Tampons vs. the Menstrual Cup, and Chinese Medicine
One of the foundational concepts in Chinese Medicine is the notion of Free Flowing Qi. Disease has its origin in the obstruction of normal Qi flow.
In Feng Shui, the architectural Qi must flow. One notices that whenever a building is said to have proper Feng Shui, it has a harmonious and beautiful feel.
The same is true of our Body-Minds. The mental equanimity Chinese medicine speaks of is experiencing emotions well, and processing, or moving through them so there is no residue. Excess amounts of any emotion, or repressed emotions, create stagnation of Qi in the organ system associated with that emotion. Grief weakens the lung qi, Anger weakens the liver qi, and so on.
One of the genius observations in Chinese medicine was to describe the directional flow of Qi in the body. Lung qi must move downward. When it is obstructed by phlegm or dry heat, it rebels, and we cough. Cough is Lung qi moving the wrong direction.
Digestive Qi also moves downward. When it is obstructed, whether by an attack of Liver qi (how Chinese medicine describes the effect of stress, fear, and anger on digestion); by eating food that is too dense, sodden and lacking in substances like spices that stimulate digestive fire (think: cheese sandwich, lasagna, ice cream, beer, hamburger and fries);or just by overeating, then it stagnates and overheats (gastritis, gerd, constipation) or even rebels (nausea, vomiting).
On the other hand there is Qi that moves upward. The clear Qi of consciousness arises from the clear essence of foods and air which is moved upward to the brain. The Qi that holds everything in its place, the "Upright Qi", which weakens with age, is upward moving. When it fails, due to overwork or the downward pressure of pathological damp heat, we can develop Hemorrhoids as a result. Hernias and other prolapses such as occur after labor are a failure of this Qi.
What about the Uterus? What is the direction of Uterine Qi?
During menstruation, uterine Qi moves downward. Anything that obstructs that movement is pathological. What about tampons?
It is interesting, when we look at early advertising for tampons, and also the birth control pill, that they fit into an overall European and American ideology of conquering and ignoring nature, that grew out of notions of progress and the fetishization of science and chemistry in the 20th century.
Chinese medicine understood that during the time of the month when a woman's uterine lining is sloughing off, and blood is pouring downwards, this is a time to take it easy and rest, just as you would if you had an open wound elsewhere in your body with blood pouring out.
But looking at tampon ads in old Life magazines, what the manufacturers are selling is the notion that in the modern world we can leave all that behind. Why shouldn't you horseback ride or swim in cold water during your period? Why not ignore your body, ignore undesired side affects, just as we ignore nature and kill all the good insects with the bad when we spray DDT? Just take a pill and keep going.
Why shouldn't you ride horses or swim in cold water when bleeding?
Because jumping up and down is not advisable when there is a strong physiological process involving downward flow of qi and blood. Again, you would not ride a horse or swim in cold water if you had a large wound on your abdomen.
Why shouldn't you swim in cold water?
Because cold water does to your uterus what cold water drunk does to your digestion. It retards Qi flow causing stagnant Qi. Cold inhibits movement of fluid. It freezes ice, right? Well, in our body we use ice to retard blood movement, as in putting an ice pack on a bruise. But with menses, we want to have a good healthy uninhibited blood flow.
What is wrong with tampons?
Toxic shock syndrome and issues of hygeine and detriment to the delicate mucosa of the vaginal lining aside, the problem with tampons is that they obstruct the free flow of qi and blood out of the uterus during bleeding. They hold the blood in the vaginal canal, rather than allow it to flow freely. Its a subtle and energetic distinction, but from our standpoint, quite valid.
Of course, like the birth control drug/pill, tampons are more convenient. So are frozen dinners and paper plates. But over time, you pay a price. (My neurologist friend in San Diego, Frederic Martin, M.D., reports seeing 1-2 young females a year who have had strokes as a result of taking the "Birth Control" drug.) Did anyone warn them?
Chinese practitioners working in the states note that American women seem to think unbearable menstrual cramps are a normal price of being an adult woman. But they are not. In China and in Chinese medicine menstrual cramps and PMS are seen as very pathological, and associated with further development of gynecological pathology like ovarian cysts, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids. They are the energetic blue print for cancer.
Avoiding PMS and Menstrual Cramps.
1. During your period, stay warm. Never sit on cold concrete. Do not swim in cold water during menstruation. Use a heating pad and mild stretching to alleviate cramps and low back pain. Avoid cold beverages and foods generally, but especially during this time. Drink hot herbal teas.
2. Avoid vigorous exercise and sexual intercourse when bleeding
3. Practice meditation, exercise regularly, and/or use acupuncture to prevent pre-menstrual phase emotional lability. If you need to, see a therapist. The anger and sadness that can appear and seem so "irrational" pre-menstrually are from your own mind and heart. The hormones may exaggerate what is there, but they can only work with what is inside you. They make it impossible to repress the stuff we otherwise ignore so as to keep going. Like the way stuff comes up in dreams.
4. Take Chinese herbs that regulate your menstrual cycle if necessary, for heavy bleeding, irregular cycles, pain, endometriosis etc.
5. Try the menstrual cup instead of tampons. Otherwise use napkins.
I have always wondered about the development of the menstrual blood taboo in India, the Middle East, and Africa. In those warrior societies the woman seem to do the vast majority of the work. I wonder if women might have promulgated the taboo, so as to catch a break and force men to leave them alone during their period? Just a thought.
In any case, the bleeding period is a time of interiority and reflection, and should be treated with the same respect all of nature's cycles deserve. Treat the emotional stuff that comes up seriously. Take it as an opportunity to look at things you are normally too busy to.
If you have a man in your life, this is a good time to ask him to step up to the plate and shoulder more of the childcare or household tasks so you can rest, stretch, read a book, meditate, and take care of yourself. Probably you do that for him other times of the month, right? Teach your mate, male or female, to do acupressure massage on your mid back just below the rib cage along the muscles lateral to the spine during or before bleeding. Gentle massage along the sacrum can be lovely, too.
More info on the menstrual cup
copyright eyton j. shalom, san diego , ca , august 2011 all rights reserved use with permission
Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diegohttp://www.bodymindwellnesscenter.com