Cycles of Seven in Chinese Medicine The Arc of the Maiden, the Mother, the Crone: Part I The Maiden


Note to the Reader: Throughout this article I will be discussing the the arc of life in cycles of seven, which, in one of the foremost source texts of Chinese medicine the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon (Huangdi Neijing) describes the life processes of a woman. Thus, this article in its most superficial, or exterior layer applies only to the feminine or female identified persons. Without question, the overarching themes apply to any human being inhabiting a body, regardless of gender or gender identification. For the sake of these archetypes we will refer to the feminine and use she pronouns. If you want to see the second part of this series, you can find it here.

The arc of a woman’s life is measured in cycles of seven (fourteen, twenty one, twenty eight, thirty five, forty two, and so on).

These years of development and the transitions associated with each cycle are of great importance. The “curriculum” or set of lessons at each stage often go hand in hand with the signs and symptoms reported. Many, if not all of these “lessons” directly involve the person’s ability to build and increase communication with the body and the self.

The arc of life includes three major transitions, maiden, mother, and crone.

For the next three weeks we will dive into these patterns as an extended introduction to the topic of menstrual, menopausal, and urogenital disorders. This is an important preliminary step as I will be returning to these themes and the insights they can offer throughout our time together. Today, we will “meet” the maiden.

The word maiden in and of itself is an interesting introduction to the archetype.

I was curious as to whether or not the word itself would prove to be true in the analysis of the curriculum that this cycle covers. The definition of maiden in the Oxford English Dictionary, states, “1. archaic: an unmarried girl or young woman. 1.1 (of a female animal) not having mated. 2. [attributive] being or involving the first act of its kind.” It is important to note that at each stage we are offered increasing amount of access to what can be referred to as feminine wisdom, with shifting hormonal processes in the body – at each shift one experiences the potential for great learning.

It can be helpful to compare each archetype to a person who exemplifies this teaching in popular culture.

The archetype of Malala Yousafzai is a fantastic example of the maiden. If you are unfamiliar, Malala is known for her groundbreaking work promoting education for girls and young women; she is the youngest person to ever have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. She is certainly exemplifying the “first act of its kind” in this way.

The onset of the menses, or menarche is associated with the maiden archetype.

A transition from childhood, the transition of the maiden is one where the young girl takes a step toward “becoming” a woman. The relationship to the body most certainly changes with the onset of the menses or the first menstrual period (menarche). As it has been taught to me, this is the first time the young woman makes contact with the wisdom of the feminine.

As her cycle continues the access to intuition, connection to her body, feminine wisdom flows in and out like a current. Often, emotions are processed for the maiden cyclically, often in tandem with the menstrual cycle. This speaks to the reference in the first article wherein patients report frustration at having to retreat at the beginning or during any part of their menstrual cycle.

Often times retreat is an important part of this process and should not be avoided or masked.

Dysmenorrhea (or painful menstruation) is something that is often experienced during the time of this archetype (90% of adolescents) that said, painful menstruation can certainly happen later in life as well (25% of women). There are two types of dysmenorrhea, one that is primary (a more common type) and one that is due to pelvic abnormalities.

Primary dysmenorrhea usually begins a year after menarche and is diagnosed by exclusion or after any potential pelvic abnormalities have been ruled out. The pain is thought to result from uterine contractions that are mediated by prostaglandins and other inflammatory mediators (Merck, 2015).

Chinese medicine has effectively treated dysmenorrhea for centuries and has held up in clinical trials, too.

Acupuncture shows a favorable effect in controlling moderate/severe NSAID resistant dysmenorrhea both in duration and intensity of pain. In fact, pain relief experienced at the end of the course of treatment, which at times were reported as completely asymptomatic, was maintained up to six months after treatment. Acupuncture not only acutely relieves the pain of dysmenorrhea but also boasts long-lasting effects.

As a Chinese medicine practitioner I believe myself to be among one of the most fortunate persons in the healthcare profession with all array of modalities that are at my fingertips.

One of the ways of approaching acupuncture treatment is to work with what are commonly termed the secondary vessels. The secondary vessels is a useful term for referencing various meridians in practice (and for discussion) but, to be clear, they are by no means vessels or meridians of secondary importance.

Without going into too much detail here, suffice it to say that these vessels are responsible for allowing life to unfold despite the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

When “life happens,” these meridians actually hold pathology so that the primary vessels can continue functioning.

Maiden, mother, crone? Image by J Milles /

One of these meridians in particular is quite literally a repository where we can store overwhelming experiences that are too much to handle (at any given time). Working with this meridian helps patients to learn to adapt and be flexible in many different parts of life. Incidentally, it treats menstrual pain and cramping!

Another of these channels allows us to strengthen our sense of self. This can really help patients process and integrate these life lessons, or parts of our own internal work. This vessel can literally help someone who has trouble retreating, resting, or even stopping in their day to day routine transitioning into a more positive experience around rest.

It is no accident, then, that same vessel works with folks that experience a lot of irritability, agitation, headaches, and fatigue, before and during menstruation.

As it happens, and as you have just read, these secondary vessels are absolutely astounding.

They hold within them the ability to access the very innermost parts of our being, both energetically and physically. It goes without saying that these meridians are incredibly profound in treating dysmenorrhea and other issues of menstruation and they too can assist us in integrating the profound teachings available and offered to us at each stage of life.

If any of these concepts have resonated and you’d like to explore what Chinese medicine treatment can do for you, I encourage you to learn more about me and my approach to treatmentand then get on the schedule. I welcome the opportunity to work with you!


Iorno V, Burani R, Bianchini B, Minelli E, Martinelli F, Ciatto S. Acupuncture Treatment of Dysmenorrhea Resistant to Conventional Medical Treatment. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2008;5(2):227-230. doi:10.1093/ecam/nem020.

Written by Melinda Wheeler, LAc

My care is personalized and tailored to each individual. Through my studies and training, I have developed many techniques and tools to treat anyone, no matter their ailment or injury. Whether you have identified symptoms of physical pain, emotional instability, or you aren’t quite able to put your finger on any form of dis-ease, but you want to try acupuncture and/or Chinese medicine, come and see what we can accomplish together for the betterment and evolution of your well being!