Menstrual Cycle Awareness finally seems to have caught on and is now all the rage, however, for some people they are still scratching their heads and wondering what it is. Cos, you know you have a menstrual cycle or if not, right?
There is no hard and fast definition, however, even the most basic levels such as knowing when your period is due (no more getting caught with a surprise leak and no protection), knowing when you are fertile and knowing that you have PMS are incredibly useful tools to navigate through life.
I have had dozens of clients and hundreds of e-mails in my inbox after using one of my more popular freebies from my old website The Healthy Womb basic cycle chart toolkit (click here if you’d like to access it), saying that they didn’t realise that they had PMS and just thought that they hated everyone and wanted to get a divorce due to relationship or mental health issues.
It never occurred to them it was in the same small window of time just before their period each month, and that it might be PMS.
But these are just at a basic level. Menstrual Cycle Awareness can be so much more. From learning your energy patterns throughout the month, to finding the optimal time for crucial presentations, exercising with your body patterns rather than forcing yourself through the low energy points, can be life changing in the best of ways.
Does that mean you should rearrange your life completely around your menstrual cycle? Well, being honest, for most people that is not even possible and you could end up even more stressed that without being cycle aware.
However, being aware of some of the layers can help you optimise your life and upping your game by just one or two smaller ways can cumulatively make such a difference.
My Story Of Menstrual Cycle Awareness
Before I was even aware of women’s health and periods as a specialty area, I used to have vary varied exercise practice. I could not for the life of me figure out why, some days I could power through 5k in the pool, and still have to go for a run and do a lot of yoga before going to bed.
Other days I could barely get through 1k in the pool, would clamber out and lie on the tiles and lie there on my back and the lifeguards would give me my emergency sweets to prevent me from blacking out and I would slowly crawl upright and take forever to get dressed before staggering home.
The lifeguards, bless them, knew me well enough to know not to panic and had my inhalers and emergency sweets as I still hadn’t gotten my blood sugar levels under control. It was an offhand comment from one of them, asking if it was when I was on my period as my energy and blood sugar level stability seemed to be cyclical.
It kind of set off the thought in my mind that now I know it was absolutely linked, and was the inspiration for one of my most popular pieces for the Huffington post on exercise and your cycle.
What You Need To Do To Practice Menstrual Cycle Awareness
1. Learn About The Menstrual Cycle
You can start basic with learning about the phases of the menstrual cycle and using the aforementioned menstrual cycle toolkit to help you chart when you are bleeding, and your energy and moods throughout the menstrual cycle.
You can also learn sympto-thermal charting and really get into knowing about how to chart your temperature, cervical fluid and period trouble shooting using these signals.
2. Look For The Patterns In Your Charts
These can be energy levels, your feelings, which activities you are more attracted to, whether you are more introvert or more extrovert, whether you are interested in more creative pursuits, or getting through your to do list.
Are there themes coming up for you, like do you overcommit your time and if so when?
Do you have any themes in terms of interpersonal relationships eg, you enjoy going out at some points of your cycle or do you find people don’t understand you at some points in your cycle?
These patterns could be anything, try not to be too specific, eg if you notice your have high energy on day 14 one month but day 16 the next month, that is still broadly in the middle of the cycle.
3. Start To Plan Around These Patterns
The next section is going to be full of suggestions, but if you know you have big life events coming up and you know what level of energy you need for this event, start looking for when that happens in your chart.
Managing Your Energy & Workflow Throughout Your Cycle
The common trend (that isn’t true for everyone is that we tend to have more energy around ovulation and less around menstruation. Now trying to fit your life into the lead up to and few days after ovulation is not usually doable.
However, be aware that during ovulation, if your energy is high, you can find that you overcommit and then only slots in your diary are two weeks away. Only for you to get to that point and be on your period and wonder why you thought this would be a good idea.
So be aware of your energy levels in the future and be careful not to overcommit at the wrong times.
Equally, if you can clear your diary during your bleeding phase, this can often be helpful and nourishing. Again, it isn’t usually possible, but you can, prepare things in advance, such as if you have to to a presentation or perform in anyway, practice before then and get it all prepared.
You can look at whether you have resources that can help more during that week too, especially if you have commitments you can’t get out of. From booking babysitters and childcare to hiring a cleaner or asking friends and family to help out (and you can return the favour when you have more energy), there are a number of ways to manage this that might help relief additional stress and give you some time to rest.
Managing Your Mood Throughout Your Cycle
If you find that you have PMS after charting your cycle, or you get into arguments or people don’t understand you in your pre-period or period phase, then maybe this is a sign to avoid critical relationship making or breaking e-mails or other communications during this time.
Equally, the lead up to ovulation can have you feeling more outgoing, wanting to go out and do things with friends, and you may end up booking in girls night out during this time only for it to come around and your mood levels have dropped and you don’t want to do anything with anyone during this time.
Productivity & Workflow
Typically, many people feel more creative in between their period and ovulation, and more productive in terms of personal and house admin such as doing utilities, finances etc after ovulation.
Be aware of what work types you excel at during this time and trying to focus on getting these in to the phases where it makes sense for you where you can, can make a difference to your output and productivity.
Making A Big Impression
Do you need to do a job interview, ask for a raise, have a review, go on a first date, launch a product or business, ask for a bank loan?
Usually around ovulation is a great time to do this because you at your most attractive and most communicative, however, just be aware you are also at your time where you are likely to take risks, so if you are asking for a loan, plan in advance how much you realistically want and what you can pay back rather than optimistically. And if on a date, you may decide you want to take things further so you may want to pack some protection just in case (if that’s relevant to you).
If you have to do any of these things at another point in your cycle, try and support the rest of your life as much as you can, so that you can focus on the big ticket items without stressing over baking a cake at the bake sale (you can buy one) or outsourcing what you can.
Exercise Throughout Your Cycle
This can be nuanced depending on what exercise you do but there are a number of factors to consider:
First Half Of Your Cycle (Between Your Period & Ovulation)
In this phase of your cycle, you are typically, fat burning (after glucose reserves are used up), more outgoing and wanting to socialise, more open to trying new things and techniques and more open to pushing yourself more.
So you may want to try group exercise classes, try new things or techniques, exercise outside and do more high intensity or cardio based exercises in this part of your cycle.
Second Half Of Your Cycle (Between Ovulation & Your Period)
In this phase of your cycle, you are typically more protein burning (after glucose reserves are used up), more inwards facing, less wanting to socialise, potentially more insulin resistant, and it is best practice to look at maintaining your abilities.
You may also find your are better at reading opponents or competitors in your sport and more intuitive in group sports and guessing what the other players are going to do, which could make you the queen of strategising at this point.
So you may want to review your exercise plan, stick to more resistance based exercises, exercise more on your own or in your home, and take an online class rather than in person.
Can Anything Be Optimised Based On My Cycle?
The short answer is yes, pretty much everything can be, but whether you would want to do this as it could end up being more stressful is another question.
I find that some people when they realise how powerful menstrual cycle awareness is, can go overboard and try to shoehorn everything into the model and it doesn’t work, creates frustration and it can make them want to jus give it all up. So, I recommend, just trying small and gentle changes and finding what works for you.
What About Practices Specific To My Period?
There are a number of practices you can do on your period from resting to meditation, yoga, yoga Nidra, breath work and even more spiritual practices. If you want to know more, I have a course on these practices here.