Menstrual Health in Chinese Medicine bodymindwellnesscenter.com

Female Reproductive System Anatomy

Tampons, Menstrual Cups, and Free Flowing Qi

One of the foundational concepts in Chinese Medicine is the notion of Free Flowing Qi. Disease has its origin in the obstruction of normal Qi flow.

In Feng Shui, the architectural Qi must flow. One notices that whenever a building is said to have proper Feng Shui, it has a harmonious and beautiful feel.

The same is true of our Body-Minds. The mental equanimity Chinese medicine speaks of is experiencing emotions well, and processing, or moving through them so there is no residue. Excess amounts of any emotion, or repressed emotions, create stagnation of Qi in the organ system associated with that emotion. Grief weakens the lung qi, Anger weakens the liver qi, and so on. This is why our emotional state will have such a strong effect on the menstrual cycle.  Our emotional state, whether fear, anger, happiness, or grief is mediated by the same nervous system and hormones that tell the ovaries and uterus what to do. This is why what we Americans call “stress”, which is a general term for upsets in our emotional field, but especially for frustration and anger in response to stressors, can have such a negative affect on your cycle in terms of pain, heavy bleeding, no bleeding, cramps, and all the various PMS symptoms from swollen tender breasts, to low back ache to food cravings to irritability and crying at things you would not normally do.

One of the genius observations in Chinese medicine was to describe the directional flow of Qi in the body. Lung qi must move downward. When it is obstructed by phlegm or dry heat, it rebels, and we cough. Cough is Lung qi moving the wrong direction.

Digestive Qi also moves downward. When it is obstructed, whether by an attack of Liver qi (how Chinese medicine describes the effect of stress, fear, and anger on digestion); by eating food that is too dense, sodden and lacking in substances like spices that stimulate digestive fire (think: cheese sandwich, lasagna, ice cream, beer, hamburger and fries);or just by overeating, then it stagnates and overheats (gastritis, gerd, constipation) or even rebels (nausea, vomiting).

On the other hand there is Qi that moves upward. The clear Qi of consciousness arises from the clear essence of foods and air which is moved upward to the brain. The Qi that holds everything in its place, the “Upright Qi”, which weakens with age, is upward moving. When it fails, due to overwork or the downward pressure of pathological damp heat, we can develop Hemorrhoids as a result. Hernias and other prolapses such as occur after labor are a failure of this Qi.

What about the Uterus? What is the direction of Uterine Qi?

During menstruation, uterine Qi moves downward.  Ayurveda calls this Aparna Vata. Vata, which governs movement and transportation in the body, has different aspects, the aspect governing downward movement of fluids like menstrual blood and urine is Aparna Vata. Anything that obstructs the downward  movement of Qi and fluids or Aparna Vata is pathological. What about tampons?

It is interesting, when we look at early advertising for tampons, and also the birth control pill, that they fit into an overall European and American ideology of conquering and ignoring nature, that grew out of notions of progress and the fetishization of science and chemistry in the 20th century.

Chinese medicine understood that during the time of the month when a woman’s uterine lining is sloughing off, and blood is pouring downwards, this is a time to take it easy and rest, just as you would if you had an open wound elsewhere in your body with blood pouring out.

But looking at tampon ads in old Life magazines, what the manufacturers are selling is the notion that in the modern world we can leave all that behind. Why shouldn’t you horseback ride or swim in cold water during your period? Why not ignore your body, ignore undesired side affects, just as we ignore nature and kill all the good insects with the bad when we spray DDT? Just take a pill and keep going.

I do understand that tampons make women’s lives way easier than sanitary napkins, for those women that prefer them. But it is very possible that in teaching you to ignore your body you are paying a price. And, if it is true that tampons inhibit the downward flow of Qi by accumulating blood in a spongy material, then your body is paying an immediate price. It may simply be that tampons are not the most hygienic method (remember toxic shock syndrome?) and that that tampons do not inhibit downward Qi flow.

Why does Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda advise not to ride horses or do inverted poses in Yoga or hard vigorous exercise when bleeding?

Because jumping up and down is not advisable when there is a strong physiological process involving downward flow of qi and blood. Again, you would not ride a horse or swim in cold water if you had a large wound on your abdomen.

Why does Chinese Medicine advise not to swim in cold water during your menstrual period?

Because cold water does to your uterus what cold water drunk does to your digestion. It retards Qi flow causing stagnant Qi. Cold inhibits movement of fluid. It freezes ice, right? Well, in our body we use ice to retard blood movement, as in putting an ice pack on a bruise. But with menses, we want to have a good healthy uninhibited blood flow.

