Oriental Medicine (OM) has a unique way of looking at the menstrual cycle for women’s health and wellbeing. It is a view that is guided by nature, Taoist principles, yin/yang theory and Qi/blood.
These principles are based on eating and living according to the rhythms of nature, changes of the seasons and listening to your body’s own unique qualities, which leads to health and balance.
By being mindful of how your cycle’s rhythms mirror the flow of the natural world, you can achieve a deeper, more intuitive understanding of your body.
Here, it is a brief summary of yin and yang characteristics:
As you see in the chart, Yin and Yang refers to two opposing qualities. They cannot exist without each other and interchange/transform to maintain balance in nature. There are aspects of the menstrual cycle which are distinctly Yin and Yang, however the constant movement and flux of your hormones leads to change.
Qi and Blood
Qi is the energy that flows through the meridians of the body, it can be explained as the driving force that provides life to the cells in the body.
In OM, blood is nourishing in nature ( Nourishing the body and mind) and plays an important role within the female reproductive system, particularly when it comes to supporting growth of the endometrial lining.
4 phases of menstrual cycle
If we look at the cycle from a biological perspective, we can divide it into four phases, these phases are regulated by the hypothalamus and the anterior pituitary gland of the brain and the ovaries.
Let’s look at the 4phases of the cycle in OM perspectives.
PHASE 1 MENSTRUATION: BLOOD
- The uterine lining (endometrium) discharges from the body, and the pituitary begins making FSH and LH hormones to stimulate growth of new follicles (eggs).
- In OM, the focus is on invigorating the flow of Qi and blood to ensure the lining can fully slough off. This also helps with reducing cramping (which can be a sign of stagnant blood). Acupuncture and herbs for nourishing blood & moving Qi applied.
- Lifestyle tip: Your energy is focused inward, there tends to be more dreaming. You are releasing blood. Rest enough, eating well and create time to be alone to restore your own energy. Gentle exercise & warming food recommended.
- Foods: comfort foods such as stews, whole grains and root vegetables.
PHASE 2: FOLLICULAR PHASE : YIN
- One of the follicles becomes dominant and begins to produce more and more estrogen. This causes the uterine lining to thicken and cervical fluid to increase.
- In OM, the focus is on building yin, which corresponds to the blood and tissue in the uterine lining. However there is also a yang aspect in the growth of the dominant follicle. Acupuncture & herbs for Kidney Jing & YIN applied.
- Lifestyle tip: Women tend to feel more outgoing and have increased activity in this phase. This time of the month is best for vigorous exercise, creative plans and having visions.
- Foods: Protein-rich foods are recommended in order to build yin and blood. Beans, fish, eggs and meat are all good choices. Cooked leafy greens and shellfish such as mussels, oysters and various seafood to re-mineralize the body after bleeding.
PHASE 3: OVULATION:YANG
- LH hormone surges, triggering the release of the egg from the dominant follicle. Fertile cervical mucus increases, and the cervix is open.
- In OM, this is when yin energy is at its peak and yang energy begins to rise. This is when your body goes from yin dominance (just before ovulation) to yang dominance (just after ovulation). Acupuncture & herbs for Kidney Yang, heart and Live Qi applied.
- Lifestyle tip: Express your thoughts and feelings, engage in creative activities.
- Foods: lighter foods such as fish, quinoa and salads. In general, Oriental Medicine recommends avoiding too many raw foods since they have a cold nature and can be difficult to digest, but if you eat some raw foods together with cooked foods, this is more balanced. For example, have a salad with cooked chicken and whole grains.
PHASE 4: LUTEAL PHASE (POST-OVULATION):QI
- The corpus luteum (the “shell” of the dominant follicle from which the egg was released) begins to secrete progesterone, further changing the uterine lining and causing your body temperature to be consistently higher. The egg travels down the fallopian tube into the uterus. If the egg has been fertilized, implantation occurs.
- In OM, this is when yang energy is at its peak. If you become pregnant, there is a lot of energy and movement required for rapid cell division and growth of the embryo which has just implanted. However as always there is yin energy working too: if you are not pregnant, not much is going on with your uterine lining (stillness=yin) and in the few days before your period begins. Herbs for Kidney Yang, acupuncture for Heart & Liver Qi applied.
- Lifestyle tip: Feeling more introverted, intuitive. Premenstrual symptoms such as irritability or crying easily are your body’s clues to slow down and take care of your self. Reduce vigorous exercise and social meetings. Journal/draw your thoughts and feelings.
- Foods: Warming foods help to support the warm, yang energy. Increase protein intake again, cooked vegetables, brown rice.
Ko Jihae is a registered acupuncturist, somatic therapist, artist & researcher based in Amsterdam. Her work explores health of body, mind, emotion and spirit by integrating knowledges of Oriental Medicine, somatic healing and art creation. Ko helps her clients to feel at rest and assist healing process where clients can connect to their own self healing capacity.
She grew up with Traditional Korean Medicine; her father is a life long Korean medicine practitioner in South Korea. Initially she worked as a professional dancer and choreographer. She brings years of body knowledge in her practice.
She is a co-owner of Medicine Body Studio in Amsterdam.