When I first started my period, my mom brought me a box of pads from the basement. That was the end of the conversation. From that moment on, I learned to not pay too much attention to my period, it was that weird, shameful thing that made girls in middle school miss swim days and made me want to take out my own bathroom trash. Like many women, I learned to suppress my emotions and the pains of cramping, tiredness, frustration, and seclusion because I resented the PMS label and being dismissed as overly emotional. So, I turned to a more controlled approach: taking birth control pills at a young age, not for pregnancy but for the desire to regulate what seemed to be erratic. Later, as a long term traveler, periods became the inconvenience of the century as it required searching from tienda to tienda for the rare tampon in rural towns. These searches began to reveal the difficulty women face globally in accessing sanitary and sustainable products when bleeding, and further exposed the cultural limitations placed upon them, whether that was shame for experiencing hormone-induce emotions or missed schooling.
Women are becoming more and more critical of the lack of understanding and respect towards our fertility and natural rhythms in modern society. However, healing and seeing my body as a foundation of nature, rather than a burden, came when I allowed myself to talk -gasp!- to women about our bodies. These informal spaces, often referred to as women’s circles, are where women can work to dismantle patriarchal conditioning and nurture attitudes of awareness, acceptance, and support with our connection to life and death. Although recent studies disagree, it’s a common experience to have one’s cycle sync up with the other women in your community. This phenomenon is humbling as you realize that the intelligence of your female body is grander than your ability to choose and control. Your strength, emotions, and fertility are all connected to a force beyond your personal will. That experience probes you to question, to what am I connected? What became interesting in my women’s circles and communities is, was that as we become more in tune with nature, spending time outside under the stars and in the oceans, we saw our bodies transforming to follow the cycles of the moon. The use of electricity and medication often interferes with women’s natural connection to the lunar cycle where ovulation occurs near the full moon and bleeding at the dark or new moon following a roughly 28-day cycle.
Ancient American indigenous cultures contain moon mythologies about women feeling burdened by the troubles of their families. According to storytelling traditions, the Raven hears their concerns and calls on the Grandmothers for assistance. In response, “Grandmother Ocean spoke to her sister of the women's plight. Grandmother Moon responded, ‘I am the power of the feminine. I will send into the women, my sisters, your waters carrying my power. Once every moon cycle, you shall come into the women through me and purify them." And, she did this. So ever since then, every woman has a time each moon cycle when she embodies the power of the moon and flow’s the cleansing of the ocean. We call this the woman's time of the moon, or moon-time.’
The common practice of moon lodges or separated spaces for menstruation honors this time of cleansing and connection. Here, women bled together while the community waited for the feminine insight and wisdom gained during this time of rest.
While the name “moon cycle” is still common in modern society, the relationship to the lunar calendar is lost by women who have learned to medicalize the ebbs and flow of their hormones and blood. The increase of neuropeptides, estrogen, and testosterone during ovulation results in more brain activity and creative energy. After ovulation, a reflective and slowing period can be felt as the uterus gets ready to shed its internal lining. During menstruation a physical and physiological cleansing takes place. Listening to your body during these hormonal changes may help you recognize and interpret pain or strong feelings as something out of balance in your life that needs to come back into equilibrium. It also helps you understand that your energy levels are not always consistent, but have patterns that you can learn to harness. By allowing our bodies to connect with each other and with the power of the moon’s gravitation pull, women can gain an understanding and grounding in natural rhythms.
This re-naturalization process is becoming more critical for women as international funding and access to women’s healthcare continues to be under attack. )Women with an awareness of their cycles can know when they are more fertile and avoid or encourage pregnancy. They are also more able to easily track the dates of pregnancy and make more informed decisions about abortions and other health concerns when they understand the rhythm of their bodies as it was meant to be.
The first step is to begin to honor your body’s process. There is a strength and wisdom to accepting your connection to the life cycle. Opening up to other women will help you gain an appreciation for the range of experiences and also allow you to see your deeper connection to the earth and lunar cycles. Spending time outdoors as well as sleeping with a light during the full moon if you are in a city can help regulate your cycle to the moon and in time the deeper attunement with your emotions and intuition will follow.
Natalie Bankhead is travel writer and eco-activist located in South America. She currently teaches yoga and leads experiential education programs in Peru.
Photo credit: theplaidzebra.com