This past weekend, I had the great fortune to attend the International Herb Symposium – a gathering of people from all over the world devoted to the green world. What a fabulous experience if any of you ever have the chance to go! So much wisdom, inspiration and hope was shared over those 3 days, and I came home feeling rich with stories to pass on and information left to trickle down into my being and become a part of me. A great teacher, I think, is one who can open up a new window in your mind through which to view the world, and I came home with many new windows.
There was one window in particular, however, that really has shifted something for me, and I want to pass on what I learned to you all – because I think the message is so important, and so pertinent in our current lives. I attended a class taught by herbalist Caroline Gagnon, who lives and teaches in Quebec. The class was “The Feminine Cycle Through the Yin and Yang,” and explored how like all things in life, our menstrual cycle is divided into a yang phase – a time of outwards energy, action, movement – and a yin phase – a time of inwards movement, introspection, rest.
Of course, we all feel pretty good during the yang part of our cycles, the time from menses to ovulation when our estrogen is high and we have that yang, more masculine sort of energy that our society values so highly. We feel productive, energized and capable. But many of us have problems when we enter the yin phase, when the time comes for us to rest, to move inwards and to value what is inherently feminine. Many of us experience emotional upheaval at that time – sadness, anger, anxiety – and we can’t seem to hold the same amount of responsibility as we could when we were in the yang part of the cycle. Society has labeled this “PMS” – a syndrome, a state of symptoms that indicate something is wrong or our of balance, and many women seek help to find control over their emotions, control over their hormones so that they can stay level, constant and “yang,” as our society expects us to be.
But we are not constant; as women, we are given the gift of transformation – of always changing and shifting between the two aspects of being. We are less capable and energetic in our yin phase because we need to rest during this time, we need to go inwards. When we don’t go inwards, our body asks for our attention by sending us emotions. As Caroline said, ”Emotions are a jewel sent from our psyche to notify us of a need unmet.” When we feel angry, sad, anxious or overwhelmed – that is energy our body created to ask for our attention.
Therefore, this emotional upheaval is a good thing! It is your body being alive and vital and asking you to do what needs to be done for you to remain in balance. So what is the body asking for when we experience these emotions? Well, the answer is simple. Our body is telling us to embrace the yin – to go inwards – to rest – to nourish ourselves. Society does not value yin, and so we are taught that to give ourselves this time to meet our own needs is selfish! As women, we feel we must care for everyone else – our partners, our children, our parents, our friends, our animals, our earth, our society – but who will care for us? The answer is that no one will, unless we care for ourselves.
So Caroline sent us all away with a message: to embrace the yin aspect of our lives by finding ways to nourish ourselves , not just in the yin part of our cycle, but every day. How do you nourish yourself? What do you do to replenish, to rest, to meet the needs of your psyche? The answer will be different for everyone, but I think we all must take time – men and women – to give back to ourselves each day. This is not selfish, but part of being grateful for being alive. You care for yourself, and you tell yourself and the world that you are thankful for your body and your life – and the universe hears that. But most importantly, you hear it.
So take some time, and think of how to nourish yourself in your own way, and spend at least 20 minutes each and every day nourishing yourself. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Drink a nourishing infusion full of minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients made of nutritive herbs like nettles and milky oats to replenish and support your body.
Go for a long walk in the woods to nourish your spirit.
Spend 10 minutes in meditation or quiet contemplation, allowing your brain to shut off and your spirit to just be.
Journal about your life, your experiences, your desires, your dreams; go inwards and explore your inner terrain.
Do something you love that relaxes you – read a book, lay on the beach, sit in the garden.
Spend 5 minutes deep breathing, nourishing your body with breath.
Eat a meal made with nourishing whole food ingredients and savor every bite.
Spend some time in a place filled with beauty; beauty nourishes the spirit
Exercise: many people look at physical activity as work, but in fact it is a way of relaxing the body; of moving out of a stressful “fight and flight” stage by using up the energy liberated by our stress hormones. People who are very fatigued are often surprised at how greatly their energy increases and how truly rested they feel when they incorporate physical activity into their day.
Eat something wild: wild foods provide the body with all manner of beneficial phytochemicals that we are not normally exposed to in our diet and nourish us very deeply.
So the message is, we are not constant, there is yin and yang in everything: inhalation and exhalation, masculine and feminine, activity and rest. Many of the imbalances of our culture come from our inability to equally respect both aspects of existence – from trying stay yang all the time. Solving these problems does not involve silencing the messages of our body, but changing the way we look at things so that we can listen and give ourselves what we need to be vibrant.
Deep in thought here whilst wondering how to nourish my jaded spirit ……then magically your message came through. How very apt. Again you are an angel of Hope and Encouragement and I thank you so much……
Glad I picked up on those cosmic wave lengths Hope you found some ideas that might work for you – but be sure to keep up that deep thinking and explore what it is YOU truly need to do to nourish yourself. I think the ideas we come up with for ourselves are always the best!
This is such a great reminder Danielle. I know I needed to hear it because as I was reading the post I was nodding to myself until I got to the part which said, ‘spend at least 20 mins every day nourishing yourself’ and I thought, I don’t have a spare 20 minutes! How ridiculous, of course I can find 20 mins but this really highlighted to me how my perception is really faulty here!!
Thanks for the prod in the right direction.
I’m just as guilty as anyone about neglecting myself, which is why the class with Caroline was such a much needed eye opener for me. I recently got in a tiff with Mike because he was taking some time to read a book and relax, and I was rushing around doing things and feeling very resentful that I was working while he lounged away, and after my 6th or 7th irritable remark about it, he very aptly pointed out that it was MY choice to be working myself to the bone and at any time I could certainly decide to relax too and it would be fine. I hate to admit when he’s right, but he was on this occasion How easy to forget that we have that choice!
This is something I am noticing in my line of work: adult mental health. I keep getting clients who come to me to say they burned the candle at both ends earlier in life, with work/career and night school, or they were bubbly, outgoing and extremely busy round the clock, or they worked all day, with just a nap before an all-night party (probably with substance use) or the circuit of bars and nightlife (also with substance use). Then, around 30, 40 or 50, the physical body said, “Okay, that is IT, kiddo.” Bam! They became depressed, or developed bipolar disorder, or some physical illness that forced them to stop the insanity. I now see this as the entire body enforcing the rest that these people would not permit themselves, or that their circumstances prevented. Many of them now sleep long hours, or have no motivation to do anything and can no longer work a regular job. I try to point this out to them, comparing this period of their life to tides, seasons, and other rhythms. And I try to point this out to myself. I made myself go on a retreat, alone in a cabin in the woods last spring. It was hard to be silent and still and wait, and listen for the small voice in my heart, but the reward was clarity about what I needed to do about a health situation. Also, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the Divine Feminine is making a reappearance at the same time we are experiencing a renewal of holistic healing and ecological awareness. Perhaps even the Divine Mother needed a retreat for a few millenia…
Thanks so much for sharing this Kieron. Our lives do eventually catch up to us, don’t they? How fortuitous that the women you work with have someone in their lives like yourself to help shift perceptions and allow them to provide themselves with what they need to be well again. We all need time to go inward, and certainly their have been such fluctuations in history and culture between the masculine and feminine. I have been very encouraged to see that feminine energy begin to return too. My how we need it!
The Teacup Chronicles is a seasonally minded blog about health and wellness, written by a clinical herbalist and self proclaimed kitchen witch. It contains herb-lore, delicious recipes, dietary suggestions and more to encourage vibrant health, balance and delight in every season. Grab a cup of tea, pull up a chair and join me in exploring just how gratifying and delicious cultivating good health can be.