Last week I wrote all about how the female menstrual cycle is an incredible resource of inherent body wisdom that offers us the opportunity to tap into our feminine superpowers in a life altering way fostering our well-being; if you missed Part 1 you can read it here. Today I want to continue the conversation and outline a general blueprint for how to navigate your cycle and give you some concrete examples of how you can put this whole thing into practice, so let’s dive in!
To review, in Part 1 I explained that there’s a fascinating parallel between the lunar cycle and the female menstrual cycle. A lunar cycle is approximately 28 days long and has four distinct phases; new moon, waxing moon, full moon and waning moon. Water is affected by the moon and the lunar cycle, this is what creates tides. Our bodies are made up of approximately 60% water, hence our bodies are effected by the moon too. The female menstrual cycle is approximately 28 days long and has four distinct phases as well: the follicular phase, ovulation, the luteal phase and menstruation.
There is an intimate relationship between a woman’s menstrual cycle and the lunar cycle. This isn’t crazy-talk, it’s scientific fact and studies have demonstrated this relationship time and time again. Evidence suggests that the moon and tides interact with the electromagnetic fields of our bodies, subsequently affecting our internal physiological processes, hence each phase of our cycles, just as with the lunar cycle, have different characteristics and energies that govern it.
The principle idea is that the four phases of your menstrual cycle mimic the four phases of the lunar cycle and hence offer distinct attributes and blueprint for how to organize your life and self-care practices. When we understand and acknowledge these four distinct phases, each with their own unique strengths and gifts, we begin to work with our cyclical nature and not fight against it. When we get into sync with this natural rhythm it creates an inner harmony and puts us in alignment with a stream of well-being. Not menstruating? No problem, grab yourself a lunar calendar and simply apply these concepts below to the lunar phases and use the different phases of the moon as your guide.
Follow along below as I outline a general blueprint giving you some practical examples of how you can put this whole thing into practice:
What’s Happening Biologically:
Even though menstruation is considered the first phase of the menstrual cycle with first bleed marking day one of a woman’s cycle, let’s start our discussion with the follicular phase; it begins when menstrual blood ceases to flow and typically lasts about 7 – 10 days for most women. The follicular phase is like a fresh start just after your period has ended and a new endometrial lining is starting to grow in your uterus.
Hormonally your pituitary gland in your brain sends follicle-stimulating hormone to your ovaries to get ready to release an egg and egg-producing follicles in our ovaries begin to mature (hence why it’s called the follicular phase). Estrogen also increases during this time to thicken and build a new uterine lining, replacing the one that was just shed during menstruation.
Mood & Energy:
As you might have guessed it, the mood of this part of your cycle is all about fresh starts and ‘new beginning’ energy. Your physical energy increases throughout this phase reaching one of it’s highest points in your menstrual cycle. During this phase you’ll feel more like trying new things and stepping outside your comfort zone. Energetically this is a time for taking inspired action, planning, brainstorming and initiating new projects and planting the seeds for upcoming creative endeavors.
This is the time of your cycle to get active; during the follicular phase a women’s testosterone is higher and hence we can build lean muscle easier. Our hormone levels at this time favor fat loss, so we burn fat more easily and metabolize carbohydrates more efficiently meaning we will feel our best and feel great doing more energetically demanding exercise such as spin class, HIIT or other high intensity exercise during this half of our cycle.
For nutrition during this phase focus on eating fresh vibrant foods that make you feel energized and light. Think: salads, fresh fruit, increase your levels of healthy fats with avocados, olives and nut butters to increase energy and support upcoming ovulation. Probiotic-rich foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut are great additions to help support your gut microbiome and healthy estrogen excretion and metabolism. Also eat sprouted grains and lentils to help sustain increased energy levels.
What’s Happening Biologically:
Ovulation, which occurs mid-cycle for most women (approximately day 14 for a woman with a 28 day cycle), is characterized by the climatical cascade of neuropeptide hormones that began in the follicular phase; FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone) reach their peak levels causing ovulation, the release of the egg from the follicle in the ovaries. The egg is now ready to be fertilized, and you are your most fertile. Estrogen levels continue to increase and further thicken the uterine lining and support the growth of immune cells in the uterus. Testosterone and pheromones also reach their peak at this time which in turns means your libido is high and your hormones are soaring!
