These past few months I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about births and periods. Not because my “clock is ticking” — but because of how similar it is to how we heal. Have you ever thought about that? How the way we heal from trauma and stress-related illnesses (both physical and emotional), actually even from a cold, follows the same pattern as a period or a birth cycle.
For the longest time, I thought of healing, birth, and the menstrual cycle as completely separate from each other. As three very different life experiences, which yes they are in a sense but it’s so important to see them for what they really are — connected — because that’s going to help us understand healing.
I have to admit, when I realized my mind had been thinking so separate and I don’t, know, categorized, I felt a little brainwashed. I know, dramatic, but to me as an Indigenous woman, the fact that I hadn’t made that connection before felt very untrue to who I am and what I’ve been taught. One of our most foundational understandings as Indigenous people is the knowledge that everything in the natural world is interconnected and interdependent. That includes all the natural processes that happen on our Earth; think pollination, decomposition, interactions between humans and other animals, plants, water, the sun and wind, everything.
Well, birth, periods, and healing are natural processes as well.
This would be a good time to look at the definition of a natural process.
“A process existing in or produced by nature rather than by the intent of human beings.”
Make a special note of the “produced by nature” part.
Here’s the problem though, if we live in a Western society, then we have grown used to a mindset that focuses on separation. Separation from nature and its natural processes. It’s a problem because it creates the belief that healing can be controlled and manipulated by humans and society. Again, eyes back to the definition, “produced by nature rather than by the intent of human beings.”
In my opinion, the problems we see today, the amount of stress, anxiety, depression, and trauma that people live with, is directly connected to society’s inability to understand healing as a natural process. Trying to control a natural process is a big mistake that has caused a ripple effect of problems for people, maybe even you? Guess we’ll find out by the end of this article. But the reason why birth and periods can teach us about healing is that, thankfully, they are much harder to control and manipulate. No matter how much this society tries to, the natural process of birth and periods happen on their own — they get to complete their cycle as they are supposed to.
So, let periods and birth cycles teach us about healing, shall we?
Before we do anything, it’s important to understand what got us here in the first place. What got us so confused, or what made us forget how to heal as human beings?
If you look at how this society approaches healing (or anything really), it’s a very “fight-conquer, and control” type of mentality. That’s why we tell people to stop their natural reactions or impulses, and we bring out medications and human-made products and services like therapy, self-help books, supplements, “anxiety blankets,” and even juice cleanses. There’s actually an MD (as in doctor of medicine) in New York City that says kale can reduce your emotional imbalances and stress. Again, I believe in the interconnection between plants and humans, and I love kale, but this is some high-level confusion about what stress is and how healing works.
The worst part is that this misinformation is all around us, spreading like a fire across all the trendy online publications; popular social media accounts, podcasts, newspapers, magazines, tv, everywhere. The same message, that healing should be controlled and treated by human ideas and inventions, is echoed like a catchy (but also very annoying) song that you can’t get out of your head.
But unlike an annoying song, this message is damaging. This information is what gave birth to the idea of coping skills and the belief that coping is healing, which it’s not. Coping means controlling, managing, aka learn how to live with it. Healing, on the other hand, is to move on.
Considering stress is called the “health epidemic of the 21st century,” by WHO — can we please start to rethink this?
This is usually the time I have to make a special note because there’s always someone who gets defensive and take it upon them to defend Western Science, even though they are the big and superior (and sometimes bully) in our society. So here go, yes, Western Science is great in its own way. If I get into a car accident, someone, please take me to a doctor to stitch me up, and if I have problems communicating with a partner or someone in the future, I would love to go to a therapist to ask for advice. But with that said, there’s a time and place for Western Science and there’s a time and place for Indigenous Science.
Like in this case, since healing is a natural process, I believe Indigenous wisdom, with not only the experience but with the deep knowledge of how nature naturally works, could help people more.
In our tradition, circles are sacred. Not only because of what they represent and the knowledge they teach us but also as reminders. Today, with society telling us we are something different from what we really are, that we are separate from nature and the natural processes we experience in our bodies, reminders are extra important.
