Menstrual Cycle Awareness: The Ultimate Empowerment Tool for Women.
Art: "Birthing", Hayley Clarke
“Are you wondering why your response to the current situation may dramatically change from one day to the next?” asks Bex. Unsure why you seem totally ok with staying home and nesting one day, and then the following you’ve had a burst of energy and strong urge to socialise? Wondering why you’ve been so good at keeping fit with online classes and eating well but now all you want to do is lie on the sofa and eat carbs? This is your menstrual cycle at work.
The menstrual cycle is one of the most important cycles for a woman to tune in too, yet sadly it is also a point of shame, resentment and misunderstanding. Rather than celebrating our monthly bleed, we tend to hide her, using products such as tampons and pads to soak up any evidence, and contraceptive pills and implants to stop her from even appearing. But, what if you knew that your cycle was a reflection of your overall health and wellbeing? That if you started living in harmony with what is going on inside then you would understand yourself like never before? Would it make you interested to know more…
We caught up with Bex Tyrer, one of our most loved yoga teachers, to offer you a way to connect to yourself on a deeper, more internally focused level during lockdown.
What is Menstrual Cycle Awareness?
Menstrual Cycle Awareness is to understand that as a woman you are a cyclical being and live on a 28-day (average) cycle in synchronicity with the Moon (for men, with that of the Sun: 24 hours). It is to live in harmony with this cycle - your period, also known as the Infradian Rhythm - and to embrace everything it brings in to your life. It is the ultimate empowerment tool for women.
“The work of menstrual cycle awareness teachers, such as Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer, has been a gift to women of all ages” explains Bex. And, not just for women and their unique cycle, but it is also “a gift to anyone who loves a woman, or who lives with a woman, or knows a woman.” However, due to the negative portrayal of a woman’s monthly bleed across different cultures (many women are banished during their monthly bleed or forbidden to enter places of worship), the lack of education and sales-driven tampon marketing, many women view their cycle as an “inconvenient bleed” and know very little about such an intrinsically connected part of their daily existence.
Understanding the naturally occurring ebs and flows of emotions, physical states and energy levels over the course of a monthly cycle can help create a deeper understanding to “why” we do and feel what we do, when we do it. To tune in and live in accordance with your menstrual cycle is the key to liberation for a woman to live a life of self-acceptance and love, and Bex believes that it “offers a way for women to navigate their relationship in this global time of uncertainty and change”.
The Importance of Living in Harmony with Your Inner Cycle
Over the course of a month, a woman experiencing a natural cycle (one without hormone contraception) will enter into four phases: menstrual, follicular, ovulatory and luteal.
In the menstrual phase (the bleed), hormones are at their lowest point meaning that energy levels are low and it is natural to feel a pull inwards, away from the external world. In this phase warm, nourishing foods, increased self-care and listening to intuitive signals are prevalent, along with a sense of letting go -both physically and emotionally.
As the cycles bleed comes to an end, oestrogen– the feel-good hormone - starts to rise and the follicular phase begins. This phase signals an increase of mood, a boost in energy and a want to come out from "bleed hibernation". It's the time of the month when a woman is experiencing her rebirth back into society.
Oestrogen then drops off after the ovulatory phase (where a woman is her most fertile) - which may signal some pre-PMS - and progesterone, the slow, sedative hormone, starts to peak as the luteal phase begins. Here, the pull inward starts. In this phase, a woman is at her most creative and it's a great time to reflect and review life. Then, as the body realises it is not pregnant, the cycle starts all over again.
Image from Period Power, Maisie Hill.
The dominance of oestrogen in one half (follicular) and progesterone in the other (luteal) has a huge impact on the physical, energetic and emotional bodies. These two hormones provide two distinct energies over the month, “like the waxing and waning of the moon", our yin and our yang.
