Macrobiotics, Meditation, and the Exercise of Menstruation
Exercise in the macrobiotic practice is traditionally very limited. We know that when healing with macrobiotics, exercise is limited to the seven meridian stretches ( see my profile album on exercise that has pictures of these), bouncing lightly on the trampoline to get the lymph system going ( or if you are too weak for that you can lay on the trampoline while someone else jumps to make it bounce), walking ( which is highly recommended), and the practices of do-in which are very similar to qi gong and yoga.
While all of these exercises are great, you then have the macrobiotic healthy people with no evident disease that are the crazies like me that run and skip rope, do light weight training, bike ride, and occasionally swim. I read in the www.alchemypages.com on exercise that we should not do anything more strenuous in the first year of a macrobiotic practice than what I listed above, because to paraphrase your internal organs are trying to heal and they cannot heal their own tissue and at the same time excrete all of the waste products created by strenuous exercise.
So despite the fact that I am in the first year of my full on macrobiotic journey I am still running and thriving, and increasing my distances and lowering my times ( covering distances faster). Am I not able to heal myself because I am doing this? I would argue that macrobiotic practice made it necessary to run. Following a macrobiotic diet gave me an increased awareness of my stress and where it was coming from. I have always been a physical gal. I have always needed that exercise to really clear my head. I grew up a tomboy doing all kinds of sports, soccer, basketball, softball, track, swimming, and then I decided I was bored with all of that in college and learned to ice skate and 2 years later was playing women’s ice hockey. I was a better student when I was playing hockey. I was a better friend when I was active. I am a better wife and mom now that I am running again. It gives me an hour a day to reclaim my sanity. Following macrobiotics actually led me back to running.
Macrobiotics has actually made me a better athlete. I stretch and take time for myself with the seven stretches every morning, meditating on what I need to do for the day. I stretch again after my warm up for my run, and then when I am done I stretch and meditate briefly again. I did not take as much as five minutes to stretch unless it was team stretching before this time in my life, but now I know the importance. I did not in the past progress through my work outs / runs in an orderly and mentally disciplined fashion, focusing on the process of the workout. I ran track, but I ran sprints, never distances, so now for the first time in my life I am running distances.
So running is my meditation in more ways than one. It is the focus of releasing whatever is inside that I can’t express verbally, emotionally, socially, or otherwise. Now meditation can be done through qi-gong or through sewing, or through knitting, or prayer, or focused traditional meditation, or yoga, or any other way that you have developed of releasing whatever is holding you back. The Do-In Way by Kushi has great breathing exercises that go along with macrobiotics as a way of developing breathing toward developing spiritually, physically and emotionally. These are helpful both in running and in life.
So what does all of this have to do with menstruation? Well now that we all have no cramps because we are macros (LOL I’m being sarcastic, we’ve all ready debated this one lets not go there again) but seriously there are exercises / stretches that are supposed to relieve the symptoms of menstruation. These will help for some people, but keep this in mind when evolving through your cycles.
“The most noticeable physiological changes that occur throughout the menstrual cycle are increases in body temperature, body weight and ventilation. A higher core temperature is associated with the luteal phase (second part) of the menstrual cycle owing to the thermogenic effect of progesterone (Cagnacci et al, 1996). Practically, this may mean that when women exercise during this phase, they are less effective at dissipating heat. There is usually a delay in their sweating response, a decrease in blood flow to the skin, and a reduction in vasodilation of the capillaries. Women may, therefore, be at greater risk of overheating, especially when exercise takes place in a hot environment or in a non-air-conditioned or non-ventilated area. Because of this increase in core body temperature during the luteal phase, it is also likely that heart rate at rest and during exercise may be elevated. This should be recognised, especially if heart rate is used to monitor exercise intensity, to assess recovery, or to predict exercise capacity or O2max.
Increases in body weight
Increases in body weight are also common, particularly in the pre-menstrual phase, due to water retention, alterations in electrolyte balance and glycogen storage (Reilly, 2000). This may mean that women feel more bloated during this time, may complain of lethargy during exercise, or may have swollen limbs. Increases in body weight may also be disadvantageous to women competing in events where the weight is not supported, such as in running. An increase in ventilation has also been observed in the mid-luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, thought to be a result of the increase in progesterone (Williams and Krahenbuhl, 1997). Breathing rate usually increases, and women report feeling breathless.
On a more positive side, it has been suggested by some researchers that women perform better in endurance activities in their luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, since they are able to increase fat mobilisation and breakdown, and inhibit the use of glycogen (eg, Jurkowski-Hall et al, 1981). Less lactate builds up in the muscle and, as a consequence, women are able to sustain a relatively high intensity of exercise for longer. Generally, women also report that they feel the exercise to be easier at this time (Hackney et al, 1991).
