The Menstrual Cycle as a Breathing Process

Sometimes the most beautiful and important part of our physiology is flexibility.  Can we shift and change ourselves?  We do, of course, carry this out all the time–for when we take in a breath we open ourselves to the world around us (Rudolf Steiner actually pointed out that we are much more intimately related to our environment through respiration than through digestion or touch).  Then when we breathe out, we cut ourselves off from outside world, and release what we do not need any more (carbon dioxide, nitrogen, etc.)  This is a very regular, and familiar cycle, one which we generally carry out 16-24 times a minute.  But there are other ways that we breathe too.  The menstrual cycle can be understood as one such kind of respiration, one that brings aspects not just of inside and outside, but also life and death, generosity and loss.


Now, clearly, not everyone is connected to this breathing rhythm.  A male body is too solid, too connected to the earth to maintain the flexibility needed for this kind of receptivity and release.  Even if a male body had the right organs for pregnancy, it would be a question as to whether there could be space created for a new being (a child) to come into existence.  The female body is different, with an inherent physiologic generosity that makes it possible for there to be a pregnancy; to live more between the heavens and the earth.  To become receptive.  But that opening gesture is not always automatic.  Sometimes the body knows that such generosity is not possible or inappropriate–such that with conditions of very low body weight (through vigorous exercise, very limited nutrition), or significant stress–then one or multiple cycles may be skipped.  This can be understood as the body's way of showing that there is not enough vitality to maintain both oneself, and another.  A successful pregnancy in a certain way depends on bounty.  It also depends on a certain softening and surrender.  One example of this is when a couple tries hard to get pregnant–sometimes with sheer determination, sometimes through fertility treatments–but is unsuccessful.   Then, once they give up (relax, surrender) and decide it won't work, or adopt a child, then the pregnancy comes.  And pregnancy itself brings many shades of softening: the loosening of joints, a surrender of strict immunologic defenses, slower movement, and “baby brain.”  To become pregnant, there has to be some loss of self, and we can find examples of that bounty in the natural world (like the anthroposophic remedy Bryophyllum, mother of thousands).


After pregnancy, in contrast, there has to be a certain process of re-finding, re-building oneself.  After giving myself away on so many levels, how do I claim my body just for me?  That process also needs to happen when periods are too close, or too heavy, or last too long.  Then, in some way, the gesture of letting go (through menstrual bleeding) becomes dominant, and there is not enough time to build oneself up again between periods.  If this becomes a consistent pattern, the resulting anemia brings weakness and fatigue.  There is commonly also an accompanying loss of boundary, in some way “giving oneself away” with such generosity that we lose a healthy sense of self.  Then we need to find the healthy boundary, and close ourselves off to the world.  There is a related, larger shift that many women experience at menopause, when a new experience or awareness of self emerges–often on a social (community), artistic, or spiritual level–because the forces which have previously, repeatedly been given outside of oneself, are now available inwardly.  Then the “bounty” of forces needs a new direction.  Those forces of vitality may not even know quite where to go, and so overfill from the inside–with warmth (hot flashes).  This may continue until a new balance is found between inside and outside, between physically mothering (pre-menopausal) and spiritually nurturing (post-menopausal).  It is doorway out of physiologic devotion, but with the possibility for new wisdom.


It is possible to “pathologize” (make into an illness) all of these processes, to view them as something which is too often wrong, and needs to be controlled.  Hormonal methods are effective, but dictate rhythms from the outside.  It is possible–through a long tradition of herbal, homeopathic, and now anthroposophic remedies–to work to balance this “breathing,” in its many different forms.  To balance how we breathe, from the inside.

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