Aligning your lifestyle with your menstrual cycle can be an empowering way to live. Learn more in this guest post from Dr. Lana!
What many people are failed to be taught is that hormones fluctuate not only by the month, but by the the week and even down to the day for that matter.
Take these examples:
These are all prime examples of hormonal fluctuations, all of which can become more easily identifiable if we learn a thing or two about our monthly cycles.
What if there was a way to live that honors the tides of your body and mind? “Cycle syncing” is the process of making lifestyle changes that support and utilize the changes that occur within your body and mind across your menstrual cycle.
The term, made popular by functional nutritionist Alissa Vitti, emphasizes the range of strengths we have as women, and that they shift in predictable ways as our governing energies change.
My favorite two apps are Flo and Natural Cycles. Both are fantastic tools for tracking your period, providing a platform for women to begin to take note of and identify symptoms and patterns and of course track ovulation and fertility.
Your menstrual cycle will break into four general categories, or phases. While the exact timeline differs from woman to woman, eventually you will find yourself picking up on phase transitions.
So, what day of the menstrual cycle does our period start on? As simple as this may seem, it is interestingly enough one of the most incorrectly answered questions among patients of all ages. The first day of bleeding equals “day one” of our menses, as well as of our menstrual cycle. The entire cycle typically lasts between 28-30 days, which is measured from the length of time between the first days of bleeding.
But tracking menstruation, along with the act of menstruating, don’t have to cause so much stress. This phase occurs when we go another month without the fertilization of an egg. Estrogen and progesterone levels drop, prompting the shedding of our uterine tissue lining, along with blood and nutrients. Think of this as a time for releasing what is no longer necessary in our bodies as well as in our minds and external lives.
Productivity: During your period, you generally have your lowest energy levels of the month. This makes it an ideal time to draw yourself inward, relax, and try to get sufficient rest. Dedicate time to center yourself, and set goals for the rest of the month. Many women experience heightened creativity and flow states (pun intended) at this time; therefore, make the most of this creative outpouring by diving into personal projects, journaling, or self-reflection. This can be a good time to try to let go of things that no longer serve you or feel stagnant.
Food: Increase your consumption of Iron and B-vitamins to combat nutrient depletion due to blood loss, as well as to keep your energy levels high. Omega-3 fatty acids can mitigate the effects of PMS by inhibiting cyclooxygenase, which is an enzyme produced in the inflammatory pathways and responsible for the sensations of inflammatory pain. Healthy fats also help to decrease bloating, tenderness in the breasts, and depression. Eat leafy greens, and warming, fatty foods like stews, organic red meats, and wild-caught fish. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, try incorporating more spinach, or consider Iron supplements in addition to Vitamin C and algal oil.
Exercise: During menstruation, the body is more pain-sensitive, and high-impact workouts can add undue stress, particularly in the uterine tissues and ligaments. Try workouts that feel restorative, or more like self-care. Gentle vinyasa yoga, Pilates, or going for a walk or hike can be a good way to nurture and protect your body.
TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) + Acupuncture Treatments: While menstruating, women are said to be in the “Xue Phase” of the cycle, which is another word for blood. During this hypothermic time, any dysfunction that occurs during the detachment and shedding of the uterine lining is usually addressed with the Kidney, Chong and Ren meridians. These specific meridians/channels are chosen by their anatomical positioning over the reproductive organs, and most specifically the uterus, cervix and vaginal canal. The kidney meridian houses our “Jing” or Essence, governing our reproductive capability along with our sexuality. The Chong is an extra-ordinary meridian located within our torso which connects the heart to the uterus, making sexual activity and fertility such a sensitive subject. The Ren meridian is also referred to as the Conception Vessel, and is responsible for regulating the female reproductive system. It originates in the perineum and runs up the midline of the body ending at the jugular notch, or throat chakra.
Productivity: Just as you would expect to feel after a period of rest and rejuvenation, the days that follow are a great time to start something fresh or new. The follicular phase is a fantastic time to introduce new activities or people into your life; take the new steps you’ve been feeling apprehensive about while your energy is high, and things will feel easier when you revisit them. This includes brainstorming and work-related strategizing; your skills will prove helpful during meetings–schedule them during this time when possible!
Food: Eating lean, organic proteins will help keep estrogen levels supported but in check. Additionally, getting in plenty of vegetables, especially those high in Vitamin E, like leafy greens (think mustard, collar, beet and turnip greens), avocados, walnuts, seeds and sweet potatoes will all aid in nourishing your ovaries.
