My body is my world actually, it is my place of understanding and so, understanding the body for me is understanding everything. Usual, social knowledge, and the collecting of information is something that I struggle with and I feel really angry about, like I am in a confined position socially. I am now grappling with it, and I want to impose a little bit more; my understanding of all things, from this centre (the body). I have a lot of friends that are very cultured, a lot of reading, engaged politically, in terms of ‘what’s happening to us’ and knowing about all the things that are happening on the exterior to ourselves. Things that are really, in quotations ‘important’and that ‘one must know’to be of value to society. And so, I think for a long time I have had a sense of maybe not having value in society or not knowing where to find it, or how to express it or to ask for it‘because bodily knowledge is under valued by the world’. There is shame there, for me it’s the patriarchy, of course. Comparing it to the Chinese system or let’s say an Eastern system, the patriarchy is very yang and it values a certain type of power, which is exterior to us, rather than interior. It values strength and all things exterior. It denigrates the yin which is the interior, more passive energy. Rather than expansive, rather than this thrusting, rather than this linear perspective and the body is very contained and quiet, in a way. The passive is really powerful, but it’s not seen. Particularly in our neo-liberal system where we need to be ‘productive’ in a particular way; in a material sense, in terms of the economy. We are expected to be part of that system, which is feeding hierarchy and we are pulled in by the promises of an external heaven, but actually its the system that keeps us working to fit in to it and that’s it. There is something about time; we have these cyclical bodies, particularly as females, that work as a microcosm of these macro-universal forces and rhythm. I am tuned to my body and my own sense of cycling, through seasons, night and day and all those natural rhythms. We are part of them, but we are separated by what I am calling this neo-liberal, patriarchal, or Western system. In that, time is more linear, the movement is forward, it is about thrusting, driving, ambition, an upward motion. These qualities lead us out of stability actually. There is such an anxiety in thrusting forwards and upwards all the time, it leaves us off the ground, whereas, for me, a cyclical system is much more horizontal, this is how I see it anyway. It is cycling around and because of the interconnectedness of the circular system, there is no losing of anything. Everything is held within it. This thrusting thing is like we are coming away from things all the time, like how we see the past in relation to the present like we are losing, letting go, moving forwards; it is so ungrounded. So, we are left with a society that has no ground and of course we are suffering from unhealthy relationships to ourselves and each other, and still, we expect to find solutions from exterior sources. Yang is open, it is expressive, warmth, heat, more moving, whereas Yin is more heavy, cool, dark. So, it is about then seeing the dynamic interplay between the two, constantly of course because these are the forces that move things along. For me, in my work, in my practice of Qi Gong, it is about balancing those forces, whereas in this society we favour Yang, over Yin. Yang is positive and Yin is negative or seen as and we really miss a big part of health and connection to the universal force that just is. You know this is the force that creates life, it is life force that creates the cycling of birth and death, night and day. It is just there, but we are so afraid of the dark, it is very medieval. Maybe it is natural fear of the unknown, but we don’t seem to want to find ourselves in it and understand it, we are really afraid. So, we push the Yin aspect of life away and we are very deficient, in terms of how we connect with each other and how we connect with the environment and because we have had this period, the pandemic, we have been talking about it a lot, the act of coming into stillness, into the Yin. Into the Yin of a home environment, the place of centre, a coming back to self, being in the home. Coming back to stillness and that’s it, our society doesn’t value stillness, we value movement, and driving and constant change for something ‘better’, something beyond the now. Whereas this Chinese system is more internal, a continual change, but a circular system. It creates regulation, it is always going around the same, the same, the same, but it is always changing at the same time. There is change, but regulation, it is confined, it is actually much more stable. Qi Gong, is a meditative practice, so there is a quietening, but maybe that is the nature of just being in the body in expansive space. That when we come back to the body for that stillness and exterior to the body there is movement and activity, it is more Yin. We come in, but we are always opening out, that’s what I like about the Qi Gong practice, unlike yoga for example, it’s not just about self, it is about self in society, with others and then beyond into the environment. We work with the seasons, with the universal forces. We are always considering beyond and infinity. The micro to the macro and back. The coming out to come in. I am now peri-menopausal, and it feels like such a powerful