Unless you’re actively trying to conceive, you probably don’t give your menstrual cycle much thought. It’s just a thing that us women ‘put up with’ throughout our reproductive years, right?
In general, periods tends to have quite a bad rap. We talk about PMS, mood swings, bloating, irritability, cramps, that time of the month (with an eye roll) – as if it’s the biggest curse womankind has had to endure. And sure enough for some it can be a painful, uncomfortable experience, and I don’t mean to discount that.
But what if I told you that we can look at our menstrual cycle as our teacher, guide, compass that allows us to access to the wisest part of our self? The part that knows what is best for us, and how to heal and be well.
Because, trust me, there is beauty, wisdom and genius in the design of our cycle. (This also applies to women who have ceased to menstruate.)
I’m not claiming to be an expert in the topic, it is just something that I have an interest in and feel called to share. For me, knowing and appreciating my own rhythms has helped me develop a much healthier and more compassionate relationship with myself.
LOST ART OF SEASONAL LIVING
In our world where the pill and various menstrual products have made it possible for us to control and hide our periods (which can be great in many ways, don’t get me wrong) I believe we have lost touch with the innate wisdom that our menstrual cycle holds.
The pressure to stay happy, energetic and on the go all the time can make us feel like there is something wrong with us when the mood or energy levels naturally fluctuate as part of the cyclic nature of life.
I definitely used to feel like that. Wondering why some days I felt so down or lethargic and unproductive, and blaming myself for not being able to keep up.
STAGES OF THE CYCLE
Just like nature has its seasons, so do we. The menstrual cycle can be divided into different stages: follicular phase (“spring”), ovulation (“summer”), luteal phase (“autumn”) and menstruation (“winter”).
Follicular phase is the time between menses and ovulation when the focus of the ovaries to grow follicles, out of which one will mature into an egg, in preparation for potential conception.
Energetically this is a season when most women feel at their “best”, most productive, enthusiastic, upbeat, outgoing. This is the time to start new projects, initiate change and make things happen, thanks to the rise in oestrogen, follicle stimulating hormone and lutenising hormone. This is the time for most women to engage in more vigorous exercise and push their limits.
Ovulation, which occurs mid way through the cycle, is when the egg is released. We tend to be more receptive to others and a fertile ground (literally) to new ideas. Sexual desire naturally peaks at this time, and creatively we often feel our most inspired, as we release our masterpiece (egg!) into the world!
Studies show that women could be more susceptible to sports injuries just before ovulation. This could be due to drop in oestrogen levels, leading to a reduction in the strength to muscles and ligaments. Exercise-wise this is the time to stay clear of intense or jarring workouts.
If we don’t become biologically pregnant during ovulation, we move into the luteal phase, the autumn of our cycle. Hormone levels are on the steady decline, and we can start to feel our energy drop. This is often seen as a negative thing, but it doesn’t have to be.
During the luteal or premenstrual phase we tend to be more intuitive, introspective, and in tune with what is meaningful in our lives. It is also easier to see what isn’t working so well, where we need to make changes.
Dreams can become more vivid and meaningful as our unconscious mind processes where we are at in life. We can feel quite emotional (remember, not a negative thing!), moved to tears by happy or sad stuff going on in and around us. We are more ready to defend our boundaries, which too, can be a healthy thing, when done in a constructive manner. 😉
It is important to allow ourselves to feel ALL the emotions and not judge ourselves because of them. They are letting us know how we are feeling, what is important and matters to us.
Resting when we are called to do so is also wise. We don’t need to be everything for everyone all the time, ladies.
Gentler exercise is better during luteal/premenstrual phase, as a torturous workout is most likely going to leave you more depleted than energised. On the other hand, if the steam is building up too much, perhaps a jog in fresh air or punching a boxing bag is the way to go.
Just before your period starts, levels of hormone called relaxin increase to help soften and open up the cervix, and this affects laxity in the ligaments elsewhere too. Just like at ovulation, it’s best to avoid heavy exercise and overstretching as the risk of sprains/strains is much higher.
And as the menstruation begins, we naturally tend to want to hibernate and stay under the blankets for the first couple of days. This isn’t always possible, but being kind to ourselves and resting as much as possible is what nature intended for us. A nice gentle walk in the fresh air can be nice, but so can cuddling a hot water bottle whilst watching Netflix.
Many ancient civilisations used to have traditions where women were sent to a separate Red Tent away from the rest of the tribe during their ‘moon time’. Sure, it could have been for the lack of understanding and fear of the feminine power, but there is wisdom there too, don’t you think? A few uninterrupted days to rest and recuperate. No other responsibilities apart from the cleansing and letting go of the old that naturally happens during the days of bleeding.
Nourishing ourselves in whatever way we can is the sacred medicine of the Inner Winter. Finding inspiration in the quieter, more inwardly turned life and in the metaphorical darkness is how new seedlings start to grow. Nothing in nature blooms all year round and the resting period is just as important as the growth season.
There is so much insight and information available to us just through the awareness of the stages of our menstrual cycle. Paying attention to and learning about the seasons within your monthly cycle will hopefully open up a whole new appreciation for your own rhythms.
For me, it has definitely resulted in less unnecessary pushing and striving, and more self-love and compassion as I’ve learned to (not-sorry for the pun) go with my flow!
If you want to learn more about this inner guidance system and women’s health and wellness in general, I highly recommend Dr. Christiane Northrup’s book “Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom” and her extensive blog library.
If you want to track your period better and know exactly where you are in your cycle, there are lots of free period apps available. Although as you start to tune in to the fluctuation of your emotions and energy, you will probably learn to recognise (with amazing accuracy!) whereabouts in your cycle you are even without the app.
Northrup, Christiane: Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom, 1999