photo © Sue Blanch
In this blog, Sue Blanch, yoga teacher and author of the book Yoga and the Menstrual Cycle: living in harmony with your natural rhythm, describes the magic that unfolded for her as she picked up the sacred task of cherishing herself. She introduces the piece by first describing how her experience of cycle awareness helped to heal her menstrual pain and find an increasing sense of integration and inner peace. But it was the task of cherishing herself that proved particularly liberating.
I lost my Inner Spring.
I know ….. it was careless of me to lose something so precious.
In my defence, it was beyond my control. Life events left me bruised, and not only did my Inner Spring take the brunt of the storm, but my whole cycle, and indeed my whole being, became subdued, almost like a permanent Inner Winter.
It wasn’t the first time I’d been knocked down. I’d spent over 25 years exploring self-help books, workshops and a multitude of therapies, including several bouts of psychotherapy. It often came back to the same root cause: not loving myself enough.
I had tried to love myself more with some success but it was never long-lasting and never felt fully genuine. I don’t think I even understood what it meant to love oneself – what did it look like? How did it feel? How on earth was I supposed to do that? Often it felt like a million miles away from where I actually was.
Menstrual cycle awareness is the key
I discovered menstrual cycle awareness through creating a gentle yoga sequence as an experiment to see if it might help my period pain. It did – the pain I’d suffered for 30 years disappeared. Without any effort the benefits of this rippled out into the rest of my life around bleed time. I found myself easing up on my normally hectic pace, slowing down and taking it easy. I no longer felt frazzled and exhausted. This stuff was truly worth it.
Over time this changing attitude spread into the whole of my menstrual cycle – knowing what day I was on, how I was, what type of yoga I needed and what else I needed to do and be in order feel well and healthy.
I’d accidentally discovered the art of self-care. Could this be the key to the illusive self-love?
My journey with my menstrual cycle deepened. Inner Winter had originally been the worst phase of my cycle, closely followed by Inner Autumn. Both of these had improved immeasurably. I went through a time where my Inner Summer was my most difficult phase and this too passed through awareness and allowing myself to fully feel my emotions. Then it was the turn of my Inner Spring to be the greatest challenge.
It felt like every time my cycle turned through Inner Spring I was re-living my awkward and hideous teenage years. It was time to look back on my first period, my menarche, although doing so was painful. Before my periods started I had longed to become a woman and be listened to and treated with respect. At my first Inner Winter I was so excited. But my hopes were utterly dashed by my mother’s lack of response. It was a non-event and there was no difference in how I was treated. The disappointment ran deep and was buried immediately because “this is just something we have to endure”.
Now during my Inner Spring this old hurt was being excavated – perhaps because earlier traumas can reappear during perimenopause. I didn’t experience any of the sense of being a carefree young maiden skipping through the fields. I felt devoid of confidence, full of not knowing, ugly, awkward, and vulnerable, These weren’t new emotions but they had been fairly dormant and now they were overwhelming me with a vengeance. They came every Inner Spring for several months.
Directions to Paradise
It was still happening in May 2017 when I found myself sitting in a room overlooking the beautiful Stroud valley with 26 other women including Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer. We were reaching into the depths of menstruality on the Women’s Quest Apprenticeship.
Alexandra was teaching us about the task of Inner Spring: CHERISH. My heart jolted. That was it. It was exactly what I had been missing since my first drop of blood aged 12 until now, in my late forties.
More importantly I knew what CHERISH was. It wasn’t ambiguous, huge and unattainable like self-love. It is one of those beautiful onomatopoeic words.
I got it.
I could do this CHERISH thing.
Doing the work
And so I began. Every morning on waking I do my menstrual cycle awareness and check-in to see where I’m at physically, mentally and emotionally. I always write a word for what I need that day to take care of myself. Now in my Inner Spring that word is CHERISH.
The awareness that I’d learnt from 20 years of yoga practice and that I’d honed further still through menstrual cycle awareness, has come into its own.
I can spot the negative thoughts as soon as they appear in my mind. I am ruthless with them – they are not allowed to finish their sentence.
I can see that I was so often pushing myself to work hard, do my best and be constantly busy – to my detriment. Because whatever I did was not enough. Because I was not enough. I started to hear a tiny little voice that said “It’s enough.” I turned up the volume on that little voice and am still learning to listen to her.
I play a game with myself where if I have a “negative” thought I have to think of a “positive” one to counter-balance it.
I had been a slave to my To Do List – I would work eight or nine focussed hours a day and yet there was still all this stuff not done. So now I create a list of all the things I have done in a cycle – I constantly add new tasks that I’ve completed, progressed or started. When I begin to think “I haven’t done enough”, I look at it and CHERISH myself for all the things I have done. Which of course is a lot but I’d never allowed myself to appreciate that.
Every time something “positive” happens I CHERISH it. No matter how small and insignificant it might seem. In fact the smaller and more insignificant the better as these are easier to savour, whilst my ability to CHERISH is in its infancy: sunny days, my favourite foods, freshly laundered bed sheets scented with fresh air.
The ability to CHERISH myself had been absent pretty much my whole life. So I have needed a constant dose to allow this quality to put down roots and grow. Consequently I CHERISH myself not only during my Inner Spring but also during most of the rest of my cycle.
During my Inner Summer I’d not wanted to be out in the world or visible. I CHERISHED the fact that I didn’t want to be out there and allowed myself to know that it was natural and understandable – instead of wishing I could and berating myself that I couldn’t.
On Day 1 I’d always kept going because I had loads of energy. I rested or took it easy only from Day 2. Alexandra and Sjanie point out in the Women’s Quest Apprenticeship manual that, this energy is not to be used but is to be conserved for restoration and renewal. So on Day 1 I CHERISH myself and rest.
And when I forget or go back onto auto-pilot my listening partner reminds me: “CHERISH” she says.
And so my Inner Spring has returned.
It is more a more distinct crossover from Inner Winter and happens earlier – Day 6. I feel the surge in energy that I had not felt for over 2 years. I believe in myself again and feel confident in my present and my future. I feel enthusiastic. I even feel a little carefree and playful at times.
Oh and a thing called joy.
But that is not all. One Inner Season affects another and so my whole cycle has shifted from its’ subdued state into a more restored state.
My bleed has always been so heavy and now it is becoming less heavy (possibly also because I am perimenopausal). I am starting to get a glimmer of the deep contentment that some women experience during their Inner Winter.
My mid-cycle dip in mood and energy has gone and my post-ovulation spotting has almost stopped. I’m feeling able to step back out into the world during my Inner Summer and a sense of wellbeing has returned.
I transition into my Inner Autumn on Day 19 now, not Day 23. I have fewer troubled emotions yet when they do surface I have greater inner resilience to feel them and not be overwhelmed.
I have suffered with recurrent cold sores on my body for 23 years and no complimentary therapy has managed to shift them. Now they are less frequent and less severe – for one cycle I actually had none.
These are real changes and substantial benefits which show the transformative power of this work, which never ceases to surprise me.
I’m so delighted that my self-doubt has taken a back seat.
Because I was right.
I can do this CHERISH thing.
About Sue Blanch
Sue Blanch teaches women to gain maximum health and wellbeing by living and practising yoga in synch with their menstrual cycles. Having struggled with her cycle for 30 years, she found that the appropriate type of yoga at the appropriate time almost totally eliminated her period pain and premenstrual syndrome. And, she also discovered benefits to the menstrual cycle that she never knew existed, like times when she was full of creativity. Her approach is in her book “Yoga and the Menstrual Cycle – live in harmony with your natural rhythm” is available from www.yogaandthemenstrualcycle.
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