stage, this is where my interest in the cycle has really catapulted. The body enters this reversal of blood flow somehow. During menstruation there is this loss of blood, a downward movement. Now I feel that my womb is still alive. I have a sense of it working still in cycles, but it is like the energy, instead of being downward with that sense of loss that you can get during menstruation, that releasing feeling that you get when you menstruate, has reversed. It is almost like the blood is not going waste, it feels like it gets absorbed back into the body and it is nourishing me. There is this rising energy, that can come, like heat and it is literally heat, like hot flushes, coming from the womb and is really hot. It feels like smouldering coals, that are sitting in the belly and there will be this rising of mist or steam or heat and sometimes it can feel more flame like, rising up and this is something noted in ancient matriarchal societies, where the menopause was really honoured. As a time where a woman was no longer losing, but being nourished by the blood and that this heat rises up through the heart and clears the heart, preparing the heart for that stage of wisdom. It is this clearing through the body, and I get this fine mist of sweat all over my body, it is not dripping sweat. It is this fine mist, and I can feel it coming up and out. It lasts only a couple of minutes; it is an opening out. I really enjoy it, but I feel like I am lucky that I have space to enjoy it. Most women are tied economically, culturally, in terms of being valued by society for whatever reason, women working through this other rhythm that is going on in their body and medicating themselves, which I totally understand. Because menopause is big, those feelings are big. I can experience anger, like wow, this explosive anger and again I think some women can think this is or even, women are seen as witches in that stage of life. But for me that anger, is such fun. It feels very clear to me, again it is this rising and expressing. This volcanic kind of explosion of anger that ends up being quite purifying afterwards. Frustrations in the body that could be to do with relating to the exterior, it could be people, or society, that causes anger, but it cuts through and clarifies, distinguishing something in me. There is something in this menopausal period, of becoming clearer about who I am and what my needs are, and being able to voice them more. It is more boundaried. I think that has something to do with the closing down of a system, condensing into the body and, this rising or coming out. You go through that mothering period, which is part of the menstrual system which is about the other, about being creative with and for your children and there is a drawing in of all of that energy. There is a new spring, springing out creatively, with your own self. Knowing what my own values are, and my own principles and aligning myself with that more clearly, but that’s me personally, it has taken me that long to do that, and the menopause has helped. Before that there is a lot of conforming, when you are mothering there is a lot of conforming to the needs of the other and I am no longer needing to conform. Condensing, I think I mentioned before that the element of metal can materialise of course as metal, but also as minerals, even the minerals in our blood and all of the minerals in our body, minerals and jewels, crystals. So those materials are very condensed. In trees in the autumn time the sap gets drawn inward, it is outward during the growth period and there is the drawing in of that sap to the centre and then everything not needed drops away and you are left with that essential structure of the tree and that takes you into winter which is a different thing. Winter is more about depth and wisdom but we are going toward that. And as women as an ideal if we are connected to our cycles, and if society allows.
My mum used to work in the hospital, in the maternity ward, I was always very well informed about the changes in my body from a medical sense. My mum taught me if your period is precise your body is healthy. I remember the first information was when I was young, maybe four or five. My mum bought me a VHS set of sexual education for children, everything about sex in a cartoon, starting from the sexual act, masturbation, homosexuality, giving birth, menstruation, puberty, everything. Of course, it was very simple, but correct scientific terms, I have always been very aware and what sex was in some way. I could not understand why people decided to have sex, but it was clear that it existed. Then during my teen years, my sexual education from my family was completely absent, almost like my mum decided to give all the information, before it was embarrassing and then to completely ignore it when I was a teenager, which is quite weird. I grew up with two cousins, girls who were older than me. So I lived through the first period with them. Also in the south of Italy there is a celebration when you have your first period, they say ‘you are a woman now’, there are presents and a cake, within the family, the men and women are involved. I view it now as something annoying, I feel that my body is naturally able to create life, and it is never something I wanted to do. I have never felt comfortable with the idea of carrying a life inside of me. Mine is enough, more than enough. I don’t feel that I would be happy or comfortable with the idea, of carrying a life inside of me. That responsibility is not appealing, its too big. For now, my period is proof that I am a mammal, and I can still do this thing that I don’t think I was born to do, it is therefore a bit weird. Sometimes I think it is like having a superpower; that you can give the life to somebody else, but you have to live with the side effect, which is the cycle. Its like having the superpower of flying but you have to live you whole life with a ‘de de de de de de de’ in your ears, and maybe I don’t even want to fly because I believe I belong to the ground so its annoying to hear the ‘de de de de de’ and think ‘I don’t even want to fucking fly!’