Female Empowerment, Menstrual Cycle, workshops

I’m so excited!

I could burst with pride and excitement these days! The last two months saw a year’s worth of research, self-awareness work, planning and organizing come to fruition with *two* beautiful workshops around the menstrual cycle.

I am humbled and so, so happy, to have received beautiful feedback from the wonderful women who participated, as well as a host of people who couldn’t make it but are thrilled to see this topic come to light.

Absoultely stunning was the support I got from Petra Sood, the woman behind the amazing Kulmine! My workshops are donation-based, to allow any person access regardless of their economic status, so you can imagine my joy when a giant package of beautifully crafted cloth pads from Kulmine fluttered into my mail box. Along with the eco pad sewing kit from Eco Femme, a sea sponge and – of course – a menstrual cup, we had a beautiful set of healthy, deliciously eco- and skin friendly products to explore as alternatives to tampons and pads (see image above). Some participants even brought their own pads and cups to show and share their experiences with the others!! This makes me especially happy, since my main goal is to provide a safe and comfortable space to share experiences and speak about the “unspeakable”. Since Menstrual Hygiene Day is in a couple of days, my cooperation partner, BAF e.V., and I wrote a press release (german) for the workshops.

Due to the overwhelmingly positive feedbacks and requests, I am busy planning more workshops like these and expanding my collaborations in all sorts of directions. I will keep you updated, as things become more concrete 🙂

Until then — much, much love and gratitude!

 

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Female Empowerment, Menstrual Cycle

#menstruationmatters

Female Empowerment, Menstrual Cycle, nutrition, self-care

Nutrition

“In everything you eat – honour yourself. […]

In nourishing your body and soul with love and mindful awareness, you learn to truly   honour everyone and everything that your life touches.”

(From ‘Moon Time’ by Lucy Pierce)

Though it may often not feel like it at all, our body can be our biggest ally. It is the number one feedback system we have for what is going on inside of us (let’s call that our “internal life”, which includes physiology as well as emotions and mental states) as well as our interactions with the outside world and the people around us (our “external life).

That being said, how we treat our bodies and what we put onto and into them naturally has a huge impact on how well this feedback system can function; not even taking into account the challenge of listening for the feedback, when it is functionioning well! Hormonal imbalances — the greatest underlying cause of menstrual discomfort including PMS, PMDD and even some forms of PCOS and endometriosis — are directly related to the way we treat our bodies. [Sidenote: the #1 cause of hormonal imbalance in women is stress! What’s #2 you ask? Believe it or not: high blood sugar! #3: accumulation of toxicity in the body].

Since our bodies are complex systems, we need to understand that what works for one person is not necessarily going to help the next. Think about the trend in health care towards personalized medicine… Wouldn’t make much sense if all of humanity could be treated with one template, right? Therefore, the more knowledge you gain about HOW the things you put into your body (food, drinks, supplements) and the things you expose your body to (hygiene products, beauty care, living quarters, work place, etc.) can affect your own personal individual body, the easier it will be for you to figure out what works best to alleviate the symptoms or conditions you are working with.

There is a lot of information out there on the impact of nutrition on health and I encourage you to seek out the relevant information for you. For my part, I have put together two lists to help you specifically when dealing with hormonal imbalances.

  1. What to watch out for and possibly avoid
  2. Recommendations of foods & herbs when dealing with PMS and similar symptoms 

For any of this information, remember: try it out for some time if it resonates with you (give yourself at least 2 weeks to adjust to your new diet), and listen to your beautiful feedback system. If you find that cutting out caffeine, for example, does not help relieve your cramps but just makes you miserable because your cup of coffee by the window in the morning was the highlight of your day.. by all means, stick with it! Only YOU will know what’s right for you.

archetypes, Female Empowerment, Menstrual Cycle, Sexuality, Symbols

Symbolisms

Many of the processes in our body are cyclical. The circadian (circa= approximately, dies = day) rhythm underlies a whole host of physiological functions, including the release of certain hormones (e.g., testosterone) and our sleep cycle (which, of course, is also governed in part by hormones).

The menstrual cycle is just another one of these cyclical events in a human body. Curiously, this cycle is adapted to a monthly rhythm; a cycle that was modeled roughly around one full cycle of the moon. Though this may seem esoteric at first, the moon is actually responsible for a number of physical events, not least of all the ebb and flow of the ocean’s tides; a phenomenon which has been used variously as metaphor for menstruation.

