10/5/2015

Why I Plan My Life Around My Period

Why I Plan My Life Around My Period by Ashley Neese

Growing up I hated my period. It was painful, messy and I couldn’t wait for it to be over. I dreaded ‘that time of the month’. I knew I’d feel like a basket case and would either have to stay in bed for two days or down half a bottle of Advil which was rough on my stomach and gave me diarrhea.

Not a pretty picture I know, but back then these were the only tools I had. Even after getting on birth control in high school I still had terrible PMS.  My doctors that told me there wasn’t anything that could be done. It was my lot in life to have severe PMS and I just had to live with it.

And I did, until my inner wisdom kicked in and I started asking more questions. When the top gynecologists had nothing for me but stronger meds I knew something was off. After years of struggling on and off the pill I decided it was time to give my body a break and take a more holistic and natural approach to my PMS.

What I have learned through bringing my hormones into balance and supporting other women on a similar journey is that there is SO much we can do. You don’t have to be relegated to terrible periods indefinitely, in fact there are many dietary, lifestyle, and energetic changes you can start to incorporate right away that will significantly shift the way you experience your monthly cycle.

In my case coming off the pill was followed up by a PCOS diagnosis. This is very common for women who have been on hormone supplements since their teenage years. During your younger years the body is designed to start preparing for childbearing even if you are years away from wanting a family. When you take synthetic hormones your body gets off balance very quickly. If you decide to come off the pill it can take months or years to regulate your hormones and often times this process is so frustrating women go back on the pill. While taking birth control pills will in most cases prevent unwanted pregnancy, clear your skin or relieve some or all of your PMS symptoms, it doesn’t address the root cause of PMS.

Learning how to balance my hormones has had everything to do with learning how to balance my life. When you experience PMS your body is communicating a very clear message to you – something is off. Just like when you get a headache or feel run down, your body is letting you know it’s time to make a change. I cannot tell you how many times I have ignored my body’s signals over the years. I can be really stubborn. In the case of my hormones, I had to get PCOS to take a breath, pause, and turn my attention inward to do the healing that was required.

Hearing the words you have PCOS was a real wake up call for me. While looking back I’m not 100% convinced I had full blown PCOS, I did have many of the symptoms including a super irregular periods, loads of cysts on my ovaries, and cystic acne. Those symptoms were enough to push me into researching what I could do for my wellbeing besides going back on birth control and taking Metformin for the rest of my life.

One of the first changes I made on my hormone healing journey was dietary. I stopped being vegan, quit eating refined carbs (pasta, bread, etc) and started drinking daily bone broth. This was major. Going back on animal foods was challenging at first but I knew deep down that to change at the cellular level and work with my hormones, food was key.

Once bone broth was part of my life I started to nourish my body according to each phase of my cycle. I learned how to do with with the help of an acupuncturist here in L.A. and then last year discovered this life changing book. Get a copy right now and devour it. Woman Code is one of those books every woman needs to read when she’s in high school. I can’t even imagine how different my life would have been had I had access to this information earlier in life. Another huge bonus to learning to live in sync with your cycles is protecting your fertility which Alisa talks about in her book.

The next big step I took was changing my lifestyle. I’ve learned to follow the natural rhythms of my cycle through paying attention and slowing down. Today I know that during ovulation my energy is peaking making it an ideal time to multitask, set up business meetings, and enjoy a fuller schedule. On the flip side, when I am menstruating my body needs rest and it is a much more introspective time. It’s not super complicated, we’re just so out of touch as a society that it can take some time to integrate this into a practice.

Before I started this practice I pretty much always had something major scheduled on the first two days of my period. I’d be launching a new workshop, teaching a seminar, or have 6 back to back clients. I’d be super drained from work and my cramps would be even more intense. My acupuncturist told me that in some rural villages in China it is still common practice for menstruating women to take a few days off to nourish themselves and rest. This was big in Native Americans culture as well. During the moon time as it was often referred to, women would gather together to share stories and pay attention to their dreams. It was widely accepted that bleeding women were highly intuitive and their visions for the community were respected.

Imagine growing up in a culture where women were told to honor their feminine energy, the natural ebbs and flows of their cycles, and were actually respected for their inner wisdom? This is is the kind of world I want to create for future women. I can feel in core how much I want this.

