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.
Happy nourishment to you all!