Viva logo

A Menstrual Healing Meditation Helped Me Dig Into a Goldmine of Inner Wisdom

It can be a powerful guide and I wish I’d known about it years ago.

By Charlie NicholsonPublished 3 years ago 16 min read
1
Photo by Liz @lizseabrook

I asked my friend Amy McKeown, a mental health and wellbeing and women’s health consultant who works with organisations to develop employee wellbeing strategies, to lead me in a menstrual healing meditation. She is among the first intake of women training to become a facilitator of menstrual medicine circles, a new healing modality developed by psychotherapists and women’s health experts Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer and taught through their UK organisation The Red School. It involves holding a woman in a meditation and using the power of ‘menstrual cycle awareness’ (MCA) to gain insight and healing across the physical, emotional and psychological layers of her being.

I wanted to write about the experience as part of an article about periods. Specifically, the fact that I don’t remember the day of my first period — the day I became a woman — because it seemed to embarrass everyone close to me too much to talk about it. So, I learned not to, and a sense of it being an inconvenience — and a shameful one at that — leached out of family and society and soaked into me as my teenage years unfolded. It had the effect of divorcing me from my own body — its rhythms, its lessons, its sacredness — and any sense of the power and potential I carried around with me.

My period wasn’t something to cherish, to listen to, to be present with. It was something to be suppressed, controlled or made to go away completely. I wanted to be as unaware of it as possible; we all did. I was on the pill by the time I was 16 because everyone else at school was. It was the next ‘grown-up’ thing to do and, wanting to be grown-ups too fast, we wanted in. So, the slightest irregularity in a cycle, or headache-y pre-menstrual slump, or outbreak of spots, and we were queuing up in the school nurse’s office holding our hands out. I was on it for 15 years, living with a manufactured cycle — or without one at all, once I started taking the mini-pill, which stops most people’s bleed altogether. Never could I have imagined that my cycle, if left in peace, would gently align itself with the cycles of the moon, a luminous godmother to walk alongside me on every monthly journey, as orientating as a sextant for a sailor. This was not on the school biology curriculum.

By Mark Tegethoff on Unsplash

I’ve written much more about the enduring impact of this on me and other women I know in another article. Here, I’ve decided instead to turn the whole transcript of my meditation with Amy into an article in its own right. Rather than compressing it into a few lines, I wanted to open in out in the light, give it this space to breathe, and perhaps the opportunity to have a greater impact.

The me of now has been off the pill, or any contraceptive that emits something into my body, for over a decade, so I’m long re-acquainted with self-generated hormonal tides. I know the physical signs when I’m ovulating, recognise the dip into doubt and urge to physically withdraw that comes with the journey towards my bleed. I recognise, in the days immediately before it arrives, the sort of refractive fuzz that descends on my brain, sending my attempts at clarity and speed of mental process spinning off at strange angles, my mind bouncing off coherent thought as though there was a force field in place. And the relief — as though a sluice gate has lifted in body and mind — when the blood and words and ideas and everything else finally flows.

I’ve being thinking of my cycle in terms of the four seasons since Amy recommended Pope’s and Hugo Wurlitzer’s ground-breaking book, Wild Power, to me three years ago. It guides women in reconnecting with the natural rhythms of their menstrual cycles, in how to work with rather than against the energies of the different stages to support their overall wellbeing.

They call our bleed our winter and it’s when our energy is at its lowest. We can feel vulnerable and want to withdraw, from people, from noise, from the world. We are shedding both physically and emotionally, letting go of a cycle’s worth of old potential, freeing ourselves for the new, holding back only the insights that can be found in stillness and stopping — if we allow ourselves space to do so. We can’t always afford the luxury of time to do this, whether it’s because there are families needing attention or many jobs to juggle, or both, but even running a bath, lighting a candle and guarding an hour alone can make a difference. The period after our bleed ends leading up to ovulation is our spring, a time of renewed growth and potential, our energies rising and starting to lift us gently off our keels once more, so that we feel lighter, receptive, turning to face the world again. Then we arrive at summer, the days over which we are ovulating, and not only is there a physical sense of fullness but also often an accompanying sense of fullness of life, an ability to take so much in and by some alchemy turn it into doing, into manifesting, making things happen in our world. And then there is the return of the slide towards winter, our autumn, when that outward-facing energy starts to pull back. We need to shore up our reserves because we are about to release a lot, so quietness calls.