Unsurprisingly then, the moon is an ancient symbol for the feminine and cultural traditions surrounding menstruation include the moon as symbol in many ways (moon time: time of bleeding; moon lodges: ; or, more recently, moon cups: reusable silicone cups used to collect menstrual blood). Interestingly, the different stages of the menstrual cycle and the fluctuations in energy associated with them can be mapped onto the different stages of the moon (new moon/ waxing moon/ full moon/ waning moon) quite well.

Over time, other symbols have joined the moon in describing the changes in a person’s physical and mental state as we move through our menstrual cycle.

Some examples of these are:

* The seasons (Winter/Spring/Summer/Autumn)
* The archetypes (The Wise Woman/ The Maiden/ The Mother/ The Enchantress)

I have decided to share with you, over the course of the next few weeks, the various embodiments or symbols of the stages of the menstrual cycle.

As always, not everything will resonate with everyone equally and that is perfectly fine! This is why it’s so wonderful and so important that there are many voices, offering different approaches and perspectives on the same knowledge.

I invite you to choose the symbols that work for you, and leave the other ones aside. Or, if you prefer, take the opportunity as you move through the stages of your cycle, too look deeply within yourself and discover your own personal symbols to support yourself through the ebb and flow of your hormonal changes.

If you find that you need inspiration or advice, do let me know.
I would be happy to work with you on this journey of discovery!

Menstrual Cycle

Alternative Menstrual Products

Your bleeding time is a sacred time. A time to honor your body — not subject it to toxic chemicals and add money to the alread way-too-filled bank accounts of big hygene companies. There are a ton of alternative products out there that feel better, are safer to use (did you know that tampon use is a major cause of bladder- and yeast infections? So unnecessary!), re-usable and thus protect the environment.

I’ve put together a list of the ‘major players’ for you. Keep in mind that this is not meant to be extensive and all the options I show for buying any one of these product types are just exemplary suggestions. You may also want to check out ecomenses for further information and instructions on making your own cloth pads.

Do you have a favorite store for your menstrual products – online or off? Leave a comment or write me an email. I’d love to know and include it in this list!

Cloth Pads/Pantyliners:

* Eco Femme *

This is an initiative that is very dear to my heart. I know some of the women working at Eco Femme personally and I can vouch for their integrity. I love the work they do empowering local woman in Tamil Nadu (South India) to learn about their own bodies during menstruation and enable them to make their own cloth-pads. Eco Femme doesn’t sell in every country around the globe yet. You can check out their homepage to find a local retailer or online shop in your country of residence. If your country isn’t listed and you are interested in purchasing their pads or self-sewing-kit, please don’t hesitate to contact me and we’ll find a way.

* Kulmine*

In this Germany-based shop you can find a variety of beautiful colors and cloth textures (from cotton to silk) for both panty liners and pads. In addition, Kulmine also sells sea sponges and menstrual cups. I’ve made amazing experiences with this shop — can you tell?

Silicone Cups

Menstrual cups are usually made of medical grade silicone and shaped like a bell. The flexible silicone cup can be worn inside the vagina for up to 12 hours. Instead of absorbing the blood, such as other products, the cup acts as a recepticle: it catches the blood. For me this is one of the most interesting aspects of it! You come into contact with your own blood, which – I am surprised to say – is a new experience for many menstruating women*.  Simply boil your cup in a pot of water to sterilize it before and after each period. Some women* even empty their cup into flower pots where it acts as a natural fertilizer. Brilliant, don’t you think? They can be used while swimming and sleeping and most have a “life-span” of around 10 years. Here are some of the most known producers of menstrual cups:

* Lunette*

* Moon Cup*

* Diva Cup*

Sea Sponges

Sea sponges are a naturally occuring option! They rest in the upper vagina and absorb your flow, needing to be removed and rinsed every 4-8 hours (depending on your flow). Sponges can be rinsed in a vinegar/water or lemon juice/water mixture between cycles and are then air dryed and stored in a cool, dry place. This option is not as long term reusable as the cloth pads or cups, since the sponge naturally degrades over time (especially if you boil it).

*Blumenkinder*

If you live in Europe, you can buy your sponges at a number of online retailers. For Germany, the two I have made great experiences with are Blumenkinder and the beautiful Kulmine shop.

*Holy Sponge*

If you live in the US, Holy Sponge is a wonderful project that I would whole-heartedly support buying from!

