The menstrual cycle follows the basic pattern of expansion and contraction. Your hormones are constantly changing throughout your cycle: estrogen builds in preparation for ovulation, progesterone then takes the stage to stabilize your uterine lining, and if there is no fertilized egg, progesterone drops and triggers your menstrual bleed.
Your energy follows a similar cyclical pattern dictated by your ever-changing hormone levels, and this can be explained with the metaphor of comparing the seasons to your cycle. Your cycle has four phases which follow the seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Additionally, your cycle follows the creative process: initiation, growth, completion, and rest.
Your inner seasons give you an energetic skeleton or framework that supports you in locating and getting to know yourself in your unique cycle. An energetic skeleton is like a blueprint, a map or bookshelf that gives you structure while also providing flexibility for your own journey, or in this case, your unique cycle. Every woman’s cycle is unique, however they all follow the same framework or “energetic skeleton”. The basic structure of the menstrual cycle and predictable hormonal patterns serve as a guide for you to find your own cyclical rhythm.
Tracking your changing seasons and locating yourself on a daily basis assists you to claim the power of your menstrual cycle: it is the first step in practicing Menstrual Cycle Awareness. I have included steps below about how to start your practice.
But first, let’s take a deep dive into the four seasons of your cycle and explore how you can harness the energy of each season to increase your productivity, improve your relationships, AND feel good in your body all month long.
Your cycle has four phases which follow the seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall.
Your hormones never “arrive” and maintain a static level at any point, they continually ebb and flow, so you are quite literally a different woman each day of your cycle.
Your changing hormones impact just about every system in your body: your brain, immune system, nervous system, and reproductive system (to name a few). For example, your brain changes about 25% throughout your cycle, so you are literally wired for different kinds of activities during each phase.
Throughout these hormonal changes, there is so much you can do by way of lifestyle choices: food, movement/exercise, and time management to support your cyclical nature which will translate to you feeling good and like yourself all month long.
Think of it like cycling through your wardrobe each year, when the snow comes you pull out your sweater and boots to enjoy wintertime. When sunshine comes, you reach for your shorts and sandals. When it’s summer, you aren’t disappointed that there’s no snow, you know it’s summer and snow just doesn’t come during this season. You also know that snow will come again with winter.
It’s the same concept with your cycle. When you understand the four seasons of your cycle, you can prepare for them and embrace them for the unique strengths and perks they offer. You can also support yourself through each phase with specific food, movement, and activities to utilize what each season offers you.
Here is an outline of what’s happening hormonally each season, and how to support yourself with food, movement and time management during each phase.
Follicular Phase (7-10 Days): Inner Spring
This is the phase that directly follows your menstruation (AKA your bleed time). Estrogen is on the rise, and so is your energy. Your metabolism slows down, so fresh, vibrant, lighter foods are best. Think pressed salads, plenty of veggies, lean proteins, sprouted beans, and seeds. I follow Alisa Vitti’s Foods For Your Cycle food chart from her book WomanCode for meal planning for each phase of my cycle.
In the follicular phase, your energy builds with the rise of estrogen, so start your exercise in this phase by waking up your body with some fun cardio then increase the intensity of your workouts throughout this phase. You are open to new things during this phase, so mix up your workouts or try something new. As you increase the intensity of your workouts, you will easily build lean muscle, shed extra weight, and boost your metabolism.
During the follicular phase, you feel fresh and ready for new things. This is the ideal time to dream big, brainstorm, initiate, prepare, plan, research, be curious, interview people, set your intention, chart your strategy, clarify your vision, and fill in your planner with what you want to accomplish in the coming weeks. Creativity is your strength during this phase. You also have rising energy, so this is a good time to tackle your most challenging tasks.
Ovulatory Phase (4-6 Days): Inner Summer
Estrogen peaks during this phase and makes you magnetic. Your brain is wired for communication and collaboration, so embrace it! Biologically, you are looking for a mate because you are ovulating, so it makes sense that you would be on your A game during this phase.
During this phase, filling up with fresh raw veggies and fruit will best support your body. Because estrogen peaks, the fiber in your food will support estrogen metabolism to avoid PMS symptoms due to excess estrogen in the luteal phase. Fresh veggies like red bell pepper, spinach, tomato, leafy greens, and fruits such as raspberries and strawberries are best during this phase. These foods also contain glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that supports your liver in metabolizing estrogen.
With peak estrogen and testosterone levels, this is your time to crush it at your workouts. During this phase, participate in high intensity exercise and group workouts to satisfy your social needs. For example, HIIT, interval training, kickboxing, boot camp, or power pump. You have energy to burn during this phase to build lean muscle and shed extra pounds.
Your strengths during this phase are communication and collaboration. This is the ideal time to socialize, talk about projects you’re working on, pitch ideas, be seen, collaborate with others, go on dates, have important conversations, go to lunch with girlfriends, host a party, and connect with others.
Luteal Phase (10-14 Days): Inner Fall
Progesterone is high which maintains your uterine lining in the event a fertilized egg is implanting in your uterus. Your metabolism increases during this phase, so your body needs more calories. Focus your food on nutrient dense foods and foods with B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and high fiber. To curb cravings and stabilize blood sugar during this phase, eat slow burning carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and brown rice throughout the day. Eat lots of cauliflower, cabbage, apples, and walnuts which are high in fiber and will support your liver to flush out the extra estrogen, effectively leading to less PMS symptoms during this phase. Eating nutrient dense foods during this phase provides your body with the calories it needs to prevent energy dips during your period.
