Every month I menstruate. This probably isn’t any big surprise to you, readers, though I know it is an unsavory topic for many of you. I continue, nonetheless… Since puberty, there have only been 2 stretches when it didn’t visit (baby one and baby two), but other than that I’ve had a period every month. And, for most of those 20 menstruating years a pattern has emerged: When my period starts, I’ve been known to exclaim, “Seriously? Today? Shit. Do I have any tampons?” And for the few days before that, I also, quite predictably, feel like the world might be ending. When I’m pretty convinced that my life is headed for doom, I wonder how there was ever a time when I thought I could manage all the really hard stuff that is happening in my life. I decide I can’t possibly do my job or be a good mother. I wonder why I don’t have any friends. I cry into my oatmeal for 3 to 4 mornings in a row. And then my period starts and I feel better and I realize that I don’t have to radically reorganize my life and pad my walls. I really do like my kids, my work, my life and my friends. The period comes and then I become aware of the likelihood that the “world-ending syndrome” might have had something to do with hormones.
So my question is: How is it that I forget that I do this every freakin’ month? I cry and everything is hard and I’m really sad. Every month. Why do I not think about the HORMONE PART OF THE DEAL when I’m in it?
I am getting better at remembering that I have a period every month and technology is helping. For the last year, I have been using this app called iPeriod. iPeriod lets me enter in the start/finish date of my cycle and then it tells me when to expect the next one. “Alert: your period will start in 4 days!” Only since using this app do I realize that I am VERY regular. My period starts exactly when the app says it will. I ovulate when the green squares are highlighted on the calendar and I am predictably sad the 4 days before the red dots appear on the calendar. I’m perfectly average in this regard.
So again I wonder: Why, for 20+ years, have I refused to accept that my hormones and my months have a regular, predictable rhythm? I’ve refused to admit that there are certain things that my body needs and does and it doesn’t have much to do with what I think about it. My body, a woman’s body, is made to have babies and help keep the human race going. That’s not all that it can do, but it’s a pretty big part of the package. Brain, hormones, anatomy, cycles, attraction and attachment— all of these things are connected to body/human animal and effect thinking mind/behavior. It’s not all top-down. Sometimes (much of the time??) the body has a much stronger influence over the mind. I have been fighting against it by using the power of IGNORE. But the power of IGNORE doesn’t change the hormonal fluctuations, it just means I’ve been able to cultivate some deep mental blocks that keep me from the acceptance and awareness that for part of one week every month, I’ll feel sad. I’ll cry a lot. I’ll probably forget that I have friends and people that love me. I am going to need a little more sleep.
The app people know that there is a predictability and an average for women’s menstrual cycles. They built a program that works for enough people that they can actually make money selling it. I, however, have thought that somehow I could overpower my hormonal shifts with the power of the mind, and I must say, I think that it has something to do with being an American. Maybe it was Freud. Maybe Descartes. The individual is so important and effort and determination is so highly valued in these models. The thinking brain is imagined to be able to out-smart and out-will the body and somehow exhibit control over what our body does. In these models, to let something like a period slow me down – to be unable to just push through that emotional stuff and to let that affect my productivity, feels weak. Which might have something to do with my refusal to accept and prepare for this monthly moon-time.
When I think about the relationship of body to mind through a yoga-lens, it looks a little different. I don’t need to put mind and body on opposing teams and try to dominate one with the other. My yoga practice has offered acceptance up as a really good option. The mind and body are incredibly interdependent. That’s not good or bad; it’s just the way things are. My system has a few hormonal days. I don’t have to suppress or ignore that away. It isn’t a weakness. It is part of me.
Yoga invites us to get to know ourselves. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.13 says that we do this by practicing with steady effort and over a long period of time. Move the body. Stuff comes up. See an improvement and notice how that feels. See things that don’t change. What message do we tell ourselves about that? What things are we trying to ignore about our body, self or personality? Is there room for less judgment and some acceptance?
When we do anything and give ourselves the time and space to reflect on how that activity affects us, deepening our self-awareness, that’s yoga. My yoga looks a lot like asana, meditation, dance, art and parenting. Yours might be listening to music, driving, washing dishes or being really present with your grandkids. Whatever it looks like, it is a practice. It takes effort and it isn’t instant. It’s okay that I am still working with this period-thing. With time, patience and perseverence, I might accept and even appreciate my body’s cycles and the rhythm of my month, making space for fewer struggles and more ease. We’ll see.