A woman is, in essence, a cyclical creature who depends on the infinitely complex interactions of hormones within her body. It is this hormone system – the endocrine system – that we might say is the bridge between body and the human experience. As the moon waxes and wanes, so too does a woman’s body go through many hormonal phases throughout her life, with the three key chapters being puberty, bearing a child, and menopause. In past times, the significance of these phases was well understood and celebrated by the community. However, we do not pay them the same attention that we once did, leaving more and more women feeling isolated and disconnected from their bodies.
Becoming aware of the interconnectedness between physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health can help us to find balance and elevate our overall wellbeing. In Neopagan belief systems, the waxing crescent moon represents the young maiden, full of energy and potential. The full moon symbolises the mother – the nurturer and provider – and the waning crescent and dark moon represent the crone – the wise woman and keeper of mysteries. Together, these aspects are referred to as the ‘Triple Goddess’, and represent the cycles of birth, death and rebirth that are expressed through the womb. Ancient practices and rituals that once guided and supported a woman’s journey through these rites of passage have largely been abandoned. In our mechanistic, fast-paced and largely disconnected modern world, women may experience more symptoms of disease and discomfort as they move through these core phases of life.
We could consider the following to be the three significant rites of passage in a woman’s life:
*the girl who transitions into womanhood with her first menstruation
*the woman who transitions into motherhood with the birth of her first child
*the woman who transitions through menopause to become the wise woman
The modern world generally doesn’t give much significance to these transitions. Women are largely left feeling unsupported and therefore disempowered during these times of change, and may become susceptible to hormonal imbalances that can have far-reaching physical, psychological and emotional effects.
If we look to shamanic traditions, the time of menarche was considered a powerful gateway into the spirit worlds, where young women would receive their spirit name, meet their animal familiars and spirit guides, and see their life vision on earth.
Research has shown that around the time of puberty, the structure of the brain grows significantly, opening in ways that can only be matched by brain growth in the womb. These changes affect the amygdala, cerebellum, hippocampus, hypothalamus, and prefrontal cortex – the neural pathways that govern vision, smell, sense perceptions, sexuality, balance and thought. Whatever a young woman is feeling and experiencing as she goes through puberty can have a significant impact on how she develops and matures. If she is supported with knowledge and guidance, she can become empowered through this initiation.
When we turn our attention to the woman moving through menopause, we see one who has experienced life and is filled with wisdom. In ancient cultures, this crone phase was respected as a profoundly powerful and sacred time, when a woman was regarded as an elder and guide. Going through menopause was considered to be one of the most exciting journeys that a woman would undergo. This is hardly how menopause is viewed in modern times (we tend to think of mood swings, hot flushes and crumbling bones), and what we think and feel about each stage of life will to a large extent determine how we experience it.
We need to understand that our modern lifestyles can create havoc for our hormones. Hormone balance can be improved by ensuring good sleep patterns, stress management, a healthy diet, beneficial lifestyle choices, and a happy digestive system.
When menstruating, make sure to use the products that are best for your health, such as a menstrual cup. You should also try to track your moods, feelings and symptoms during your menstruation cycle. This way you can get an idea of what happens to your hormones during your cycle, and how these changes affect you. Rest and nourish yourself as much as possible, particularly in the first three days. Drink soothing herbal teas such as raspberry leaf - a uterine tonic rich in vitamins and minerals that can be helpful during menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. It is believed that raspberry leaf may help balance hormones, assist with PMS symptoms, mood swings and irritability, and decrease the length of labour and elevate oestrogen levels during menopause. Chasteberry is another herb that has the potential to balance hormones and alleviate PMS and menopause symptoms due to its naturally occurring progestins. You can try different menstruation teas such as cranberry, chamomile, rose and nettle until you find a blend that works for you. Eat grounding meals of cooked red and orange root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots and butternut, and avoid sugary foods.
When pregnant, engage the support of a doula and/or midwife who can provide holistic pregnancy, birth and postpartum information and care. The adjustment to motherhood can be overwhelming, and dispelling fear-based myths is key to making the right choices for yourself and your baby. You may want to consider gentle non-invasive bodywork like craniosacral therapy to assist you in your preparation for birth. There are also safe herbs like ginger root for nausea and vomiting, and peppermint for indigestion.
As estrogen levels drop during menopause, be sure to eat foods that are high in calcium, and continue to practise regular gentle exercise. Red clover - which contains phytoestrogens - is another herb that may help with menopausal symptoms. Herbs like dong quai (or ‘female ginseng’), black cohosh, sage and St. John’s wort have also been reported to help ease symptoms during menopause.
All these transitions require an inward journey to a place of knowing and accepting. Cycles within cycles and spirals within spirals - this is the nature of life, and the nature of being a woman!
By Olivia Badach
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Olivia is the Organisational Development Manager at Wellness Warehouse. She has a diploma in Craniosacral Therapy, and has spent many years practising as a certified doula with a special interest in pregnancy, birth and motherhood. She is also the founder and owner of The Human Spiral, where she shares her insights on health, love and life.