Menstruality is women’s own built-in route to self-kindness, actualisation, power and spirituality. We are already coded for balance, for health, for power with no need for systems or interventions or other people telling us what’s wrong with us; like the good witch Glenda said:
You had the power all along
In simple terms menstruality is the process of tracking the cycles in your life and noticing how you change through your menstrual month, this is known as menstrual cycle awareness.
It’s natural for us to ebb and flow and when to give ourselves permission to acknowledge that shifts in emotion we also learn how to use the gifts that each phase of the cycle brings.
The seasonal model of cycle awareness is echoed in many other modalities:
- Gestalt cycle of experience
- Biodynamic vasomotoric cycle
- Breath patterns
- Yogic cycles of pulsation and contraction
The difference in menstrual cycle awareness is that the map is not theoretical, it is already embodied in our everyday lived experience.
Menstrual Cycle Awareness
Menstrual cycle awareness is the process of tracking your energy through your menstrual month. Just the process of observing the changes in energy, mood and stress levels can make changes in your cycle. You can get started with a chart here.
How is menstruality a route to empowerment?
Imagine you note down your feelings every month, and consistently on day 21, a dark depression descends like mist; every month. What once felt like a crisis, the loss of yourself, triggering fears of life-long illness becomes instead, day 21; it’s a day when I am vulnerable, I will turn off social media, work from home and read my favourite soothing novel. Recognising the patterns is empowering because it helps us to stop judging ourselves and take care of ourselves instead.
Menstrual pain and PMT is not healthy, it shows us that something needs to change in our bodies, but it’s become a phenomenon so widespread in our culture that it is considered normal. What if, instead of powering through our periods, we went slowly, delegated where we could, and rested? What could happen for you if you allowed yourself to be kind when your body was calling for attention? Many clients and colleagues have found that by resting and going slow at this time, the pain significantly decreases.
Where is the memo that said we have to function on full to-do list mode ALL THE TIME? This simply is not sustainable.
How to chart your cycle
The seasons of the menstrual and creative cycle
Are you normal?
The cycle Leora and I describe in the video is an archetypal cycle, much like the average car seat, your lived experience of your cycle will most probably not be a comfy fit with the archetype. This is normal. I like Red School’s big red rule:
“Your own experience trumps everything else”
By mindfully tracking your own shifts and changes you will put yourself in the driving seat rather than look to change to become something else. There’s enough of that in the world already.
Taking the hormonal contraception numbs out our natural cyclical rhythm, so while it’s still coded within you, the gifts of the cycle will not be so readily available.
My experience has been that the degree of numbness depends on what sort of hormonal contraception you’re taking and what kind of person you are. If you’re pretty sensitive, you’ll still be experiencing something of a cycle.
I respect whatever choice women make in their health care; life is hard enough already, after all. I work with women who use all sorts of contraception. If you want more information about the hidden implications of hormonal contraception, this book might be helpful.
A cycle of two halves
The cycle can be simply divided in two, to illustrate the different qualities within it.
The spring and summer side is known as the via positiva. It is more:
- Out in the world
- In charge
- Connected with others
The autumn and winter side is known as the via negitiva. It is more:
- Coming home to yourself
- Inner focus
In our world, it’s the via positiva that gets the applause, she’s the one who wins the Oscar and is adored. But can you imagine being at the height of ovulation all the time? Always giving out, being sexy and busy and giving our all? We’d crash and burn!
Are you an autumn/winter woman?
It’s helpful to consider whether you feel you are naturally aligned more with the via positiva or the via negitiva. As a sensitive woman, the via negitiva may naturally be your home, but even so it may feel too vulnerable and raw. You will also have to hold the tension of the world’s negativity towards the negitiva! You will be in the process of becoming an expert in self-care during this time, pulling in resources to soothe your nervous system.
Are you a spring/summer woman?
If you relate more to the via positiva there are still massive challenges; knowing when to rest and when to let go for example. You will also have to face the monthly task of crossing the boundary from via positiva into the via negitiva; a time when we can feel as though we are being destroyed. In fact on one level, we are being destroyed, the ‘out there’ self is gone and we are invited to come into relationship with our inner self.
It’s also helpful to consider which side of the cycle our families valued more, and whether our own constitution fitted in with that, or not.
Whatever side you identify with, your task is to learn how to embrace the more challenging aspect, by employing self-care, kindness and, of course, menstrual cycle awareness.
Cycles, cycles everywhere
Once you start to become cycle-literate, you’ll start to notice the same patterns in other cycles in your life.
- Breath cycles
- Creative cycles
- Daily cycles
- Life cycles
Gaining a deeper understanding of your menstrual cycle can help you through the tricky bits in the other cycles, for example:
- Why you get stuck at a particular point in a creative project
- How learning to let go at the end of the out-breath gives you more vitality and power when you run
- Managing your day to support better sleep
Practicing for menopause
The via negitiva side of your menstrual cycle, the autumn and winter, are in effect a monthly rehearsal of what you’ll need in menopause. At this time in both the menstrual and the life cycle, it’s where the ego starts to shed away from us and we are invited to stand in our truth. If you can pay attention and be kind to yourself in your autumn phase, you will be doing more of your healing work before menopause and honing your skills to make the bigger transition much smoother for yourself.
