Growing up, I never gave my menstrual cycle much thought. I took it very much for granted because for the most part, it never caused me much pain. Sure, it was crazy unpredictable from the time it began up up until I discovered I had PCOS, but it never gave me grief. In fact, it was so negligible that despite the fact that I was bleeding for almost six months straight (well, maybe more like spotting rather than really bleeding), I never went to see a gynecologist. In my mind, since I was not sexually active nor was I planning to conceive, I dismissed it. Additionally, it wasn’t bothering me much. When I finally went to see the doctor, I realized how much I was neglecting the big, red (no pun intended) warning signs that irregular cycle was sending me. Given our family history of cancer, I think if I had ignored my endometrial hyperplasia at that time it would have only been time before I developed a cancer. The medical treatments helped me address some of the weight issues I was dealing with. PCOS, obesity and insulin resistance were co-morbid.
I’ve shared in this blog how the practice of yin yoga helped me through my PCOS and contributed to my periods becoming more regular and predictable. However, I still did not pay as close attention to it as I should. It was a natural part of womanhood, after all. As I grew deeper in my practice and understanding of yoga, I began to see how important it is to listen and honor my natural cycles, be this sleep, eating, as well as my menstrual cycle. This was because every time I would see my Teacher (who eventually became both Integrative Nutrition Counselor and Mentor) she would ask me three things: How is your sleep?; What have you been eating?; and “What’s your period like?”.
When I took my women’s health training, I learned about menstrual cups and period apps. Dona and Victor (my other yin teacher) talked about how important it is pay attention to the menstrual cycle because it is our personal health report card. I never thought of it that way.
After training, I downloaded the Period Calendar on my iPhone (it’s a free period tracker) and purchased a Sinaya Cup, a locally made menstrual cup.
Being a tampon user, shifting to the cup was easy. Admittedly, my first few tries with the menstrual cup were slightly uncomfortable, mainly because I think I just needed to get used to using one. The instructions for putting on the cup are rather easy, once you find which one you prefer. Also, I realized that the smaller cup felt better for me rather than the regular one. I also trimmed the tip to a length that was more suitable for me. After those little adjustments, it was a breeze AND IT WAS AMAZINGLY FREEING TO USE A CUP!!! I could practice yoga, move freely, and not have any of the sticky, wet feeling of a pad. Sometimes I do feel a little suction-y sensation if it shifts, especially immediately after inserting it, but other than that, it’s very unnoticeable.
While PCOS may not be a curable disorder, the symptoms and it’s effects can definitely be managed. Lifestyle and dietary changes are perhaps the biggest contributors to better menstrual health when you live with the disorder. Taking action and educating yourself, however, is key to making these changes. I started with just the lifestyle and dietary change and just went with that. It wasn’t until I took the time to learn WHY it mattered that it began to really make sense. In a way, becoming informed about why these changes were necessary made me embody these ideas more, rather than just let if be head knowledge. This has made all the difference for me.
Here are three ways they have changed my understanding of my period:
1. It gave me an opportunity to physically review what was going on in my body. Do you know how much blood you lose during your period? Do you notice it’s quality? I realized that with a pad or a tampon, I knew very little of what my period was like. With the cup, I can now answer my doctor when she asks me how heavy my periods are. Why is this important, you might ask. Well, as I shared, the period is your report card. All the different components of your cycle, such as the quality of the blood, amount, as well as other physical symptoms such as dysmenorrhea, length of flow, etc. have some information to contribute to the final rating. By getting to physically assess my cycle, I saw how what I was eating or the quality of my sleep influenced the experience of my period. As Dona put it, “it continues to amaze me how much we grow as people from our psychospiritual and emotional aspects as our understanding of our period grows. The period truly holds wisdom if we learn how to receive it.”. The cup, literally, gave me an opportunity to witness the wisdom my period holds.
2. I became more aware. Not only did I have an opportunity to witness my period, I also became more aware of the patterns in different aspects of my life. The app lets me record details of my cycle, not just the actual flow but even the days before and the days after. Through this, I can have something to look back on and review so that I can make changes when necessary.
3. The cup and the app has given me strategies or tools to empower myself in honor of my natural cycles. Because I am educated about my natural cycles, I am able to make wiser choices, not just with regards to my eating and sleeping, or day to day activities, but even to when I have peaks and valleys in my creativity, energy, and interpersonal abilities. I never really gave that much thought in the past, but there’s a lot of truth in moving with the moon.
If you are living with PCOS, as well as other women’s health issues, I strongly recommend educating yourselves about it. If you have questions, you can send me an email or a comment here and I’d be happy to help you find the answers. You can also join our Facebook group, Embodying a Feminine Approach to Wellbeing. For a more in-depth and personal experience of how knowing about your cycle can transform you, you can join the Women’s Well-being Weekend Immersion at Yoga+ Makati this September 3 and 4. Dona will talk about practical things we can do to ease through our emotions, what food can sustain the body, as well as simple lifestyle changes we can explore when we feel the push and pull of emotions at different phase of the cycle.
On a personal level, I would like to encourage you to switch to a menstrual cup. On an environmental level, switching from disposable pads and tampons to something that is reusable and convenient (definitely more convenient than a washable menstrual pad!) will make a big impact to going green. Have you ever thought of where all that waste goes to? On a hygienic level, since the cup catches your flow and doesn’t let the blood sit in a pad for extended periods of time, you can feel and smell cleaner and fresher, even at the height of your cycle. The unpleasant smell of stagnant blood on a pad is gone! Plus if you’re sensitive like I am, you may find that there’s no more rashes or discomfort that a pad usually causes. And lastly, on a more socially responsible level, purchasing a cup allows you to also support other women.