Updated: Jul 16, 2021
In the past, I have often struggled with painful period cramps – sometimes they’ve been so painful that I’ve gone into altered states of consciousness. I can feel faint and dizzy and lose my concentration – I’ve sometimes been forced to take pain-killers, hold a hot water bottle and writhe on the bed to get into a soothing rhythm. Recent research from 2018 by Professor John Guillebaud at the UCL Institute for Women's Health has revealed that the pain of period cramps can be as painful as a heart attack.
Women are not being dramatic when they speak about these experiences and the pain can arise as intense spasms across the belly. When the muscular walls of the womb tighten or contract, this compresses the blood vessels, which temporarily cuts off the blood supply to the womb. The body releases pain-triggering chemicals as well as prostaglandins which encourage the womb muscles to contract more.
'Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May' by John William Waterhouse -
the painting was inspired by a poem by Robert Herrick which begins:
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
I have noticed a correlation between the intensity of my period cramps and what I have processed throughout the month – if I have been processing any repressed traumatic memories then I notice that the period cramps can be particularly intense. Yet at other times, my periods can be completely pain-free and feel very harmonic. For this reason, I have always felt that my issues have been energetic or emotional rather than physical. Please note that I am speaking about my own experiences here and understand that everyone’s experiences with cramps may be very different - some people may have physical ailments such as endometriosis, for example and may need medical care. This blog is not intended to give any form of advice, but just to share some awareness about the topic.
Enlightenment and Moon Cycles
I recently discovered this talk by Jewels Wingfield about spirituality and the womb and how the path of enlightenment for a woman involves an in-depth understanding of the womb and cycles. She also discussed the topic of the womb processing energies for each month and how the menstrual period can show us what is in alignment with our life and what is not:
“All we need to do is bleed consciously and it is all offered to us. Because the process of menstruation is actually an honouring of a death, literally. It’s an egg that didn’t get fertilised and the lining of that womb is able to hold life and to sustain a life for nine months until it gives birth. That’s potent. Right there is the essence of it, of that flip between death and rebirth. So by honouring that time and really bleeding consciously and ideally bleeding into the ground we plug back in and we compost anything where we were out of alignment…So a lot of women will say, in spring and summer I override myself loads, I become the superwoman syndrome, I’m all things to everyone, I’ve got a massive to do list…and you’re flipping exhausted because it’s unsustainable. So all the places here where you went ‘yes’ when actually it needed to be a ‘no,’ where you override yourself…we know it’s not what we need but we do it anyway – and then here – the pre-menstrual phase, is going to hold a mirror up and go this is where you over-rode yourself and that is the process of pre-menstrual…it’s like when a wave comes up on a beach and it brings whatever it brings with us and as the wave goes back you’re left with what’s on the beach and it’s that that wants tending to…Now because we haven’t been taught how to be with that as a culture, it comes out very distorted…” Jewels Wingfield.
‘She could not help setting the door a little ajar, just to peep in, when -
Pop! out flew the Moon’ - illustration by Kay Nielsen
‘The Drop’ – the Time of Menstruation
The time of menstruation is sometimes referred to as ‘the drop’ and can be a deeply mystical and inward time.
“You are being asked to literally drop everything to die, to literally die, it means letting go of the to-do list, letting go of worrying, taking care of everybody else, letting go of control, letting go of all of it, and just give yourself to the earth…just like the seed in the winter that deepens in the earth and it just allows itself to be broken open, ready for a new shoot to come in spring. But it knows it just has to sit there in the void, in the darkness, being fed by Spirit. So, this is the time, you are in holy space, you are in the temple and you are being fed by Spirit, but you can only do that if you’re willing to surrender. This is why the deepest practise for a woman is to surrender.” Jewels Wingfield.
Learning more about the cycles of my moon has been deeply nourishing for me and I am honouring my connection with these ancient rhythms by listening in regard to my energy levels during the spring, summer, autumn and winter of each moon cycle. Generally, it is thought that during spring, we may feel our energy arise and are more inspired; in summer we may feel full of energy and wish to take action; in autumn we may notice a mellowing of our energy and take in more times for reflection and in the winter, we may notice that we wish to spend time alone and don’t have so much energy for others - this is 'the drop.'
