Welcome to the Bleeding phase. This intimate experience is what most menstruators think of when we speak of the menstrual cycle. It is described as a sweet release by some and a turbulent storm by others. Whether one of these extremes is your truth, or somewhere in between, us menstruators are woven together by this menstrual fabric. Just as the light dims from the night sky, a quiet stillness shifts into view in this phase. The breath is suspended in time, the senses are attuned, and vulnerability is rich. We have reached the dark phase of the soul, a cyclical remembrance of death and renewal that we are gifted with each month.
This is your inner winter, when your veil is thin and hibernation is your greatest medicine. Many find their personal truths feel the closest and clearest in this phase. Your personal priorities and passions crystalize, while the discordant aspects of your life shed with the passing blood. In order to reach the renewal phase, we must first seep into the death phase. Through fully allowing ourselves to experience the many faces of menstrual death, we create space to embody the many faces of renewal. As Kenneth Meadows describes in his book, ‘The Medicine Way’, “rapid growth is cloaked in rest, just as life is hidden in death”
Physiological Exploration of the Menstrual Phase
The great free-fall into the bleeding phase of your cycle is marked by a dropping off of your reproductive hormones. In the case that an embryo is not created, the hormones once responsible for plumping up your uterus are no longer of use. The uterine nest has reached its cyclical state of completion & a drop of Progesterone and Estrogen signal your uterus to shed.
In your luteal phase, the endometrium of your uterus was in a state of building. In this newfound follicular phase, it is now in a state of shedding. This shedding is signaled by the release of blood. For most menstruators, this bleeding phase lasts between 4-7 days. Further, it typically arrives every 21-35 days. For many, the cyclic frequency entrances with that of the moon, settling into a 28 day rhythmic flow.
During this bleeding phase, Follicular Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and estrogen very gently begin to climb. As the name implies, FSH is responsible for stimulating the growth of a new ovarian follicle. This is the renewal aspect of menstruation. The body sheds the potential fetal home of the last cycle & begins again towards fertility. As estrogen climbs, the quantity of bleeding wanes & shedding is eventually complete.
Contributors to a Challenging Winter
A menstruator’s willingness to honor their inner winter reflects brightly on their mental, emotional and physical experience. Cultural norms, societal pressure, and misguided obligations can create turbulence in this otherwise contemplative phase. Many of the most common challenges can be navigated through compassion, stillness, and space. It is important to recognize that this cyclical gift requires us to slow down, to seep inward, and to take less on. It requires a sense of personal mothering, nurturing, and understanding. It asks of us to put down the schedule pad and pick up the paints. It asks of us to feel the earth and connect with the stars. It reminds us that we are spirit. Dr. Jill Stansbury reminds us that “Honoring a woman’s rhythms has a tremendous ripple effect. It is not just for the benefit of women; it is significant for the balance of the entire planet.”
As eluded to above, the dark phase of menstruation has many faces. While there are common threads, each menstruator’s experience is unique. A compilation of factors create an ever changing dance. Hormonal balance, the intricacy of tissue states, nutrition, stress management, and spiritual connectivity are a few of the many pieces to this beautiful puzzle.
We will touch here on a couple of the most common challenges menstruators experience, however this not an exhaustive list and not intended for the diagnosis or treatment of dis-ease. While there is great emphasis on hormonal imbalance regarding menstruation, that is only a small part of the picture. Reproductive organs are subject to tissue imbalances, similarly to any other organ system. As Matthew Wood describes in Earthwise Herbal Repertory, the “uterus can be stretched, atonic, or spastic, and these conditions may reflect the general constitution or simply the overall tone of the pelvic cavity”. The implications of this understanding are vast, as it emphasizes the uniqueness of each individuals experience, regardless of the symptomatic similarities that may be present on first glance.
Let’s begin with an exploration of uterine cramping, one of the most common disruptive manifestations that menstruators experience. A large aspect of the uterus is smooth muscle tissue, called the myometrium. The myometrium has the ability to contract, in order dispel its contents. You can imagine this is extremely helpful and necessary during childbirth. During monthly bleeding, it is normal for the myometrium to have a contractive element in order to dispel the shedding endometrial lining. Uterine cramping during menstruation is not intended to be particularly severe. If this is the case, there is often an element of stagnation present within the pelvic cavity. In some cases this stagnation picture is localized to the pelvis, while in others it is consistent throughout many organ systems. If there is stagnation surrounding and/or within the uterus, the myometrium works extra hard to dispel the uterine lining, leading to a greater intensity and frequency of cramping. In certain cases of stagnation, blood clotting may also be present, which leads to further cramping intensity in order to remove these larger pieces of tissue.
