MENSTRUAL cycle awareness 101

I was raised not talking about periods. You can lump it right in with masturbation, sex, and body parts, which all elicited feelings of sin and shame. For many folk who bleed (not all women bleed, and not all who bleed are women), these early experiences with our menstruality led to years of associating our bleeds with guilt and inconvenience. The magic behind my waistband lay dormant at best, and loathed at worst.

As an adult woman, I believed my periods were irregular, always surprised and inconvenienced when they popped up at the worst possible times. Because they weren’t talked about, I never tracked my periods, and so I never knew when the last one had come and gone. This led to many stressful pregnancy and miscarriage “scares”, ultimately leading me to be curious about tracking both my bleed and ovulation each month.

In the pursuit of menstrual awareness, my world was transformed. I learned that my cycle is the full 28-30+ days between bleeds, not just my period. I learned that there are four phases in a menstrual cycle, each one with its own unique hormones, medicine, & wisdom to offer us. I learned that – it was okay that I felt like 4 different people each and every month, and better yet – I learned how to work with each of these beautiful versions of myself.

Because menstrual cycle awareness has changed my life so much, in 2021 I am committing to integrating more menstruality into my coaching offerings! It all starts now – through raising awareness around the four phases of the cycle, sharing how to work with them instead of against them, and ultimately why all of this matters for our inner healing and shifting of society at large. This post is by no means an in-depth look at each season and how to work with it, that will be forthcoming. For now, let’s just learn the basics of the 4 seasons, why it all matters, and how to get started tracking your cycle! (You can use my beautiful cycle tracking freebie here)

YOUR CYCLE SEASONS

The first half of the cycle – the follicular phase – consists of tanked estrogen and progesterone levels, triggering our bleed, before estrogen steadily begins to climb again.

The first half of the follicular is called our inner winter, and much like the season, can feel like a void time perfect for dreaming, visualizing, and definitely resting. The woman’s archetype associated with our winter is the wise woman or crone.

The second half of the follicular phase is our inner spring. As that estrogen begins to rise again, we feel that tender maiden energy as we emerge from our period caves and back out into the world. This is prime time to start new projects and to get things done!

The second half of our cycle – the luteal phase – begins at ovulation. This is the peak day in the cycle where testosterone makes an appearance as our egg is released, roughly 14 days prior to menstruation (no matter how long your cycle).

That first week after ovulating is our inner summer, and is associated with the mother archetype. This is the moment it’s all been building to, and can feel like our sexiest, most extroverted and giving self. It’s hard in our patriarchal capitalist culture not to identify with this self all the time, and feel ashamed when she wanes again each month.

To get in-depth cycle awareness & tracking mentorship, sign up for Womanifest, my group coaching journey!

After ovulation, progesterone gets released to nourish a potential pregnancy, whether or not we’ve conceived. Before the body realizes we’re not pregnant, we get the benefits of this cozy hormone that pushes us to take better care of ourselves, plan and prepare for our next bleed. However, with our drop in estrogen and eventual waning progesterone, it’s no wonder the pre-menstrual phase or inner autumn gets a bad rap. Associated with the wild woman archetype, this can be a chaotic ride for many. Perhaps you notice a shorter fuse with loved ones, more need for boundaries (and wine), and fewer fucks to give.

No worries, though, because soon progesterone has flatlined completely, pushing us back over the into the winter of our cycle with yet another bleed. What a relief! I’ve heard the blood referred to as a truth serum, and I love this analogy. If whatever triggered you in your pre-menstrual phase is still bugging you in your bleed, you can trust that action is needed. (Thanks to Lucy Peaches for blowing my mind with this in her podcast, Period Queen)

Perhaps the biggest shift for me personally, I learned that I can have compassion for myself every month during my pre-menstrual phase. With menstrual cycle tracking and awareness, I began to put boundaries around this time, anticipate its arrival, and be extra gentle with myself and others. Now I track every day of my cycle, including how I’m feeling physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I always know where I am in the cycle, helping me focus my energy on the most aligned projects for that particular season. And I can look back for patterns from past cycle musings, noting what self-care helped previously during each season.

WHY MENSTRUAL CYCLE AWARENESS MATTERS

Menstrual cycle awareness matters on an individual and societal level. As a divine feminine guide, I already work with cycles and seasons of Mama Earth as she spins round and round the sun. I already have a moon-based spiritual practice. It only felt natural, then, for me to layer on the menstrual cycle my body was already experiencing to discover more awareness, meaning, and support.