Childhood Abuse and Period Pain
Our bodies can store trauma and for more information about this topic I thoroughly recommend the book ‘The Body Keeps the Store’ by Bessel van der Kolk. One study from the journal, ‘Human Reproduction’ revealed that women who have experienced physical or sexual abuse in childhood may have an increased risk of endometriosis where extra tissue attaches itself to the ovaries and fallopian tubes and this extra tissue creates cysts or scar tissue – these cells can cause intense pain when they are shed.
Other research including one study from the ‘Journal of Women’s Health’ showed that women are more likely to develop PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) if they experienced childhood emotional or physical abuse:
In the past I have found yoni massages to be a very potent healing tool for helping me to release tension from my yoni and to become more connected with my body. To honour these ancient cycles and the life-giving powers of the womb has also been a beautiful shift in perception that I have experienced in recent times.
'The Soul of the Rose' by John William Waterhouse
“Memories and injuries are stored in the body, and when we begin to listen to the signals of our body, old unresolved trauma can surface. Trauma and trauma responses are common barriers to feeling and pleasure in the body. They can range from mild discomfort and an unwillingness to feel, all the way to debilitating emotions and, in extreme cases, severe distress and inability to function…If your body is not able to process whatever trauma you have experienced, it will get stuck and create a neuromuscular pattern of bodily contraction. This pattern will have all the information of the event, plus your fear or defense response, and any bodily sensations. A similar event, or emotional or bodily sensation, can trigger the pattern and reawaken the trauma response.” Michaela Boehm, ‘The Wild Woman’s Way.’
I’ve been called in recent months to develop more of a relationship with my yoni and to honour this sacred, life-giving space. I have found the work of Bonnie Bliss to be really helpful in this regard and she can be found on Instagram:
Yoni massages can help to release tension or trauma in the body and are usually not intended for chasing orgasms but for developing relaxation. I have found connecting with my womb and cervix to be very healing and connecting in such an honouring way wasn’t something that I was taught about in my culture. To connect with my cervix, I need to be really grounded and in a state of deep relaxation – I always ask for permission before doing a yoni massage. For self-pleasure, I also ask for permission to experience an orgasm - however, in recent times I have not felt the calling to engage in self-pleasure since I have needed to keep my energy very focused. Cervical orgasms are gifts that arise in their own time and are not something I chase – I also find cervical orgasms to be incredibly blissful, healing and nourishing to my whole nervous system.
“The cervix is the entrance of the womb, and is often very sensitive to touch or contact. It is said that emotional hurt gets stored on and around the cervix, and by touching and subsequently stimulating the cervix, we can release those old stored emotions. Many women find the area to be anywhere from lightly sensitive to extremely painful to the touch. With careful stimulation over time, the area can become very pleasurably enlivened, and eventually, cervical orgasms can occur. Most women report that the prerequisite for cervical orgasms is a feeling of openness and relaxation, and that the orgasm itself feels like a wave of pleasure moving through the whole body, with the aftereffects sometimes lasting hours or even days. There is a strong emotional component to the cervical orgasm experience. For some women, the sensation has an expansive quality far beyond physical pleasure, and many report a feeling of emotional well-being and openness afterwards.” Michaela Boehm, ‘The Wild Woman’s Way.’
Image from michaelaboehm.com
The cervix is connected to the heart and throat via the vagus nerve and for this reason is thought to be very ‘heart-opening’ and deeply relaxing. There are many ways that we can learn to re-sensitise the body and get back in touch with our subtle sensations and pleasure and I have found Michaela Boehm’s work really helpful in this regard. Michaela is a classical Kashmiri Tantric lineage holder and also has degrees in psychology:
“How much we can perceive depends to a large degree on how relaxed our body is. As with pleasure, how much we are embodied and sensitized determines how fully we can perceive. The information is always available, but the stimuli of modern life can both acutely and habitually dull our sensory perception…By learning how to relax and listen to the signals of your body, you will be able to deepen your intuitive ability considerably.”
What is your relationship like with your womb, moon and these ancient cycles? Have you found some practises that have been helpful in deepening this connection? Thank you for reading.