Do you know your cycle?

Do you know your cycle?

Growing up, many of us didn't receive adequate education about our menstrual cycles. At most, you may have only been told you would have a period every month, which would last 5-7 days. Your menstrual cycle isn’t just your period, it's the whole cycle from the first day of your period, through to the beginning of your next period. Your cycle is made up of four phases, which are often referred to as your inner seasons. Just like in nature, each season will feel different. Getting to know your cycle can help you understand your body's natural rhythm.

Day 1 of your cycle is the first day of your period. This is called menstruation and is the winter season of your cycle. This is typically between 3 and 7 days long and is when your hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone) are at their lowest. This causes your uterus to shed its inner lining (called the endometrium) of soft tissue and blood vessels - your period. This is the part of your cycle where you will have the least amount of energy and may feel less social. It’s a great time to slow down, rest more and take care of yourself. Walking, yoga and stretching are some gentle movement ideas during this phase.

As we emerge out of our inner winter, we enter our follicular phase, also known as the spring season of your cycle. This phase will usually take you up to the mid-way point of your cycle. Your progesterone and estrogen levels start to rise, bringing higher energy levels. Your pituitary gland releases a hormone called Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), which stimulates the follicles in your ovaries to mature — these follicles contain your eggs. Usually, only one follicle will mature into an egg. With an increase in energy levels, you may feel like adding more movement into your day.

After the follicular phase, we transition to ovulation, or summer time in your cycle. Ovulation typically occurs around the half way point of your cycle, although everyone is different. Estrogen and testosterone rise to peak levels, as does your libido. This is also when you're most fertile. Ovulation is when a mature egg is released from your ovary and moves along the fallopian tube towards your uterus. Once the egg is released, it will survive up to 24 hours. Ovulation can last from 16 to 32 hours. Due to this peak in energy, you may feel more social, or like taking on more intense workouts. 

Finally, we enter the luteal phase, or our inner autumn. This starts after ovulation occurs and goes right up until the end of the cycle. The first few days of this phase feels a lot like ovulation - you’re still riding the last summer wave. However this starts changing when estrogen and testosterone decline and your body starts producing progesterone. The follicle that held the egg turns into something called a corpus luteum. It makes the hormones progesterone and estrogen to support a possible pregnancy, but if pregnancy does not happen, the corpus luteum will break down. Progesterone will peak and then drop - these are the hormonal changes that can contribute to premenstrual symptoms, or PMS. This can be the time where we might start experiencing mood changes, headaches, bloating, breast tenderness and cravings for comfort food. You may find yourself winding down in the last part of this phase - listen to your body, slow down if you need to. Finally, the drop in progesterone signals your uterine lining to shed, and your period begins, marking the end of the cycle and the beginning of a new.

Learning about each phase of your cycle can be really empowering. We are cyclical by nature and are not meant to feel the same all the time. Leaning into this can help us understand our bodies on a deeper level, allowing us to live in flow.

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