In this episode - introducing our new book Wild Power:discover the magic of your menstrual cycle and awaken the feminine path to power you’ll:
Order your copy of Wild Power at www.wildpowerbook.com
Alexandra: One of the things we love to do with women is a cycle check-in. What day of your cycle are you on right now? Think of a couple of words to describe your experience, the main tone, energy and feeling of it. If you’re listening to this live you can share where you’re at in the Q & A box below, or pop into our Red School Facebook page where you’ll be able to see Sjanie’s Chart Art showing her cycle check in and you can comment and add yours. If you fancy hashtags then you can also tag us on #lovemycycle. Let’s get started.Welcome to our conversation ‘Love your cycle (or at the very least broker an uneasy truce)’. Just to remind you, I’m Alexandra and I live in Malvern in the West Midlands of England, very beautiful part of the country. I’m very blessed that I have the beautiful Malvern Hills as the backdrop to my home, and I am 64 and have a very particular view of the menstrual cycle now from this vantage point, which brings with it lots of richness. And with me is Sjanie.
Sjanie: Well I’m not physically with you, I’m sort of on the other side of the country. You head south and keep going until you hit the shoreline, and a little bit east. I live in a town called Worthing on the South Coast of England. And it’s called sunny Worthing, every time I say that I can’t quite take myself seriously because if anyone here lives in England you’ll know that it’s not quite sunny, not quite the kind of sunny I know having grown up in South Africa. Now that’s sunny! But it is a very bright, warm town and its right on the coast so I have the sea and the shoreline which I can walk along and all the fresh air that blows off the sea which I’m very, very grateful for. I turned 40 at the end of last year, so I’m really in the depths of my cycle experience. I have hopefully a few more years to go before I reach menopause, and I am really reaping the harvest of my cycle while I can. That’s one of the blessings about teaching this work, I just see from women who have gone through menopause how much they mourn the loss of their cycle, and it really spurs me on to make the most of every day of my cycle, like it or not, so the urge to broker an uneasy truce is a reality for me, I’m like ‘I’m not going to waste my time fighting against this rhythm of my body’. So yeah I’m deep in this.
Alexandra: This is really important now isn’t it Sjanie, to help women shift into a new relationship with their cycle, for a host of reasons… it is the most amazing resource isn’t it? So in this episode we’re going to talk about how the menstrual cycle is in fact the number 1 self-care resource for us as women. And it’s loving what we call your ‘natural rhythm of power’ which we’ll unpack a little in the course of the talk. It’s your lovely natural rhythm of power for finding your own wholesome, creative life. And this is the piece of resistance I think ‘loving your cycle can lead you to loving yourself more’. Just that simple act of attending to your cycle with care, reaps extraordinary dividends in terms of what we call this inner kindness and tenderness towards oneself and building respect. Sjanie, do you want to kick it off with some questions?
Sjanie: I was just thinking while I was listening to you, it’s such a far cry from the reality that most of us have grown up with to name those things about the cycle being this incredible resource and this route to loving yourself, and I thought, Wow, that’s not the reality that most of us have been brought up with, that’s the message in the field and it’s such a far cry from most people’s experience of the cycle, and in a way that’s the starting place for most of us. I’m sure some of you listening already have a different kind of relationship with your cycle, and probably many of you who are wondering what a good relationship with their cycle might look like, or feel like, or can’t quite even imagine that possibility, your cycle is just a real difficulty or inconvenience, or struggle, or any number of things. And that’s really the starting place for us and the starting place for us for this conversation today, the awareness of what your relationship with your cycle is now.
Sjanie: It’s a question to ponder now as we are beginning this conversation, just sit back in your seat and be with yourself and feel into how it is for you. What is your relationship to your cycle? How do you experience it? How do you relate to it? Does it feel like a hassle? Does it feel like a resource? A support? Maybe there are parts of your cycle that you love and parts that you really struggle with, so your feelings are mixed. There are parts that you think yes I’ve got a good relationship with this part of my cycle but not so much with that part. And maybe you don’t even really know much about your cycle, so that question about how well do you know your cycle is another one just to reflect on. Do you know the kind of physical signs? Do you know what day you are on at any given point? Do you know what to expect from the different days and different phases of your cycle? Do you know when your period is due or do you get surprised every time it turns up? I mean even though I chart very, very diligently, in other words I pay attention to where I am in my cycle all the time, obsessively some might say, I’m still sometimes surprised when my period turns up, so it’s not a science. So that’s your starting place, your relationship with your cycle now and how it is, and how you feel about it and how you think about it. And we’re going to talk about coming to love your cycle more…
Alexandra: This ‘coming to love your cycle’ is such a bold statement really isn’t it Sjanie?
