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.

Understanding puberty in girls from a TCM perspective

We can all remember the struggles of our teenage years; problems such as acne, the start of our periods, breasts forming, getting used to wearing bras, peer pressure, increasing levels of school work and home work, not being able to get out of bed in the mornings.

As a parent, I want my own daughters to have an easier time than I did. As a therapist, I am more aware of the strains put upon children and teenagers, and how this can effect them physically, psychologically and emotionally.

In my previous blog post, I explained in general terms about our Kidney energy being responsible for our growth and development, and reproductive health. If we experience a painful puberty it is likely that we will experience a more difficult menopause. We also want to optimise fertility, pregnancy and childbirth in between these two milestones, as well as general health and wellness, and they are all interlinked.

The following behaviours can have a significant impact on a young woman’s health:

  1. Early sexual activity. This can have an impact on uterine health at such a vulnerable time, causing imbalances such as blood stasis.
  2. Excessive physical work and exercise, During puberty, this may cause weakness and deficiency in the developing body (Spleen and Kidney), which in turn can lead to stagnation. Of course this depends on the individual constitution, but it is important to be aware of as a parent.
  3. Exposure to external cold. Young women are vulnerable to invasion of external cold, particularly during puberty. Social pressure to wear clothes that reveal the lower back and abdomen, going out without a coat and scarf, prioritising their physical appearance over their well-being can leave them prone to being attacked by the external pathogen of cold. If cold attacks the uterus, it will contract and cause stagnation.
  4. The use of tampons blocks the natural downward flow of blood and can cause stagnation. There are also many other health risks associated with tampons including the exposure to environmental oestrogens which is covered in a different blog post.
  5. Emotional stress and anxiety will have a massive impact on energy levels, depleting the Kidneys and creating excess Heart energy. If it is held onto then this can cause stagnation.

Taking care during this sensitive time will have a massive impact on our young women’s health as they get older. Common problems such as period pain, irregular periods, heavy/scanty periods, infertility, endometriosis, anxiety and depression, fatigue can all be improved through gentle communication, education and sensitivity around these issues at a young age.

If you are interested in receiving some acupuncture or reflexology sessions please contact me directly for an initial chat.

Jackie Marsden is a Reflexologist, Acupuncturist and Foot Reading Practitioner, based at Elder Cottage Clinic, Warton, Preston, PR4. She is a full member of the Association of Reflexologists.

A healthy mid-life means an easier menopause

The most important thing to know about the menopause is prevention, so if you are a woman in your midlife, getting the support and balance you need will help you in your menopausal years. This blog aims to explains the menopause in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) terms, and gives indicators on how you can support yourself as well as receiving treatments in-clinic.

As a therapist with a predominantly female clientele, and a 40-something woman myself, I have a particular interest in this subject. Many women suffer with the two main symptoms of menopause: hot flushes and dryness (an excess of heat and a lack of moisture). In addition to these symptoms, women can also feel emotionally unstable, have difficultly sleeping and concentrating, experience frequent headaches, feel lethargic and tired, irritable, anxious, depressed and nervous.

Although the menopause usually comes at around the age of 50, the decline in the ovarian follicles and in oestrogen occurs throughout our lives. The number of follicles at birth has already halved by puberty, and continues to decline up to the menopause. Thus the menopausal symptoms can start to appear at an earlier stage in life, so we are never too young to take notice.

In TCM, from our conception, our Kidneys store our vital life essence (Jing). Jing circulates over long periods, dominating our developmental stages (usually 7 year cycles in women and 8 year cycles in men). Our Kidneys dominate growth and reproduction. They also dominate water metabolism and bone, and produce marrow (brain). So you can see that our Kidney energy is very important in not only giving us our life force and will-power, it also governs our reproductive systems, and works closely with the lungs to moisten the body, as well as strengthens our skeletal system. These are all closely linked to common health problems in women (osteoporosis, dryness, infertility, irregular menstrual cycles and fatigue to name a few).

Thinking about menopause, anything that will weaken our Kidney energy is going to have an impact on our menopause. Our busy modern day lives seem to dictate a very stressful way of living. For example, parents going out to work as well as looking after children will often feel overwhelmed and unrested, causing tiredness, fatigue and irritability. Tobacco smoking will “burn fluids” and dry out moisture. Irregular diets high in beige carbs, processed foods and sugars will create “phlegm” (this is a TCM term for thick stagnation). Too much tea, coffee and alcohol is very “yang” in nature and therefore will add heat to the body and thus aggravate symptoms such as hot flushes. Not enough fluid/water intake will have an effect on moisture levels. Emotional stress will also deplete Kidney energy.

As women, we need to create space in our lives to allow balance. We need to replenish our Kidney energy with enough rest between busy times, we need to eat and drink in moderation and eat well; foods that are nutrient dense and foods that add moisture. Drink enough fluids. Only do what we can comfortably do and don’t over stretch ourselves. If we do all of this then we will naturally regulate our day-to-day emotional stresses, but anything lying deeper should be dealt with and not “carried” as this will also deplete the Kidneys, as well as create excess Heart energy adding fire/heat, exacerbating hot flushes, irritability and dryness.

If you are interested in receiving some acupuncture or reflexology sessions please contact me directly for an initial chat.

Jackie Marsden is a Reflexologist, Acupuncturist and Foot Reading Practitioner, based at Elder Cottage Clinic, Warton, Preston, PR4. She is a full member of the Association of Reflexologists.