. Usually when I ovulate, I start to feel myself weird, emotionally talking. That is a bad moment for my head and the period is a bad moment for my body. I feel in control (emotionally), when I notice my direction moving toward negativity I can help myself by focusing on something else, which is good. After ovulation and into the luteal phase it is harder. I feel that I lose control of my emotion’s day by day, it is overwhelming at times. It is from this phase that there is the famous joke ‘Are you angry? Are you on your period?’ If I could I would get an operation to be infertile, to get rid of my period. The only reason why I haven’t done it is that if you stop something that is natural to your body, you will get side effects; getting older more quickly, problems with libido and sexuality, not well lubricated when I have sex etc. The problems of doing it are so many, so of course I would not do it. If I could make my uterus disappear I would, but the side effects are too much. During my menstruation, I eat a lot of sugar and right before my period I notice physical changes. I have always dreamt of having tiny breasts and during my period I have massive breasts, somehow it makes me feel more maternal and I don’t like it because I don’t feel like me. The man that inseminates you has to see you in an animal sense, as the perfect shape to grow something in your body, its why society likes ass or boobs as the roundest part of the body. The image of abundance, strength, it is rich. If your boobs are exploding and your belly is a bit more round, the body is talking saying ‘I’m good, I’m ready, I can do it’. I have never had another opinion; my period has always been very annoying. I remember waiting for it, but not. Waiting because I was the age, but not wanting it. Twenty years ago it was different in the south of Italy, once in a school year you would accidently lose blood and paint your trousers. It was the most humiliating thing you could think about in the early two-thousands in the south of Italy. About being a mum, I never wanted to, I never played with dolls even as a child, I don’t remember saying ‘I don’t want to do it’ because I never remember thinking that I wanted it. In Italy it is extremely easy, you are a woman, you need to make babies. It is strict actually; it is the obvious thing. I remember a woman in my hometown, she was very beautiful, and she never got married. When I was young, she was painted as this strange character, because she was incredibly beautiful ‘she didn’t have any excuse’ to the society. She was happy I suppose but painted as strange. I never felt brave, I never cared. If something doesn’t suit me, I just refuse it I never remember being pushed that much. If you feel yourself as a mother in the future, you feel it, always. I like sex, and if I have a person in my life, I stay on and on. If I am single, I don’t feel the desperate need of another body. Maybe in my twenties, but not now. If there is not a great connection, I don’t want mediocre sex, I don’t care. I noticed in my last ovulation, I woke up with a weird tension and sex was painful, all my muscles were contracted, I felt stiff. I have always felt that I have a good sensitivity in general, I have always been aware of what my body says. I prefer to listen to my body than my head or my heart because I feel that my body as a magnet, can feel the real nature of the thing. That is why when I don’t like somebody or something, or if I do I feel it as a physical thing. I have always imaged my emotions as a physical sensation; every emotion has a pain or tickle in the body. When I am happy, I feel my chest is about to rip apart, I literally feel my ribs splitting in two, When I feel angry, is in the neck and throat, a painful knot; it is the worst. Worry or anxiousness is in the stomach. I can never feel myself as just a body or a brain, it is complete cooperation.
I suppose I can just tell you my story and my understanding and how that has grown and evolved. Going back to when I was first menstruating and cycling I didn’t have much of an understanding as a cycle or a whole, it was that you have a period and then you are not on your period and that was it. This is a thing once and month, its not very nice, its not pleasant and you don’t talk about it and then you are fine for a few weeks. But simultaneously I would have really high highs and really low lows, thinking that I had some really serious mental health problems and I couldn’t understand why sometimes I had so much energy, feeling great and then feeling miserable and not understanding why I have no energy and feeling crappy, to the point that as a teenager, my doctor said you have anxiety and depression and you need to go on the pill because your hormones have something to do with it. This is was we do, so from a young age I