Choose whatever works best for you and you feel most comfortable with. Whatever your decision may be — I wish you a happy bleeding time!

 

Female Empowerment, Menstrual Cycle

Women*s’ Rights as Workers’ Rights

The average person (although, who or what ‘average’ really means is an entire debate of its own…) doesn’t know very much about the menstrual cycle.

This shortcoming leads to a host of problems, including (but not limited to):

– the silence of women* so everpresent in our patriarchical societies
– the instrumentalisation of women’s bodies (e.g. as tools for opression)
– a distancing of women* from their own bodies
– ignorance towards the potential power and special needs connected to a woman*s cyclically changing hormone levels

{I’m sure there are tons of other issues I am forgetting/omitting right now. Are you thinking of any that you would like to see listed here? Let me know!}

All of these issues are, of course, highly interdependent. The perspective I’d like to focus on today: women*s’ rights as workers’ rights.

Over the course of one menstrual cycle, the hormonal fluctuations lead to directly noticeable changes in energy-levels, activity and power. To be fair, every woman*’s hormonal make-up is sightly different and the widespread use of hormonal contraceptives heavily messes with the system. Nonetheless, it remains a fact that the fluctuation of hormone levels during the different phases of the menstrual cycle lead to differences in energy and productivity.

Imagine a world in which you would be able to say to your employer: “My energy levels are lower right now because I’m in phase XY of my period; I will take things a bit more slowly during the following days and use this time to contemplate and plan on the coming weeks.” What a beautiful world that would be!

Right now, not only does it seem impossible for women* to make such a statement; most of us have such little knowledge of our own cycle and limited bodily awareness, that we berate ourselves on a regular basis (of course! the cycle recurs every month!) for working too little/not being productive enough or too tired/to irritated… you name it.

The latter raises an interesting point: the irritability that can accompany certain stages of a woman*’s cycle, seems to be the only part about menstruation that is ever mentioned publicly instead of staying shrouded in a cloud of confusion and taboo. It is common practice to belittle women* who are openly voicing their opinion (or being critical of accepted norms, or even being more emotional than is societally accepted at that particular point in time) by saying something along the lines of “Are you on your period, or why are you making such a fuss?!” Such a statement is equivalent with disallowing any validity or credibility of the feelings or statements voiced. Ironically, the exact same sentence “Are you on your period”, stated as a sincere question, could start a revolution!

Are you on your period? could mean:

>> I am aware that you may need a bit more time, a bit more sleep and/or a bit more support and understanding, right now. I am aware that you might be in pain [Menstrual Knowledge: About half of women* experience menstrual cramps, and about 15% describe the pain as severe]. I respect that you need to concentrate on taking care of yourself more, at the moment, instead of taking care of others (or producing goods or knowledge).

In turn, this awareness of the different stages of the menstrual cycle also means, that the beautiful bursts of power and energy and creativity that make up about half of the cycle can be more appreciated and harnessed!

On this note, I would like to empower you to deepen your knowledge of the menstrual cycle and train your awareness of it – regardless of the gender you identify as. I’ve put together some resources for you to explore and I will continue to update you on my own ongoing journey of discovery on this blog. I’d be happy to hear your experience, if you’d like to share!

Menstrual Cycle

A lesson in humility

Somewhere in the depths of my mind, this knowledge was burried: when you sneeze, you squeeze your pelvic muscles [automatically!] at the same time.

Now imagine the following scenario:

You are at work. Wearing your freshly washed, beige (!) dress pants. When suddenly, out of no-where, you have to sneeze. Normally, this wouldn’t be an event worth thinking twice – , much less write about. If, however, you are in the test-phase of “how it feels to use a sea sponge instead of tampons (see my last post)”, this is a totally different story!

You see, sea sponges are absorbent. And this is great! It’s what qualifies them as healthy, beautiful, ecological alternatives to tampons. They also have the wonderful property of releasing the fluids they absorbed when squeezed tightly. This property, again, is valuable because it makes the sponges re-usable. Unfortunately … as we’ve established in the beginning:

Sneezing = Squeezing pelvic muscles

Squeezing pelvic muscles = squeezing sponge

–> sponge releases blood

And voilá! You now have blood all over your beige dress pants… while at the office … with nothing to change into. Congratulations!

