Infertility, irregular cycles, and hormonal imbalance are some of the top women's health issues that inspire many women to visit an acupuncturist for the first time. But why are so many women turning to Chinese medicine to manage their health?
We asked our LAc colleague Kristin Gonzalez to weigh in - here's what she had to say:
"As a collective, women are searching for more natural and holistic ways to approach our health because what's available in modern medicine is not serving us. In fact, we are getting sicker and sicker with every new generation. We are becoming much less robust than our ancestors. As we reconnect to our ancient lineages, we stumble upon ancient wisdom of connecting back to nature and looking at our bodies as a whole instead of separate pieces - a practice that we have lost touch with in the west, but many women in the east still practice.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the foundation that we are intimately connected to nature, and not above it. It sees our connection to the moon. We learn to harness that connection by gaining deep knowledge through body literacy and then observe how we interact with the world around us. You can see it as woowoo.
But, it's pretty scientific. The modern world is finally catching up to what the ancients have been telling us all along. In Chinese Medicine, they honored the fact that the female body has distinctly different anatomy and physiology and that the same health practices advised to males had to be modified. Because female hormones shift dramatically several times within a single month, special care and lifestyle practices are recommended to harness these ebbs and flows in order to live vitally. We aren't meant to experience so much discomfort with our hormones. We just haven't been taught how to approach them within the context of our unique experience. What we are taught, is to live in a more linear fashion which doesn't honor our shifting tides but actually works against them.
This is where cycle syncing comes into play. When we see menstruation as a opportunity to bring harmony into our lives, we can start to heal in the most profound way. We can start to see how beautifully connected to nature we are and by tuning into what you need at any given time, you can start to ride the waves of your menstrual cycle rather than be a slave to them."
Five Hundred and Forty.
That’s the number of menstrual cycles the average women endures in her lifetime, month over month, year over year.
If you’re lucky enough to be a card-carrying member of the Crimson Flow Club, you know that these monthly visitations are something you grow accustomed to—the cramping, the mood swings, the fatigue, the discomfort. The symptoms that hit around your menstruation period during your monthly cycle are the most obvious, but your body is actually changing all month long thanks to normal hormonal ebbs and flows. In fact, there are four specific phases to your cycle—Luteal, Menstrual, Follicular, and Ovulatory—that affect the way your body fluctuates throughout the month. For many women, the distinctions between these phases are so subtle, they might not even notice the natural evolution their bodies undergo 28-35 days.
But as it turns out, tuning into these different phases of your cycle to optimize for each can really improve your quality of life. Each cycle is powered by a different set of hormones; there are different foods, exercise routines, and even types of sleep hygiene that support each phase of your cycle. Paying attention to where you are in your cycle and tailoring your response to it is called Cycle Syncing—it’s something women naturally acted one centuries ago, but a practice that many of us have forgotten.
Cycle Syncing can make your entire cycle feel more aligned, inspired, and energized. I know—you’re itching to try it. I can’t recommend Alisa Vitti’s book Womancode enough. It’s all about hormones, periods and cycle syncing, and it’s a wealth of knowledge that every woman should be tap into. It goes into incredible detail about each phase of the a woman’s cycle, but for our purposes we’ll touch on the main aspects you can optimize for each of the four: diet, exercise, sleep, and mood.
Graphic by Dr. Lynne Racette, ND
During menstruation, your energy is at its lowest in the month. You’ll need more sleep, more resting instead of exercising, and more time to yourself. Energetically, this is a time of release—as your body sheds old uterine lining, it’s letting go of what is not serving you anymore. Your menstruation cycle is an excellent time to also reflect on areas of your life where you can release the things that aren’t serving you anymore. Your focus is likely to be more internal and thoughtful this time—enjoy that.
The second phase of your period is where your energy will be awakened, renewed, and strong. This is a great time of the month to try strength training or HIIT workouts, because your stamina is higher (thanks, hormones!) than the rest of the month. You’ll likely feel more creative, clear, and active. Think about the Follicular phase like the days after you come back from a long, restful vacation—you’re ready to tackle any work problem that comes your way with ease and grace. Nurture your hormones and fuel your brain with healthy fats during this time of the month.
If you’re really tapped into your body, you may actually feel yourself ovulate and release an egg during your Ovulatory phase. This time of the month is when you’re likely to feel the most social—and it’s when you’re also the most energetically attractive to others. You might also be a little more emotionally intelligent during this time than usual, because you’re naturally working a little harder to understand and relate to the people around you. During this time, schedule light workouts like yoga and Pilates to get yourself moving. Invest your time in your relationships—both romantic and platonic—and focus on the people around you. Fill up on anti-inflammatory foods to ride the wave of ease during this time. This is the time of your cycle when you’re most fertile.
This premenstrual phase is the best time to assert yourself! It’s also called the ‘Wild Woman’ phase—because you didn’t get pregnant during your Ovulatory phase, you might feel more adventurous, free, and more willing to take risks. It’s a great time to schedule important brainstorming meetings for work, because you’ll be thinking out of the box and creatively. Trust your instincts and exercise as you please, but your energy is likely to be pretty high (it’s the perfect time to go on a run!). That being said, you might notice during the second half of your luteal cycle that your mood might become more inward, sharp, or no-nonsense. No worries - your period is just on it’s way!
Cycle syncing is awesome for any woman to try because it encourages us to listen to our own bodies and intuitively tap in every day to what we need. In modern life, we often expect that we can treat every day the same—same foods, same workouts, same moods, same energy levels—and we’re disappointed or confused when we feel off or ‘different.’ Cycle syncing gives us space to respond to the changes in our hormones, and act accordingly.
There's still time to make 2018 the year you #ownyourcycle, and our period calendars are a great resource to start tracking your cycle if you're not already. Download them and learn more about our challenge.