Mood & Energy:
Energetically you are your most fertile as well; you are ‘in full bloom’ during this part of your cycle. You are your most magnetic, most attractive, have increased libido and are more articulate. In fact, ovulation represents your mental and emotional creativity at it’s peak – just as the moon is in its peak visibility in the night sky. This is the best time of your cycle to be ‘out there’ energetically as you will feel your most extroverted during this time so go ahead and plan that girls night out, socialize or host a dinner party.
Just as this is the ‘peak time’ of your fertility, you also experience the crescendo of energy from your follicular phase. This is the time to go all out with your workouts rocking your power yoga classes, doing wind sprints and lift your heaviest at the gym — ie this is the time you can really crank up the intensity and see your efforts pay off.
Nutrition during this time should be focused around anti-inflammatory, cleansing foods with lots of fiber to help eliminate and metabolize estrogen and help prevent PMS symptoms in your luteal phase. You will be able to tolerate raw foods the best during ovulation so load up on lots of raw vegetables and fruit and fresh pressed juices. Because this time is so naturally energizing you can go easy on the carbs so focus on lighter grains or seeds like quinoa and amaranth instead.
What’s Happening Biologically:
Just as the lunar cycle transitions from the high energy of the full moon, with everything in full bloom, into the waning moon with lunar energy winding down, our body acts similarly moving from the high energy of ovulation to the luteal phase as it begins to slow down and prep for menstruation. The luteal phase is the post-ovulatory phase of our cycles when the corpus luteum (what’s left of the follicle from which the egg was released during ovulation) transforms into a short-lived endocrine gland and begins to produce progesterone. This increase in progesterone alerts the body to keep the endometrium (the uterine lining from the follicular phase) and signals the pituitary gland in the brain to stop releasing FSH and LH preventing another egg from being released.
Progesterone is the star of the show in this phase of the menstrual cycle as it transforms the endometrium into a soft pillowy bed ready to house the released egg should it be fertilized and pregnancy occur. Progesterone also stimulates a second rise of both estrogen and testosterone before your period arrives. If the egg released during ovulation wasn’t fertilized, then the corpus luteum will be reabsorbed and the drop in progesterone is what triggers menstruation.
Mood & Energy:
Awareness, attention and comfort are key for this phase of your cycle. As the corpus luteum is reabsorbed, your energy begins to soften and turn inward as your body prepares to menstruate. You’ll notice your energy decline and you’ll feel more like nesting and staying in versus going out and being social. Your luteal phase is the ideal time to focus on domestic chores, finishing up projects, doing a big grocery shop and cooking a big batch of meals at one time. Think of a squirrel getting ready for winter — that’s the energy you channel at this time of the month.
The luteal phase is the most misunderstood and perhaps underappreciated phase of our menstrual cycle as our experience of it often gets discredited and labeled as ‘hormonal’ due to cultural discomfort of our expressing our heightened feelings and emotions during this time.
As a gender, women have endured shaming humor around our luteal phase (because of our heightened emotions) with slang about PMS and being ‘crazy’ or ‘bitchy’. If you experience mood swings, irritability, anxiety, bloating, breast tenderness food cravings or headaches during this phase, you may have low progesterone or estrogen excess. If this is the case, taking time to honor your needs and self-care is paramount as well as seeking out a qualified naturopathic doctor who can help you balance your hormones.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) results when we don’t honor our need to ebb and flow like the tides. In Part 1 I spoke about how many women hold themselves to the unrealistic standard of ‘ovulatory energy’ all cycle long; but we are NOT linear beings, we are cyclical. We are not meant to maintain the same sexual desire, energy and mood as you experience in the first half of your cycle. Your experience as a woman is different at each stage of your cycle for a reason. During your luteal phase you experience a shift inward and have a heightened sense of awareness and emotion and have the ability to notice things you may have overlooked before. This is the superpower of progesterone.
The luteal phase is typically 10–14 days in duration for most women; you’ll notice a decline in your energy from the first week until the end hence you’ll want to gauge your workouts and physical activity accordingly. Start to scale the intensity back from HIIT, heavy weights and power yoga to more moderate or low intensity activities like pilates, vinyasa yoga, low intensity cardio and resistance training.