Let me tell you, I wish I had put 2+2 together prior to doing this little self-experiment with sea sponges. But hey. You live and learn, right? Next time, when in doubt, wear a (cloth) panty liner or eco-pad [both available as cloth/silk options, hurray!] to be on the safe side. For now though, a new item awaits on the self-experimentation list: moon cups!

[Author’s note: Yes. I admit it. I’ve talked about using moon cups before and even pretended to have used them, in order to persuade other women to use them too. Oh boy… I’m not proud of that one!]

Menstrual Cycle

Written in Blood

It’s interesting.

The topics surrounding [feminism/femininity/menstrual cycles/women’s empowerment] have not released their hold of me since I started deeply looking into my own views and sharing in the knowledge of others. If anything, I have become more proactive in seeking knowledge and wanting to create or join a network of women who uphold and share this wisdom.
Simultaneously, my own path has begun to spiral in ways I never anticipated.
Firstly, my period stopped. I – the one who was so excited to try out sea sponges for the first time and promoting dialogue about menstruation and menstrual health amongst the women at Sadhana Forest (a beautiful, holistic reforestation community in Auroville, India) – was unable to connect with my own body because my body was behaving in ways I did not understand. How is that for strange?
I have an inkling of why this might have happened and this is connected to my own story of abuse, but that is a separate topic for another day.Needless to say, though, this was disconcerting.
I decided to use the knowledge I have been gathering to start on a path of healing myself, rather than passively mourning the loss of my period. I focused on my womb in my morning meditations. I modified my yoga routine to be all about relaxing, rather than building strength. I took long baths and generally slowed down my daily routine to listen to the signals my body was giving me.
And I masturbated (I pondered for a long time whether I should put this in my list, seeing as it would be published. But then I thought: if I censor myself, how I can I expect anybody to be honest and true when sharing with me? And how I can truthfully say that I’m seeking to be part of a movement to create a world in which our womenhood (and that includes our sexuality!) is honored and cherished rather than being belittled and beaten and shunned as taboo [need examples for the latter? How about female genital mutilation. Or implants to stop the ‘dirty and disgusting’ process of menstruation.
After a while, my period finally returned.
And now I, again, find myself facing issues that are almost ironic considering the dedication I have given to the topic of menstruation in my life.
I did finally get to try out sea sponges — and I love them!! I would recommend any women to try them at least once. To me, it’s a miraculous feeling to be so physically connected to my period every time I wash out a sponge and I was honestly giddy the first time I re-inserted it; for realizing that instead of creating a mountain of waste I had found a natural resource to connect with my body as well as the environment.
They do, however, come with a set of questions every woman has to answer for herself.
So there I was, proudly wearing my sponge for the first time. And I went to a café to write. I hadn’t thought to bring a second sponge (which is one option) and at some point, I felt like it was time to rinse the sponge I had inserted. But this would mean going into a toilet stall, removing the sponge, coming out with the bloody sponge in hand, washing it out publicly, and then re-enterning the stall to insert the sponge again. Sound terrifying, anyone? To me the thought definitely was! Although I do want to share with you a story the beautiful Ashley told me, when she first introduced me to sea sponges. …
But back to my own experience. So what did I, the wanna-be strong, empowered, fighter against menstrual taboos and all decide to do? … Nothing.
That’s right. Nothing. The thought seemed so scary to me, that in the end I stayed seated uncomfortably, denying myself the right to take care of my own needs. And after some point, I went home.
Now while this wasn’t one of my prouder moments, I share this story with you for a reason. In my own socialization, menstruation and everything that comes with it was always an elephant in the room — a topic known, but not talked about openly, much less proudly displayed, as with a bloody sponge. I am sure there are others out there, who have had the same experiences.
I want to be an active part in changing this culture of silence, because I believe it to be unhealthy and harmful in many ways. So while I may not have been able to act the way I would have liked to the last time, I hope that realizing this for myself and sharing it with you will enable me to move closer to act the way I desire the next time around. If hearing my story helps to do the same for you, that would be wonderful. In this way, my ‘failure’ holds a seed for change.
I wonder, how do all of you beautiful women out there deal with these questions? Do you openly talk about your period, and if so, is that restricted to a particular group (friends?family?partners?peers?)? Have you been in a similar situation as the one I described above? What did you do? How do you deal with washing out your sponges/ luna cups/ eco pads in shared flats or similar communal spaces?
I would love to hear from you.
Until then.
All my love.