Ten years ago I was on the pill, working 50 hour weeks, exercising like crazy and had no interest in my menstrual cycle whatsoever, apart from not wanting to get pregnant and having to push myself a bit harder at 'that time of the month'. Unsurprisingly it wasn't long before my health was suffering, and my emotional wellbeing was at a low. I was disconnected from myself, from my own hopes and dreams, and didn't know what made me happy anymore.
Discovering that my menstrual cycle was not only a fantastic way to understand the changes in my moods and energy, but also a resource in which to effectively plan my exercise, my work, and social life has fundamentally changed the way I live, but for many modern day women, the menstrual cycle can seem an irrelevant and frustrating part of life.
We may not think about our cycle unless it's causing us pain or if we are trying to conceive, but by becoming curious about this innate and often mysterious process that occurs every month or so, we can learn how to take better care of ourselves, become more confident in knowing our needs and desires and create a more fulfilling and meaningful life.
By understanding the natural ebb and flow of energies throughout the menstrual cycle, we can become more attuned to understand our best times for communication, negotiations, romance and fun, as well as when we may need more rest, more time alone, and to generally delegate. In order to succeed in our linear society, most women are ignoring or suppressing their natural cyclical nature in order to work to fit into a masculine version of success, but women's bodies are not designed in this way. The rise in PMT, as well as physical and mental health disorders, are symptomatic of a culture which does not understand or respect the differences between the male and female body.
This is ancient wisdom that has been forgotten by our minds, but not our bodies. The menstrual cycle is still relevant, and offers a resource for women in this day and age to succeed in the world under their terms, with respect and understanding for their needs. But, where to begin? I am a big fan of the 1% rule from guru of menstrual conscious awareness, Alexandra Pope. What is the one thing you can do to honour each part of the cycle? Below I share some ideas.
Pre-ovulation (Spring) - the days after bleeding
This can be a time of renewed energy, enthusiasm, and excitement for life. After the hibernation time of menstruation, we can feel ready to tackle projects, new exercise routines, and say yes to social engagements. Use this time to try something new, perhaps a new creative activity or exciting recipe - but watch out: energy in this phase can be high one minute, and flat the next, so don't over commit yourself.
Ovulation (Summer) - the days you are fertile and able to conceive
Often everyone's favourite, ovulation is when our hormones are at a peak, making us flirtatious, loving and nurturing. If we want to conceive this is the time to try - and if we don't, well, you have been warned. This is the time when you might feel like superwoman - able to take on everyone and everything. But be careful - this energy won't last, so don't try to push this energy into the next phase.
Pre-menstruation (Autumn) - the days after ovulation and before bleeding
The pre-menstrual phase is sometimes a monster of a phase, with women experiencing symptoms ranging from bloating and food cravings to depression, irritability and even suicide. This is the time when we are able to see things more clearly - some may say critically - and cut through the bullsh*t in our lives. When understood and acknowledged, we can let ourselves sleep more, eat more, and let go of the gym goals. If you really struggle this time, try making life easier - don't cram your diary full, don't take on new activities and ask for help, be it at work or at home. This time can be a time of creativity and insight, so keep a record of your thoughts and your feelings. They may have insight for you, which you can use in your next spring and summer phase to improve your life.
Menstruation (winter) - the days you are bleeding - explore time off
If you haven't slowed down yet, then this time could be your most dreaded time. I was ill recently with a pretty bad cold, and didn't leave my house for 6 days. During this time I did very, very little - and when my period arrived it was without any pain or drama. Now of course I can't give myself 6 days off every month before I bleed, but it did teach me the importance of slowing down before menstruation. As for menstruation itself, do your best to do as little as possible. Really - just the absolute essentials. If you need to nap, try to nap, definitely sleep more and try to move more slowly. Put down the exercise regime, knowing that you will soon be able to return to it. And voila, you have just started to explore your true being as a cyclical creature.
This blog is an introduction to the menstrual cycle as a practical self-care toolkit - join me as we explore the inner seasons of the female body in depth at Wild Wolfs yoga studio in Bristol. The first workshop, Inner Spring, takes place Saturday 12th May. Find out more here http://www.melskinneryoga.com/shakti-innerspring/