“Where are you in your cycle right now?” I asked students in a yoga workshop once.
I saw the shock in some of the student’s eyes as this is not a common question asked by yoga teachers even if 75-80% of practitioners in yoga studios are women. Through the years, I realized how much focus we have on how we flow on the mat but give very little attention to the monthly flow of the female energy cycle which I call our Inner Moon. I became aware of how asana as it is practiced today can be unmindful of the rhythmic cycles that influence women’s physiology and psychology. Without an awareness of these, we can cut ourselves off from our natural female energy cycle and inadvertently create more imbalances in our bodies. For example, women in high stress jobs may be attracted to intense, dynamic, muscular practices that cause the body to overheat and dry up, especially when we forget to balance all the high energy with slower practices, breathwork, and meditation. Or maybe we end up with an active workout even though our body is craving for rest when we have our period.
When we do not flow with our Inner Moon, we miss out on the gifts of each phase of the cycle. We can also experience disharmonies that we relate with menstrual problems such as PMS, dysmennorhea, cravings, mood swings, and irregular periods. In addition, when left unattended for a long time, it can show up as problems in fertility, low libido, delayed or no ovulation, and even difficulties in transitioning into menopause, and a tendency towards inflammatory diseases.
The good news is that wellbeing is our natural state and re-balancing and harmonizing the female energy cycle is something we can easily do with a few changes to our lifestyle. The first step is being mindful of our feminine flow, both on the mat and in our wombs.
THE FEMALE ENERGY CYCLE
Women have a unique female energy cycle influenced by the monthly dance of hormones in our bodies. This delicate choreography of estrogen, progesterone and other hormones in charge of our cycle is in return is influenced by the way we live our lives – our food, our sleep, and the activities and relationships we engage with. To be in an optimal state of well-being, it is not only enough to commit to self-care which may include yoga or some other movement, we also have to be mindful of what, how, and when we do our self care so that we support our female energy cycle at different phases.
Every month, we cycle through four phases – the blood phase, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. When we are in a state of wellbeing, each phase has a unique hormonal make up that expresses itself through our psycho-emotional, energetic, and creative states.
THE BLOOD PHASE
During the blood phase when our estrogen and progesterone levels our lower, our energy is inward. We may feel a tendency towards introversion signaling a time ripe for deep reflection, contemplation and honing our intuition. Because of our hormones at this time, the right and left sides of our brain communicate better making this time of the month perfect for evaluation and discernment. We shed what is no longer needed not only by the body but in all aspects of our lives in preparation for a new cycle.
When we are unaware of the flavor of this energy or we ignore the desire to move inward, this may show up as exhaustion and frustration and may express itself as withdrawal or anger. To really receive the gifts of this period, it is necessary to slow down and take lots of rest.
It’s all right to miss your dynamic practice at this time. Instead, a restorative practice and yoga nidra is recommended. Try a cradling meditation where you lie down on your back with your knees straight or bent with feet on the ground depending on which is most comfortable. Place one hand on your womb and one on your heart. Ask yourself, “What is my heart’s deepest desire? What do I need to let go off? What do I bring into the next cycle?” Allow the answers to come without judgment.
THE FOLLICULAR PHASE
The next phase is our follicular phase where estrogen is on the rise. Our energy begins to move outward as we come out of the winter of our blood phase. This is a very creative time. Ideas are proliferating and there can be a spring to our step and a natural rise in confidence. While the mind and the emotions are experiencing this blossoming, our internal energy is beginning to consolidate and recharge to prepare for the next phase. It is tempting to be completely outward during this time that is why it is so important to be mindful about building recovery time into our day.
During this time, it is good to practice movements that provide us with flexibility and dynamism. Aside from your vinyasa practice, I recommend giving yourself time for some free-form flow and dance that can also work your heart. Balance this with a yin yoga practice focused on opening up the front line of the body where the stomach meridian lies. At the beginning of your practice, ask yourself, “What wants to get created through me?” Allow yourself to be surprised.
The Ovulation Phase gives us a mix of hormones that allows our creativity to peak. There are two interesting energy imprints during this phase – expressive and receptive. During ovulation, we are at our most communicative and open Self, without any effort. Studies have even shown that waitresses get higher tips when they are ovulating. Notice, however, that there is also a receptive energy that undergirds all this outward expression. Think of it as summer when all the flowers and fruits are in bloom. They are ripe for the picking but they have to allow themselves to be picked.
Ovulation is a time for interval exercises, an alternating rhythm of activity and rest. Think about shorter flowing sequences that open the front and back of the heart interspersed with luxurious, delicious twists and sidebends that allow you to wind and unwind slowly. Imagine that you are not only opening the doors of your body, you are also receiving breath and energy from the outside in. Ask yourself the question “What are you letting into your life? Out of all the seeds planted during the previous phase, what will you allow to be fully created?”
The Luteal phase which is dominated by progesterone can be divided into two parts. On the first half, there is a sense of resolution and completion. The wave of creativity that opened up during the follicular phase and peaked at ovulation is now beginning to come back in and focus is quite high. We enter a nesting period, preparing for possible pregnancy so there is a desire to keep things in order. You may find yourself with great energy to complete tasks, tie lose ends, organize your stuff, harvest and enjoy what you have planted in the previous phases.
On the first half of the luteal phase, focus more on movements that strengthen like sitting and standing poses that focus on sending roots down to the earth and feeling the rebound of rising energy. On the second half, slow the practice down as you prepare to go back into the cave of your blood phase. Yin Yoga focused on the side body and the inner legs will help move Qi which is in turn in charge of letting emotions and, eventually, blood flow smoothly. Ask yourself, “What needs to be completed today? What needs my attention? What life concerns are asking for consideration?”
On the second half of the luteal phase, commonly called the pre-menstrual phase, the energy draws back in. This can easily be mistaken as a fall in energy, but if one observes keenly, it is more a movement inwards and towards closure of another cycle giving us clearer sense of what needs to be dealt with urgency and importance, whether it is a task or a current life concern.
FINDING OUR GRACEFUL FLOW
Our bodies are our greatest teachers. The most important thing is to learn her language and listen to her deeply so we can respond and support her needs. When we are minding our natural flow and living in honor and support of our female energy cycle, there is a sense of Grace – the absence of unnecessary effort – that inevitably flows in our lives.
Dona Tumacder-Esteban is a Manila-based Integrative Wellbeing and Nutrition Counsellor at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Manila, a corporate stress and energy management consultant (Asia Pacific), a student of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the leading Embodiment and Yin Yoga teacher in the Philippines. Dona’s personal experience with her own wellbeing as well as counseling many others has fired her passion for women’s wellbeing. She has created an integrated approach called Inner Moon which brings together movement, yoga, and integrative life force nutrition for every phase of the monthly cycle. Dona has helped women live fully, fierce, unapologetically and embrace their monthly cycle with grace and ease through her workshops in Asia and Europe. For those seeking to align their spiritual practice with their energy cycles, Dona also provides face-to-face and online mentoring and guidance as you go through the different phases of your Inner Moon. Visit her at widerandwidercircles.com.