As a recovering self-help junkie, the thing that has most profoundly shifted my life for the better was coming to understand myself as a cyclic woman. Yep, by getting down and dirty with my menstrual cycle I have felt significant positive shifts in every area: health, sex, love, friendship, career, you name it! Because in getting to deeply, intimately know my own cycle I know myself on a deep, intimate level. I’m able to access the superpowers that my cycle bestows upon me and also design my life so that it works in harmony with my innate cyclic nature rather than against it.
I know some people will be surprised to read this. Before reading my friend Lisa’s book Code Red a few years ago, I thought my menstrual cycle referred only to my period and I thought of it as an inescapable (more or less) reality I had to tolerate once a month.
But after reading Lisa’s book and beginning to chart my own cycle, I’ve found potent magic in honouring the energetic ebbs and flows that move through me each month.
While I highly encourage you to dive deeply into Lisa’s work – which will inevitably lead you down a rabbit hole of other amazing women, books, groups, and blogs – today I wanted to share my own primer on living in tune with your menstrual cycle and the moon, how these principles have changed my life, and tips for living in the flow even when we have busy lives full of non-negotiable commitments.
The Cyclic Nature of Women
For a long time, I felt like I went insane once a month. The tiniest thing – like dropping a pen or watching a Kleenex commercial – could send me into floods of tears. I’d fly off the handle and snap at people even though, somewhere in the back of a whole lot of brain fog, my rational mind was shouting “I don’t want to treat people like this!”
And then I’d bleed. And I’d feel so relieved. I hadn’t lost my mind, after all!
Can you relate to this?
Sure, perhaps we should be able to intuit that all that insanity is a by-product of our hormones whigging out during PMS. But when we’re not in tune with our natural cycles, a month can fly be so quickly that we might be surprised that it’s time for another period. It might not even cross our mind because we have no idea where our bodies are at.
And this is the important thing to remember: our natural cycles influence how we show up in the world, not just during our period but all month long. Society teaches us to try and mitigate any impact our cycles have on us so that we can grin and bare it, but that is totally a product of the patriarchy (yep, I’m going there!) and not a recipe for a happy, flow-y life.
Mainstream media sanitizes our periods by showing us blue liquid and telling us that if we stick something up our yonis and take a pill, we don’t even have to notice we’re having them. But doing that cuts us off from what’s going on in our body and from experiencing the depths of who we are as women.
When we try to force ourselves to be the same smile-y, outgoing, productive women day in and day out we’re setting ourselves up to feel like failures – and for suspecting that we’ve lost our minds at certain times of the month.
But when we can honour our cyclic nature as women and the natural changes that influence our moods, desires, energy levels, and feelings about who we are throughout the month by planning our lives in sync with these cycles, we can actually be more authentic by sharing all of who we are.
So let’s look a little bit at what that means and what it looks like…
Understanding Your Cycles
One thing I really took away from Lisa’s book is that we often think of our menstrual cycle as the 3-7 days when we bleed once a month. But in reality, this is a 28ish-day cycle with four distinct phases and they all have very powerful effects on how we think and feel.
Your pre-ovulatory phase is like your own personal spring each and every month. It’s a time ripe with new beginnings and is the perfect phase for starting something new. You’re may begin to feel peppy and full of energy and it’s the time when you’re most articulate: perfect for planning social engagements, important meetings, or interviews.
If pre-ovulation is spring, your ovulatory phase is summer and it comes with your own personal flavour of “I can do anything!” energy. You’re at your boldest and most confident. You’re a powerhouse of productivity and this is the perfect time for birthing new projects and actually creating whatever it is you started during your pre-ovulatory phase. It might just be that you want to try new things, like recipes or craft projects. You’re also at your most fertile so prepare to feel frisky and a whole lot more sensual.
Ah yes, your pre-menstrual phase – the time most of us have grown to have so much resentment for. The good news is that living in harmony with your cycle can actually help prevent much of the pain and discomfort that you may experience during this time. And pre-menstruation also comes with its own unique set of superpowers. You know that razor sharp tongue that you sometimes regret when you have PMS? It’s actually a sign that you’re at your most truthful and discerning. You’re in the perfect place to edit anything out of your life that is no longer serving you.
Your menstrual phase is technically the beginning of your cycle, with the day that you bleed marking the first day of your cycle. For many of us this is a time of great release after the internal tension that builds up during our pre-menstrual phase. It’s the time when we’re most connected to our intuition, our highest self, spirit (whatever you want to call it) and so this is a potently magical, sacred time. It’s the perfect time for diving deep into what’s going on for you so that you can release what’s not working and move forward along your path.
Learning about my cycle in this way blew my mind wide open! It actually made me excited to bleed each month so that I could access each of these superpowers and honour what was going on in my body and my self.
If you’re taking a hormonal form of birth control, like the pill, the artificial hormones will naturally dilute these bodily responses to the point where you might not even be able to detect them. Learning about this work was a big part of my decision to come off the pill but that is a completely personal decision and you’ll get no judgment from me no matter what side of the fence you’re on. If your intuition is telling you that hormonal birth control might not be the right choice for you any more, I highly recommend you read Sweetening the Pill which I know has helped a lot of my friends find clarity on this issue. But again – this is totally your decision. Talk to your doctor. Talk to your friends. Educate yourself. But ultimately, you need to go with your gut on this one.
