Although we normally think of menstruation as a physiological function, the mind plays a role in the regularity and duration of our periods as well. Most menstruating women do not skip a cycle under normal, everyday stress. However, if you suffer a shock, such as losing a loved one, witnessing a distressing event, or going through a divorce, you may skip a period…or two.
The reason for this is both practical and mysterious.
Evolutionarily, we are primed for conception when the circumstances are optimal, meaning we stand a good chance of carrying a child to term. Intense emotional upset sends a signal of things being not okay for conception. And even if having a baby is far from our goal, our body can sometimes make that decision for us by preventing a regular, fertile cycle.
This is particularly difficult for women who live with trauma or ongoing circumstances of abuse. It can even become problematic for women who are under intense emotional strain, either from past or present circumstances, when they try to conceive. This is not meant to be dismissive in any way. It is not “all in your head,” as so many women have been told. In fact, it’s all in your heart.
The Brain Vs. the Heart-Mind
The Western concept of The Mind is situated in the brain. In our culture the brain is likened to a computer or a machine; it is an object that can be dissected to discover the truth of how it works. However, this concept of the mind “living” in the brain does not accurately reflect the way we process the world, nor does it account for many mysteries reflected in the body. It is only one perspective on consciousness, and incidentally, one that fits nicely into a mechanized interpretation of reality. However, most women I know, most people I know for that matter, do not operate like machines.
In Chinese medicine the brain works in service to the Kidney energy, which is basically our biological life-force energy. The Kidney energy is responsible for reproductive capacity and plays a big role in fertility (think of it as the genetic material you’d pass to your offspring). The brain is basically an expression of what we might see as the individual, a single biological entity in a world of things that aren’t us. Its role is to keep us, as individuals, alive and spread our DNA.
The traditional Chinese medicine concept of The Mind is that it is located in the Heart. This Heart-Mind is open, loving, and curious. Whereas the brain is mostly involved in self-protection and reproduction, the Heart-Mind is expansive. It connects us with others through affection, compassion, and joy. There are many important and interesting implications of this for medicine, meditation, and yogic exercises, but for our purposes, it is important for initiating, nourishing, and sustaining the menses.
How crazy is that? Your Heart-Mind plays a significant role in your fertility.
Why is this? In Chinese medicine we say that the Heart engenders the blood, meaning it infuses it with spirit. Ample, high-quality blood is critical for a healthy period. But even more mysteriously, this relationship between the Heart and the uterus reflects how open, receptive, and nourished we feel.
The Mystery of the Heart-Mind: It’s all About Connection
Think of it this way: your brain can be taught a “life hack,” but your Heart cannot. The Heart understands things on a wordless level. You already know this, right? So does your uterus. The brain has one function: to keep us alive, and as an extension of the reproductive energy, to keep our DNA circulating in the gene pool. It’s great at that, but let’s be honest, do you feel warm and fuzzy and expansive when you think about your brain? Probably not.
Your reproductive organs are highly sensitive to emotional distress, including feelings of abandonment, trauma, and loneliness. Your cycle really can be interrupted by grief, fear, and worry. And no matter how hard you try to “wrap your mind around it” (or, make your brain figure it out), it’s impossible to correct your period through logic alone. Menstruation is a relational process.
The Heart-Mind actually has a very high function: it connects us to each other, which strengthens us individually to withstand pain, loss, and suffering. It enables us to feel joy, love, and pleasure. We become larger, and more resilient, because of our relationships with others. And, most importantly here, your biological body—your uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, all your female parts—recognize the power of these positive, loving relationships.
If your period is causing you difficulty, start with your relationships. I’m talking about all kinds of relationships: romantic, friendships, familial bonds, and your relationship to nature, including pets. Begin to think about ways you can connect to the people, animals, and landscapes in your life that make you feel loved. This can work miracles on your menstrual cycle, not to mention many other biological systems. We all need to feel connected to something outside ourselves. It gives us a sense of hope, which encourages fertility.
Women have a special opportunity to witness the power of the Heart-Mind through the menses. Focus on feeling connected first. Use your Heart-Mind as your guide and track changes to your cycle. Are your periods more regular, less painful? You were born with a great capacity to give and receive love. I encourage you to use this power of connection as medicine for your own wellbeing and witness all that it can heal.