You may still feel in the mood during this phase of your cycle thanks to a second surge of testosterone, however it’s common to take longer to get aroused and reach climax. Because of increased progesterone, many women report feeling the need to feel more emotionally connected to their partner at this time and needing more physical touch, emotional support and cuddling instead of intercourse. Sensual activities like a warm bath, massage and wearing soft, beautiful fabrics on your skin are all great self-care ideas at this time too.
When it comes to nutrition, think of nourishing yourself with more warming and grounding foods such as roasted vegetables, soups, steamed greens and cruciferous vegetables to help the liver metabolize excess estrogen and curb sugar cravings. Also, teas like dandelion, fennel and licorice are great for flushing any excess water or bloating.
What’s Happening Biologically:
As progesterone drops at the end of the luteal phase, this signals the uterus to shed your uterine lining and menstruation (bleeding) begins. Day one of your period is considered to be the first day of heavy bleeding and hence begins a new menstrual cycle. Estrogen also drops to its lowest stimulating your hypothalamus to prepare for another cycle of ovulation. Your hormones are at their lowest levels during this phase but your body is involved in an intense physical process of detox and elimination so rest and recovery should be the focus at this time.
If you have endometriosis, fibroids or experience severe cramping, nausea or vomiting during menstruation there are many things that could help such as acupuncture, herbs and nutritional therapy so definitely seek out the care of a qualified naturopathic doctor or acupuncturist to receive support and therapeutic care.
Mood & Energy:
Menstruation is a sacred time for women as the veil between your spirit and the earthly world is the thinnest. This means it’s a time when there is little distinction between your intuition and logical thought. You are your most intuitive during this time and can access your inner wisdom easier than any other phases so it’s a great time to make important decisions. In many ancient cultures, women would separate themselves from the men and gather in menstrual huts to rest and tune into the spiritual world returning afterward to share the wisdom they received during their quest.
Your period is a time of natural cleansing for the body, releasing menstrual blood, bacteria and excess iron. It’s also a time for emotional cleansing and releasing what is no longer serving you. Because your hormones are at their lowest levels in this phase you’ll feel naturally less energetic and social, wanting to withdraw and go inward. Carving out time to be alone for introspection and reflection is paramount. Pay attention to any recurring thoughts, fears or worries that come to the surface and tune into your gut and be honest with yourself about what may or may not be working in your life and what changes or decisions need to be made.
You’ll want to clear your social calendar and focus on cozy nights at home with lots of sleep during this time. Now is also when you’ll relish the fruits of your labor from your luteal phase. Having meals prepped ahead of time so that you can rest is a great way to care for yourself. Focus on replenishing and comforting foods such as broths, stews and soups. Restore minerals such as zinc and iodine with sea vegetables, sea food as well as adding sea salt to your food and water to ensure electrolyte balance. Eat plenty of high-protein foods to help fortify blood and replenish iron stores such as high quality organic animal protein, beans and legumes. Also, to help increase the absorption of iron, focus on eating lots of foods high in vitamin C such as broccoli, bell peppers, berries, citrus and kale.
As far as physical activity goes, you may want to focus on restorative stretches, yoga or long walks. Depending on your energy levels and experience during menstruation you may also not want to exercise at all. The key here is to listen to your body and do what feels good for you and if that’s skipping the gym and taking a nap instead, then so be it!
So there you have it, a blueprint to help you live in sync with your menstrual cycle and harness your fabulous female superpowers. When you apply this knowledge to your life, I know it will benefit you as you begin to work with your cyclical energy, not against it.
Our culture values action over rest and replenishment, but we would do well to remember that all the systems and functions of our bodies have an active (yang) and restorative (yin) phase. Our menstrual cycles are designed in a way to teach us about the need for both and brilliantly provide a blueprint for this. How much would your life change if you paid attention to, tracked and cared for yourself in such a way that honored each phase of your cycle?
As our world becomes increasingly high-tech we are cut off from the rhythms of nature hence why practices such as this are so important because they empower us to reconnect with ourselves, reclaim and embrace our menstrual wisdom honoring our cyclical nature as a guide for our health and well-being.
Modern culture expects women to keep up with the same demanding daily routine, day after day, but as you’ve read in this series we women are very complex and when we chose to honor and work with our cycles, respecting their ebbs and flows, we can take control of our well-being to improve our quality of life. So here’s to you and your fabulous female superpowers!
P.S. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts or answer any questions you may have in the comments below. Is this a new concept for you? How have you perceived your cycle and what insights have you gleaned from this article? I’d love to know!