Circles, like our ceremonies, remind us of our worldview. It reminds us that all that is in the natural world, ourselves included, are interconnected, interdependent, and regenerative.
Because of this understanding, we know that when a circle or a cycle is unable to complete or is broken or stuck — it creates an imbalance, and this imbalance then creates a ripple effect of symptoms or side effects. The linear and separate mindset that Western society has makes it hard to see that an imbalance has even occurred. They see the trauma, they see the stress, they see what happens, all the physical and emotional illnesses, but they are not able to make the connection and see that their interruption and fight of the natural process is what caused it.
Just like the circle of life, the Moon, the Sun, and all natural processes follow a cycle. That’s how you wake up every morning to a brand new day. That’s what makes your period show up every month if you have one, or how someone can have multiple births. The cycle has to flow so that it can continue.
Healing works the same way. It has to follow its natural cycle so that next time something happens (because that’s how life works), you’ll be able to go through it. If it doesn’t get to complete its natural process then it piles up and that’s when we see people get overwhelmed, easily frustrated, hit the wall, or even worse, get seriously ill.
It’s like getting a cold but never getting over it, so the next time you get a new cold, it piles on the already existing cold. Talk about double the fun. (That was sarcasm by the way.)
In my healing school, I teach a concept that I call, The Circle of Survival. I’ve found that it makes it easier for members to understand how the healing cycle works if they understand the natural process of survival.
1. Something happens and the survival instinct is triggered.
2. When the perceived “danger” is over, or you no longer need the special abilities the survival instinct gave you, a release starts.
3. This release is what brings you back to equilibrium (fancy word for saying balance), it’s like hitting the reset button.
4. This makes it possible for healing to begin.
… and then we move on and are ready for the next cycle to begin if needed.
To Indigenous people, equilibrium is everything. It why we strive for balance not only within ourselves but our land and all that lives in the natural world. If something is imbalanced then it will affect everyone and everything else.
This is why it’s so important that you, and everyone else, have an understanding of natural cycles and know how powerful they are without human interference.
Not a lot of people think of periods and births as connected to our survival instincts or even healing, but not only are they connected, they are actively present and necessary for the cycles to be completed.
I can’t think of any other process that shows us the regenerative cycle, the circle of life, as clearly as the cycles of periods, pregnancy, and birth. Especially birth, when the female body, in the process of creating new life, also risks losing its own.
That’s why we see periods, pregnancy, birth, and healing as ceremony because it is a process that needs to be respected and treated with the importance that it has.
To help you apply this to your own life, let’s play a little game.
I’m going to use the example of a menstrual cycle because it very clearly shows the different stages of the circle or the natural process. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never experienced it yourself, just read it and see if you can apply it from something you’ve gone through, whether it’s from pregnancy and birth, or living with stress and trauma.
First, I’m going to explain what the menstrual cycle is and the experience going through it. This is not a sex-ed article so save your critics and instead focus on how it applies to you.
Here’s the gist. The hormones rise which causes the ovary to develop, this makes an egg release and the womb lining thicken. Then another hormone comes in to help the womb prepare for a potential baby and the egg travels down the tubes. When there’s no pregnancy the egg gets reabsorbed into the body and the hormones drop. The womb lining then leaves the body and we have a flow, a period.
It might seem easy because it happens naturally, but the body goes through a lot during this process. Many experience sensitivity to other people’s energy, words, and actions; they might feel easily triggered or upset, nauseous, extra tired, and maybe even weakness or fatigue. The body starts to change, especially breasts and bloating, pimples pop up. One symptom I never thought of before is how the body tenses up.
Years ago, before I healed from the trauma I’d gone through, I couldn’t feel my body tensing up during a menstrual cycle because I was already living in survival. Meaning, my body was already tense from protecting me for years, so I was numbed and used to the pain. But today, I notice my body change right away; I feel the tension in the back of my legs and in between my shoulder blades, and even my neck and jaw. That’s how my body, in a way, protects and prepares me for the period cycle.