When you learn to live in harmony with your cycle you connect to the deepest parts of yourself. Your periods are no longer sources of shame and embarrassment but sources of incredible power and wisdom. Honoring your body’s need for replenishment and rest during your period is the best way you can take care of yourself and the women in your life. When I get a text from a friend cancelling on me because she is staying home to rest on her cycle, I am overjoyed because I know she is honoring herself and in turn honoring the spirit of all women.

I plan my life around my period and I wouldn’t have have it any other way. Making dietary and lifestyle shifts has taken my PMS symptoms down from a 10 to a 2. For a woman that grew up hating her period this is a really big deal. As a result of living this way for the last few years and with the support of western herbs, my cycle has become very regular, my cysts are gone, my skin cleared, and most importantly I have learned to live with all of my feminine parts instead of pushing them away or medicating them to death.

Today when I get cramps I breathe into them and slow myself down. I enjoy a mineral rich broth, heaps of cooked veggies, moon time tea, and take time to look at what else I can let go of in my life. Giving my body the space and time it needs to rest and repair during my period has done wonders for my energy levels, meditation practice and has helped strengthen my intuition in profound ways.

During the week leading up to my period I start to slow down little by little. I do my best not to schedule too much extra activities and spend more time writing, cleaning up around the house and preparing for my period. Once my period arrives I honor it and give myself plenty of room to move as slowly as I want to. I don’t schedule a bunch of clients or work. I tune into the subtle energies of my body.

I realize that we can’t all not work during the first day or two of our period or completely stop our lives. If you have to work or need to tend to your children see where you can carve out a little extra time to rest. Don’t take on anything that isn’t essential. Ask for extra support around this time from your partner or friends. Use whatever resources you have to make taking time for yourself a priority. The more balanced you are the more balanced your entire life will be. As women it’s our job to set the caliber in our relationships, families, and work settings. This happens through radical self care.

As a side note, I do my best not to travel on my period but please know I am not fanatic about any of these practices. It’s important that you make changes slowly so they can be integrated into your life. Years of living out of sync with your cycle doesn’t need to change in one month and we don’t need you make yourself stressed. Take a breath. Give yourself time to absorb all of this and take baby steps.

The simple acts of changing my diet to reflect my cycle and honoring my body’s need for rest and reflection during my period have completely changed the way I take care of myself, work with my energy and support the women in my life. As much as all of this wisdom is ancient in living within the body of every woman, our culture does not support this at all so it is important to create community around it. This is one of the main reasons I wanted to share this on the blog. By honoring and empowering ourselves we give the women in our lives space to do the same.

Planning your life around your period can be as fun and stress free as you choose to make it. If you feel a little nudge reading this post to make a change in your life start this week. There is no reason to wait. If you need support in this area please reach out. I am here for you.

I look forward to having a great discussion around all of this. Please leave a comment and share your experiences with us.

Lots of love.

xoa

Comments

  • Stefanie Ingram

    Thank you for this post Ashley. I too have long suffered severe PMS. For years I have felt discouraged to take it slow during my period, from both men and women. Why is it that the majority of society thinks women are ‘weak’ or ‘soft’ for taking time out during their period to listen to and nurture their bodies. Thanks for your encouragement. I would be very interested to hear more about the dietary changes that helped your PMS symptoms. They could be worth a try!

    • ashley

      Hey Stefanie, thanks so much for being here and sharing your experiences. Our culture is totally out of whack when it comes to this – way too much masculine energy around! We are absolutely stronger when we take time out for ourselves and honor our cycles. Grab a copy of the book I linked to – it has a full protocol to follow and will be a huge support to you. Keep me posted! Lots of love and thanks again for sharing. xoa

  • hannah

    I’ve been seeing a lot of posts about this around recently and am really encouraged by them, it’s so nice to see periods being talked about for a change! Personally, I’ve been on the pill since I was 16 – I’m now 26 – and was prescribed it due to painful, heavy periods. I’ve never really had any issues with the pill; my skin stayed clear, any PMS symptoms were minor and I liked knowing exactly when I would be on. However, in the past 18 months I’ve suddenly been suffering from very severe eczema all over my body and, after taking two courses of antibiotics and steroids (oral and topical) which did nothing to address the problem, I turned to natural remedies to begin healing. I’ve cut out gluten/dairy (after blood tests and an elimination diet) and use 100% natural products, often that I make myself. I also meditate, practise yoga, cycle, and eat a very nutrient-dense diet. YET still I suffer with increasingly frequent flare ups and dry, scaly, rashy skin. I figured the last synthetic element in my life is the pill and I’m considering coming off it. However, I’m terrified! My body has been through so much recently that I worry another big – huge – change will throw it even more out of wac. I don’t want to give my skin any more reason to freak out. Any advice from yourself Ashley, or the community, on this?