During the first week of your luteal phase, estrogen and testosterone are still high when progesterone enters the stage. You’ll still have quite a bit of energy, but not as much for the high intensity/high-impact activities. Use your energy for strength training to maximize your lean muscle build, i.e. weight lifting, strength training, intense yoga. During the second week of this phase estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone begin to decline, so switch your workouts to focus on flexibility. For example, barre work, Pilates, gentle yoga, and stretching.
This is the “get it done” phase. Your strength during this phase is bringing things to completion. This is the ideal time to finish projects, attend to administrative tasks (like organizing your expense reports), accomplish your goals (that you set up during your follicular phase), attend to your home, perform detail-oriented tasks, do your deep work, deep cleaning, and celebrate that you are a productive powerhouse.
Menstrual Phase (4-7 Days): Inner Winter
All of your hormones are at their lowest point during this phase which makes it the ideal time to rest and reflect. During this phase, focus on protein and healthy fats to stabilize your energy levels and mood while your brain adjusts to the decline in hormones. Proteins and healthy fats can also set you up for a healthy ovulation next month because the amino acids contribute to hormone synthesis, and the fats increase egg and embryo quality.
While your uterus is shedding its lining, focus on nutrient dense foods such as red meat, kidney beans, and wild rice. Fruits and veggies low on the glycemic index like beets, blackberries, and blueberries can help stabilize blood sugar levels and curb cravings during this phase. Sea vegetables like kombu, kelp, dulse, and wakame can remineralize your body with iron and zinc which you lose as you bleed. All of these foods are restorative and nourishing for your body during menstruation.
While you’re bleeding, your hormones are at their lowest and so is your energy which makes this phase the ideal time to rest and rejuvenate. Little or no movement will best support your body during this phase. Activities like walking, gentle yoga, mat pilates, breath work, and foam rolling are all gentle on your system and will support the rest your body needs during this phase.
Deep, restful, uninterrupted sleep assists with weight loss, so focus on your sleep during this phase without worrying about working out to maintain or change your weight. Any form of high-intensity/high-impact exercise stresses your body (increases your cortisol levels) and turns on fat storage which wastes the lean muscle you just built, so focus on activities that are restorative for you.
Your strengths during this phase are evaluation and intuition. This is the ideal time to rest, relax, and reflect on the last month. How did things go? Are you still happy working at your job or business? Are your projects still interesting to you? Reflect on each area of your life and celebrate the good things you’ve accomplished.
The two sides of your brain are the most open during this phase, so you are the most connected spiritually to listen to your intuition and receive inspiration to guide your life. It is an ideal time to come home to yourself, claim your space, and direct what’s next for you.
Rest and reflection are a vital part of the creative process, so don’t skip this step!
Your Hormonal Advantage
Your cyclical nature gives you an edge, it is your hormonal advantage. You are different from a man whose biological clock resets every 24 hours. Your biological clock resets every 28 days (give or take). Your cyclical nature provides you with natural strengths and abilities that are amplified during each season which makes you a valuable asset in any relationship. When you learn to bring your strengths to the table, no matter what phase you’re in, that’s when you wield your full potential and value.
What if You Don’t have a Menstrual Cycle?
Let’s talk about how to harness the power of your menstrual cycle if you no longer have one due to surgery like in the case of a hysterectomy or removal of your lady parts, PCOS, transgender, hormonal contraceptives, pregnancy, breastfeeding, etc.
In this case, you can use the moon as your anchor for your cycle and follow the cycle of the moon in your cycle syncing practice. The moon is feminine and follows a 28ish day cycle of waxing to a full moon (follicular->ovulation) and waning to a new moon (luteal->menstruation). Following the moon will also assist you to tune in to the Divine Feminine and personally claim it for yourself, which is the goal of cycle syncing.
Practicing Menstrual Cycle Awareness to Discover Your Inner Seasons
The first step in practicing Menstrual Cycle Awareness is to download this Cycle Chart and start recording each day with:
- Date and what day of your cycle you are on. Day one is the first day of bleeding, not including any spotting, but the first day of actual flow.
- At the end of the day, record your dominant feelings, dreams, energy levels, etc.
- Start a new Cycle Chart at the beginning of your next cycle.
- Save your Menstrual Charts, and track patterns in your unique seasonal flow.
Journal Prompts for Deeper Insight
- What season am I in now?
- What is the energy signature or specific characteristics of each season?
- What are my core needs in each season?
- What do I notice about how each season affects my relationship(s)?
- How do I feel sexually in each season?
- What could I do differently to honor and fulfill who I am in each season?
Your menstrual cycle holds tremendous power for you: the power to transform your work/professional life, relationships, leadership, creativity, and assist you to establish healthy boundaries in your life. When you embrace each season for what it offers and support yourself with phase specific food, movement, and activities— that is when you step into your power and claim it for yourself.
That is the magic of the menstrual cycle.
Meredith Ashton is a menstruation educator and cycle coach. She helps women like you find your energy again using the pattern of your menstrual cycle. Your cycle is already a big part of your life whether you recognize it or not, imagine if you started working with it rather than against it. Come and join her in the Cycle Awareness Workshop and see how things naturally come into balance as you learn about and use the pattern of your menstrual cycle to guide you.