was on the pill. Likely she put every teenage girl at my school on the same pill for the same reasons, because that was the done thing and even through my university, it was a hazy time. I don’t remember having a relationship with my cycle, it wasn’t a priority, but something to manage. Another thing to deal with, but not an internal part of your being, but something that happens. I was more preoccupied with sex and how to manage it around sex. Like ‘night out this week and I am supposed to bleed, I’ll just run two pill packets, if I pull’ and then do that two or three weeks in a row. It was inconvenient to being a student, to partying, to that high energy time. I have a distinctive memory, of moving to a new house with a friend that had a lot of mental health problems and was very vocal about them. The constant conversation made me feel like maybe I have serious problems again. I’m up and down and I am talking about this topic all time. I thought to go to the doctor, it was around this time that I decided to come off the pill, it took quite a few month to settle into a cycle, and then it was like clockwork. I didn’t understand anything outside of actually menstruating, I didn’t know what the other parts of it were and what they meant. It took a while to figure that stuff out. It wasn’t until you started learning and sharing with me, that I started to connect the dots between what was happening and my mental health over many years, to what is happening in my body all the time and normalising what is happening in my body all the time. There is so much in our collective psyche about hysterical women, if have strong emotions as a woman you are taught to think you are crazy, unbalanced or something is wrong. Many psychological studies in Victorian times were done on women and that’s where hysteria comes from. If you are a woman and not operating as a man you may be diagnosed with mental health problems that you don’t have, that are just part of your cycle; feeling the natural changes in hormonal levels, energy levels that need to change. It was a mind-blowing moment to connect the dots and understand that I am not mentally unwell and possibly have never been, a narrative that I have carried because of a male perspective that was put on me through our society. Now I understand my body and my cycle and I am so typical, I have a 26-28 day cycle, the phases of my cycle textbook, to the point that the highs can be very high and the lows very low, but now I understand I don’t lay awake wondering what is wrong with me. I know what I need, I feel like X and its because I am here in my cycle. You can’t always choose when you work or have responsibilities, but you can choose to be kinder to yourself, to push yourself when you know you can be pushed and particularly create when you know you have the capacity to be creative and plan times for planning rather than fighting it. My life has changed so much, being able to recognize what is happening in my own body and what I need. If you just read the information and leave it, it can be really easy to just fall back into not being conscious and aware of your cycle, fighting against it, it would be really easy to read the information and walk away, not taking it on. Even if it is a couple of months that you are aware and chart, I don’t chart every month now, but I know where I am in my cycle because I have done it previously. Because you can learn your own patterns, if you fall into a textbook cycle, it makes the resources available easier to understand. But even if you have an irregular cycle and you chart enough you will learn your unique cycle, you awaken an instinct, you realise ‘I was there the whole time, I just wasn’t connected’. It is not something you have to work at forever, you have to work initially. In my adult life I think it is one of the most valuable things I have done because I understand myself more than I ever have done as well as generations before me ever did, more than my mothers relationship to her body, her cycle, her hormones, to my friends around me. A close friend is currently unsure if she has started the menopause and I can’t image being in a situation where I am unsure if something that big has started to happen in my body and being that disconnected. I remember her being agitated just before my period last month and she said the said thing this month, she clearly still has a cycle but doesn’t even know its happening in her body. I can’t imagine going back to being disconnecting. I will never doubt my mental wellbeing again, which is massive. So many women go through their lives being told there is something wrong with them and that’s not to say that women don’t have mental health problems, anybody can. But there are other things that need to be explored, there is knowledge that if you have a cycle and you embrace it you can understand the link, the connect between you cycle and your mental health. If you are fighting your cycle all the time, you are going to feel like shit, you are. If you are not giving yourself what you need, you are not going to feel good all the time. So if you move with it, you are likely to feel better, equally that knowledge allows you to know what I happening in your cycle and what may also be happening that’s not to do with your cycle. But if you cannot decipher one from the other you may be medicating yourself for something you don’t even have. Your winter may be so deep, that you feel low, you medicated yourself and you don’t