Further, overall inflammation in the body contributes greatly to the sensation experienced during this vulnerable time. Pain is often inflammation’s way of speaking to us. Additionally, there are several nutrients that influence uterine cramping and pain, including calcium, magnesium, zinc and essential fatty acids. A deficiency of these nutrients can lead to suboptimal myometrium health, impaired blood flow, and inflammation. Further, structural abnormalities, uterine positioning, and tissue growths can also contribute to the intensity of cramping and pain during this time. While there is much to consider in regard to this menstrual manifestation, gaining curiosity about these collaborative factors may be helpful in understanding the significance of your experience and can further shine light on ways to heal. Remember, knowledge is power.
The shedding aspect of menstruation is a delicate topic. While some menstruators experience a relieving amount of blood loss over the course of 4-7 days, others experience excessive bleeding or scanty bleeding. Some experience long bleeding phases, while others experience abnormally short ones. Some may also find lack of consistency in their bleeding phases from one cycle to the next. Firstly, it is important to recognize that we are changeable creatures and ‘regularity’ is a loose term. Our bodies are able to adapt to the many different factors that we experience on a cyclical basis and will shift accordingly. This is one of our gifts and superpowers of being a cyclical being. However, if the irregularity of length, quality, and quantity of blood becomes disruptive, there may be some digging and unraveling to consider. In the case that you have specific inquiries regarding your personal menstrual experience, consider reaching out to Monthly Rituals’ Naturopathic Doctor.
Ways to Support yourself during this Inner Winter Season
Your inner winter season is a time for pure nurturance. Imagine being surrounded by snow in a rustic warm cabin, with a blanket, your favorite book, and a soothing cup of tea. This is the energy we are going after. While this imagined picture may not be accessible for you at this very moment, emanating the energy of this manifestation is. We ask you to inquire within- What brings you comfort? What helps you to slow your mind? What feels restorative in your body? Take time to write the answers to these inquiries down & make space for them. This is truly the greatest medicine you can give yourself.
Consider gauging your schedule around your menstrual cycle. An accessible way to embody this practice is to literally write in your planner when you expect to bleed and when you expect to ovulate. Choose to thin your schedule around your bleeding phase and fill it up around ovulation. This empowering step can make a huge difference in your ability to show up for yourself and for others. The cyclical aspect of menstruation allows you to learn from prior phases and set yourself up for success in the ones to come.
In yogic philosophy, we describe the downward current of energy as Apana. This energy is reflected deeply during the bleeding phase, where eliminatory functions are so alive. This Apana energy is relevant to your physical body, but also to your mental-emotional realm. After all, bleeding is a time of cleansing for both your womb and your mind. When given space, this bleeding portal can blossom into an experience of creativity, intuition, and deep connection within. We invite you to support yourself with inward explorative activities, such as journaling, yin yoga, meditation, painting, and other creative expressions during this delicate time. You may surprise yourself in what inner wisdom is accessible when this window is open.
As you connect with this earthly apana energy, consider engaging with botanical allies that are rich in supportive properties for the bleeding phase. Herbs rich in nutrients, such as Nettles and Raspberry are often nourishing at this time. After all, with the loss of blood comes the loss of nutrients. We must rebuild as we shed. Fortunately, the earth has been gracious with diverse herbal medicines that can help to neutralize and balance all sorts of menstrual discomforts. Consider exploring Monthly Rituals’ Apothecary, which offers elixirs for supporting the mind and body during this time, as well as teas to nourish all aspects of your being.
In the case that you are experiencing stagnation in your womb, consider exploring mindful movement, breath-work, pelvic steaming, and uterine massage to decongest and liberate your pelvic tissue. Physical movement that engages and brings fluidity into the pelvic cavity, such as dancing, sex, and particular yoga sequences, may feel freeing. Practicing Khapalabhati Breathing (Fire Breath) prior to menstruation can be helpful to pump fluids toward and away from the pelvis. Consider preparing for mensturation with this technique, however avoid it during your actual bleeding phase, as to not over activate the area. Pelvic steaming can also be a rewarding experience to prepare for menstruation and accentuate fluidity within your pelvic cavity. This vulnerable practice serves to tone the uterine tissue, improve circulation to the pelvis, and decongest the womb space. For many, this translates into less discomfort during the bleeding phase. Consider checking out Monthly Rituals’ pelvic steaming blend, crafted for this purpose. Lastly, healing touch during this tender time can often be of great support. Light massage to the uterine tissue can relieve tension patterns and serve to help you connect more deeply. Consider nurturing yourself with Monthly Rituals’ Sacral salve, which was crafted to soothe pain through its inflammatory quenching and decongesting properties.
We invite you to deeply consider and honor the dark phase of menstruation. The New Moon serves as a great teacher in the way it brings quietude to the sky— surrendering into the dark abyss & slowly renewing its light. You have the opportunity to follow its lead. Every cycle serves as a chance to deepen your inner practices and honor your bleeding phase– to surrender into your dark abyss & slowly renew your light.
Authored by Caileen Vermilyea N.D.
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