When oestrogen is at its highest a woman is in the Yang half of her cycle. This hormone is helping her to attract a mate and ultimately, to conceive. It makes her feel more attractive, increases confidence and causes facial features to appear more symmetrical. She will have more energy, be enthused to socialise, engage in team meetings or new activities, and go on dates. Feeling inspired to create, and say yes to everything. In this half, metabolism is slower yet energy is higher (isn’t the body clever!) and so high-intensity exercise is welcomed and the body will feel drawn to lighter foods. Then, when progesterone is dominant, the Yin half begins. A pull inwards and one of a slower pace is ignited and creative, reflective and organisational energies appear. Energy levels start to deplete with the rise of progesterone, bloating can occur due to water retention and the want to spend time alone is a welcomed effect. In this half, the metabolism is at its highest - which is perfect because the body will crave comfort foods and carbohydrates due to how much energy is being used to prepare for the menstrual phase.
These changes of physical, energetic and emotional states are happening internally and will do – in the same pattern - every month, regardless of external situations, such as COVID-19. To live with this knowledge can “rest like a little angel who whispers comforting words into your ear”, says Bex, with “words such as “it will pass” and “what goes around comes around”. Such knowledge is empowering and can help to remind us all that nothing is forever and that a woman's true power comes when she surrenders to the power of her cycle.
Shining a Light on the Magic of a Women’s Inner Power
Within the two complementary (menstrual and follicular / ovulatory and luteal) halves of a cycle there is a deeper narrative that is explained in parallel with the four seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn. Bex offers a brief introduction to the seasons with suggestions on how they may be impacted during COVID-19 social distancing:
Inner spring: New possibilities and Perspectives. This is the time when you come out of your bleed and your energy begins to rise in preparation for ovulation. It tends to be the time for new ideas, yet it is still the time to take it easy and to hold back just like a tender new sapling which slowly breaks through the surface of the earth to make its way upwards towards the sun.
In regards to the current situation, it may be that you have some new insights, new thoughts, or have made peace with what just two weeks ago felt like an impossible situation.
Inner Summer: The social dance. This rise in energy reaches its summit at ovulation. If you have honoured your cycle and your tank is full, then this tends to be the more social or busier aspect of your cycle. It can feel like a magnet is pulling you out of your shell, and is encouraging you to dance in the sun. However, if you have been running on empty month after month, year after year, this peak may be hard to identify, or conversely, you may feel a deep exhaustion. The reserves are empty. Your adrenals are steering the ship, yet what is needed is a long retreat back into your shell.
In regards to the current situation, it may be that you are clawing at the door trying to retrieve your social life. If your single, perhaps your reaching for the dating app, if you’re in a long-distance relationship perhaps your finding creative ways to stay connected! Most likely, you are feeling more compassionate to those running amuck on social media, or are able to lift up another’s spirit fairly easily.
Image “The Seasonal Wheel” From Yoni Shakti
Inner Autumn: The return home. The inner and outer judges come out and have their say. This could be the time of the truth speaker as well as the inner critic. The time of holding the tension between inner sentiments and the outer reality. Yet it can also be the time of clearing out that which no longer serves; such as taking some important decisions related to relationships, work or simply what is really valuable to you. It can feel like a storm is brewing, or the metaphoric volcano is just about to erupt.
In regards to the current situation, this can often be the time that old trauma’s resurface and are even triggered by the present situation. Pre-menstruum is the cleaning out of whats on the inside and can often be accompanied by a yearning to literally clean your space around you! So if panic and anxiety are familiar ghosts in your closet be gentle with yourself if they want to make a reappearance around now. For many women, the immune system can take a temporary dip here, so it is especially important to slow right down and nourish yourself to the best of your ability. Often times we reach for old coping mechanisms which may simultaneously equate to self-sabotage. Therefore, now is the time to really prioritise your self-care and find gentler ways to take the pressure off. If you are in a long-distance relationship, make sure you remind your partner that this is your time of separation, and thank them for understanding and holding the space for you to journey further inwards. The contraction is necessary in order to be able to come out of the other side more present and available.