    • ashley

      Hello Hannah,
      I totally hear where you are coming from. Thank you for being so honest and open. I appreciate you sharing your story with us. It is wonderful to read that you are engaged in such a well rounded life with meditation, yoga and taking care of yourself. I suggest finding an acupuncturist or naturopathic doctor in your area to help get to the root cause of your eczema and prescribe a customized herbal formula to support your healing. I completely understand being afraid to come off the pill especially with all of this going on. Take some time to really get clear if coming off the pill is the best decision for you right now. I am all for women not being on synthetic hormones, but you need to do what is right for you in at this time. Please keep us posted on this. I’ll be thinking of you. Lots of love, xoa

  • KT Smail

    Ashley, thank you for this post, I can relate to it so deeply! I am currently trying to work through the PCOS diagnosis I received last year with herbs, acupuncture, food and lifestyle. I loved womancode and am trying to incorporate the eating for different stages of my cycle. I have had wildly irregular and very painful periods since I came off the pill aged 18 and it is so amazing and beautiful to feel my body and cycle start to shift. A maca / shatavari blend from my herbalist has helped hugely, as has acupuncture but I really believe the best thing has been learning to slow down before and during my period. Giving ourselves permission to honor the body’s wisdom is so powerful, but it took me a long time to be able to do this in our society where resting feels weak. I love what you say about encouraging each other to take this time, and to reclaim the power in going inwards. So true! Things are getting better for me but I still have to use painkillers on the first day of my period as the pain is so awful. Did you find anything in particular that worked for bad cramping on those first couple of days? I feel like I have tried everything! x

    • ashley

      Hey dear! Thank you so much for writing and sharing your experiences here. I love connecting with other women around these issues, it’s so important. It is wonderful to read that you are feeling your body shift and the subtle energies of your cycle. It’s deeply powerful. I agree with you 100% that resting before and during are some of the most important steps we can take. It’s totally counter culture but my dream is that more of us will live this way and pass this wisdom down to the younger women in our lives. It took me a long time too. Longer than I care to admit but it was a deep rewiring process for me, I was very trained to go go go go and never wanted to slow down and connect in the ways that we are talking about. I take a lot of herbs which have helped a great deal. These days I drink 4 cups of an herbal infusion everyday and it’s helped a great deal but I still have to take Advil on many first days and I just accept it. I’m always searching for another solution but somedays the pain is just too much. I’ll be sure to post if I come up with an alternative solution. I keep telling my acupuncturist boyfriend he needs to come up with an herbal Advil ;) Thinking of you and thanks again for being here. So grateful for you. xoa

      • KT

        Just let me know when that herbal advil is available to buy ;) Thanks for your kind words, have a lovely day! xo

  • Barbara

    This is one of my favorite posts so far! As a woman who has struggled with severe emotions before my period, I’ve been looking for information that speaks to all of the challenges of a woman’s cycle. I started tracking my cycle a few years ago while I had a copper IUD that was giving me all kinds of problems, including severe acne, pain, etc. I started paying attention to my body and finally got the courage to get it taken out and practice natural birth control via the fertility awareness method. It has changed my life! I’ve learned so much about my body and continue to learn something new all the time. I’m still trying to address the anger, anxiety, mood swings, cravings that come after ovulation a week or so before my period. Any advice?

    I loved reading the energy surge during ovulation (just experienced that this past weekend). Thanks Ashley!

    • ashley

      Hi Barbara,
      Thank you for writing. I really appreciate you sharing this part of your story with us and I am so glad you had the courage to take out the IUD and learn the FAM. That is super inspiring. To help with sugar cravings eat plenty of cooked root veggies like squash and yams. Be sure you are getting plenty of B vitamins (maybe even try a whole food B complex vitamin). Brown rice is also a great source of B vitamins and this will also help with feeling irritable and moody. Also, calcium and magnesium here are key. Apples, collards, spirulina. Stay away from processed grains and refined sugar which throw our moods out of whack. Keep us posted and have a great week. Lots of love. xoa

  • Meg @ AdventuresinVerdance.com

    This post. Seriously.

