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Look After Yourself During Menses, the Chinese Way

Look at this as a time to spend with yourself. (Image: 123RF)
Look at this as a time to spend with yourself. (Image: 123RF)

Your period is not often the highlight of your month—granted. But through understanding what your body needs in this time, you can achieve balance, feel better, and enjoy the slower, quieter pace.

In ancient Chinese custom, the menstrual period is referred to as “Heavenly waters.” This reverent term hints to how humble the ancient Chinese were in the way they perceived the female reproductive system.

And in more recent times, I’ve heard some people say…

Your body is a delicate and glorious temple!

I really like that analogy. It reminds me to be more patient and respectful of myself—a changing, living being. And during your period, you need to listen to your body’s clues and take some extra care.

Young people today may think that treating yourself with care during menses is sexist or old fashioned. However, our foremothers understood these things, and this knowledge has been passed down over the ages for sensible reasons.

How to take care of yourself before, during, and after menstruation

Before

In the lead-up to your period, pre-menstrual tension (PMT) may effect how you feel emotionally. You may also notice irritability and tiredness. In this phase, your body is preparing to retract inward and to cleanse itself.

  • Keep it light! Light exercise coupled with light, nutritious meals are the way to go.
  • Find ways to relax. The smooth flow of Qi and blood is supported when you are calm.
  • Stay hydrated and keep up your fiber. It’s important to have normal bowel motions to reduce blockages and stagnation in the abdominal region.

During

During your period, you will naturally slow down and resist strenuous activity; follow your body’s hints. There are a few avoidances to note (sorry), remembering that it’s a sensitive time of cleansing and hormonal change.

  • Avoid cold and raw foods during this time. Cold foods hinder the flow of Qi, leading to cold/damp conditions. Opt for warming drinks and soups instead.
  • Avoid refined sugary foods as they are very Yin (cooling), even though you may be craving them. Try choosing something sweet but wholesome instead, such as stewed apple with cinnamon and Greek yogurt.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and overly spicy foods.
  • Rest more. The higher levels of estrogen will make you feel sleepy.
  • If you’re feeling bloated and experiencing cramps, add some turmeric and ginger to your tea or warm meals. These spices act to move and disperse any stagnation and inflammation of the abdominal region.
  • Make a point of keeping warm and stay out of the cold wind. You are particularly vulnerable to viruses now, so make a point of not visiting friends who are sick.
  • Bathing and swimming is not recommended during your period. Stay clean and refreshed with warm showers instead.
A hot water bottle on the belly can be soothing relief from cramps. (Image:Hedgehog Fibres/flickr)

A hot water bottle on the belly can help sooth cramps. (Image: Hedgehog Fibres/flickr)

After

When you’ve finished your period, your body is seeking to restore your reserves of iron and replenish your blood. Having rested and cleansed, you also feel more energetic.

  • Eat green leafy foods, red meat including liver, molasses, poultry, fish, and rice, along with other blood-nourishing foods. Avoid strong tea, as this will hinder your ability to absorb iron.
  • Now you can eat a little heavier if you want to. Include more protein, fat, and starchy foods in your diet.
  • Your new-found energies allow you to hit the fitness routine again with more intense exercise. If you are still feeling fatigue even after ample sleep, see your doctor for a blood test; your iron stores may be low.

In traditional Chinese medicine, your menstrual cycle is a good indicator of your overall health.

If your periods are irregular, painful, and you suffer migraines, mood swings, or fatigue, there could be an obstruction to the flow of Qi (chi, vital energy). Sufficient exercise, healthy diet, and stress management will help to bring your reproductive system back into balance again.

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