When reading this, were you able to relate it to a time you’ve been stressed, living with trauma, being pregnant, or any other natural process you’ve gone through? Maybe even fighting a cold? Think about how you experience an achy body, tiredness, tension, and fever when you’re sick. Or how you always get acne when you’re going through something stressful. Really think about this.
First, something had to happen for the circle to start. In the example of the menstrual cycle, it was the lack of pregnancy that started the process. For you, it might have been becoming pregnant, losing a loved one, an accident, a breakup, divorce, stress at work, loss of a job, a traumatic experience, or anything else. The point is, something happened that started a natural process.
Whenever we go through something traumatic, even something as beautiful as childbirth and as natural as a period, our bodies prepare and protect us. That’s the number one priority because it’s what makes it possible for us, and the cycle, to continue.
Second, there had to be a release. For a menstrual cycle, it’s the flow, for pregnancy, it’s birth. It happens naturally and you don’t have to think twice about it.
So if healing is a natural process as well, why is there no release? Why do people stay stuck with pain, trauma, anxiety, and all the other side effects?
First of all, there is a release. Your body tries to release and reset you to equilibrium every time something happens because coming back to balance is the law of nature.
The problem is your mind. What stops you from releasing is the messages from society that we went over in the beginning. You try to control the tears welling up behind your eyes, hide your hands in your pockets when they start to shake, and when your eyelid is twitching, body shaking and trembling, you try to stop it. You talk to yourself, telling yourself that it’s weird and embarrassing and that you have to stop before someone notices. Little do you know that they are there for a reason. That they are natural responses to bring you back to balance.
All these experiences you’ve lived through your whole life, not knowing you were fighting yourself just because of a society that insists on pretending that we are not primal beings and that our natural process can be controlled.
These messages, this society, is responsible for a world of imbalances. We see these imbalances not only with people becoming dangerously ill, both physically and emotionally but also with our land and animals.
The lesson is, if the release happens then we are able to come back to balance and heal because that’s the natural cycle of healing. But if there’s no release, we remain stuck.
The upside to all of this is that periods and births can’t usually be controlled. They continue the natural process no matter what anyone else says, thinks, or believes. You get your period when (or if) your body decides to and assuming you have a natural birth, your baby decides when it wants to come out. Births and periods are usually too big of a natural force for your mind or society to control and manipulate.
If you paid attention to my inserts of “usually” — good.
I said it because it’s worth considering the connection between this “fight, conquer and control” approach that we have adopted from this society, with people who are experiencing problems with getting pregnant, periods disappearing, and even postpartum. Some Indigenous Elders directly link susto— a survival response that is stuck in the body and not able to release — to these problems that unfortunately a lot of women face.
I’m not gonna lie. It upsets me that western science treats healing like an alien from outer space that they have no clue what to do about except to fight against it. How can they not see that healing follows a natural cycle, just like birth and periods, or even when someone gets sick? How can they believe that anti-depressants and anxiety medications are part of this natural process? Or that paying $150 every single week to sit and talk about it in therapy is part of it? It might help someone feel better in the moment, but ask yourself this: does it help someone to physically release and move on with their lives like they are supposed to? No. Because that’s the job for nature following a natural process, not humans.
Just wait, before we know it they will tell us that we can’t have our periods on our own, that we need some form of an expert or special device to make it happen. They will start special programs and make up degrees for it too to make it sound important and official.
Sorry for being intense but it bothers me and it should bother you too. It’s like they are so busy trying to fight and control everything to notice how much damage they are causing. If we look at our world right now with stress being called a health epidemic and high rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, and oh yeah, climate change — we can see (if we allow ourselves) that fighting nature is never a good idea. Never. Question is, how long will it take before people wake up and listen?
Whether you are going through stress, trauma, a period, or pregnancy and birth — honor the natural process your body is going through and allow it to complete.
Lastly, don’t forget nature made you. You’re capable of all these incredible things, survival, healing, and even to create and sustain life — that’s who you are as a part of our natural world.
If you’re interested in learning more about what I teach, or read the stories of members who have walked away from coping and adopted Indigenous wisdom to heal and moved on with their lives — click here.