Menstrual problems are unfortunately very common. We’ve come to think of period pain and discomfort, and menopause symptoms, as normal because most people born female experience them and, especially in the West, receive little practical information about improving the often debilitating issues. I haven’t met many women who haven’t experienced mild to severe pain at some point or ongoingly. Most people don’t realise the symptoms can actually be treated. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), period pain and problems like blood clots, adenomyosis and endometriosis, are caused by a blockage in the circulation of Blood Qi. Qi means ‘vital force’ or ‘energy’, and refers to the flow of that energy circulating around the body. If this flow isn’t smooth and harmonised, we experience physical and emotional symptoms like fatigue and emotional instability. And vice versa, physical and emotional imbalances can cause menstrual irregularities to worsen.
In TCM, the main menstrual issues can also be due to Heart and Spleen disharmony or Liver and Kidney imbalances, which cause qi, blood and fluids in the body to alter. This doesn’t refer literally to the organs themselves in the Western sense, but rather the function of the organ’s energy. So, for example, in TCM the Heart energy is to do with the heat or ‘fire’ in the body. Anything rising upwards – anger, red face, shoulder tension – is an overabundance of this energy. When applied to menstruating, Heart and Spleen work together to transport blood around the body. The Heart/Fire is very important for the smooth flow of blood circulation and warmth around the body, and Spleen energy controls and ‘contains’ the blood and controls the raising of Qi. If Qi is flowing well, blood will harmonise with it and periods will be comfortable and easy…imagine that!
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are many causes of menstrual imbalances and menopause symptoms, and there are three main types of menstrual irregularity which are treated in different ways. As in all TCM practices, our emotional wellbeing is part of the holistic approach to balanced and optimum health. The list below shows the three main types and their emotional and physical symptoms. There are, of course, cross-overs and changes to cycles depending on what’s going on in a person’s life. Just before and during menopause, for example, symptoms will often show differently from those categorised below.
- Deficient heat in Blood and/or Qi, Kidney Yang Qi deficiency – periods are often early, heavy periods, dark colour, pain any time, long periods, lower back pain, pain in lower stomach, dizziness, tinnitus, poor memory, getting cold easily.
- Stagnation of Blood or Cold, or Blood deficiency, Kidney Yin deficiency – periods often late, pain before period, not much blood, dizziness, night sweats, feeling too hot, sweaty palms and soles of feet, blurred vision, irritability, swollen lower abdomen.
- Spleen deficiency, stagnation of Liver Qi or Liver Blood – some clots in blood, blood flow can be ‘out of control’, dark colour, swollen abdomen, irritability, feeling unsettled, anxiety, depression, irregular periods, pain during or before period.
As well as the use of herbs to balance these irregularities, acupressure and Tuina massage, qigong exercises and healing mudra meditations are also prescribed. The main Tuina massage principles are to ease the flow of qi and energise the blood, and harmonise the energy flow between the internal organs. After the foundation massage sequence, additional massage treatments are added depending on the particular problems experienced. Strengthening Kidney energy is always a main focus as the Kidneys store and release our vital energy. This essence (‘Jing’) governs our growth and development as well as our reproductive health.
I teach these massage techniques and the foundation principle of Chinese Massage privately. As it’s necessary to understand energy flow and to balance and strengthen your energy in order to practice TCM, these techniques are taught along with qigong and meditation. I will be running a ‘Feminine Force’ workshop over three sessions starting on 23rd June. The workshops will include specific qigong exercises for strengthening feminine energy, qigong-yoga for restoring women’s vitality, qigong for clearing anger and over-thinking, massage points for settling heavy periods and strengthening qi, and meditations to help with anxiety, tension and uplifting the spirit. Although this workshop is obviously aimed more at women, it is also suitable for men – we all have both masculine and feminine energy.
In the meantime, here are a few Traditional Chinese Medicine principles for helping to improve menstrual and menopause problems:
- Eat warm, lightly cooked food. Cold and raw food and drinks decrease energy flow and drains energy from the body, causing imbalances and blockages.
- Eat less spicy and fried foods and drink fewer caffeinated drinks, these can all cause an overabundance of heat in the body.
- Unregulated emotions – unexpressed anger, over-worrying, getting angry a lot and overthinking – are signs of organ energy imbalance and cause the body to be impaired.
- Anger is associated with the Liver energy (the Liver meridian (energy channel) encircles the reproductive organs)
- Excessive worrying is connected with the Spleen energy
- Fear is associated with the Kidney energy
- To help regulate these emotions, practice meditation and breathing exercises (available in my Facebook and Instagram pages; paint, write or create in another way that helps you to express your emotions healthily; pay greater attention to your habits and make positive changes to help yourself feel happier (again, I an support you with that in my social media pages).