Friday, March 19, 2010

Tips for painful periods

When I was a kid, my mom always stressed the importance of listening to my body:  "Obey the whispers, or you will hear the screams."

So true, Mom.

This may sound ridiculous, but recently I realized how stressed out I am. Well, actually, my period told me. (Sorry, guys.) Honestly, my period has never been a walk in the park, but it was starting to feel more like a walk down a dark alley with a gun pointed to my head.

So, I began to investigate. I had no other choice--the scream was deafening. "Okay, Body, I hear you. What is it you want to tell me?" (I promise, I'm almost done with this metaphor.)

I'll save you the long, drawn-out gab fest my body and I had, and I'll summarize. Basically, it told me to SLOW the heck down.

In Chinese medicine (there it is!), stress causes your qi to stagnate. Qi stagnation, particularly Liver qi stagnation, is one of the main causes of painful periods in women.

If you are experiencing painful cramps or irritability before your period, here are some quick tips to help smooth out your Liver qi:
  • The week before your period, only consume moderate amounts or completely avoid red meat, dairy, salt, sugar, alcohol and caffeine. These foods lead to constraint of Liver qi which will make your PMS symptoms worse. 
  • Get moving! The Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of qi throughout the body. We can help the Liver do its job by participating in mild, consistent exercise. Walking briskly five times a week, for 30 to 40 minutes, yoga (not hot yoga, it will drain your yin too much), and tai chi are great examples. 
  • Drink a mug of warm water with fresh squeezed lemon juice every morning. The sour quality of lemon is known in Chinese medicine to address and relieve the Liver.  
  • Stress is the number one cause of Liver qi stagnation. This may sound obvious and impossible, but I'll say it anyway, try to eliminate stress as much as you can around the time of your period -- and, for that matter, in your life. 
  • And, of course, make sure to get regular acupuncture treatments and a Chinese herbal prescription from your acupuncturist that will specifically address your symptoms. Acupuncture is known to help regulate women's cycles and diminish PMS symptoms significantly. This I can tell you not only as an acupuncturist, but from personal experience. 
Coincidentally, Liver is related to the element Wood, which corresponds to the season of Spring! And here we are on the cusp of this beautiful season, full of new energy poking up through the ground.

I took these photos last summer in the Redwood Forest, while studying the powerful presence and nature of Wood with my Five Element class.

Welcome Spring, keep your Liver happy, and listen to the whispers.


  1. That's great advice, Josie. The sneaky thing about stress is that most of us have been so stressed for so long that we think it's a normal state of being (especially if we're surrounded by similar people). Some individuals, like you, are lucky enough to learn to slow down early on and others realize it late in life when their body "screams" with chronic illnesses. How would you advise people to reflect on and accurately assess the level of stress in their lives so that they can make necessary changes?

  2. Good question! Such a good question, in fact, that I think it warrants another blog post. I'm working on it now...

  3. What about really, really heavy periods? same principles as for painful menses? And we're talking heavy like not leaving the house heavy.

  4. The advice I gave above for painful periods will not necessarily help with heavy periods--except for the recommendation to get regular acupuncture and herbs. Those two things can definitely help.

    In Chinese medicine, there are two main patterns that cause heavy periods in women: Spleen qi not holding blood (deficiency), or too much heat in the body (excess). To distinguish which pattern you have, I'd have to look at your tongue and analyze your pulse, in addition to a detailed intake.

    In one scenario, I would recommend warm food and tonifying treatment therapy; in the other, cool food and dispersing treatment would be beneficial.

    If you're in Denver, give me a call: 303-229-9684. Or, if you're in another state, I highly recommend visiting a qualified acupuncturist nearby.