Monday, January 6, 2014
FROM FEMINISM TO FEMININITY, YOUR MENSTRUAL CYCLE AND THE MOON
Written by: Lea Perfetti
Edited by: Jamie B Lind
In 2002, I was finishing up my final year at Syracuse University. All students graduating with a focus in Women's Studies had to write a thesis for the final project, which then had to be presented to about 200 people, including all the professors within the department. Save for a few exceptions, almost all of the audience was female. One girl in my class got up to speak. She was someone I barely noticed during those four years, since she kept to herself and, honestly, came across as a bit strange. She began her presentation, which dealt with menstruation and pagan rituals. She spoke about women going into the forest during menses and spreading their blood on the earth, in a sort of ritual to the Goddess and Mother Earth. I remember feeling horrified at such a topic, and somehow it embarrassed me. On the other hand, I also felt a strong desire to hear more about her work on the subject, and maybe even a secret urge to experiment with what she was talking about, which alarmed me. In our modern society, most women feel as though they have to hide their period, and discussing such a topic in a public forum would be considered taboo. As an early bloomer, my younger sister hid her period from our family for years. When I finally got mine, I felt proud and excitedly bragged about it to her, only to be told that she was two years ahead of me! I couldn't comprehend why someone would hide something I saw as a "rite of passage" for so long.
In the years since my college days, I have lived in various countries and have been exposed to many cultures other than the white, middle-class America that I grew up with. Yet, with the distractions of daily life, I got away from my passion for women’s issues that I had in my early twenties. In the last few years, however, I’ve been brought back to this realm through the help of women-centered novels like Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, books I wish I had read at 14. These books brought me back to contemplating what being a woman meant to me on an inner level. They made me remember that long-ago college presentation, and for the first time I began to analyze and possibly enjoy menstruation. These authors made me see menstruation as something powerful and unique to women.
I have been a devoted Ashtanga Yoga practitioner and teacher for over ten years. With my yoga practice at the forefront of my life and with menstruation on my mind, it didn’t take long for me to notice that my menstrual cycle follows the moon's path almost harmoniously each month. I have been an athlete since a young age, but back in the day I was a runner, a swimmer, I lifted weights. I was taught to push through my period, medicating myself when necessary, so that my performance was altered as little as possible. This was so deeply ingrained in me that it was with the same attitude that I approached my yoga practice. After all, wasn't that what women's liberation was all about? Conquering these moments that differentiated us from men? Didn’t we make fun of the girls who sat out of gym class during their periods?
In contrast, the Ashtanga Yoga practice aligns itself with the moon's cycle, and all students are to break from asana practice on both the new and full moons, with women also abstaining during the first three days of menstruation (the latter of which I avoided for the first ten years I practiced). These pauses are intended to reconnect you to the moon's cycle and the undeniable power it has over the human body. Western culture has little connection to the lunar cycle these days. Even so, there still remains a somewhat magical quality surrounding a full moon. People still become awed when they unexpectedly find a bright full moon in the sky, yet most still don’t understand the moon follows a steady 28-day cycle. I have encountered few people who know of and understand moon cycles – fishermen, because their work is based on the tides, farmers, surfers, those who work in biology, and (of course) astrologers and astronomers. Even with the days off from yoga on the new and full moons, I have had yoga students ask me if these moons are on the same days each month, without the vaguest idea that the moon follows its own course each month, moving through the zodiac, from new to full. In fact, as most women are ovulating (and therefore at their most fertile) on the full moon, this synchronicity results in a higher chance of conception on full moons.
Unfortunately, factors such as diet, stress, lifestyle, and drug use (including birth control) have thrown so many women’s rhythms out of sync from the moon’s cycle that most people will continue to view any relationship between the moon and the human body as just a myth. In fact, modern culture has disconnected with our own bodies so much that there is actually an app that will track your menstrual cycle, to tell you when you are ovulating (i.e., the most fertile) or pre-menstrual. Women have reached the point that they cannot decipher physical symptoms in their own bodies for guidance, let alone look to the night sky to do so. I was fortunate enough that as a woman, my body learned – through yoga and a healthy lifestyle – to slowly come back into alignment with these cycles. I have reconnected to the cycles of the moon and see the evidence in my menstrual cycle. As you practice Ashtanga and observe the moon days, you will begin noticing when you are ovulating and menstruating in relationship to the
The lack of understanding women have concerning the relationship of their bodies to the moon’s cycle gives them a disadvantage in becoming more in contact with their bodies natural rhythms. The moon is associated symbolically with our emotions, femininity, intuition, renewal, etc. When we lose this contact that our bodies naturally have with these cycles, we lose contact with ourselves, our essence. We need to remember that this is a sacredness that we naturally have within us. Spirituality does not have to be something we look for outside ourselves – it is something we already have within, naturally. We just have to take the time and make the effort to remember it. This ancient knowledge is in our own bodies, and when most women hear that their menstrual cycle follows that of the moon, and see that their levels of intuition, energy, and creativity are mirrored in this, they are not all that surprised. In my experience, when informed of all this, women seem to remember that they already know. Following these natural cycles brings great power to us, yet we live in a society where women are being driven, by forces from within as well as without, to live lives that are less feminine in nature, which can often result in infertility and other health problems, including menstrual irregularity and extreme PMS. Some advanced Ashtanga yoga practitioners lose their period entirely, when the practice becomes so physically demanding that the body doesn’t have enough energy left for ovulation and menstruation. The prospect of having children often gets pushed farther down women’s list of priorities, with advancement in their careers – or even asanas – getting more attention.
What's my point with all of this? I encourage you to start observing the moon's cycle, from new to full and back again, in relation to your menstrual cycle. As you begin to see how your body is influenced by the moon, having to actively track your period becomes irrelevant, as simply observing how the moon is waxing or waning will let you know where you are in your cycle. Not all women follow an exact 28-day cycle – if yours is shorter or longer, you can still use the moon to know where you are in your cycle. If you have a 25 day cycle like me, which would mean that if I bleed on the last full moon for example, then I know that my next period will come about three days before the next full moon, and subsequently go subtracting days through the moon cycle. As you begin to consciously follow these cycles, you will also see how your energy and intuition levels ebb and flow during the course of the cycle. The new moon is when you are at your lowest, energy-wise, supporting contemplation and inwardness. As the moon seems to “grow,” so too will your energy levels until they peak around the full moon. I see this change in energy reflected in my yoga practice. With increased awareness, you will feel just how many facets of your life are connected to these cycles. I see it reflected in the intensity of my dreams, my ability to intuitively interpret natal charts when doing astrology, the quality of my sleep, how creative I feel, my level of patience with my children….I promise that when you start to develop a relationship between the moon's cycles and your own body, you will not be disappointed. You may even start to feel goddess-like.