Why is Chinese Medicine against tampons?

Toxic shock syndrome and issues of hygiene and detriment to the delicate mucosa of the vaginal lining aside, the problem with tampons is that they obstruct the free flow of qi and blood out of the uterus during bleeding. They hold the blood in the vaginal canal, rather than allow it to flow freely. Its a subtle and energetic distinction, and it could sound patriarchal, but i have been taught this by many female doctors of Chinese medicine who studied during the Communist era when, at least in medicine, women attained the highest levels of responsibility and leadership, and it fits with other theories of how the body works in Chinese medicine.

Of course, like the birth control drug/pill, tampons are more convenient. So are frozen dinners and paper plates. But over time, you pay a price. (My neurologist friend in San Diego, Frederic Martin, M.D., reports seeing 1-2 young females a year who have had strokes as a result of taking the “Birth Control” drug.) Did anyone warn them?

Chinese practitioners working in the USA note that North American women seem to think uncomfortable PMS and painful menstrual cramps are a normal price of being an adult woman. But they are not. In Chinese culture and in Chinese medicine menstrual cramps and PMS are seen as very pathological, and associated with further development of gynecological pathology like ovarian cysts, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids. In fact they are the energetic blue print for cancer, which in Chinese medicine begins with Qi stagnation and progresses to Damp obstruction, Phlegm Stagnation, and Blood Stasis. The beginning of disease in most cases, and a mechanism of disease in all cases, is Qi Stagnation. Whatever we do in life, from meditating to healthy exercising to eating nutrient dense fresh food to cultivating happiness and contentment, promotes health, wellness, and longevity in Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda.

Chinese Medicine’s General Advice for Avoiding PMS and Menstrual Cramps.

1. During your period, stay warm. Never sit directly on cold concrete or the cold ground. Do not swim in cold water during menstruation. Use a heating pad and mild stretching to alleviate cramps and low back pain. Avoid cold beverages and foods generally, but especially during this time. Drink hot herbal teas. Cold causes stagnation in the body as in nature. Cold freezes liquids by slowing down molecular movement. Interestingly, fear has the same affect–frozen by fear we say in English. There is a straight line between chronic fear and blood stasis in Chinese medicine.

2. Avoid vigorous exercise and sexual intercourse when bleeding. Meditative slow Tai Qi, gentle yoga, and walking are all excellent during your bleeding phase of your cycle.

3. Practice meditation, exercise regularly, and use acupuncture to prevent pre-menstrual phase physical and emotional symptoms. If you need to, see a therapist. The anger and sadness that can appear and seem so “irrational” pre-menstrually are from your own mind and heart. The hormones may exaggerate what is there, but they can only work with what is inside you. They make it impossible to repress the stuff we otherwise ignore so as to keep going. Like the way stuff comes up in dreams.

4. Use Moxabustion to warm the Uterus. You can have your acupuncturist do this, or do it yourself at home. Hold the moxabustion stick near your skin without burning yourself just over the uterus and ovaries. Have a friend hold it over your sacrum. It feels really nice. Otherwise use a heating pad. In Indonesia after childbirth they used to place women close to the fire to regain natural warmth lost by bleeding.

5. Use Cupping therapy over the sacrum and especially, if you have PMS, during the Pre-menstrual phase on the back on the Quadratus Lumborum muscles just below the rib cage…

4. Take Chinese herbs that regulate your menstrual cycle if necessary, for heavy bleeding, irregular cycles, pain, PMS, ovarian cysts, fibroids, and endometriosis.

5. Use Sanitary Napkins, not tampons. Some women who dislike tampons like the menstrual cup instead of tampons. I am not sure that the cup causes any less stagnation of Qi than tampons–one collects the blood in a cup, the other soaks it up like a sponge. But many women I know say the cup feels less obstructing.

The bleeding period of our cycle can be a time of interiority and reflection, and should be treated with the same respect all of nature’s cycles deserve. Treat the emotional stuff that comes up seriously. Take it as an opportunity to look at things you are normally too busy to.

If you have a man in your life, this is a good time to ask him to step up to the plate and shoulder more of the childcare or household tasks so you can rest, stretch, read a book, meditate, and take care of yourself. Probably you do that for him other times of the month, right? Teach your mate, male or female, to do acupressure massage on your mid back just below the rib cage along the muscles lateral to the spine during or before bleeding. Gentle massage along the sacrum can be lovely, too.

More info on the menstrual cup



copyright eyton j. shalom, san diego , ca , august 2011 all rights reserved use with permission

Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diegohttps://www.bodymindwellnesscenter.com

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