place throughout the menstrual cycle here.
Secondly – the quality and experience of your bleed should be a chilled out process. Why yes, due to hormonal fluctuations, we may observe some mood changes, and our energy may feel lower, but these experiences should not drain us nor be hugely dramatic. As mentioned above, we are SHEDDING and REGENERATING! Menses is not the time to be pushing ourselves to the limit, but finding time to lay back and be hand-fed grapes; partaking in gentle exercise and keeping our uteruses warm as this is the time that they are most open to the external environment.
Cold in the Uterusis a very common condition that we see in clinic and can be diagnosed by a pool of symptoms and confirmed with tongue and pulse diagnosis. There might be strong pain with menses, a general sensation of cold, dry skin and a pale complexion.
When we make these enquiries into the functioning of your body, we are looking for clues on which to base a diagnosis, or what we refer to as pattern differentiation. For five people with the same western diagnosis, there may be five different Chinese medicine diagnoses – this exemplifies the ways in which this medicine observes the individual in front of us, not the masses.
Once we have established a pattern, then we can look to harmonisethe disharmony, whatever it may be. Yes, I can see how that might sound like fizzy language to use in a medical sense, but rest assured, it is purely practical – if there is not enough of something, we nourish. If there is too much of something, we clear it. If something is stagnating, we invigorate or remove the obstruction.
We don’t just want you to survive your period, we want you to thrive. And to do this, we aim to iron out the kinks that make your cycle unpleasant. In the recent issue of Scientific American Clara Mosckowitz and Jen Schwartz write:
“Having periods is not a disease. But when they go wrong, they offer clues into disorders that require intervention. The medical field has largely done a poor job of identifying and treating them with precision. Clinicians tend to wield synthetic hormones like a hammer, liberally prescribing the birth-control pill for all kinds of pain – which is partly why serious diseases of the female organs such as endometriosis take an average of eight years to be diagnosed. That women’s symptoms are often dismissed does not help.”
In recent years there has been quite a commotion kicked up about the lack of understanding of a woman’s body and the dismissal of their experience – the above passage is just one example of many. As Chinese medicine practitioners, it can be hugely disappointing to hear people so regularly open up about this.
To reiterate an oft-repeated phrase that we bandy about at Angea – the period should come and go as a relative non-event. It should be pain-free, with minimal changes to mood. The Tian Guishould be a fresh red that is clot free, in a free and easy flow that lasts about 5 days with 3 or 4 changes of a pad on your heaviest day.
As with any chronic condition, the sooner you address concerns, the easier they are dealt with – this is a fatal flaw with the overly used oral contraceptive pill as means of ‘regulation’. No regulation is done, the issue is merely swept under the proverbial carpet.
Carolyn Butler is an acupuncturist and Chinese medicine herbalist at Angea. She is a lover of books and writing and is on a quest to solve the problem of menstrual shaming for future generations and to build up the Chinese medicine profession in Australia.