Menstrual Cycle Awareness and how it relates to our wellbeing ...
After completing a specialised teacher training in women's health and menstrual cycle support a few months ago, my biggest take away was how little I previously knew about the incredible symphony of hormonal changes and reactions that go on in our bodies every. single. month.
The multiple internal and external factors present in our daily lives, including sleep quality, stress levels, diet, and how it all affects this complex and often delicate monthly symphony, was something I had heard about, but haven't fully understood, until now. I can truly say I have a new found respect, not only for my period, but for what can sometimes feel like the roller coaster of emotions, energy dips, peaks, and subtle signs that happen all month long, or however long your cycle currently happens to be.
I learnt an incredible array of tools and techniques to be able to support myself, and others, not just physically with the movement practice of yoga, but on a deeper level with breath, meditation, visualisation, and just a general body awareness. Which, when I think of the benefits of yoga, is what it all boils down too. Learning to listen to our bodies, observing what we need, and looking to acceptance, and support. Moving in a mindful way, creating routines that are good for us, and learning to listen to the subtle signs, before they become loud ones.
Step One: Cycle Tracking
One 'non yoga' technique I have personally found extremely helpful is tracking my cycle. It doesn't matter how long your cycle is, or what your objective is, tracking how you feel on each day of the month can be invaluable in not only collecting data to paint a bigger picture when it comes to fertility or menstruation issues, but also supporting our mental and emotional health.
There are so many ways you can do this, with apps like #Clue and #Daysy, or with a cycle chart like the one you can download from Maise Hill, author of #periodpower. Personally, the technique I have resonated with the most has come from Ashleigh, founder of #Wombpower. From her training with #Redschool she has created a cycle vibe check in. It can be as simple as three words, relating to your physical, emotional and energetic feelings that day. For example, 'headache, teary, and tired.' or more hopefully, 'free, joyous, and sexy.'
Why is this useful?? (aside from helping to plan / avoid pregnancy) Well, once you have a couple of months worth of 'data', if you're feeling particularly shitty one day, say anxious or doubtful or angry at your partner, you might be able to look back on your cycle check ins and notice a pattern. "Ah ok, so around day 23, 24 every month, I'm full of rage and super teary." Now this might not make a difference to how you feel that day, but it might allow you to plan for it. Maybe reschedule a stressful appointment, make time for a bath / run / yoga, warn your partner this is how you might be feeling before it turns into a full blown argument, ask for a little more support on these days .... you get the picture.
You could also use it to simply Give. Yourself. A. BREAK. No, you aren't useless, difficult, worthless, whatever your pesky mind might be telling you on these days. It's the crazy fluctuation of hormones in your body, just doing it's thang.
Further than this, if there are certain days of the month that are consistently or particularly bad, you have the data to start to look into some different options for supporting yourself, perhaps with nutrition, western medicine or holistic therapies, and of course, movement and breath!
Step Two: Support your needs
The real 'mind-blown' moment for me during the training was how we've come to accept so many of these side effects when we experience an imbalance in this symphony, as a part of normal life. Something we just have to 'get on with', or the only answer from the GP is to get back on the pill. Firstly, let me just note, that every body is so incredibly different and unique, and sometimes these imbalances take a long time (and extra medical help from your health care provider) to readjust, or overcome. But there are many holistic tools and tricks we can use to improve things like painful periods, pms, mid month anxiety, and even absence of periods. I wanted to be able to share some of the tools I have learnt, so I created this six part course of classes, that use specific methods (including breath, acupressure, meditation and compression) and movement to help support us in any stage of our cycles. Before you think - wait, aren't there just four phases of our cycles? Has she magically evolved into having six? Let me explain a little about each of the classes....
Winter is Coming: Phase One, around the start of period. A slow, soft, gentle practice, that can absolutely be done in pjs and even from bed. Deep breathing, gentle compression and slow movement to help aid circulation, warmth and hopefully a little relief. Drained and Depleted: Phase Two, sometimes you might feel particularly fatigued post period, especially if you experience a heavy flow, a stressful life event, or high emotions. This class has a nourishing Yin style approach, and can be dropped into for deep rest, really any time you feel this way. Follicular Funicular: Phase Two, on the flip side of that, rising oestrogen levels may leave you feeling full of the joys of 'Inner Spring' and ready to move. This class looks at using that energy in a sensitive way, perhaps both releasing and calming some of the restlessness of this time of month. Ovulation Station: Phase Three (and yes I do have fun with the names...) Big, bright, 'Inner Summer' energy. We amp it up a little here, time to embrace your confidence, spark release, and glow. We also tae time to gently remind ourselves to pause, breath, and not overcommit. Shed Stagnant Energy: Phase Four. Time to clear-out. This class looks at both using movement techniques and compression to clear the lining of the uterus, along with breath and meditation to aid in clearing some of that pesky pms energy. Nurturing Balance: Phase Four but again at the opposite end of the spectrum. This is a much more gentle class, looking at supporting and calming the heart, and a focus on more upward movement. More appropriate if you feel you might be pregnant.
Are these types of classes right for me? Some menstrual cycle FAQs...
What if I don't currently have a menstrual cycle?
Firstly, you can still benefit from these classes, in a way you would benefit from any yoga class. They may help with stress relief, digestion, anxiety, low back soreness, whether you are menstruating or not. Stress plays a huge part in affecting our nervous system which in turn affects our reproductive system. Ovulation and therefore menstruation get put on the 'back burner' if you like, when we perceive there being danger in our environment, whether thats a tiger or a stressful job.... Secondly, using the cycles of the moon can be a wonderful way to reconnect with our cyclical way of being, month to month. This is why I offer an inward looking, soothing retreat around the new moon, and a releasing, expanding workshop around the full moon.
What if I don't know where I am in my cycle?
My first suggestion to anyone, would be to track your cycle, whether it fits the 'standard' 28 day structure or not. Writing down 1 to 3 words each day, has really helped me identify where my energy fluctuates, my emotions change, and issues arise. This means I can take steps to support myself physically, nutritionally, and mentally, depending on what I need at particular times in the month. Like anything, the best advice is to 'just start.'
I've always suffered with pms, or painful / irregular periods. How will this help?
I'm not promising it definitely will. But after learning that we don't always have to simply accept these things as common place, it's worth exploring right? And if there is anything I've learnt in the last year, bringing in a little more connection to our bodies, and a little less time in our heads, is beneficial, important, and can really change the way you live on a day to day basis.
If you are still unsure or would simply like to check out the pre-period class 'Winter is Coming', you can head over to the Secret Subscriber Page, where you will find this class along with a selection of therapeutic classes, for everything from tension headaches, pms, sore wrists, and more ...
I'm here for a chat always,