On an individual level, charting the menstrual cycle helps us know what’s going on in our bodies. It can help us conceive babies, and prevent unwanted pregnancies. But, beyond creating human life, our menstrual cycles can also be wielded to create businesses, dissertations, creative projects, and collaborations! This is because of the hormones waxing and waning within us each month to ovulate and menstruate. When we ride the waves of these ever-shifting phenomena, anticipating and planning for each one, we can literally create the lives we want.

Menstrual cycle awareness practically helps us plan for more energetically taxing activities in the pre-ovulatory phase and set more boundaries in the pre-menstrual phase. When we can prepare for our bleeds well in advance, not only will we not be surprised by them, but we will have a freezer full of healthy home-cooked meals and a clean, dark period cave to crawl into when the time comes. What a relief to have a slightly earlier version of ourselves looking out for us!

MENSTRUAL AWARENESS IS A FEMININST ISSUE

Society’s discomfort with menstruality is really a discomfort with death – and therefore the very cycles of life! Our anti-feminine culture would love for us to be in an eternal summer or Yang/ovulatory season. Patriarchy would love for women to always be fertile, at their most desirable, and turned on. Capitalism would love for us all to be producing 24/7, never using an ounce of precious energy toward fun or rest or healing. In fact, the less our culture attends to the disabled, elderly, and ill, the less value we place on the feminine and therefore, the menstrual cycle.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? How the very process that created all human life gets relegated to hiding a tampon up your sleeve when you duck into the office bathroom. From a birds eye view, menstrual cycle awareness can lead us all back to our shared humanity, the truth about nature’s cycles, and our collective need for rest and healing, regardless of whether or not we bleed.

For the womb-bodied folk out there, have you ever felt like you’re trying to fit the round peg of your energy into the square hole of modern work life? This is by design. The 40-hour work week was created to reflect men’s hormones, which complete a full cycle every 24 hours. This is why the Sun represents the divine masculine in many cultures, whereas the divine feminine is ruled by the Moon who completes her cycle every 28 days (1 month or “moonth”).

We might not be able to completely overhaul our company’s Monday-Friday work expectations (yet), but we can bring more intention to those activities we have control over planning. For example, having that big budget meeting might align best with your planning-minded pre-menstrual week. Or hosting a networking happy hour might play out better during your social butterfly ovulatory phase.

Thinking of projects, goals, and deliverables from the view of months rather than days or weeks can feel much more natural. At the very least, having some extra tenderness for your lower work outputs during the Yin seasons (inner autumn and winter) can go a long way.

GETTING STARTED

To begin simply tracking your menstrual cycle, you can use my handy dandy cycle tracker here! Either look back to find the first day of your last period and count from there. Or you can wait until you bleed again, and then start with day 1.

Each day, commit to coming to your journal and noting how you feel. If it helps, you can focus on your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels. Be sure to write down any pertinent dreams you had the night before, any conflicts that came up, and perhaps even where the moon is in her phases. You can get as detailed as you wish, here! And don’t be surprised if you want to record more during certain seasons.

Stay curious, open, and compassionate as you ride these waves. The first few cycles are really about noticing how it feels for you. Then you can refer back and begin noticing patterns in the future. It wasn’t until I started tracking my cycle each and every day that my menstrual awareness really took off and gave way to empowerment. Claire Baker calls this as menstrual sovereignty – taking control and ownership of your cycle with the knowledge that arises. (I have to credit Claire with so much of my own menstrual awakening, via her course Flow and her book 50 Things You Need to Know About Periods)

I plan to go more into each phase of the cycle in-depth, how to work with and plan for each season, but for now, can you commit to tracking your cycle? I’ve created this simple chart to help you get started.

What are you most excited to discover in bringing more awareness to your cycle? Let me know in the comments below!

For more, listen to this – what might be the first episode of a new podcast on all things Divine Feminine! In unpack the wisdom of working with the cycle, and what my journey has looked like thus far. Plus I give tons of tips and tricks for beginning to track your very own cycle.

Until next time, Dear One, take gentle self-care.

P.S. If you haven’t signed up for January of Pleasure yet, it’s not too late! This free month-long experience goes until January 31st, so get your booty to the sign up page and get ready to build a sustainable pleasure practice to last all year long.

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I started Luminous Leanings to share my passions of meditation & self-care. As a self-care coach, I'm really just a holder! I hold space for busy people on their self-care journey. Then I hold them accountable as they integrate self-care into their lives. If you want to develop more self-compassion, but aren't sure where to start, you've come to the right place. Be sure to check out my guided meditations & journal freebies, & sign up for the Letter to keep in touch. You don't have to self-care alone - I'm in your corner!

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