Wednesday, December 02, 2009

sex and the kung fu girl

Despite the title this post is more theoretical and contemplative than sexy. If you are prudish or smarmy please go read something else.

For some years now I've been contemplating the relationship between Chinese martial arts and women's reproductive health. Even done a little research from time to time, although I came up with nothing conclusive. If you Google "women's kung fu" you get articles about how to become multi-orgasmic and my interest is a little less prurient and a bit more practical than that. So I've decided to simply write about my own experiences and cast them out into the aether, and see what kind of answering pings come back.

As my long-time readers know, my husband and I have been studying kung fu and tai chi with the same teacher for a number of years. I can confidently say that martial arts does good things for my health overall. I've been doing tai chi for 10 years now, and I still wear the same size clothes as I did in college. My blood pressure, cholesterol, and overall health are exceptionally good and look to stay that way for the next 10 years. I am usually strong, fit, and flexible for a woman in my culture.

The one health problem I've always had is with my menstrual cycle. I had terrible cramps when I was a teenager, to the point where I was basically immobilized for the first 6 or 8 hours of my period. This continued up until I was 25 or so--which also happened to be the year I started tai chi.

I don't think anyone will doubt that being physically fit is going to make your body run more smoothly. But I had been a daily runner for a couple of years at that point and it never seemed to make a dent in my cramps. The tai chi did. I can't say for sure how long it took, but after a year or so I realized that there was a definite pattern. I still got weak and crampy, but I was no longer incapacitated.

Also, it deserves to be said, about this same time I learned I could dose myself heavily with ibuprofen when I started bleeding and that would lessen a lot of the pain. Furthermore, that same summer I quit drinking soda. I was a Pepsi addict before that, downing at least 3 a day. They made my bladder burn. So I quit drinking them, and quit eating french fries, and lost 8 pounds in 3 months. I don't think I was exercising any more than previously. I probably was not running as much, because I always hated running and the tai chi was much nicer to practice in the evenings.

Furthermore, I discovered that when I *had* cramps, I could stand in a horse stance, do my qigong (chi kung) breathing, and the pain would lessen. So it wasn't merely an accumulative process, it was an active treatment.

After about three years in tai chi, I progressed to Chun Man Sit's class and started kung fu. This was more physically demanding than the tai chi. It involved a lot more kicks, lower stances, a faster pace. I began to notice my thighs and butt firming up, and my belly flattening. Billy Blanks had it right--martial-arts kicks are the best exercise a woman can do.

And the cramps lessened still more. Enough so, in fact, that I could and would still go to class when I had cramps. As long as I kept moving, I didn't feel too bad.

I'm sure it helped that around this time I started reading about low-carb diets, and took steps to reduce the amount of wheat and simple starches I ate. I have noticed a definite connection between what I'm eating and my PMS symptoms.

Eventually, karma being what it is, my classmate Tony and I started dating and then married. Since neither of us was the other's first sexual partner, and we were both in the best shape of our lives at that point, we were pleasantly surprised to discover each other's--shall we say--resilience and stamina.

Traditional Chinese medicine holds that the seat of health is in the kidneys, and one measure of health is a strong, fulfilling sex life. A number of the qi gong exercises I have been taught are intended to strengthen the kidneys. Whether they do or not, they certainly strengthen the auxilliary plumbing.

The horse stance is a particularly good example. It's common to virtually every martial arts style, and there are plenty of demonstrations of the horse stance on the web, so I won't rehash it here. But I will point out, when it's done correctly, the tailbone is tucked under, the lower back (lumbar region) is stretched and rolled outward, the hips are open, the belly is relaxed, and the perineum is taut. How can the pelvic muscles not be involved?

In other exercises, such as Six Healing Sounds Qigong, the anus is contracted as the breath is expelled. Sounds like an old-style Kegel to me!

Once I was discussing this subject with my mom. She confirmed that the horse stance felt very much like the Kegel exercises her doctor showed her. My mom is post-menopausal and she said the Kegels helped stop occasional urine leakage. When she told me that, I remembered that I, too, had had minor leaks when I was younger (during my too-much-Pepsi days!). I understand this is fairly common in women, but I haven't experienced it at all for many many years.

Another post-menopausal woman, a long-time tai chi teacher, repeated these observations--lessened menstrual problems, no "dribbling" and better sex--in connection with her practice. I even know of one woman who managed to conceive a baby--after years of disappointment--after several months of focused qi gong practice.

I wish I could create a wide-scale study of women to measure how their sexual and menstrual health might improve as a result of kung fu or tai chi practice. I suppose I should start with myself: my practice habits have been abysmal this year and, predictably, my PMS symptoms have worsened, I've put on a couple pounds and my libido has dozed off.

For now, I'll just release this post into the wild and invite other kung-fu babes to share their stories. Got an anecdote to share? Got questions? You can post anonymously, just know that I moderate everything before it goes up.

Related articles [added as I find them]: Adrenal Fatigue and Chinese Medicine


Freyalyn said...

Fascinating. I have never done martial arts, but back in mid-September I took up rowing seriously again after 18 years. I wasn't what I'd call completely unfit (2 large dogs) but I'm feeling amazingly better now I'm training seriously 3 or 4 times a week. Hardly any weight loss but I've dropped 2 dress sizes. Rowing's interesting in that you use the whole body in a controlled way, and once you get technical there's lots going on in the main pivot point - hips and pelvis...

Holly said...

Isn't it amazing how the body will reshape itself? Congratulations on finding an activity that you love and that contributes to your overall wellbeing!

I bet that all that bending, stretching and contracting of the waist and long muscles of the legs would be VERY beneficial.