Guest blog by Zoe Culbertson, a licensed acupuncturist at Seaside Family Acupuncture in Salem, MA.
Trying to conceive is a journey through the unknown. The path to becoming a parent takes many shapes and forms, is filled with beauty, challenges, stress and often an overwhelm of emotions. So many of the fertility patients I see have been TRYING so hard, often feel disconnected, disempowered and weary of the treadmill of fertility tests or treatments. I love to suggest meditation to my fertility patients as a self-care practice they can do on their own to discharge stress, feel empowered and become their own source of calm, nourishing and resilience. Meditation offers so many benefits, including reducing stress and anxiety, improving physiological and mental well-being and connecting deeper to yourself in a time of great uncertainty and transition.
I regularly combine meditation as part of my acupuncture treatments to balance hormones and work with the yin and yang. In Chinese medicine we make a differential diagnosis for each individual, looking at the whole person and selecting specific acupuncture points or Chinese herbs to address imbalances. In the case of fertility, it’s also important to treat according to the 4 phases of the cycle. We look at the energetics of how the energy shifts from yin to yang and back to yin as the cycle turns. I make use of meditation cues as well as acupuncture needles and Chinese herbs to essentially emphasize what is happening in each phase to harmonize and regulate the cycle. So let’s look at the 4 phases, yin and yang, and what meditation cues could help optimize your cycle.
Yin and Yang + Your Cycle
Yin and Yang are always in transition, transforming and flowing from one to the next. They are interdependent and cannot exist without one another. The original characters for yin and yang depict the sunny side of a hill and the shady side, but together they are one hill. The characteristics of yin and yang seem like opposites but are completely relative. For example, a tree is more yang than a mountain, which is heavy and immobile. However, a tree is more yin than the wind which blows through its branches.
Phase 1 & 2 of the menstrual cycle focus on building yin and blood, which can be accessed by focusing on connection to the ground, settling toward the earth, resting and softening the body itself. Phase 3 & 4 are about activating yang and using the breath to feel a sense of spaciousness, abundance and compassion.
Phase 1 Menstruation:
Yang flowing into Yin. As blood flows and the uterine lining is shed it’s important to practice letting go. As you embrace the yin try meditations which help you do less and be more, practice non-striving and start to ground and connect to the earth. You can bring awareness to touch points where your body is in contact with the ground like the feet, pelvis or legs, noticing sensations there and feel a sense of gravity and weight. Invite these points of contact to soften just a bit more and with each exhale allow any tension to release and flow into the earth. Imagine yourself settling and sinking a bit deeper into the earth. Feel how the ground receives you and offers support and a sense of belonging. Each exhale is another opportunity to let go of any striving and anything you no longer need, so you can rest deeply.
Phase 2 Follicular:
Yin. This phase is all about nourishing. We’re building blood and yin, nourishing estrogen and the uterine lining. Feel the support of the ground beneath your feet and pelvis, and from this sense of groundedness you can draw nourishment from the earth. Inhale nourishment to your center, your womb, and any parts of you that need it most, exhaling any tension or stuck places. Focus on a sense of connection and belonging and invite your body and mind to soften and rest in just being.
Phase 3 Ovulation:
Yin flowing into Yang. If you do any BBT charting you may be familiar with the progesterone spike which is like the yang in its action to warm the body. During this dynamic phase it’s important to cultivate a sense of spaciousness and warmth. Feel how each breath opens up space from within. Feel the breath flowing like a river, loosening and softening everything from within. Each breath expands the spaces between your pelvis and ribcage, each of your ribs and around your heart. Imagine a wide expanse of open, cloudless sky. Feel the warmth of the sun radiating onto you and invite the nourishment of the sun to flow with the breath throughout your whole body, recharging each cell.
Phase 4 Luteal:
Yang. Finding a sense of lightness, ease and self-compassion are helpful in implantation and the challenging two week wait. Allow your spine to rise effortlessly and with dignity like the trunk of a tree growing from the earth. Let the inhale stretch up your spine and feel a sense of lightness in your upper body as you heart raises toward the sky. Envision a smile spreading in the vast open sky, without moving the muscles of your face. Experience this inner smile, imagining the upturned corners of your mouth and the warmth in your eyes. With each exhale send the inner smile to your center and your womb. Feel your softening body receive this energetic smile and welcome whatever arises moment to moment. Let each breath become an act of self-care, kindness and self-compassion.
These are some of the cues I use with patients in my clinic, however the most benefits arise when patients are able to practice meditation at home between treatments. Try incorporating some awareness of yin and yang and the 4 phases of your cycle into any meditation you do, whether during a guided meditation program from Circle+Bloom or a moment of mindfulness in everyday life.
Zoe Culberston is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist and shiatsu practitioner who also teaches workshops on meditation, mindfulness, qi gong and AcuYoga. She runs a private practice, Seaside Family Acupuncture, in Salem, MA that specializes in fertility, prenatal and postpartum care, pediatrics, as well as chronic illness, pain, insomnia, anxiety and depression. Zoe also works for some non-profit hospitals providing acupuncture, bodywork and meditation for low-income high-needs elderly and patients in hospice programs. She is passionate about providing holistic health care to all ages and her unique treatments help restore balance and resiliency, releasing your body’s innate capacity for healing. She is also a mother, artist and linguist, who has a love of nature, swimming, walking, cooking and travel.