We sat down with menstruality educator and activist Jane Legge on why we shouldn’t just accept period symptoms as “normal,” and how to be healthy and balanced throughout your cycle. Here’s what she had to say. (The interview has been condensed for clarity.)
What in the world is menstruality?
Menstruality is a new word, and it means: the full path of intelligence, healing, and power of the female life process from menarche to menopause and beyond.
How did your journey with menstruality begin?
My story began with intense period pain and premenstrual symptoms that I found quite debilitating. I was working in a very male-dominated environment, examining bridges. I was trying to manage teams of men, and was wondering why some times of the month I just found it so difficult to do my work.
So I sought help for this problem in 2012 via a workshop with Alexandra Pope (co-founder of Red School). Until that point, I saw my bleeding as just being a complete inconvenience and something that got in the way of my life every month—and I resented it. I was disconnected completely from my body. My menstrual journey that began with my negative symptoms has led to me discovering my calling and becoming a Menstrual Educator!
What do you do as a Menstrual Educator?
I deliver teaching workshops, and I’m a mentor for Red School’s Menstrual Leadership Program, offering support to woman through one-to-one work—which I love.
Where there are menstrual symptoms, often I see there’s a lack of flow, or a disruption in the general ecology of a woman’s cycle. In my case it showed as PMT and period pain. My role, as a Red School Mentor, is to support individuals to come into relationship with their own unique cycle and identify where self-care could be introduced to minimize difficulties they experience.
The method by which we can access the gifts of the cycle is Menstrual Cycle Awareness. It’s a mindful process where we check in with ourselves each day, see how we are and note down how we’re doing, how we’re feeling, how we’re navigating complex or non-complex life situations, how we’re reacting, our dreams… In this way we’re closely tracking how we react to our cycle’s energy flowing through us, every month.
This daily process of deep listening builds an overall picture that a Mentor can use, to help a person come into a relationship with their gifts and their challenges, throughout the cycle month.
Menstrual Medicine Circle
The deepest way to access the medicine of your cycle is by working with the “Menstrual Medicine Circle” process. The MMC is a guided session; quite a slow meditative process, where the woman is taken through her imaginal menstrual cycle. She would bring an intention to work with during the process, and through the unfolding of the session, the insights gained would be brought out as quite often a tangible, attainable practice, to be taken into and experimented with, in the woman’s day to day life.
I find that often the smallest gesture to oneself brings about the biggest shift in a menstruator’s life. It’s extraordinary—the power of this small, almost homeopathic dose works wonders for our over-stretched systems! Things like improving our diets, asserting boundaries, having conversations with those around us, and taking responsibility for ourselves; knowing when to act and when to wait; all these and more are gifted to us, when we engage with our cycle.
The Power of Resting
As an example I worked with a woman who realized she was exercising too much and not giving herself the break she needed. During the session she received the permission she needed to cut the exercise routine down during menstruation.
Menstruation really is of the utmost importance, as a natural time to rest and recharge. If we deny ourselves this gift, we can be in for trouble! So, just by honoring her physical needs, without feeling the need to pressure herself to do exercise, amazingly she found that she had less premenstrual symptoms, and no menstrual cramps the following month! That was huge for her.
We’re never taught that “There’s a time for doing and a time for rest.” We’re taught to push all the time, and push through pain barriers. She was carrying that belief from our society, and the session helped her to undo some of that deeper conditioning.
Are there any particular menstrual products you recommend?
For menstruators who are happy to insert a product as an alternative to tampons, there are menstrual cups. And for those who prefer a pad there are many to choose from, my favorite being EcoFemme cloth pads.
These products have been amazing to discover. They’ve changed my whole life; without cloth pads I wouldn’t have traveled to India or become a Menstrual Activist!
Reasons to green your menstrual products
An average plastic pad takes up to 500-800 years to decompose! And each pad contains 4 carrier-bags-worth of plastic. Unless it’s a product which is specifically labelled as biodegradable and made of cotton, the whole pad is plastic.
Disposable pads also contain bleaches and chemicals that are not disclosed on the packaging, because by law the companies don’t have to. Many women are becoming aware that they are increasing their health risks by putting plastic pads containing chemicals (such as bleaches and carcinogens) against the very sensitive, vascular, absorbent parts of their bodies.
The outlay for a packet of cloth pads (maybe 5 or 6 pads and some pantyliners) may be around £50. If you purchase EcoFemme’s pads they guarantee to last for 75 washes, or 5 years. However mine are six years old and going strong! So when you work it out, they are far cheaper than disposable pads. [Note: At the time of writing, Ecofemme has suspended worldwide deliveries, due to Coronavirus.]
I just wish I’d known about these pads sooner. I didn’t find out about them until I was 30, which is why I love talking about them so much now. In my opinion menstrual hygiene is a health and environmental issue that we’re just not made aware of. The issue starts when we’re young. At school we’re not educated fully about the range of products out there. Sustainable products are not well advertised because they’re often made by smaller companies with low budgets. These products are commonly not found in supermarkets for us to buy. Some women feel a resistance with handling their own blood by washing the pads out, and people imagine it will take a long time to wash and dry them. In my experience cloth pads are pretty easy to use, you care for them the same way as your underwear, and the positive benefits outweigh anything else.
Based in India, EcoFemme is an organization that employs local women to produce the cloth pads. The project started after a year of dialogue between founder Kathy and the local women of Tamil Nadu (South India). Kathy wanted to establish whether these products were wanted, needed, and would be used by the women of the local community. In 2010 EcoFemme was born out of thoughtful consultation and deep passionate care for the earth. Kathy’s team sells pads internationally, donates cloth pads, and delivers woman’s health educational sessions to local school children (Pad for Pad) and disadvantaged women (Pads for Sisters). I am an ambassador for EcoFemme and wholeheartedly support them.
What would you say to women who can’t slow down once a month?
In the ideal world we’d all have a week to recline and luxuriate during our cycle and receive its gifts of restoration and renewal. But this just isn’t always possible. So in Red School there’s something called the 1% rule.
The idea is that we imagine what we would like to happen while we bleed (hours of sleep, foot massages, time dozing on mountains of pillows), and create just a small fraction of something soothing for ourselves. Even if it’s just a gesture of what we’d like to give to ourselves during menstruation it’s still effective.
Mothers are ingenious at this! I’ve heard stories of mums locking themselves in the bathroom to gift themselves a precious 10 minutes to themselves. Some months I just say to myself “Jane, you’re not going to be able to rest this month,” but if I can go for a quick 10-minute lie-down, I will. Or if we have to go to work when we’re bleeding, we can make an intention that we’re going to go really slowly, and not give ourselves a hard time for anything.
Even just the act of not giving ourselves a hard time is so powerful! Just before my period I get very clumsy physically, I bang into everything. When I learned that was quite common, I immediately stopped giving myself a hard time for dropping things, spilling things. Just that small acknowledgement and acceptance made it okay. The 1% can be tiny, but the impact on our nervous systems can be huge.
Where can people go if they are interested in hearing more?
I have a website www.womanswheel.com where I introduce much of my work around menstrual cycle awareness and Eco Activism. I’m always interested in talking to people who don’t know what their next step is regarding caring for themselves around the cycle, or wanting to find out more about sustainable pads.
Write to me if you would like more information, I’d love to hear from you.
Photo: Jane Legge; Ava Sol via Unsplash