Alexandra: I’m just following on from what you’ve just been saying about how it’s so alien for most people to even think about their cycle. To actually imagine loving it and thinking of it as a real ally. So we do like to say ‘or at the very least broker a truce with it’, because we know that some of you may be really suffering with your cycle, but we actually really want to emphasise that coming into or just stepping towards your cycle, imagining it even if you can’t feel it yet, just imagine ‘this cycle is on my side. I’m struggling with it; I don’t like this bit of the cycle I might have bad pain at menstruation…’ or whatever it is, but we’d love you just to hold the idea that actually it’s on your side. And it’s actually trying to lead you to wholeness and lead you to wellness. And this simple act of learning to care for it, and we’ll unpack what that means in a moment, this simple act of learning to care for it better is then going to reap huge dividends. As you step towards your cycle with care in a sense it responds back, it’s holding you, its holding us isn’t it Sjanie, it’s like a container we can rest in and, believe you me, when you leave it at menopause there is a period of time post menopause of grieving that familiarity and holding, and then that passes because there’s a whole new world that unfolds. But there is a marvellous holding and kind of framing for our lives, it gives a kind of internal structure doesn’t it, for how we manage our lives and how we manage our energy. I’m thinking of this natural rhythm of power that you mentioned earlier, that as you get to know your cycle, as you make friends with it you’re going to start to notice your own particular pattern. And it’s not a random phenomenon, there is a lovely repeating pattern that happens month after month and it’s like a friend really in some senses. As you get to know that repeating pattern we say that is your natural rhythm of power.
Sjanie: Yeah, I love that phrase, it really captures the essence of something about the cycle, or of being in relationship with the cycle. It’s being in the groove of who you are. It’s being really in the groove of who you are, and what you mentioned right at the beginning about the cycle being a resource, that’s in a way what we mean, your rhythm of power, you are in your own authority, you are playing to your own timing you have this ever deepening relationship with yourself and who you are. That’s a very rich, fertile ground. To be in relationship with yourself, to be in connection with yourself through this rhythm is a very rich, healing, creative ground for living life as a woman. Essential. Absolutely essential.
Alexandra: You’re really in your flow aren’t you?
Sjanie: You really are. This thing of self-care and the cycle, I think that’s a good one to flesh out what we mean. Because we all know it’s important to look after ourselves and there are so many ways of doing that. But there’s something about cycle awareness that makes self-care a really authentic real thing, I mean not that general self-care isn’t but it’s so connected to your own needs in any given moment, it’s a real response to who you are and how you are.
Alexandra: It makes self-care much easier doesn’t it, because if you’re connected to your cycle as we said, you’re connected to yourself. And so as you’re learning about your strengths and vulnerabilities you’re learning about your boundaries. And when you’re giving too much, you know, when you’ve crossed your boundaries and given too much, you will hear about it, particularly in the pre-menstrual phase. So you’re learning about the natural checks and balances within your own being, so that you don’t burn out basically. All cycles stop us from burning out, that’s what cycles do. Cycles really teach us about sustainability. It’s useful to think about other cycles in our lives isn’t it, Sjanie, like the sleep wake cycle, our circadian rhythm. And you don’t argue with going to sleep at night, except if you’re a child possibly! If you’re a 5-year-old you might argue about going to bed but most of us don’t argue, we know that sleep is crucial. The science in this area is just undeniable now, you just cannot compromise on sleep. It’s core for your physical wellbeing, your emotional wellbeing, and for your brain to function well. If you want to be a creative functional being in the world you have to have sleep. Cycles are this lovely pattern of activity and rest, activity and rest, and this is how we keep healthy and strong. You’ll notice it in the seasons of the year, you’ll notice how your energy changes, you’re out there in high summer and it’s all action and then winter comes and you want to curl up with a good book in front of the fire. And the menstrual cycle is no different. You have your same rhythm of activity and rest. This is the fundamental pattern for self-care...