know what you need. So often I think women will get diagnosed with anxiety and depression together, because you have this phase in autumn and winter where you may feel very low and energy you don’t know what to do with in spring and summer and if you don’t know what is happening and why and how to channel it you will feel depressed and anxious and depressed and anxious and not understand why. I am not a psychologist, I am not saying everyone has been wrongly diagnosed, but I think there is so much that is being missed and not being explored. Many many many women would benefit from understanding their cycle and making the link between mental health, wellbeing and giving your self what you need when you need. How can you feel good when you can give yourself what you need? By comparison I feel great, I can wake up and say why I feel how I feel, for so many years I was so confused, for so long. I am sure being an angsty teenager has a lot to play in that, but now in my mid-twenties I feel settled in my body and my life. The earlier you know this, you don’t have to fight. We are taught it is totally fine to suppress, something we are told is a weakness, but it is our strength. I know that if I do this type of thing at this time, I can be the best me. The fact we are not given that knowledge as a young adult is wild, it makes you wonder how many people are living the same thing. What they are going through is real, but this could support them to understand their way through it. How to live in your cycle rather than against their cycle. I feel strongly about making this connection between mental health and the cycle, it is worth exploring this way of managing your life rather than medication and ways to suppress what’s happening in your body. You are not someone with a cycle, you are someone in a cycle.
There is hardship from the get-go, the first thing that distinguishes us, female from male, after childhood when the distinction is little, is that our bodies move in different directions. Our first introduction to womanhood is like ‘well this is the first of a long slog of things that are hard’, that men don’t have to go through. It felt like it was forced upon us, rather than something you can learn about and actually there are many ways that you can balance and work with it, even at school, even at a sexual health clinic, we were never spoken to about that side, only the hardships. Now I think, if someone had sat down with me and explained or shared, I don’t know how much would have stuck but knowing our cyclic nature can be beautiful and unique and it doesn’t always have to be about pain and blood, if that had been explained, if that seed would have been planted, the connection made earlier, I think that the tougher years, through puberty, when emotions are crazy would have been smoother. There is reassurance in our patterns, to be read rather than controlled. I remember in year four, watching a video, a cartoon about periods, about the bleed; there were cartoon tampons and period pads dancing. I think it all tied into sex. It was taught as a small portion of the bigger topic, rather than being introduced as its own entity, it was a part of something. You will bleed, you will be moody the week before… then a nurse explained the logistics of products and remedies for pms. It took me until far too recently, within the last four years, to actually understand the process of conception, of fertility, of ovulation, the stages between, I thought that you bleed and for the rest of the time you can get pregnant. I didn’t know the body went through specific cycles to get you to that point, to create the environment to potentially create a baby. I didn’t connect to the cyclic nature, the pattern that unfolds, until I really started moving (as a dancer) and understanding my body working as one. I noticed the same thing would happen month after month, but it was still in the physical realm, there was no consciousness about how I felt emotionally, or what those links were, until we worked and spoke about the cycle in more depth, with charting, and reflecting, noticing that when I ovulate I am crazy about things and the week after ‘woah why was I so crazy?’ and that being reflected in the physical and how I move. So coming from no knowledge, my eyes were opened. I read about dulux creating a period colour red, a classic crimson associated with bleeding, but how many experiences does that miss out? It reenforces the image that there is a correct way to bleed, where are the cream colours that represent the rest of our cycle? Cervical mucus can be an even stranger taboo, for so long I was ashamed of it. If I was with a man and I had dark coloured knickers on I would move them out of sight and probably even now, though I know my partner knows and has seen, he does my washing! He probably knows more than I do. I find it empowering, above anything, to gather this knowledge. It is an interesting journey to explore, because its my body is giving me signs. We often say we don’t know why we are unwell or feeling a particular way, but we do, we just need to listen. I remember seeing my mum and a sanitary towel, but I would have never heard my mum speak to my dad about it, saying ‘I feel a certain way’ and I wonder how many homes have this as a complete taboo, no speak of it, off the table subject. It is important to change the conversation for the next generation, our children, male or female. It is important to create a more open experience.