All these changes are a result of increases in the hormone oestrogen, and they have important implications for performance. When competing, for instance, a personal best might be achieved more easily in the second phase of the menstrual cycle. Performance in the first phase of the menstrual cycle may be at a relative low, and training may need to be adapted.
Several studies, in contrast to the above, have found no significant differences in substrate use during exercise between the luteal and follicular phases, nor in the individual’s ability to sustain exercise easily (eg, De Bruyn-Prevost et al, 1984). It could be that differences might only be observed in a glycogen-depleted state, either as a result of diet or prolonged exercise. In athletes maintaining a relatively high carbohydrate diet, significant menstrual cycle phase differences in performance have not been observed (Berend et al, 1994).
Another contention is that fluctuations in substrate use and blood lactate concentration only occur in untrained females, whereas no phase-related differences have been reported in trained females. Hence, in general, it could be said that women perform better in endurance events in the second half of the menstrual cycle, although individual differences in fitness, training status, diet and hormonal response may mean that differences are insignificant or are not apparent in some women. Furthermore, the elevated performance during the latter part of the cycle may be offset by symptoms of pre-menstrual tension that some women experience which include, for instance, anxiety, nausea, irritability, bloatedness, weight gain and lack of concentration.
Depression of the immune system may be correlated with elevated levels of oestrogen and progesterone. It has, therefore been suggested (Daly and Ey, 1996), that women should avoid high training volumes and stress in the late luteal and early follicular phases of their menstrual cycle, since there is a greater risk of overtraining. Even though endurance performance might be improved in the latter part of the menstrual cycle, if the female athlete trains too much because they feel like they are able to, suppression in the immune system might lead to overtraining.
Luteinising hormone acts on the ovaries to produce androgens (mainly testosterone and androstenedione) and follicular-stimulating hormone (FSH) allows the ovaries to convert androgens into oestrogen (see Figure 1). Maximum testosterone occurs mid-cycle, coinciding with the LH surge. There is some suggestion that peaks in testosterone combined with oestrogen lead to increases in strength, and that strength training may be more effective in the middle of the cycle, although again, individuals have been found to differ.”
This article basically covers everything you need to know about exercise and your cycle. I think the part about immune system depression in the few days before your cycle and the first few days of your cycle is the most interesting.
So in other words menstruation is probably not the best time to increase your workout intensity, leave the intensity with what you are used to or take an easy day during this time if you feel you need it. I am not saying don’t exercise. There is also strong evidence that suggests that running / walking actually helps cramps but just watch your compass like we all do normally anyway!!
So where does yin and yang fit in with exercise and the menstrual cycle? I think it largely depends on the type of exercise you are doing stretching / yoga / qi-gong / running/ all are different so they need to be balanced differently. In my opinion keep whatever exercise you are doing in mind, use your compass / guidelines to tell if it is a more yin or yang activity and then balance your exercise with a complimentary activity or a complimentary food.
I was actually surprised in writing this on menstruation that there was such an interest in this topic. Dirk writes nothing on menstruation in his books ( although he does touch on childbirth which is intimately associated with menstruation), Kushi touches on menstruation in a self deprecating manner ( ie if you have cramps you aren’t macro enough) and so hopefully my testament and everyone’s contribution will be helpful as we journey toward our communion with the infinite oneness of life.
I am glad to have shared what I have learned about this very important topic, and to have learned from all of your experiences / responses / perspectives. I would encourage anyone to write anything opinion wise / facts they have discovered / experiences they have had on any aspect of their monthly journey of womanhood. I think it is important that all of us cowgirls kamikaze, macros, or otherwise share our experiences for the benefit of others. Perhaps it is the diet combined with the philosophy and practice that gets us to be free of all but mild discomfort. While this may work for some women within the spectrum, it may not work for all of us. If you get the formula that puts you in intimate contact with the infinite oneness ( which I am sure is cramp free) let me know and I will come sit by your knee.
“And if perchance, you should discover the real meaning of the Kamikaze Cowboy Code, then forget everything I have said. Do whatever you want. Eat, drink, wear whatever you want. You have arrived. Infinity is yours is you. I’ll come sit by your knee”- Dirk Benedict, Confessions of a Kamikaze Cowboy
For now I your humble student leave you with peace, love, hope, faith, brown rice, and bancha
Posted 12-20-2008 at 04:25 AM by asmay
Updated 12-21-2008 at 09:12 AM by asmay
|Posted 12-22-2008 at 04:37 AM by deebeelicious|