Sjanie: And the thing with day and night and the seasons of the year is that we’re all experiencing the same thing, in a way they’re external, outside ourselves. But the menstrual cycle is personal, it’s your rhythm, utterly personal and unique to you. It’s your personal rhythm so it’s very precious in that way and challenging because no-one else is operating to that timing, but you know its tailored, tailored for you.
Alexandra: That’s so important isn’t it Sjanie, its really tailored to you.
Sjanie: So just on this thing of the importance of cycles as you come into relationship with your cycle you learn to manage your energy better. And I read someone, a very smart woman posted somewhere, she said ‘it’s no longer about managing the to do list, it’s about managing your energy, that’s where it’s at’ and I thought absolutely, forget about managing to do lists, manage your energy and everything else will fall into place. And the menstrual cycle is exactly that, it’s your guide, it’s your coach, it’s your way of managing your energy if you listen and respond to it.
Alexandra: That’s a really brilliant thing, I like that. It’s not about your to do list anymore it’s about managing your energy, and the cycle is the number one means for doing that, it’s just brilliant. So as you do this, as you make friends with your cycle more and more and learn to discover the places in the cycle where you’re super charged and the places in the cycle where you’re vulnerable, and you take care of that, overall you’re going to feel so much more respect and kindness for yourself, and you’re going to have much more overall energy and a sense of…balance really, isn’t it Sjanie? I mean I know you get, well both of us get tired, we worked our socks of this last year writing the book and we’re both right now a little bit ragged and would love a nice long holiday, but we’re very careful about cycles. And even as we’re both needing a good long holiday we’re also just pacing that rhythm of activity. I’m a post menopause woman so my way of doing it is a little different to yours, but you with your own cycle you’re very careful about honouring things.
Sjanie: Yeah, I shudder to think what sort of condition I would be in if I hadn’t been paying attention to my cycle over the last year. Yes, I’m tired now and yes I feel like I could do with a whole lot more rest but my goodness I would be, you know, frazzled. Alexandra: And people may be surprised to hear this Sjanie, but we had a very tight deadline with that book, we had to push the envelope a little…but when you were bleeding we really did factor that into our schedule didn’t we, and we allowed downtime for you and I picked up the slack, or we did slightly different tasks so that you could be much more cruisy and let go because we did have a deadline after all, but we did actually do quite well didn’t we in pacing our needs.
Sjanie: And I think that’s an important point actually, to not aim at some kind of idealised perfection, that’s when you can go horribly wrong. Any move you make towards yourself, any move you make to come into relationship with your cycle, even in the smallest way it can bring profound gifts and is a very beautiful thing, so you know…my fantasy cycle life is very different to my reality cycle life, and I just keep reminding myself to stay connected to my real cycle life. I didn’t say at the beginning but I’ve got 2 small children, 2 girls, they are growing up now actually, my youngest is 3 and my oldest is 5 and a half, but what I would ideally like in terms of self-care and my cycle, you know if I could respond to my cycle in the way my deep hearts desires asked for, you know my children would be left to fend for themselves quite frankly.
Alexandra: They would be abandoned.
Sjanie: Exactly! So, there is the thing of baby steps. We talk about 1% moves towards loving your cycle and that’s plenty.
Alexandra: I’d quite like to pick up on something here Sjanie which is this whole cultural stuff that we alluded to at the beginning, we talked about just how today it’s still really hard to talk about the menstrual cycle publicly. But also, we’ve got this huge cultural legacy of loathing and a sense of danger around the menstrual cycle, a loathing and a diminishing of who we are. The idea that the menstrual cycle is a limitation, a weakness, and that at one point they thought women weren’t worth educating because we menstruated.
Sjanie: Maybe what they didn’t realise is that we didn’t need educating we had it all inside!
