Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, I shared in my IG stories a few self-care tools that I practice to alleviate pain during my cycle. A number of you DM'ed me about them wanting to know more, so I wanted to expand on the list and save it in a more permanent location.
I have endometriosis and history of ovarian endometriomas ("chocolate cysts") which have required surgery twice in the past (in 2013 and 2015), as well as a blocked fallopian tube, hormonal imbalance, and chronic inflammation. While these diagnoses can result in painful periods and regular full-cycle cramping, I like to give my body the space to choose how she wants to feel instead of listening to what she "is supposed to feel like" according to a diagnosis.
Over the years I have learned to not dread or resent my period. Instead, I honor my moon and give thanks and gratitude to my body. The following are the practices I put in place on both cycle day 1 (the most physically challenging day of my cycle) and throughout the month. Some are fairly standard practice while others are rather unconventional.
Please note while reading these practices that our bodies are beautifully unique. While one method may work for me, it may not work for you. I am not a doctor and I am not giving medical advice. Please do your own research and personal N=1 experimenting to uncover what works best for you—and remember that "what works" now may evolve over time as you and your body evolve too.
EPSOM SALT BATH WITH ESSENTIAL OILS
I enjoy baths throughout my cycle, and most specifically a hot epsom salt bath with EOs on cycle day 1 is my #1 go-to. I draw a bath as hot as I can bear (the hotter the better), and I add 1-2 cups of epsom salts (use epsom salts that are single ingredient and don't contain artificial colors or fragrances) and about 10 drops of lavender essential oils. The epsom salt nourishes my body with magnesium, the intense heat relaxes my muscles, and the lavender EO provides pain relief and relaxation. If you don't have epsom salts or EOs on hand, the heat of the bath alone will provide substantial relief.
CASTOR OIL PACK*
I began using castor oil packs through the recommendation of my acupuncturist. With regular use, I notice a substantial difference in my level of cramping each month. For a full explanation of what castor oil packs are and how to use them, refer to this link.
I started drinking green tea on my period instead of coffee because intuitively I felt that the caffeine I received from coffee made my cramps and anxiety worse during cycle days 1-4. I enjoy taking a hot mug of green tea into the bath with me to relax. Green tea provides a boost of antioxidants and promotes blood flow. A quick Google search can provide you with endless benefits to drinking green tea, but drinking it during your period and seeing how it makes you feel is the best way to know if this is a worth-wile practice to adopt.
According to the Mayo Clinic: "During your menstrual period, your uterus contracts to help expel its lining. Hormonelike substances (prostaglandins) involved in pain and inflammation trigger the uterine muscle contractions. Higher levels of prostaglandins are associated with more-severe menstrual cramps." A paleo diet can be very supportive in reducing systemic inflammation. Incorporating foods like turmeric and ginger or supplements like fermented cod fish oil are among many simple ways that I like to reduce inflammation through my diet.
Let's be honest, when you're in physical pain the last thing you want to do is exercise. Or at least it's the last thing that I want to do. However, simple movements such as walks in nature, slow rhythmic dancing, or light yoga feel very nurturing during my period. I like to take it easy and listen to my body. How does she want to move? I have no goal of calories burned or time spent in any particular activity. I simply move in the most natural and physically pleasing ways. It often turns into mindful stretching or quiet breathwork.
Breathing into the places that hurt is potent medicine. I often place my hands on my uterus, close my eyes, and visualize the breath moving into my reproductive organs, allowing them to contract and relax as needed to shed their lining. I go into a meditative state while practicing breathwork and always do this when I take my hot epsom bath.
FREE BLEEDING OR PADS
The presence of tampons or menstrual cups causes more cramping in my body. While they may seem easier (or cleaner) than pads or free bleeding, "easy" is not my goal during this time in my cycle. Instead, I choose what causes less physical pain and supports my body in doing what she wants to do—which is to release blood—not hang onto it.
I sought out acupuncture to aid in ovarian cyst reduction and to improve fertility. While it was not successful in achieving either of those goals, it did prove to completely rid me of period cramps. I was shocked the first time my period came and I experienced zero cramps with no other lifestyle changes than adding in weekly acupuncture appointments. (Specifically fertility acupuncture.) After I discontinued acupuncture the cramps returned.
As with acupuncture, I experienced the same unexpected cramp relief with chiropractic treatment. Again, I was shocked the first time my period came and I experienced zero cramps with no other lifestyle changes than adding in weekly chiropractor adjustments. (Specifically Blair Upper Cervical chiropractic techniques.) After I discontinued seeing my chiropractor the cramps returned.
One of the most profound affirmations I have used during my period is: "I trust my body. I am safe in my body. I love my body." This affirmation came to me during retreat at Rythmia in Costa Rica and it held space for me to not have so much fear and distrust in what was happening inside my body physically. We are never in control of the body (or "Earth suit") our souls have been placed within. Relinquishing control and allowing nature the space to do what it was created to do is the most freeing act we can practice. Download my Affirmation Magic eBook for free here.
Self-pleasure or sex may seem like an unconventional approach to period relief, but consider this: "Menstrual cramps are a result of your uterus contracting to release its lining. When you have an orgasm, the muscles of your uterus also contract. Then they release. That release should bring some relief from period cramps." Orgasm also "triggers the release of chemicals called endorphins, which make you feel good." Lastly, "muscle contractions during an orgasm push out the uterine contents" which, to me, is aiding your body in its natural process. Like everything else on this list, trying it for yourself is the best way to know if something is for you. I came into this practice by simply listening to my body.
Another very unconventional approach and admittedly not for everyone. Plant medicine is not in my regular practice for period pain relief specifically, but I can report that after a psilocybin (mushroom) trip or Ayahuasca ceremony that my following period has consistently been pain-free. I do not use these medicines recreationally. I have only sat with plant medicines in an intentional ceremonial setting where the focus of my work has always been physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual healing. (With my physical healing focus on my reproductive system.) As with acupuncture and chiropractic treatments, the resulting pain-free periods were a surprise and welcomed side effect. The effects typically last 1-3 months following a ceremony.
You may notice that conventional pain killers are not on this list. I have used Midol in the past as an "emergency measure" when I felt I absolutely needed to override my body—such as while traveling or for work meetings—but I prefer to allow my body to do what she needs without me trying to take this kind of control over her. Being mindful to schedule travel and work meetings according to my cycle has been an incredibly supportive and nurturing act.
I've found that the more I step back, trust, and give my body the space she needs, the more I've lessened my symptoms over time. My period is not a time to fight. It's a time to slow down and allow the wisdom of nature to run its course.
Again, this is not to say that you should do the same if this doesn't speak to you. You don't need to be a hero. If you're in severe pain, by all means, medicate yourself as you normally would. I simply share my approach to pain killers in this way to help you realize that you always have options.
* Access to these items or services may be limited or unavailable during this pandemic. Save these methods for later consideration!
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I hope this list has been informative and insightful! I'd love to know—do you use any of these methods to support your monthly cycle? Which ones do and don't work for you? Is there anything that you would add to this list?