    I’ve been to several doctors trying to find out what’s been wrong with me for the past 14 years and the best answer I’ve gotten was, “small, slow cervix” and tons of Naproxen, which never worked. Vomiting from pain just isn’t normal, no matter what societal bias you put behind it. I just recently heard an interview with the author of Woman Code and it really helped me along with my journey. In short, things have been a lot better when I’m taking it from a holistic approach, rather than throwing pills at the problem. I quit the pill two years ago and have been working on healing. My body just needed someone to listen to it, I guess.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • ashley

      Hey Meg,
      Thank you for being here and sharing some of your experiences with us. This is such an important topic. I am glad you are working on your healing and noticing a difference from taking a holistic approach. Wishing you a wonderful weekend. Lots of love. xoa

  • Guest

    It’s to hear someone give their cycle the attention it deserves. From your blog’s recommendation, I have read woman code, and it has made me much more attune to the phases of my cycle and different foods to eat throughout. Thank you for broaching this taboo topic in such a thoughtful manner.

    Despite my efforts to help my week-long PMS (all-over bloat like 4 lbs, moodiness and low energy), followed by a painful period, I’ve seen no improvement. I don’t eat sugar, coffee, wheat or dairy. Exercise, Lots of greens, protein, fruit and healthy fats. Take every vitamin. Have tried acupuncture since May. But nothing seems to help. What is left? Thank you again xx

    • ashley

      Hi Bekah, thanks for writing. This is such an important topic and I am glad that you are taking such good care of yourself. Are you taking herbs from your acupuncturist? If not, that is a great place to start. Acupuncture without herbs isn’t typically helpful for PMS. You can also look into western herbs like Vitex and Evening Primrose Oil, I’ve had a great deal of success with them. Keep us posted. xoa

  • Elizabeth

    Wow.. I remember reading the red tent and thinking how amazing a culture that allowed women to gather during their cycles and just be women would be.. Question- I have had the two children I plan on having in this lifetime and have had an iud between them and after the last.. Now I am without a period.. What would you suggest for me to “feel” the cycle without direct evidence of it?

    • ashley

      Hi Elizabeth, thanks for reaching out. I felt the same way when I read about the red tent. You asked a really great and important question. This is something I have worked on myself and would be happy to support you if you are in LA. Otherwise, I suggest looking for a good energy medicine practitioner in your area that has experience working with women in this way. All my best on your journey. xoa

  • Sophie

    Hi Ashley,
    I enjoyed reading this article. This is great.

  • Heather

    Hi Ashley,
    Thank you for sharing your wisdom on subject that is so often neglected. I too have struggled with PMS and while I have found ways to mitigate some of the physical symptoms, I still grapple with many of the emotional aspects of PMS. I’m looking forward to exploring many of the options you suggested within your post in hopes that it will help alleviate those dreaded mood swings.

    Thanks again!

    • ashley

      Hello Heather, thanks so much for checking in and sharing your experiences here. The emotional aspects of PMS can be challenging to work with and I have found lifestyle adjustments really help. Please keep us posted and have a beautiful weekend. Lots of love. xoa

  • Katharina

    Great, great, great! Thanks for sharing, Ashley. I’m happy that I stumbled across this blog post. I have been highly sensitive with my period for years, going off the pill at a fairly early stage already just because I felt it took away some inner (female) wisdom from me. I have had cramps and bad PMS for years though but understand that it is a longer-term process to get in sync. And as you describe, to me as well, it is the cycle I want to live along/ in sync with. It is difficult to even express that because our society is not necessarily tuned into these wisdoms and subtleties. Thus, I’m really grateful to discover that other women feel the same way.

    Only question I have: I am a vegan myself but am drawn towards Ayurvedic cuisine (thus, already understand that vegan may not be the most intuitive choice always :). I can go with dairy but eating meat again gives me a tough time mentally. Is there another mineral-rich dish you can recommend for the pre-period time that is vegetarian?

    Thank you & have a wonderful day.
    Katharina

    • ashley

      Hello Katharina.
      Thanks for writing and checking in! I understand where you are coming from. For veggies friendly mineral rich foods try seaweeds, they are super foods! Beans have high mineral content as well as herbs like red raspeberry leaf and nettles. I’ve got a vegan mineral broth recipe on this blog too, I suggest drinking that and my Moon Time Tea. All my best. xoa

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