There’s no denying the value of menstrual education in the twenty-first century, nor the benefits that come from being in tune with your body throughout the cycle - both physically and psychologically. Self-care is an anchor for many individuals throughout the menstrual cycle, as is the importance of acclimatising and incorporating practices, per the body’s wants, needs and cyclical rhythms. The significance of this conversation has never been more prominent, and with awareness comes the understanding of the various ways we can employ methods to support ourselves at all four stages of the menstrual cycle. There’s a greater awareness of reproductive health and the detrimental effects of conditions such as adenomyosis, endometriosis, dysmenorrhea and PMDD, making integrative medicine the word on everyone’s lips. Whether that’s acupuncture, reiki, hypnotherapy, or aromatherapy. With the benefit of resources, people are becoming better versed in their menstrual well-being and deciphering their body’s signals.
Though the scientific efficacy of these methods is yet to be proven, the positive effects cannot be refuted. For sufferers of chronic illness faced with the daunting prospect of pharmaceutical and medical interventions, or people wanting to better support themselves throughout the month, supplementary practices are a starting point. We’re all striving for the betterment of mental health and menstrual wellbeing. These are among some of the distinguished mindfulness practices that span years of history, cultures, and traditions.
At-Home Epsom Salt Baths
The humble salt bath goes a long way. It’s a two-in-one mindfulness practice that incentivises the rest and recovery required at points throughout the cycle, particularly the menstrual phase. In addition to some uninterrupted moments, magnesium sulphate is thought to reduce uterine muscle cramping. Some preliminary studies concluded that insufficient magnesium levels directly correlate with pain and inflammation. To further enhance your soak, try boosting your bath with an amalgam of essential oils best known for anti-inflammatory properties – such as lavender and clary sage. Magnesium can also be applied topically in the form of sprays and lotions (pssst...word on the street is that the ohne babe bomb is packed with magnesium-rich epsom salts and soothing essential oils). A gentle massage wouldn’t go amiss, either.
You merely have to skim the pages of a trauma-informed resource to see the impact of mental health on physiological symptoms. Whilst the severity of gynaecological disorders may surpass holistic interventions alone, there’s increasing interest in the benefits of breathwork. Breathing exercises and pelvic floor therapy go hand-in-hand, due to the relationship between the diaphragm and pelvic floor. Controlled breaths relax uterine muscles, which is why the practice is employed during labour - with Hypnobirthing and self-hypnosis techniques. Rhythmic breathing also increases airflow, which helps to reduce the body’s stress signals that may be in fight-flight response when we’re most hypervigilant to pain. Abdominal breathing is prescribed as a management tool, whether it’s the effects of nausea or cramping. Diaphragmatic and SOS breathing (NHS recommended for people in labour) are among the most recommended for gynaecological symptoms.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
Psychological acupressure (or EFT tapping as its most commonly known) was pioneered in 1995 by Gary Craig, whose progressive studies led him to believe that adverse emotion and pain were effects of imbalance. The practice is centred on the philosophy that stimulating meridian points restores energy balance and aids a relaxed cognitive state. Gentle pressure is applied to energy points to encourage the flow of stagnation. The tapping sensations further signal to the amygdala to lessen, or in some cases omit stress responses altogether. Although it was devised to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, EFT practitioners are exploring ways tapping can support the menstrual cycle - whether that’s heavy bleeding or symptoms of PMDD.
Originating from China as a form of alternative medicine, acupuncture is a practice consisting of components that manipulate the stimulus of nerves at anatomical points. The treatment dates back to 100 BCE and the objective is to abet the chi flow, through the insertion of micro needles. The holistic practice has been adopted in the west and is often supplemented with Chinese medicine. Acupuncture is perhaps one of the most renowned complementary therapies. From inducing labour to fertility treatment and the life stages in-between, the practice is gaining popularity within the gynaecological field. If acupuncture is not accessible, acupressure mats are an alternative for at-home use.
Yoga and gentle stretches
There is a handful of yoga poses known to support the body during menstruation. The mellow practice is a pertinent stimulus for heightened anxiety and the low mood symptoms some may experience as a result of PMDD. In particular, hip openers and postures such as the child’s pose, and the supine twist are most commonly recommended by physiotherapists for menstrual wellbeing.
Reiki is an energy healing practice widely adept across Japan, as a form of complementary therapy. As such, it’s used for a host of physiological and psychological symptoms. Like acupuncture, it channels energy fields and encourages the flow of stagnation. A study by Acta Medica Mediterranea in 2019 concluded that 30-45 minutes of reiki had a positive effect on dysmenorrhea, with participants’ pain starting at 3.85 and reducing to 1.6 post-treatment.
Sensory Deprivation Tanks
Although floatation tanks are not commonly associated with menstrual wellbeing, it’s acknowledged within the medical field. The reported benefits of sensory deprivation far outweigh any incredulity. The objective of restricted environmental stimulation therapy is perhaps self-explanatory – to eliminate extraneous stimuli. Floating amidst salt-laden water in the weeks leading up to your period may help to foster a state of calm. It might also be advantageous should you experience nerve pain, if the links between magnesium sulphate and anti-inflammation are anything to go by.
Written by Avalon Afriyie, a london-based freelance writer with a penchant for art, literature, style and travel. She spends her days writing to her heart’s content (for business and pleasure) and dreaming of residing by the ocean. follow her on Instagram here and explore more of her work online here.
Image credit: LeeAnn Cline Hire (Unsplash)