There is an undeniable relationship between the different phases of the menstrual cycle and women’s levels of energy and emotions. Nevertheless, women’s cycle awareness is not commonly taught, and most of us go through our lives feeling the effects of the different phases without seeing the relationship between how we feel and the menstrual phase we are.
Women tune to nature and to other women through their menstrual cycles; that’s why women who live together end up having their periods at the same time. It is said that before electricity women’s ovulation and bleeding times would as well be synchronised to the moon phases. After all, the moon cycle is not surprisingly 28 days as well.
As an obstetrician and gynaecologist, I believe body awareness is key to women’s wellbeing. Any method that helps us track the moment in our cycles, will in turn help us to identify the symptoms that are most common in that particular moment and to adapt our self-care routines, e.g. when we are menstruating our levels of energy tend to be lower and need more rest, while when we are ovulating we feel full of energy and are extremely productive.
If the menstrual cycle is the fifth vital sign, what can you as a gynaecologist see from a woman’s experience of her menstrual cycle?
Dr. Luna: I believe our bodies are continuously trying to communicate with our rational mind. This is more obvious in other animals, and we are usually identify those behaviours as “instinct”. Non human animals rest when they are tired, go to the toilet when they feel the need, eat grass when their stomachs are upset, etc.
In contrast to this, humans have evolved in such a way that at times our minds seem to be the only thing that we “are”, thus neglecting all messages that are continuously been passed to us through our body signals. We all have the experience of having eaten too much and feel sick after, showing the inability to synchronise with our needs in order to prevent discomfort or disease.
For women and all people with uterus, there is an additional sense, and additional language that you could attune to: your menstrual cycle. Many women have the experience of having menstrual troubles in periods of stress, more painful or heavier bleedings after a romantic breakup or even an insidious tendency to vaginal infections when they don’t trust their partners.
I am aware how this sounds ! I can imagine someone answering “ wait a second, are you implying that our emotions may have an impact in let’s say our menses or our immune system?” Yes!, that is exactly what I am saying. Do I have evidence based in randomised controlled trials to prove it? Perhaps not. Do I need it? Absolutely not!
Stress has been heavily linked to cardiac disease and flares in chronic conditions such as Chrohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome . So it is clear that our bodies have a way to react to what’s happening in our minds, whether consciously or unconsciously. Why would it be any different with our menstrual cycles? It is just an additional tool, a secret power to know what is going on inside of us.
Connecting to what’s going on with your menstrual cycle opens the door for every women to listen to all other body messages. Whether doing or not doing something feels right, whether a new person feels safe, etc. Listening to one’s body is a muscle that in time, help us enormously in the everyday life!
You mention women’s cycles synchronise when they are together and the connection to the lunar cycle… These ideas have been debunked as myths, do you think something else is going on?
Dr. Luna: I think that in any given moment in history, there are theories that have been ridiculised and relegated to the “myth’ or the “silly “ category. We have abundant examples in history. Galileo Galiley was first ridiculized then later condemned to house arrest for the rest of his life after defending his support to Copernico theories that explained how the Earth revolves around the Sun and not the opposite. Accupunture, a part of traditional Chinese medicine that has existed for thousands of years, has passed from being dismissed in Western countries, to being commonly used nowadays, making it really difficult find someone that has never had a session or has never heard of it.
So, when a belief or a tendency is relegated to the corner of “ superstition” base on the fact that doesn’t follow the current way of thinking I get curious around the reasons behind such a statement.
Animals and tides have a clear relationship with the moon phases, so I cannot find a convincing plausible reason to dismiss the fact that not only women used to have their bleeding time synchronise to the phases of the moon, but as well to each others when in the same household. The lack of “modern evidence” may only suggest the lack of tools sensitive enough to prove it, in the same way that we could not diagnose an appendicitis in 1500 DC because we didn’t have ultrasound machines.
When we are constantly in our brains, and never in our bodies, is like leaving a house with the doors open and no alarm system. How would we know if someone is entering it? How would we know if something is good or bad for us? In contrast, when we are attuned to our bodies, we become more difficult to manipulate, we stand our ground and we claim what is ours, because it feels true to us.
So any social or cultural tendency to minimise the importance of our menstrual cycles, or trying to make us forget about it and get back to work is, by all means, undermining us. Where has this tendency of ignoring nature taken us? Look at the state of the world! Mass extinction and global warming, which by the way were also laughed at, and they are now a reality that future generations won’t be able to scape. And all this because we did not listen to the seasons and the signs that something was wrong. We wanted more growth and no rest, and this is not sustainable for the planet as its not sustainable for us.
Yes, I am implying that disconnection from our cycles is lethal not only for us, but for everyone. Women have the capacity to connect to the ever present cycle of life and death through their very own bodies, every month. Unfortunately this is not taught very often in schools.
What would be your number one recommendation to women about how to be with their menstrual cycle?
Dr. Luna: We only seem to notice our body when is not working well, hence most women that discuss with me about their menses, is because of a new symptom or a pattern that has appeared.
I often tell them to ask themselves this question: if this symptom/emotion was trying to convey a message to me, what would that be? . Sometimes I frame it differently, and ask them to open their minds as to the reason why their current disease or symptom is there, something on the lines of “ What do you think that has triggered this situation? Do you have any idea?” . it is surprising what women answer to this simple question.
Once someone starts to open to the possibility that our menstrual cycles have an impact in our daily lives, then I would encourage her to tune into the changes that arise within her in the different phases of the cycle, as a way of honouring the needs of our bodies, and to work with it rather than against it.
In your experience, and travels as an obstetrician and gynaecologist to developing countries, what did you learn from the women you cared for about the menstrual cycle in their lives?
Dr. Luna: I wish I could have talked much more to women in all the developing countries where Ive worked without the need fro translators!
Menstrual cycle is a taboo all over the world. In many cultures, women are considered impure while they are bleeding. Unfortunately I never had a chance to discuss this in depth with them.
What has your menstrual cycle taught you?
Dr. Luna: I ignored my menstrual cycle in the same way that I ignored all my body messages, whether they were negative experiences (pain or discomfort) or positive ones ( feeling energetic and positive). I was not taught to celebrate my bleeding times as a sign of the interconnectedness of everything, of my womanhood. Now, I like to imagine now how our menses are something we have in common to all women since the beginning of times, no matter how different their time was to mine.
My atunnement into my cycle came much later in life. So many wasted opportunities to have listened to my body, to my needs ! Since I was taught by your beautiful self, I now use attuning to my cycle as an act of self love. A moment to pause and realise what are the feelings, the thoughts, the narrative that is going on for me at that moment, and work with it. I feel that doing this practise has actually given time back to me. I will explain this further: my life has always been extremely busy. When I was a kid, I would share my days between school and the conservatorium where my siblings and I were learning music. When I was on my teens and early 20’s, I was always involved in volunteer work and social action, whenever I was not in the library studying for my medical exams. After that I spent 8 years working for Doctors without Borders a bit all over the world. The older I got, the faster the time was passing. The seasons and the years were just flashing in front of me. Attuning to my menstrual cycle, the moon cycle and the seasons seems to have given me the time to slow down, to take time to honour every moment, to notice what is happening rather than being lost in my busy mind constantly.
Honouring my cycle goes hand in hand with honouring the seasons. There is a time to be busy and buzzing with activity ( summer!) and there is a time to retreat, rest and replenish ( winter!). I like to think that if the tree was always loaded with fruits, the branches would possibly grow weaker and break! There is a reason why everything in nature is cyclical, and we are not an exception.