Alexandra: And for instance all that pre-menstrual charge that we have, that almost shamanic intelligence that comes through, those powerful feelings, and if women have been repressing themselves and repressing themselves then premenstrually that is going to start to show. And you just wonder how many women, and this is really challenging to say this, were put away for this, you know they sort of went mad at this time and were seen as mad, and its heart breaking, and I think a lot of women, maybe not always consciously, sort of hold that cultural story in them, because I’ve often met women who just don’t want to know about the cycle, they just aren’t interested. And I often think those women actually have a real intelligence for this work on the cycle, but to touch that work would open up a can of worms for them. You know a deep well of feeling, that isn’t just personal but a kind of historical thing, that is going to come through. And I’m saying this, it’s kind of quite strong to say it, but I feel it’s important to say it because some women really don’t want to know about the cycle, and I actually never ever push it either when I meet them, because they know what they’re ready to take on and not take on. So, if you are a woman who is listening to this and is going woah I don’t want to open that door, well you must listen to yourself, but we would of course suggest taking tiny baby steps. Just very small steps towards it and particularly if you’re suffering with extreme, for instance premenstrual stuff, or very extreme menstrual pain. I often think it’s the women who suffer that hold alot of cultural trauma, they’re the ones holding it in their being and we all need to restore the power of the cycle for those women to heal, so we can all feel comfortable out there in society. I just really want to acknowledge that it hasn’t really been a menstrual love fest for centuries, and really only in the last few years that there’s been, well dare I say just the last year or two, that we’re suddenly seeing a real shift around talking about menstruation. I mean frankly menstruation can’t keep out of the press these days, it’s a right sassy old creature and I just love it, menstruation is just popping out everywhere in the press. Almost every day you see another story about it. So something is changing, I think the archetypal forces are on our side. The feminine is saying ‘I’m back I’m coming back and back and this is part of my work to restore this knowledge’, so it’s on its way now that’s for sure.
Sjanie: Yeah, oh it’s so good that you say that, I feel very provoked when you talk about all that cultural stuff but I think it’s important for us to have this in our awareness as we are coming into relationship with our cycle because a lot of the murky waters that we move through as women, as we come into relationship with our cycle, are not personal. It is the collective, cultural baggage, so if you’re feeling some kind of repulsion or fear or any number of feelings of resistance, just consider for a moment that this is the cultural story that is working its way through you as… I think that’s a pretty good point that you make Alexandra and even after tracking my cycle for years I am still encountering deeper and deeper levels of this tension between me really living in sync with my cycle, and the expectation and the way of life that surrounds me which is not acknowledging, recognising, appreciating, supporting a cycle centred life.
Alexandra: No, it’s really not cycle friendly on any level really
Sjanie: I mean menstruation is coming out of the closet and that’s a brilliant door opener but cycle centred life, you know this is really a whole new revolution we are talking about here. This is really radical. And if you are living in sync with your cycle make no mistake you are an activist, you are a revolutionary, you are doing something that is immensely challenging both personally and in terms of what is happening around you culturally.
Alexandra: Just following on from that Sjanie, there are two things. One is I feel it would be really appropriate to share our vision for this work since we’re talking about the reality out there and the reality we want to create out there. And before we read that vision I just want to say that those women who are suffering right now with bad period pain or bad PMS, that loving your cycle is utterly the first medicine for healing those symptoms because as you make friends with your cycle a whole level of tension or stress falls away. And that stress is party to the symptoms, it’s contributing to causing them. Of course all menstrual problems are multi-factorial, but at the very bottom of all those factors is stress. All sorts of stress. And just releasing the stress of fighting the cycle and learning to move with its rhythm, with its pattern of activity and rest and just really letting go at menstruation really eases symptoms, and I am a woman who suffered horribly. That’s how all this work unfolded in the first place, because of outrageous menstrual pain I had. And it was deciding to follow my cycle that was absolutely the door opener to great healing, so I can stare anyone in the face who suffers and say to them very congruently ‘make friends with your cycle, it’s actually a remedy’.