There is so much more that can be said to unlock each phase of your cycle so please go pick up a copy of Code Red (honestly, I want to give it to every woman I know).
And never fear, even if you are on the pill, you can still honour your cyclic nature by following the phases of the moon – which actually mirrors our menstrual cycles. There are so many of us are interested in moon magic but many people just focus on the new moon and full moon, when actually each of the four phases have a unique energy you can tap into.
Like your menstrual phase, the dark or new moon phase is a good time for discarding thing in your life that you don’t want anymore, contemplating what you’ve already accomplished, and setting intentions for the future (but not acting on them, yet).
The waxing moon is when the moon appears to be growing in size each day and this phase is linked to your pre-ovulatory phase. It’s a time for starting new projects, brainstorming ideas, meeting new people, and increasing the things you desire in your life, whether that’s in terms of your finances, relationships, knowledge, or anything else. It’s a time for nurturing and growing.
The full moon is like your ovulatory phase and this is when we see the moon’s entire face illuminated. It’s time for fulfillment and bringing things to completion, renewing commitments, and cultivating a deep sense of gratitude.
The waning moon is linked to pre-menstruation and is a time for moving inwards, releasing, letting go, and tapping into your intuition. This is the perfect time of the month to end a relationship, break a habit, or let go of anything that is no longer serving you.
If you do bleed, your cycle may or may not be lined up with the lunar cycle – it doesn’t really matter. Either way, you can find your own way of honouring these cycles in a way that makes sense to you. The really important thing to realize is that as a woman, you are not built to be consistent. Getting into the flow of your cyclic nature will help you feel more sane, productive, and in tune with your deepest self.
Creating Your Own Self-Help Book
One of the most powerful tools I learned from reading Code Red was beginning to “chart my cycle.” Essentially, I keep a small journal that marks the date, phase of the lunar cycle, and the day of my cycle I’m on. I make notes about my mood, my productivity, my emotions, my energy, and even my hunger levels. Just brief bullet points or even single words that sum up where I was at on each particular day. I keep the journal beside my bed and just jot all of this down before going to bed each night. I recently saw my friend Claire post that she divides each page of her journal into four that she can chart four cycles on one page to make quick comparisons (so for example, on the day 1 page cycle 1 top left, cycle 2 top right, etc.) I’m going to give this a go as I think it will be an amazing way to spot patterns that keep coming up.
If you sign up for Lisa’s mailing list, you’ll be sent the first chapter of her book and that chapter contains a “cycle repair kit” with a pretty sheet for charting your cycle as well as an example chat, which will help you get started.
The reason this practice is so powerful is that you’re essentially creating your own, completely-unique-to-you self-help book. Because while the information I’ve outlined above provides some general guidelines about how you MIGHT feel at each stage of your cycle, everybody is different. Every body is different. For example, day 9 when many women are beginning to feel like a total powerhouse? For me, it’s usually a total shit show. But when you know this, you can begin to unpick why that is and also navigate those tender days with more self-compassion.
After a few months of charting, you’ll be able to begin to see patterns about how you feel at different points throughout the month. This has helped me plan my life in rhythm with my own unique cycle and be gentle with myself when I know I’m likely to feel wobbly. Plus, I can warn my husband if I’m liable to bite his head off without any provocation so that he can steer clear. I also know when I’m most likely to feel up for big social events or if I’m going to have the energy to take on a bit of extra work that week.
I know that day 29 I’ll feel like bedsharing will make me want to claw my eyes out but that the feeling quickly passes on day 1. I can
I know when I’m going to be at my most patient and have the energetic reserves for messy play, elaborate meals, and high energy baby groups. I also know when those things won’t be pleasurable for me and I can choose more low key activities instead.
Most of us have commitments to jobs or families that mean we can’t completely dictate our schedules according to our menstrual cycle. I get that. Even when I try to, my cycle will throw me for a loop and add a few extra days onto the end so that I’m not totally in sync. BUT we can do our best. We can stock up on chocolate when we’re know we’re going to bleed soon. We can do extra high-level work during the first two weeks of our cycle, so that we can focus on simpler tasks during the second two. We can do our best not too many social plans when we’re likely to be feeling introspective. This isn’t about perfection. It’s about awareness and intention.
Since becoming a mama, I’ve had to completely relearn how to nourish myself and honour my cyclic nature given that my time is so much less my own these days. But I think that by parenting in sync with our menstrual cycles we have the chance to be truly present with our babies, showing them how okay it is to be accepting of all the facets of our humanity, and drawing on the superpowers of each cycle to really embrace the creative mess of motherhood. It’s a constant process of self-discovery for me and something I’ll write a lot more about to show you how I’m actually living this stuff on a day-to-day basis. (I’ve also been posting daily cycle updates on Instagram this month to share a bit about what the lived reality of this wisdom looks like for me right now).