Just as the Earth moves through her seasonal changes each year, menstruating women experience inner seasonal changes due to fluctuating hormones.
Here is an overview of the monthly Menstrual Cycle:
Follicular Phase: “Internal Spring” (about 7 days)
Hormonal Shifts: This phase occurs right after menstruation. At this time, 15-20 eggs mature in the ovaries and each egg exists within its own follicle. The follicles produce estrogen, which is a necessary hormone for the occurrence of ovulation. The Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) causes these follicles with eggs to grow and compete with each other for the dominate follicle to get large enough for the egg to bust through.
Effects on Mood and Energy: As all hormone levels were low at menstruation, the rising in FSH and estrogen now create an energetic feeling in your body. This new energy masks the energy of spring, where there is a sense of new beginnings with fresh energy and focus. Mentally, you may feel sparked to begin a project such as a new workout routine or creative goal with your work. This phase is all about new ideas and increased energy.
Ovulatory Phase: “Internal Summer. (3-4 days)
Hormonal Shifts: When estrogen levels peak high enough, this signals the Luteinizing Hormone (LH) to be released and this hormone is what causes the most dominant egg to burst through the follicle. As the egg is released into the fallopian tubes and travels to the uterus, it is the time of the month when conception occurs, thanks to Mother Nature. The follicle collapses on the ovarian wall and becomes what is known as the Corpus Luteum, which will start producing progesterone. Raised estrogen levels will create cervical fluid, and cervical fluid is necessary for the swimming sperm to reach the egg. As you come closer to ovulation, cervical fluid will increasingly become wetter, and the most fertile fluid will be able to stretch between your fingers.
Effects on Mood and Energy: Being at the height of fertility, this creates a desire for connection and community. This time is great to spend with friends, family, and your significant other. I really enjoy writing blog posts and articles at this time because it feels easier to express what’s on my mind. This inner season relates to summer because we feel the peak of our energy levels. Just as Mother Earth’s trees and plants are fully expanded in their growth in the summer time, our inner summer is also a time of expansion, high energy, and connection. However, some women may experience an achy-ness in their lower abdomen due to the egg being released, and this can also cause fatigue.
Luteal Phase: “Internal Autumn” (about 10-14 days)
Hormone Shifts: The collapsed Corpus Luteum releases the hormone progesterone for about 12-16 days. Progesterone signals a halt for the body to release any more eggs until next cycle. It also causes thickening in the uterine lining so if fertilization of the egg occurs, the uterine lining will be able to sustain the fertilized egg. If conception did not occur, progesterone will drop and the corpus luteum will be absorbed into the body. The rise in progesterone also causes higher basal body temperatures. One indication to tell when progesterone has kicked in is to take your temperature upon waking every morning (**for accuracy, it should be taken the same time every morning and be the first thing you do when you wake). During the Follicular and Ovulatory Phases, temperatures will be consistently lower than during your Luteal Phase. A consistent rise in basal body temperatures will indicate you have already ovulated and entered into the Luteal phase. Estrogen will rise slightly towards the middle to end of your Luteal Phase, which can cause you to experience cervical fluid before menstruation begins.
Effects on Mood and Energy: The shift from estrogen rising to progesterone rising is similar to the shift from summer to autumn. With rising progesterone, our mood turns from feeling fully expanded to feeling more contracted, and our focus shifts from outward experiences to the inner self. Just like autumn is a time for taking stock of our harvests, during our inner autumn, we may feel more organized to tie up any lose ends on projects we initiated in our inner spring. In the middle of the Luteal phase, our energy declines and we may experience PMS symptoms. We may feel like spending more time in our homes, resting, meditating, or curling up with a book. Decrease your PMS with these foods and this meditation exercise.
Menstruation Phase: “Internal Winter” (3-7 days)
Hormone Shifts: Progesterone levels drop and all hormones return to a low level. Estrogen slightly jumps up and back down to signal it’s time for another cycle to begin for the opportunity for an egg to be released and fertilized. You can tell when you are about to start your period by noticing a shift in your basal body temperature as it will suddenly be much lower than the previous days. This is because your waking temperature drops when progesterone levels drop. The uterine lining sheds throughout this phase and this requires deep rest as minerals are being lost in the menstrual fluids.
Effects on Mood and Energy: Energy is at its lowest. Also, feminine intuition is at its peak. In ancient tribal communities, native women would often take this time to rest and even gather in a moon lodge. These moon lodges (today, women gather in Red Tents) were places to rest and pause from work duties, massage each other, and pass down ancient wise women traditions such as herbalism, cooking practices, as well as stories of womanhood. As native communities were living closer to the earth and had no influence from artificial lighting, their circadian rhythms were influenced by the glow of the moon and changing cycles. Therefore, women would bleed together on the dark of the new moon and enter the menstrual hut a.k.a. moon lodge. The Lakota Tribe believed women were more powerful when they were menstruating and that their prayers were louder and stronger.
The process of the uterine lining shedding has an energetically cleansing effect. Along with the release of menstrual blood, emotions flood to the surface to be released and expressed. At this time of our cycle, we may feel like resting more, as our energy is at its lowest. It’s important to take time to rest, instead of pushing through with our busy schedules, as this time of recharging sets us up for an energetically and emotionally balanced month ahead. Nourishing our bodies with mineral rich foods such with iron, calcium, and magnesium are important at this time for replenishing. Due to our intuition being heightened, we can meditate and reflect on the previous month’s cycle to analyze what worked or didn’t, promoting growth and change. We can also allow our emotions to express to be used a tool for self awareness and growth.
Here is a graph of how the hormones fluctuate:
For more information on fluctuating hormones and how this makes a woman feel physically, mentally, and emotionally is “The Woman Code” by Alisa Vitti.
For more information on taking morning basal body temperatures, check out “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler.
Moon Blessings & Hormone Health!