Inner Winter: The relief. Just letting go. There is no need to fix or control but simply the beauty of leaning into surrender. Your inner winter carries you into your bleed time where the retreat into the womb space can open up an awareness to a deeper knowing. For many it might feel natural to retreat into the shelter of solitude. Ideally, it is your time to do nothing. It is time to just be and to receive these new visions or insights. It can be the time of potent dreams and new beginnings.
In regards to the current situation, perhaps this is the first time that you have been able to fully surrender to your bleed and really rest — and by that, I mean — to not do a thing! To take deep rest during your period can allow your system to reset and with it bring insights for how to move forwards. On one hand, this is also mirroring the rest and retreat which we are finally allowing mother earth to sink into.
The Gift of Lockdown for Tuning in to Your Body
If we take the two contrasting energies from our flow into the COVID-19 pandemic, we can see that “we are in the midst of a world-wide waning” says Bex. Explaining that, “….after decades of having the peddle pressed to the metal we are finally slowing down and moving into inner winter after what seems like an endless summer.”
In the normal global energy of the waxing moon, we have been “recklessly indulging in an endless summer of production, creating, new projects and ideas” but in the mix of COVID-19 “all of this has just been suspended, paused, hung in the middle of the sky as we search for the illusive “on” button.” She ponders that, “perhaps what is being asked of us right now is not to hit the start switch but just for once, allow for the inner autumn and the downward current to take us into unknown territory.”
Surrendering to this softer energy is an invitation to “pay attention to the inner cycles and rhythms that a regular busy life can easily override.” Normally, so distracted by the external goings on in life, the signals provided through hormone change can be missed or mistaken for a trigger to something happening in our lives. But with the sudden appearance of all this time and space, and a pulling inward with the enforced lockdown, it is “a precious time to hone in on the wisdom of your cycle” and really “pay attention and befriend” the patterns of physical, emotional and energetic change.
Bex lights up as she shares that she has “received several messages from past students who write, with amazement, that their menstruation has returned after months or years of it being AWOL.” She believes that this is because women “have had to anchor in, quieten down, and stopped moving around so much.” Slowing down really is a blessing in disguise.
How to Hone in on your Menstrual Cycle
The impact of the upward and downward currents of the menstrual cycle are “beautifully unique for every woman” explains Bex: “it is her personal feedback loop and it tells her what she could fine-tune or pay attention to in her life.” To tune in to the uniqueness of her cycle is an empowering way for a woman to understand her monthly journey.
An accessible way for women to connecting to their cycle is period journaling, “a great positive habit to build so you can keep a note to the changes in your physical, emotional and mental states as the days pass” explains Bex. If this calls you: buy a journal and dedicate it you your monthly cycle, noting things such as energy level, sex drive, hungry, cravings, reactions and social engagements. In time tracking cyclical trends over the course of a menstrual cycle and then building comparisons from month to month can help to “identify internal patterns which are independent of the external chaos” explains Bex. It is an important reminder that some of our peaks and troughs as women are “physiological as opposed to societal”.
It is empowerment.
We are passionate about sharing menstrual cycle awareness so that more woman can live in harmony with their cycle. Raising the awareness and conversation about this topic will only help spread the word so please share this article far and wide to every sister in your life.
Bex shares yoga to support women’s health and self-esteem, diving deep into menstrual cycle awareness through her workshops, classes and trainings. She shares her passion for connecting women to their cycle to help you find a deeper connection to yourself and your menstrual cycle, especially now there is the time to really tune in.
In the current climate Bex has embraced adaption and taken her trainings online so that geography and social distancing is no longer an issue. To find out more about how you can deepen your relationship to your period, visit Bex’s website here.
To practice with Bex, visit The Yoga Barn online classes here.
To connect to Bex and find out more about her journey and heart-led offerings, click here.