The seasonal map also helps to illuminate our life cycle as a woman, where the same seasonal changes exist.
Maiden, from the start of menstruation or menarche.
Spring qualities – new shoots, vulnerability, playfulness
Creative activation, motherhood, birthing projects and/or babies.
Summer qualities – pleasure, changing the world, action, celebration.
Enchantress, perimenopause, refining and consolidating who we are.
Autumn qualities – truth, sorting, editing, getting real on all levels!
Menopause, attending to our inner work.
Winter qualities – inner wisdom, knowing, stillness, deep healing, snuggling down.
Of course back in the day, you’d be lucky if you survived menopause, and would die shortly afterwards. At the time of writing there have never been so many educated, conscious menopausal women alive. It gives me goose-bumps! What are we going to do with this newly arisen consciousness? Does winter mean the end? Hell no! Welcome to…
The time when having emerged from the refining process of menopause, we can engage with our passions and projects in the world with fresh power and authenticity.
The power of transitions
Transitions tend to come in repeating patterns, just as our birthing patterns can repeat through our lives, the themes that show up at menarche colour the tone of how we experience ourselves as women.
We have a sort of permeability at menarche that allows all sorts of patterns to embed themselves.
Receiving the message that being a woman is less than wonderful at this age can set the tone for the monthly transitions of your menstrual cycle and for the bigger transition of menopause.
You can initiate healing for these issues by journaling, dreaming into the way they show up in your life, and there is external help too if you feel the need; menstrual medicine circles can be helpful or you may consider re-programming with a Menarche Ceremony. Here are some options: New Beginnings or Rachael Crow.
The benefits of menstruality
The practice of observing the variations in your cycle helps us to integrate the parts that are challenging; our shadow self, inner critics, vulnerabilities, lack of kindness and judgments about ourselves become very clear as they are repeated over the months. We literally get to practice! Month after month, menstruality offers us another opportunity to integrate and heal ourselves.
As we observe our cycles, it becomes clear where we feel most sensitive and what triggers us. Over time it becomes possible to develop successful self-care strategies that will ease us through our most vulnerable times. We also learn how strategic pausing can help, for example at menstruation, or other tender moments.
For highly sensitive women, summer can be particularly tricky at ovulation because that’s when everything feels so intense. If this is you it can be helpful to pause and rest here to manage the intensity, before coming home to yourself in the via negitiva half of the cycle.
A fertile cycle is a healthy cycle. Menstrual cycle awareness enables you to connect with your body, especially your womb, to truly come home to yourself and the ebb and flow of your being. This makes learning what kind of self-care we need at each part of the cycle a doddle which reduces the stress and puts you in charge of your fertility.
If you don’t have a cycle, have wildly irregular cycles or you have PCOS, you can also chart with the moon (here’s where to get started) to drop into deeper self-care. As the seasonal model is coded into us, it can be surprisingly easy to access.
Pain, PMT, raging, endometriosis and fatigue can all be affected by the quality of kindness that menstrual cycle awareness encourages. Noticing when you ‘over-do’ yourself, expending energy that is in short supply, noticing what sort of rest or exercise you need at different times of your cycle will become clearer.
When a woman is in pain, I nearly always ask what’s happening around menstruation; what would happen if she rested or slowed down at this time. That said, remembering the big red rule, some women have a burst of creativity in their winter so really the answer is only to learn about your own cycle, as find out what makes a difference.
Menopause and Perimenopause
During the shifts of perimenopause, tracking your cycle can be an anchor at a very challenging time. I started my education at Red School when I was in perimenopause and going back to charting really helped to ground me in my experience of my psycho-spiritual changes, even though I was very far from the archetypal cycle.
If you are still cycling, the more you can understand about your autumn/premenstruum, the more kind and resilience resources you will have to support you in the stormy seas of perimenopause!
In menopause, by which I mean after you have stopped bleeding, (a year from your last period in medical terms) the psycho-spiritual process of menopause can still continue; the physical menopause and the psycho-spiritual seem to have their own separate time-frames. A knowledge of the chambers of menopause is really helpful here as is feeling certain of the coming of the second spring. I have had Menstrual Medicine Circle clients come for support in menopause that have not had menstrual cycle awareness experience but because the seasons are coded into us all, the cycle has still been deeply illuminating for them.
Be kind to yourself first
You can see how much self-care and kindness menstrual cycle awareness generates. And if we can be kind to ourselves first, then we have the resources to be kind to our family friends and the wider community. We are well resourced. You might enjoy support for being kind to yourself in the Woman Kind community.
Building a kind community
An understanding of the seasons is also a great tool for connecting with other women, for building bridges of understanding behaviour and tolerance. Understanding the changes that happen in autumn can help when dealing with challenging behaviour from other women, for example; what might be labelled ‘bitchy’ becomes a struggle to speak her truth. Cycle awareness can also be an excellent management tool in the wider world.
For some women sharing their cycle has become a way of managing their relationships and work. TMI? Well imagine that your partner or co-worker could check a little chart to find that you’re in autumn, so to leave you alone to sort out the filing and de-clutter the house. A whole load of difficulty has been removed.
Educating the men in your life about cycle awareness will not only improve your relationship but also re-connect men to their cyclical nature; what an amazing gift that would be?!