The Internal Seasons

I’ve had this blog idea on my “to-do” list for ages, but I’ve not been inspired to write it until today. Do you ever have that? Where something is there to be done but you’re just not inspired to do it until one day, ping! the inspiration comes.

This blog is about outlining the menstrual cycle from a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) point of view, and how are cycles are similar to the seasons. By becoming more aware of our internal cycles we can really look after ourselves in understanding when times of rest, nourishment and calm are needed (Winter) and when times of high energy can bring us productivity and rejuvenation (Spring and Summer). And those times of preparation (Autumn). A bringing together of the physical and the mental/emotional.

However I feel that there is more to this blog than I originally thought. This is because it is becoming more and more apparent to me that we are not just similar to the seasons, we ARE the seasons. We don’t just live here on this planet, we ARE part of the fabric of creation itself. There is no coincidence that our cycles move in time with the moon; that the tides are pushed and pulled by the forces of the lunar cycle, that so many animals, sea creatures and insects follow the phases of the moon for their own reproduction. Everything in nature includes us. There is no separation. When we talk about “connecting with nature” I think what we are actually doing is “reconnecting with who we are”. We are nature. We don’t walk in nature, or spend time in nature; we ARE nature. This is why these times make us feel so good, because there is a sense of coming home, of becoming one, of belonging, of lessening the grips of the idea that we are seperate from the world and from each other. I find I have more and more of these moments of inner knowing, connectedness and understanding of life, and this is the first time I have been able to grab it and get it down into words.

When we discuss the theory of TCM we often mention the seasons and the weather when we talk about particular energies and meridians. TCM philosophy really harnesses the idea of connectedness with our environment and with nature. I really appreciate this concept in my own understandings of life and of health and wellbeing. I also like the idea of likening the menstrual cycle to the ebb and flow of the tides; the tides of Yin and Yang. Understanding these tides and the transitional points between the two can offer huge benefits of understanding to support one’s own monthly cycles:

Phase 1 (days 1-5) is about Blood as we menstruate, it is a restful Yin phase focusing on nourishing ourselves and taking care of ourselves. Honour this time and avoid sexual intercourse and strenuous exercise. The external pathogenic factor of Cold can penetrate particularly at this time so take note of this in the activities you pursue. Remember that Blood is flowing downwards so sanitary items such as tampons obstruct this downward movement. Better to use pads or a menstrual cup.

Phase 2 (days 6-13) is focusing on Yin as increased amounts of oestrogen cause the lining of the uterus to thicken. Eating protein and mineral-rich foods in this phase will help to replenish Blood and Yin. This phase is building towards Yang.

Day 14 is when ovulation happens, and some cramping or spotting can occur as the body prepares to move from Yin to Yang. Get to know your cycles and allow your body and mind space to transition.

Phase 3 (days 15-21) is very Yang focussed; the body is building and nourishing the uterus ready for implantation if fertilization occurs, or shedding the lining if it doesn’t. This segment of the cycle is very energetic. Remember to support yourself during this energetic time with nutrient dense foods and adequate hydration.

Phase 4 (days 22-28) focusses on Qi. As oestrogen levels drop, serotonin levels can also drop and this can affect our mood and emotions. PMS can occur, tears, frustration, anger, as well as physical symptoms such as bloating or breast tenderness. All of these symptoms are based on the lack of free flowing Qi and result in Qi stagnation. So this segment of the cycle it is important to eat clean, take gentle exercise and avoid stimulants in order to support the Liver energy to keep Qi gently flowing freely. It might be a time where you might want to reach for those sugary snacks, so try to substitute those with better choices. We can also choose to eat warming foods because Qi needs heat to keep the fluids moving. Avoiding cold foods and drinks, and exposure to cold weather, swimming and sitting on cold surfaces can all help to support this phase of the cycle.

Liver Season

Within Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Spring is the season to support the Liver and Gallbladder.

You might think that we are a little early for talk about Spring in early February, however although it may feel very wintery still, and there may be snow on the ground or snow still yet to come, new life is already rising up from the ground with the sight of new shoots and buds, and the arrival of crocus and snowdrops.

The colour associated with the Liver is Green, and the element is Wood. If we consider what Wood is, we can see that it is both being and becoming; it is consistent yet it is always growing steadily, gently, persistently. As the tree moves into Spring we visualise it flowing and spreading its branches ready for new growth and the warmer seasons ahead.

So with Spring we feel a new surge of energy rising up, we can feel a creative impulse. We can feel on the edge of new beginnings. Yet we are only in February! So be aware that this can create a sense of irritability and impatience.

The Liver is responsible for maintaining the smooth flow of Qi and blood. This isn’t just in a physical form, but also emotionally, helping our emotions to flow smoothly. Mood swings, bad moods and anger can come from unbalanced Liver Qi. Insomnia can also be another indicator of imbalanced Liver Qi, as it’s most active time is between 1am and 3am, a period where we should be experiencing deep sleep. Other symptoms might include:

  • Headaches
  • Tendon problems
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Eye issues
  • Indigestion
  • Bloating
  • PMS

There are many things you can do to support your Liver energy at this time. But if you choose to do any of these things, do them gently! Remember the steady way the tree grows. We want to support ourselves in a kind and nurturing way, so make small changes over a period of time, and choose changes that resonate with you and where you are in your life at this moment:

  • Move. If you don’t already exercise then start doing something gentle now.
  • Tidy up your diet. Cut down on fried and fatty foods and replace them with healthy fats and oils, reduce sugar and processed foods, manage portion sizes and snacking, enjoy fresh foods, eat slowly.
  • Hydrate with plenty of water and perhaps a squeeze of lemon or some apple cider vinegar, which nourish the Liver.
  • Recreate order out of chaos: declutter emotionally/mentally as well as physically. Let go of old resentments and practice forgiveness. Make a start on your inner self.
  • Sew your seeds! Try something new, and be a little daring.
  • Book in for some acupuncture.
  • Buy yourself a new scarf!

We have talked about Liver season and it’s element of Wood and it’s colour Green, but one final aspect to point out is it’s climate: Wind. So although we feel that Spring is just around the corner, make sure you continue to wrap up warm particularly around the neck, shoulders and ears. This is known as your “Wind Gate” area and will be vulnerable to Wind invasion as we go through periods of temperamental weather, adjusting from Winter through to the warmer part of the year.

Have a great Spring!