Sometimes I’m able to bend my days into some kind of shape that parallels the particular season I’ve entered, other times I’m not able to, or I’ve unwittingly — because I’m out of step, not paying attention — scheduled something fast-paced and exposing right up against my bleed. I notice, and resolve to be kinder, more mindful. So, I was relatively confident that I was on close terms with my cycle.

But honestly, I was barely scratching the surface.

It started much like any other meditation, drawing awareness into my body, specifically dropping into my pelvic bowl and drawing my breath deeply down into that space. Amy invited me to allow an intention for the experience to form and gave me the option to share it or not. I shared. What came up for me was wanting to honour my body and its worth independently of motherhood. I froze my eggs in 2019 and have done a lot of work to delineate a purpose in life, and sense of self-worth, that is not connected by my ovaries or the society in which I live to whether or not I procreate.

“Imagine your menstrual cycle before you,” Amy said. “Imagine stepping into the centre of your cycle and take a moment or two to orientate yourself. From this place you have capacity to see deeply into your whole cycle and know what is needed. Observe how it’s flowing, or if anything feels stuck, and in your own time, tell me what you’ve become aware of.”

I find visualisation challenging. I use a period tracking app and so something that looked like a circular graphic pulled from one of those floated into my mind’s eye. It felt a little superficial. My strongest sense is sentience, feeling things, arriving at insights and knowing through embodied awareness. I explained this and was invited to use whatever methods I needed to meet my cycle. So, I let the image go and felt into a sense of something turning around me, almost stirring the air against my skin.

By Adam Chang on Unsplash

After a few minutes, Amy explained that we would step into each menstrual phase in turn, starting with menstruation, or winter. She gave me some minutes of silence in which to orientate myself there, time to notice thoughts, emotions, any images. I found myself feeling the sharp corners of the word ‘winter’ with my mind and pulling into consciousness the sensations of bleeding — the heaviness, the pelvic tenderness, the warmth of the flow. There was something else there, a shadow in the wings.

“This period is tinged with a sense of loss,” I said.

“Winter feels like loss? Let’s sit with that loss and see if anything else comes up.”

“It feels like grief.”

Out of nowhere, it seemed, that throat-ache of a sob, and tears began to roll down my face. She asked gently whether the sadness was getting more or less, whether there was anything underneath it.

“A sense that even though I’ve done a workaround by freezing my eggs and taking some of that pressure off, there’s something I’m still suppressing. I’m not allowing myself to feel grief. Perhaps it rears its head every time I have a period — there goes another egg, another potential life — but I’m not acknowledging it.”

We were silent while she let me encounter this grief. She said we were in deepest winter, then. But that the border with spring was coming into sight. She let that land.

By Arno Smit on Unsplash

Silence. Stillness. Tears still pooling at the corners of my eyes, but not enough to fall.

“Has there been any change or shift?”

Yes,” I said, a grip loosened around my throat. “There’s a sense of hope. It’s not a grief of finality. It’s there but it’s not finality. It feels like it’s not the end of this journey.”

Again, we gave this feeling space to breathe, letting the stillness do its work, letting the hope bud and bloom, watchful for anything else that may uncurl from within it. Amazing what is to be found in silence when you’re not rushing away from it or rushing to fill it.

“Kindness towards myself,” I continued a few moments later. “Compassion, love.”

“Where do you feel you are? Have we crossed over to spring?”

“I think so. There’s a rising. Whereas the previous stage felt like a contraction, including in an embodied sense, in my chest, there’s an opening now, a lifting-opening. I think spring has arrived. It’s not just trying; the birds are singing loudly.”

Amy observed that the transition from winter to spring seemed smooth, no resistance, no hold-ups. Strangely, it hadn’t felt hard for me to move past that grief, it wasn’t clingy or grasping. It didn’t immobilise me in the way that grief can.

We enjoyed spring in silence for a while. As Amy let some moments drift by like a languid current, I began to feel fuller in the chest and the spaces around my heart. I described this heart-full-ness, that there was no sense of any lack. In fact, there was plenty, abundance. A feeling of fortune for what I do have, especially for the people that are in my life. Gratitude. More tears but tears pricked by love.

“Shall we move towards that border with summer?”

By Alexander Mils on Unsplash

My awareness traced the voluptuous letters of summer, feeling their roundness, their generosity. Imagined heat on my skin, and internally, the heat of fertility as an egg paraded.

“The word ‘power’ has flashed into my head. Impatience. I have a wanting to do, to write.”

“Can you describe the feeling of power?” Amy asked.

