Kiran Ghandi recently launched the subject of a woman’s period into the international limelight when she made the news for choosing to free bleed while running the London Marathon. While some were shocked by this decision and others applauded it, from my perspective, the article was inarguably thought-provoking for a number of reasons. Although we’ve made a lot of progress in terms of bringing closet topics to the forefront of national conversation and debate, candidly talking about a woman’s period is still in this day in age venturing into a somewhat taboo subject.
However, from a holistic wellbeing standpoint, a woman’s cycle is one of the most important natural rhythms inherent to human females, and it is surprising how little American women embrace and honor their participation in this natural process. Our own language, right down to phrases like “being on the rag,” reflects a certain level of aversion to having a period. For this reason, I think Kiran’s decision was an important step towards creating greater awareness and conversation around this point. On the other hand, this article brings up the question of whether or not it is a good idea for a woman to run 26.2 miles during her period.
Before all the women athletes reading this blog begin to guffaw and think “Why not? My period would never slow me down! That is such an old-fashioned view!” I want to say that I am also an athlete (formerly, a very Type A one) who would have also never let such a thing usurp my training plans, much less my race plans. That was before I began to develop chronic health issues, all of which were, ironically, connected in some way to the healthy functioning of my abdomen and all of the important organs housed within. It was also before I began to study Chinese medicine, before I lived in Japan, and before I began to understand how women in other cultures relate to their bodies during this time of the month.
From my experiences in Japan, I discovered that most women naturally chose to slow down, staying at home more, working less, and spending time relaxing more during their periods. Applying heat to the abdomen, taking long baths, and drinking ginger tea to warm the belly were commonsense strategies Japanese women used to navigate the cramping, bloating and other discomfort having a period brings with it. And most women spoke very openly about this, as if it was commonly accepted good sense for a woman to do this. Equally, the societal attitude seemed to be very supportive of this stance towards rest and self-care during this time of the month, without spurning any feelings of overindulgence, laziness, or guilt that many women tend to feel here in the United States when we choose the option of honoring our needs first. It was surely a much more empathetic and patient attitude towards the body than I had grown up with!
When I began to study Chinese medicine and yoga philosophy, I came across similar viewpoints. In both cases, the monthly cycle is viewed as an important period of rest and purification for the female body, an opportunity for a woman to take some down time for reflection and introspection. In yoga, any pose that inverts the body is contraindicated during the cycle as it does not support the downward flow of blood that needs to happen during this time. Even the use of internal tampons is thought on some level to blockade this natural downward flow that the body is trying to facilitate. Putting extra demands on ourselves, whether physical, emotional or in other forms of stress during this important house-cleaning period is taxing, and anything that taxes the body also taxes the vital life force that supports all of the organ functions and processes that keeps us balanced and in a state of optimal health. So, if you were to ask a Chinese or Japanese -born doctor of Chinese medicine, or an Indian yogi, whether or not it is a good idea for a woman to run a marathon during her period, they would both most likely strongly caution against it.
In a world of high demand for physical, mental and emotional output from each and every one of us daily – especially women – it is no wonder that the lack of time for rest and recuperation, particularly when the body is actively engaging in a monthly rejuvenation process, can set us up for encountering serious health issues down the road. So, it is not surprising that, compared to the women of other cultures, as American women, we experience more physical issues related to the abdomen, whether it’s PMS, digestive concerns, cramping, eating disorders, infertility, pain, or something else, in light of the lack of meaningful connection we have with the miraculous cycle of change that occurs for each and every one of us.
Related to this topic, I recently attended a hara training event in Chicago with some colleagues from the Integral Bodywork community. While I love all opportunities for training within the bodywork spectrum, I have a particular appreciation for the seriousness with which the structure of the pelvis and core of the human body are explored within this tradition and the mission most Integral Bodyworkers have to support their clients in resolving any tension, disconnect, or disease held within the soft tissue of the abdomen and pelvis, develop an awareness of it, and hopefully embrace the essence at the core of their being.
Even though I am a bodyworker with a more developed sense of body and self than the average person, I was surprised at how much stored anger and rage I was able to first access and then release from my abdomen through the hara training exercises. Allowing myself to fully engage in the exercises and go deeply through the process of release was exhausting on a number of levels, but beneficial in that it also allowed a deeper sense of calm to settle in and overcome my normally overactive mind and body for the next day or so. And in light of this profound physical and emotional release, it came as no surprise that something within me that felt perpetually “stuck” between my diaphragm and pelvis shifted for a moment in time too, opening to newfound space, and also creating more room to support the spontaneous unfolding of all the biological processes housed within my abdomen, including the transition into my next cycle the very next day. In this window of two to three days of mind-body shift, I saw real emotional and physical evidence that supported the truth that there is a direct connection between a woman’s overall healthy functioning and her relationship to her belly.
How important is this connection? The Integral Bodyworkers believe that if every American woman woke up tomorrow and was able to drop her sense of being down fully into her belly, make friends with all of the emotions and other stuff housed there, and really live and act from a connection with that place of power, it would change the dynamic of the entire world