Sjanie: Beautiful. Yeah, lets share our vision. We’ve written about this in our book ‘Wild Power’. I think it would be lovely for us to read this and just share how we intend for the work we are doing at Red School and for the work that each of you is personally doing, how we intend for this to unfold. Of course you will all have your own personal vision but we want to share ours and if it inspires you then please join us in holding this intention. ‘We’d like to share a vision with you that we hope will open possibilities for your own personal journey as a woman and where that might lead us as a society. We’ve no intention of going back to some remembered past or trying to recapture some ancient ideal. Our feet are firmly planted in the 21st century and we believe that our vision speaks to the needs and dreams of our time. Imagine a society in which the cycles of life are revered and respected as quiet orchestrators of our lives instilling a deep reverence for the planet and everything on it. Imagine that the menstrual cycle is understood as the heartbeat of that great orchestration and most crucially, honoured as the sacred source of life for us humans. Imagine that knowledge of the full spectrum and power of the menstrual cycle is common place and all women feel the utter rightness of having this experience within them. Imagine a world where the menstrual cycle is respected as a woman’s spiritual practice. Imagine girls growing up in this menstrual affirming world. When a girl arrives at menarche she feels a real dignity and a strong yes to her being. Once her cycle’s established itself she learns how to chart it, how to record the physical, mental and emotional pattern so that she can literally read her own body. Awareness of the menstrual cycle becomes second nature as natural as eating and sleeping. When the issue of contraception arises for a woman she’s already grounded in cycle awareness including her fertility signs. Instead of hormonal contraception dominating the conversation she now has choices. As she matures she receives teachings on the inner power of the menstrual cycle and how to work with it and use it as a tool for creative wellbeing. Over time these teachings and inner discoveries expand into a deeper creative and spiritual journey. Imagine that throughout our communities and institutions there are respected women who are professional teachers and holders of this menstruality knowledge. They support girls and women from menarche to menopause and beyond through the passage of a girls emerging sexuality and if she so chooses in preparation for conception, pregnancy birth and motherhood.’‘Imagine that as a woman grows into the powers of the cycle she befriends her sexuality and is gradually initiated into the full ecstatic sexual power of the female body. She’s empowered to enjoy enormous sexual pleasure and sexual freedom and is perfectly set up for the journey to motherhood. All women choosing to become mothers are prepared for conception, pregnancy, birth and motherhood through the practice of cycle awareness and the knowledge and self-understanding that creates. Imagine that women are so grounded in their menstrual cycle that they naturally develop trust in their body and their inner life giving processes, so when they arrive at the threshold of giving birth they have the necessary faith in their body and months of experience in the art of surrender. Imagine that throughout a woman’s menstruating years she grows a fierce inner dignity of the uniqueness of who she is. A deep affirmation that comes through her mindful engagement of the menstrual cycle. Through years of cycle awareness she is supported to grow into her full capacity to take responsibility for who she is and the world that she lives in. Imagine a world where menopause is recognised as a healthy organic step in a woman’s evolutionary journey. In her deep self a woman knows she has been prepared for this moment even as she might feel trepidation. Because she’s developed impeccable self-care from years of living and loving her cycle she knows her physical and emotional vulnerabilities and how to care for them. She willingly accepts the necessary initiatory challenges of menopause knowing that post menopause she’ll step in to the vital and powerful role of serving her community and the world. She knows she will be profoundly met and respected as a smart, wise, authoritative and beautiful older woman.’
Sjanie: Oh yes, may it be so!
Alexandra: May it be so.
Sjanie: Wow! Lovely to share that with you, to share that piece of the book with you and share our vision with you. And lovely to start this Wild Power series conversation with you. We want to end by inviting you to set your own intention for yourself, for you own relationship with your cycle. To take a moment to think through what you want your relationship with your cycle to be? How you want to care for it? And then take some time to make a clear statement about that for yourself, somewhere you can write it down. If it’s come to you very quickly now, please feel free to share it in the Q&A box or in the comments. If it’s something you need time to formulate please feel free to share it on our Facebook page at any time. We would love to hear what your intention is, what it is you are holding for yourself, for your new relationship with your cycle.
Alexandra: I just want to say please, please, please, come and share it because it would also help, it would just be lovely to hear your intentions and it sort of feels like you’re putting a lovely energy out into the world in that intention, and another woman might see it. So, if you share it on the Facebook page, you know another woman comes along and sees it and goes ‘Oh wow! Could that be possible?’. And it starts this lovely positive process growing.
Sjanie: We could all inspire each other. Because it is about opening our minds to something that has never been seen before, certainly not in our recent history. So it would be so lovely to hear what your intention is for your relationship with your cycle.
Order your copy of Wild Power at www.wildpowerbook.com
Check out Episode 2 - ‘Discover the original woman's spiritual practice'