“It’s a sense of being of service but not in a way that’s disempowering. It’s empowering because I feel a strong sense of purpose. I’m purpose-full.”

My face was dry, my body coiled. I could have tripped over the piles of what I suddenly knew I had to offer in my eagerness to get it out into the world. I felt impatient to do.

“Well, let’s drink some of that in.”

I drank awhile. Then Amy chose her moment to start inviting the energy of autumn towards us. As I said, I tend to feel rather than visualise, and so words can have evocative textures. Autumn, tapering off into its low hum, subdued me. My breathing quietened. Thoughts fractured and then dissolved into the hush. Only the word ‘stillness’ remained.

“Is that stillness an enjoyable stillness?”

“Yes, it’s just peaceful. The sense of radiance and wanting to ‘do’ is not there, but I’m not missing it. It feels peaceful. A pause to gather resources. I feel grounded and centred. Not only do I feel stillness but that I can sit in stillness and be equally weighted and not want to be anywhere else.”

Sitting. Silence.

“I have a mantra repeating in my mind. ‘I’m where I’m meant to be’.”

“And how does that sentence make you feel?”

Tears.

“But tears of relief — as though ‘thank god, it took a long time to get here. I’m at the tail end of a battle. Exhausted but relieved to have gotten to a space where I can feel that, instead of feeling that I haven’t achieved enough, or I’m not enough, or I’m not in the right place, or I need to be moving in some direction.”

Long pause.

“I don’t want to leave this place,” I said eventually, almost pleading.

By Erik Witsoe on Unsplash

We lingered some more, me luxuriating in non-movement.

“Let’s start slowly towards winter,” Amy’s voice said quietly, “and let me know how feelings change as we approach the autumn-winter boundary.”

“That slight ache of sadness is present again. It’s not overwhelming, but it’s there, as I start to think about the menstrual blood flowing again.”

But. There was a clear and present but -

“I feel as though there’s more space for the sadness this time. There’s space for me and it. I have a sensation of emptying out, physically, and there’s that slight sense of loss, of having to let something go, but it’s not taking a hold of me. I’m more alongside it rather than being covered by it.”

She held me in mid-winter a little longer, no tears this time. Despite the melancholy, there was also the calm of a muffled landscape after a first deep snowfall.

“I’d like you to take a few moments to solidify your last feelings,” Amy’s voice drifted across this land, “and then come back into the centre of the circle and ground yourself. Find some gesture or action or words to close this process for yourself. Then open your eyes and come back into connection with me.”

“Your intention,” Amy re-capped, “was honouring your body and self-worth independently of motherhood. Does anything come up for you around your intention?”

I reflected.

“I think what was really important was that rather than feeling overwhelmed by a sense of lack, I felt gratitude more strongly — for people, for what I do have — and that peak sense of power and purpose was completely independent of whether or not I become a mother. The thought of mothering wasn’t connected to that. It was all about offering my experiences and learning and skills in service of others. It was just me being uniquely me.”

“For me,” said Amy, “it was interesting that you transferred relatively smoothly between the seasons, there weren’t any major issues with boundaries and thresholds, you didn’t get stuck, so I think in terms of flow, you’re there. I can’t move between spring and summer.”

Intrigued, I asked her to unpack that. During a ‘five rhythms’ exercise the Red School’s facilitator apprenticeship training, in which everyone danced around a room divided up into four sections representing the four seasons by lines on the floor, she found she couldn’t cross from spring to summer. Literally, she came to a halt and stood by that boundary for several minutes, eventually having to jump herself over. Reflecting on it afterwards, she felt it was an expression of the fact that although she’s very good at having ideas, deciding how to get them into manifestation is a challenge. And when she was in the full tilt of summer, she found she was completely ‘over-the-top, over-exposed’, to the extent that when she transitioned into autumn, there was simply a flood of relief.

Bringing it back to me, she revealed that she had set an intention of her own for this meditation. It was ‘to move Charlie into her via negativa, trusting that menstruality will bring balance and insight.’

The via negativa being one of two energetic currents, according to the Red School’s model, running through our cycles. From menstruation to ovulation runs the via positiva, where we’re happy because we’re in this outside world of doing and being busy, enjoying the ‘power of agency’, whereas the via negativa runs between ovulation and menstruation and pulls us away from facing outward, and we want quietness and rest more — the ‘power of encounter’. The meditation I had just done is designed to harness the ‘power of presence,’ using menstruality awareness to meet and integrate the two in order to move towards greater balance.

