My mother was a wise woman who passed down self-help techniques to me, as her mother did to her. She was born in 1923 and her mother in 1903, in times with very little preventative care or self-help books available. One of the things I didn't quite understand was her advice during my menstrual cycle. She said things like don’t drink or touch plants while I had my menses because it wasn't good for the plants?? I'm not a horticulturist and I don't know if there is any validity to the plant thing but she was basically saying your body composition is different when you have your period. The plants know it and they don't like it. The drinking thing -- well that’s the last thing you need with everything going on.
It's incredible what women have to put up with. Think about it, we menstruate every month! That's 2,400 days over 40 years and that’s if it were only 5 days a month but this process seems to affect us all the time, in one way or another. When I asked my mother why, she told me the story of Adam and Eve. So, is it all Eve's fault? Well I thought I would explain a little more of what’s really going on in your body while you go through hormonal shifts and the lining of your uterus sheds.
In the first 14 days, estrogen levels are higher and there is a rise in carbon dioxide (CO2). Global warming is going on inside your body for 2 weeks a month! During the second 14 days, progesterone levels are higher and there is a decrease in CO2. So we're more oxygenated during this time and this can really turn on the gas and our super human powers. A quote from Ginger Rogers comes to mind, "I did everything that Fred Astaire did but backwards and with heels on." Give yourself a pat on the back and a break when you're not at your peak and power it on when you are!
So how does carbon dioxide affect us? CO2 determines the acidity in our body. All metabolic function is reliant on acid base balance. Increased CO2 affects the excitability of our nervous system. Our muscles are hyper-irritable, pupils dilate, extremities are cold and there is an increase in sweat. CO2 is regulated by breathing… so breathe! The loss of CO2 during hyperventilation and shallow breathing affects blood flow to the brain, hands and feet. Hyperventilation can also affect memory, digestion, absorption of food, coordination and ambulation .
So it’s no wonder you've been feeling like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Breathing can produce amazing results by relaxing us. It relaxes muscles and helps with pain particularly back pain. I have even breathed out Migraines and heard testimony from others who have done the same. It makes sense to practice this all the time especially during your menses. So now we know the importance of carbon dioxide and breathing, let’s learn how to breathe more effectively. Here are some breathing tips to help you relax.
You need to breath with your diaphragm. Imagine the rib cage being a barrel. The ribs are the sides and the diaphragm is the bottom. You can feel your diaphragm by pressing your fingers up into the bottom of the drum. As you breathe in, your diaphragm will lower and your belly will balloon and expand out. You should feel your breath expanding the sides of the drum all around- out your back, sides and front as your diaphragm drops and your abdomen expands. Your abdomen should be soft and relaxed so it can relax and expand as you breathe. Your pelvic floor muscle moves down with your diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the parasympathetic portion of the nervous which will help calm down your muscles, nerves and you. Practice your breathing exercises every hour or anytime you need to calm your body or mind.
Physical Therapists can teach you techniques to help you learn how to help yourself. Women are very powerful beings and we can heal ourselves if we give ourselves the right environment to do so. I encourage you to learn how and let a physical therapist help.
Ann Duffy, Owner & Women's Health PT
Duffy & Bracken, PT