Transforming pain by being a belly-rubbing weirdo: Adventures in Periods Pt. 2
*DISCLAIMER* I am not a doctor of any sort. Please use your own good judgement and seek out help from medical professionals as needed. As always, listen to your body!
Periods. Now there's a taboo issue. But I ain't got time for whispered wisdom, and this shit's important, so here we go.
I have always had horrific cramps. As in, I decided as a 14-year-old that I was never having children because I couldn’t imagine labor being more painful. One time a few years ago, my roommate came home to find me writhing white-faced in agony on my bed and asked if she should take me to the hospital.
Nope, thanks. Just cramping.
It was debilitating and anxiety-inducing. Besides the physical agony, it was embarrassing as hell. You can’t hide that level of pain, and people are inquisitive. So several days a month, being in public got awkward.
I was in just such a predicament one month. I was anxious while meeting lots of new people at a potluck. A young woman was giving me a pitch for her combination of acupuncture and energy work. I just went point blank: “Can you do anything for cramps?”
She said yes, so we set up a meeting.
The acupuncturist told me my cramps were painful because my energy or “qi” was stagnated. She said I needed to learn to connect to my life force down deep in my “lower dantian,” an energetic area in the low abdomen/uterus region.
Basically, this meant going towards the pain instead of trying to escape it.
Yikes. Not a fun prospect, but I was desperate enough to try.
To un-stagnate my qi, I was to move my body daily.
At this point in my life, this seemed like an impossible task. I was pretty sedentary because of depression and an underactive thyroid. I finally came up with a not-too-intimidating solution: “miniature walks” down my dead-end street and back. If I could do more, great. If not, fine.
To connect with my life force, I practiced walking meditation and gave myself belly rubs every night.
I was trying to connect with my lower dantian both physically and energetically. I rested my hands resting on my lower dantian as I took each step intentionally. I imagined my lower dantian as my acupuncturist had poetically described: magma deep in a pit, fire and darkness all in one. I walked slowly, feeling the energetic connection all the way down through my feet to the floor. Then I would stand strongly in tadasana, breathe deeply, and gently rub a pretty-smelling essential oil blend in circles on my belly.
When cramps arrived, I was to sink into Chair pose until my leg muscles burned.
Instead of tensing and clenching from the pain, the idea was to ground into my life force and circulate qi, blood, and breath through the area.
The first time my cramps came back around, I panicked a little.
I was at work but luckily on a break. I broke into cold sweats from the pain. The idea of doing anything while in so much pain seemed insane, but I began to ground into chair pose as planned. After probably two minutes (that felt like forever), the pain began to dissipate.
It wasn’t exactly gone, but it moved throughout my legs and whole body. Spread out, it was less intense than when it was all concentrated in my uterus. The daily rituals had prepared me.
Then a year or so later, I had to level up.
I began a long-term training program. It met for a 3-day weekend every month, and for some reason it always aligned with my periods. I was embarrassed, in extra physical pain from the tension of the social anxiety, and felt like I wasn’t able to learn to my full potential. I talked it out with my friend Julie, who is an excellent health coach. I told her woefully that I was doing everything I possibly could but it wasn’t working and I thought I might have to quit the training.
She said, “If you are doing everything you can, can that be good enough?”
It was a radical idea and not the solution I was looking for. “So…,” I sputtered, “Just like, be like…”
“Just show up as you are,” she said. Which meant: Imperfect. Awkward. Short, sometimes to the point of rudeness. Weird, rubbing my belly in the corner. Doing whatever I needed to do to get through it.
It wasn’t a pleasant thought for my ego, but I understood it to be the only logical solution. I tried it, and it helped immensely. I still had some shame, but I was in less pain and able to continue the training.
A few of the women in the group began to tell me how much they respected me for standing when everyone else was sitting down and rubbing my belly. They didn’t even know exactly why I was doing it, but just seeing someone do something unusual for her body was empowering for them. This started some fantastic conversations about body-care and self-love, and I gained true allies.
I can communicate with my body.
I hold my period off until I have the time/space to tend to my belly. I have often literally told my body, out loud, “I am going to have the day off, so I can take care of you then.” And my period will start on my day off. The more I care about my body, the better it responds.
Panic about pain makes it worse.
You have to face the pain. Be open and tender with your body. Try to relax into it. As impossible as it seems, the more you practice, the easier it becomes.
Qi is for real, and I can affect it.
I always thought of “energy” as an ephemeral, abstract thing, but it is the most basic blood-and-guts thing there could ever be. Simply exercise, take a deep breath, drink water, stretch, eat good food--any of these things will give you an immediate change in your qi.
Grounding into my life force makes me more powerful.
What started as a hack for my cramps has become a life-sized practice. Down in my neglected lower dantian, I found many forgotten things: my power, anger, boundaries. When I connect into my deep center, I am better able to speak up and act on my own behalf.