“The bit of the cycle that was fascinating and that stood out was your autumn,” Amy began to read from her notes. “You felt still. You felt peaceful, pausing to gather resources, grounded and centred, don’t want to be anywhere else, the mantra ‘I am where I’m meant to be’. To me that is the pivotal part of the cycle because you’re such a do-er — you’ve been going and pushing and doing and moving. You’re a great one for, ‘I’ll do another course, I’ll do some writing, I’ll travel, I’ll learn Spanish, I’ll just be busy and do stuff’, it’s all agency and activity. But then you finally stopped and oh my god, the relief! You were tearful that it took you so long to get to a point where you were comfortable stopping. Nothing about not having achieved enough. That was the gold in all of this, because you’ve got there. But you’ve got there having pretty much exhausted yourself, and so you’re thinking, ‘oh, actually it’s ok here, actually I like being here’. And by the time you’ve gone through that, you’re able to approach winter again with more space for these feelings of sadness, you’re not enveloped by them, because you’ve had the pause in autumn. And that pause was crucial, because you were where you were meant to be by NOT doing anything.”

We laughed and then I cried. I cried because I recognised so profoundly the mirror she, or rather my own body, had held up to me, and finally — finally, after what feels like a very long time — I felt able to give myself permission to stop.

Menstrual cycle awareness — tracking our cycle — is just the entry point, ‘the tip of the iceberg above the water’, according to Amy, while the vastness beneath is the energetics and the knowing and intuition. Our bleed is the anchor of the cycle, so how much rest we take and how much space we manage to create for insight to float to the surface will affect the rest of it. If we work flat out during our period, we are going to burn out half-way through the cycle.

“We were also taught that when you bleed the veil between you and the outside world is the thinnest, and more women kill themselves then than at any other time of the month. It’s an unboundaried, joining-the-universal kind of energy, and sitting with that intensity is tough. But if you sit with it and remain present, afterwards you get that gold, that insight, that what’s-happening-when. I find it very difficult to sit without having a gin and tonic just before I bleed because of the intensity of feelings and emotions. And I don’t beat myself up about it, I’ll just have a gin and tonic, but it’s being aware of that process, of what’s at play.”

There are other women’s health guides developing other models. Always keen to explore additions to her personal and professional toolkit, Amy had just completed a 10-week course on ‘mindfulness menstruality’, which is designed to run across two monthly cycles. It was led by Elaine Rose Leela, a mindfulness therapist, facilitator and menstruality leadership mentor specialising in individual and organisational learning and development. During the course, Leela talked about the importance of ‘understanding our own maps, charting our own cycles’ in order to gain deep self-knowledge. Attendees were asked to write down three words to chart each day — three words that captured what came up for them physically, mentally and emotionally — and then over time to look for patterns. The idea being that the more we study our cycles and find patterns, the more we can adapt our lives around them, so that we’re not rubbing up against what’s playing out. Every woman is different, every cycle is different, so every map will be different.

This is a snippet of Amy’s map…

“I know that on my day 24 it’s as though the brakes have been slammed on. That’s the day when suddenly I can’t move, the radio’s too loud, as are the children, and it’s as though I’ve been walloped. But on my day 14, I’m there with Christmas tinsel and a hat on, jumping around….”

“It’s important,” she continued, “that we create our own maps because we don’t know this. A lot of the chemicals, drugs and healthcare protocols we use have only been clinically tested on men, or male mice, so there’s little understanding of the symptoms and interactions with female bodies. And a lot of the CBT-type processes we have are very masculine. CBT is a linear thinking process, it’s not actually cyclical. I want to put a women’s health strand into organisational policies. I want to embed it into organisations in the same way that I embed mental health and wellbeing strategies.”

Since doing the meditation, I’ve changed a number of my plans — removing big things from my long ‘to do’ list. On some things I’ve just hit ‘cancel’ and watched time open up around me. And, unusually for me, I do not feel guilty at all.

This tool, this loving, guiding wisdom, is right here inside us all the time. Powerful and mystical and, for too long, completely overlooked. But the work of change-makers like Amy and Elaine Rose Leela and The Red School is gathering pace and re-connecting women with their bodies the world over. And I am very pleased to meet mine.

health
1

About the Creator

Charlie Nicholson

Yoga teacher. Trauma sensitive yoga teacher. Freelance writer & copywriter. Freelance documentary development executive. Passenger of plant medicines. Follow me on IG: @charlienicyoga & find out more at charlienicholsonyoga.com

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights

Comments

There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.