Exercise: Take advantage of your strength during these days. Optimize your energy bursts by doing intense workouts. This is a particularly beneficial time to integrate heavy weightlifting and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into your routine.
TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) + Acupuncture Treatments: During this time of hypothermic building, also referred to as pre-ovulation, a woman’s body has now entered the “Yin Phase.” Yin is associated with the feminine, with softer energy, cool temperatures, introverted tendencies and an overall sense of calm and quiet. Anatomically, the Spleen meridian passes over the ovaries, and the Liver channel passes over the fallopian tubes, which means ovulation issues, ie: delay or pain, as well as cyst formation and/or rupture can be addressed with these two meridians. The Spleen meridian is specifically responsible for transforming and transporting fluids within your body (ie: menstrual blood) and a condition called “Liver Qi Stagnation” is historically to blame for ovulatory pain.
Productivity: Feelings of confidence, attractiveness, and competence rise during this period, as does the urge to be social. Now is the time to work through interpersonal issues, and have difficult conversations. Pack your schedule, participate in group activities, check in on the goals you set during the menstrual phase, and act decisively on subjects which have been on your mind: set the tone for the next month. You can handle it! If you’re trying to conceive, now is the time. Schedule a date night and get busy.
Food: Eat cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, bok choy, and brussels sprouts. These fibrous greens are high in glutathione, an immune-boosting antioxidant that also helps to flush toxins and excess estrogen via the metabolic process of sulfation in your liver detoxification pathways. Vitamin C aids with antioxidant absorption, so double down with leafy greens and citrus fruits, which are also a good way to quell sugar cravings. Continue seeking foods rich in B-vitamins and iron, especially if you’re trying to get pregnant: eggs and meat can help with egg release, and magnesium-rich foods like spinach will balance your feminine hormones.
Exercise: Continue your high-impact workouts from the follicular phase. Now is also a great time to train for any races you’re aiming for, as well to sign up for more social, group-oriented exercises. Try out a spin class, or organize a bike-ride or a group run in the park.
TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) + Acupuncture Treatments: From days 14 through 21 you have entered into the “Yang Phase,” which is dominated by high energy, warmer temperatures, and extroverted tendencies. Acupuncture points aimed at centering energy and focus are fantastic during this phase. The Liver, Spleen, Kidney, Ren and Chong meridians are all fantastic to work during this portion, as the egg is quite literally passing through all of them, from the ovaries, down the fallopian tube and into the uterine lining.
The endocrine system begins to decrease production of hormones, in preparation to shed that egg along with the uterine lining which had been building up with the help of progesterone in anticipation of implantation or pro-gestation. When no implantation occurs, this is now the time for completion.
Productivity: This is the final phase of your cycle, and likely you’ll find your attention turning inward. Take this time for self-reflection, nesting, and evenings spent in the home. Tackle necessary administrative tasks, home improvement, and to-do lists.
Food: Filling, earthy foods serve as a comforting, grounding choice. Make stocks and soups, and try roasting root vegetables tot nor only warm yourself and your lower Dantian (a crucial energy center or “sea of qi” in TCM) but also to prepare your root chakra for the energetic shedding to come. Organic berries, filled with bioflavonoids and Vitamin C can help mitigate cravings and shift your hormone production without spiking your blood sugar or stressing your body.
Exercise: Prior to starting your period, your womb nearly doubles in size. You may begin to notice this if you’re feeling bloated; try to stick to activities that don’t jostle you and your precious cargo around too much. Stretching, swimming, and restorative yoga are great ways to keep moving.
TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) + Acupuncture Treatments: The final phase, or what many of us associate our PMS symptoms with, occurs in this hyperthermal “Qi Phase.” According to TCM, we must take heed during this time of the month and truly take a step back in order to focus on internal on goings within our day to day lives. Acupuncture treatments are focused on ensuring the proper circulation of xue (blood) and qi (energy), while also supporting the balancing of the patient’s nervous system and sleep qua
By taking small steps to recognize our flow patterns and energy over the course of the month, we can begin to tailor our interactions, work, and self-care practices to get the most out of them.
To harness the power of a wave, we don’t fight it: we surf it. Just as we follow the ocean at her own pace, we can attune our behaviors to protect and harness our bodies as the powerful entities they are, and maximize our sense of self.
How do you follow the lead of your cycle?