In the days of the Old Testament, menstruating women were considered unclean or unfit to participate in everyday society and were thus separated from men during their cycles. This phenomena was best captured in Anita Diamant’s bestselling historical fiction novel, The Red Tent, a saga recently adapted for Lifetime TV. The book refers to an actual tent where women of Jacob’s tribe were required to take refuge while menstruating or giving birth. During their tented reprieve from society, they were free from traditional wifely duties like cooking, cleaning, and pleasing their husbands. Most importantly, they were free to bond together as women, like sacred goddesses, discussing everything from child rearing to the best tonics to alleviate pain during their cycles.
Although billions of women around the world menstruate approximately every twenty-eight days, some cultures still consider discussing it publicly taboo. This has led many to use euphemistic code words like Auntie Flow, moon cycle, or “on the rag” to describe this special time of the month. But can we blame them?
Outside of Ob/Gyns or groups of fellow women suffering from symptoms, who in their right mind would enjoy discussing bloating, cramping, PMS-induced mood swings, and scariest of all, copious amounts of blood? At what point during civilized dinner conversation should one extol the virtues of period underwear, or tampons vs. pads? Before, or after dessert?
In honor of women everywhere, it’s time to proudly reframe our periods as a time of divine rebirth, rejuvenation, and feminine healing. To help you embrace your sacred time, I’m sharing a few of my favorite ways to stay happy, healthy, and dry when the Red Tent comes to town.
1. Practice Self-Care. Your period is a great opportunity to break from the rat race and take better care of the Goddess within–that’s you! Dress comfortably, even if it means pulling out the oversized period underwear, your favorite fuzzy socks, or polka dot PJs. Take a bubble bath followed by a long nap. Eat a bowl of cherries. Journal, meditate, or indulge in a Netflix rom-com marathon. The point is doing whatever soothes you best.
2. Manage Your Flow. There’s no better way to ruin a perfect day – or an outfit – than leaving behind a pesky blood stain. Though tampons are generally neater than pads, unless they’re organic, they’re both dipped in toxic bleaching agents and other chemicals that have been linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), a potentially deadly condition. Fortunately, we now have a third option: menstrual cups.
After many trials and errors in this arena, I recently tried Softcup. With an easy to insert medical-grade plastic ring free of BPA, PVC, and other toxins, it kind of looks like the old female condom, but more practical. On top of molding to my internal shape with a personal fit no other feminine hygiene product can provide, (including Diva Cup’s one size fits all design, which leaked on me) it can be worn longer than tampons and pads. In fact, depending on your flow, it can be worn up to 12 hours without changing, making it convenient and more eco-conscious.
Softcup is free of latex, silicone, phthalates, and dioxins, and has never been linked to TSS. It causes no dryness or irritation, making it ideal for active types like me. Since menstrual fluid is never exposed to air when a Softcup is in place, I never have to worry about odor. To empty, simply hook your finger under the rim and slowly remove, rinse, and reinsert.
Unlike tampons, Softcup is inserted just behind the pubic bone. It took me a few tries to get it right, so be sure to watch the video tutorial here before inserting! Once inserted correctly, I didn’t feel it, making it suitable for any activity, including sports, swimming, sleeping, or mess-free sex (though it does not prevent pregnancy or STDs). Wearing Softcup, it was so liberating to go on runs, hike, and practice yoga without having to worry about my period.
Softcup comes in two versions: reusable, which can be emptied and reinserted many times during a single menstrual cycle, and disposable, for single use. And it’s a socially responsible business: for every box you buy, they donate a reusable cup to a girl in Africa. With all this freedom, I’ll never wear another tampon.
3. Get Moving. According to Chinese medicine, cramps are caused in part by old blood that needs to get moving, and cramps help the body release these toxins. Once I followed my acupuncturist’s advice to kick up my lower body workout routine two weeks prior to my period during ovulation (with walking, running, or yoga exercises like cobra and reclined star pose with bolsters), the cramps stopped crippling me.
4. Detox Your Diet. Exercising not your thing? No worries. Get your juices moving with regular detoxing, which helps purify the blood and organs. If going on a raw detox or doing colonics seems too extreme for your lifestyle, think about laying off additives like sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, which can intensify cramping, bloating, and PMS-related mood swings.
5. Cure Cramps, Naturally. When all else fails and cramps arrive, there’s no need to suffer. Instead of reaching for symptom-suppressing (and toxic) Advil or Aleve, consider trying plant-based Chinese herbs. Over time, they can help regulate the entire reproductive system, including mood-altering hormones. I also swear by Epsom salt baths, castor oil packs (on the belly under a warm heating pad), and plenty of herbal tea (organic chamomile, peppermint, ginger, and raspberry leaf work best) to help ease tension and heal belly muscles.
6. Embrace the Goddess. No matter how messy or inconvenient your cycle may seem on the rough days, try to find something about it to be grateful for. Make it sacred. Give thanks for a healthy reproductive system, for having a few days to relax and renew, your body, for simply being a woman. Embracing this natural process of death and rebirth within makes it easier to honor and accept ebbs and flows in the outer world – with patience, love, and grace. To me, this is what being a goddess is all about.
7. How to detox after your period. Your body cleanses the uterus all on its own, and you don’t need to do anything itself let your menses take its course. After your period, just shower as normal and wash your labia (the outer lips of your genitalia) with warm water and soap as needed. No need to try to flush out your vagina as doing so may actually disrupt your pH and vaginal microflora. Be sure to pat dry with a clean towel before putting on a fresh underwear made of natural fibers in order to keep your lady parts healthy and detoxed.
A version of this article previously appeared on Conscious Living TV.
Have you tried any of these body-friendly ways to manage your menstrual cycle?
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This article was first published on July 18, 2017 and most recently updated on September 28, 2019.
Photo: Pexels, Softcup, WikiHow