by Lily Lawes
I’ve been paying close attention to my menstrual cycle this year, and it’s been bloody fascinating. Life-changing, in fact. I’ve come to realise that I’ve spent my life, as many women do, fighting against a tide. But since I stopped resisting it, manipulating it, trying to master it, since I gave in and let it carry me, I’ve felt so much more at peace and empowered.
‘Tis the Seasons
I first learnt about Menstrual Cycle Awareness from my yoga teacher Bex Tyrer, who encouraged me to come off the Pill in order to listen to my body and its rhythms free of hormonal manipulation. It was kind of a bugger – the Pill has always helped with my painful menstrual cramps, as well as giving me control over when I’m bleeding (so I’ve never left a festival Portaloo looking like I’ve murdered someone, which is a total plus). But now, almost a year later, I know it’s been worth it. Bex pointed me to the book Wild Power by Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer, which lays out the seasons we are all familiar with as an analogy of the power of the cycle.
This is the time of menstruation, which many of us find challenging. But actually, when I honour what my body is screaming at me to do during this time – rest, slow down, be still – it’s really quite lovely. I drift, I dream, I breathe into the pain and listen to what it’s telling me. I enjoy time out, in peace. And the bleed time is when we’re most connected to our intuition, to our gut feelings (or the spiritual world, if you want to look at it that way). Big decision to make? Bleed on it. Luckily as a freelancer I’m now much more in control of my time, no longer leading client meetings while squirming with discomfort and panicking about leaks. But even at our busiest we can figure out a way to lighten the load, just a little.
Coming out of the bleed with the rising energy of the first half of the cycle, the world can seem a little bright. Overall this is a playful time, full of possibility – I find I often start buzzing with ideas, I get curious and excited by all kinds of things, life seems more beautiful, I laugh easier, I’m full of anticipation. For me it’s generally pretty sweet, although I have to be careful not to try and charge ahead with a million different ideas, burn myself out and slump into a funk about all the things I’m not achieving – they can wait.
Many women thrive in the ovulatory phase of the cycle – energy peaks, we’re feeling (and looking) more attractive, more articulate, braver and able to hold everyone around us. Summer is the time of the superwoman we all know well – getting shit done, ticking off lists, juggling a million things and never dropping the (metaphorical or literal) baby. If I’m truly in flow, it’s an incredible time. But I also find my anxiety can spiral at this point in my cycle – if I haven’t figured out where to focus all this energy, I can feel unanchored and unbalanced.
This is another challenging time for a lot of women because our bodies begin to call us back. Energy levels start to wind down and we’re reluctant to stop being that summer superwoman. We can’t be as ‘out there’ anymore, we need to return inwards – and there’s a reason for this. It’s important to check back in with ourselves, to make sure we’re listening to our gut and our heart and not going along with external influences we aren’t truly aligned with. In autumn we’re discerning, we take far less crap, we sniff out the bullshit. Personally, I love it, and I get a lot done at this time without procrastinating and faffing, as long as I’m in tune with myself and pulling back from the outside world. What we call ‘PMS’ is often simply the tension between wanting to (or feeling like we should) keep charging on at full steam, and our instincts saying: actually, no. I’m not putting up with this shit today. You had me last week, I need me now.
Sexy Cycle Science
Now, I am no science lady, but it’s all just biology. The overall gist is that we spend the first bit of the cycle looking for a mate, getting all excited and fluffing ourselves up, then we get down to business like crazy (ENERGY!), then we calm down and start looking out for ourselves in case we’re pregnant, and then physically we grieve that no life was made this time round. And then it starts again. Every month, peeps. Every. Goddamn. Month. It seems like a lot, and it IS a lot. Every month our incredible female bodies are preparing to create and nurture LIFE. Human freaking LIFE. Our bodies are astonishing, and we need to remember that. Now, just because we CAN create life doesn’t mean we have to, but we can embrace and honour the natural forces at play to make it happen just as much as the male ejaculation has been honoured and celebrated for thousands of years (or at the very least not shamed out of public discourse).
Mind Engine Optimisation
I guess it does all sound rather exhausting. Why do we have to put our bodies through all this each month? I mean we don’t, thanks to modern medical advances. But all I know is that I wasn’t any happier when I was pushing it down and ignoring it. For me, leaning into my cycle has become the ultimate mindfulness practice. If I start spiralling into despair, it’s often because I haven’t checked in with myself about where I am in the cycle – I haven’t been listening to my body and how I should be honouring it. And it’s basically optimised my life – I know the best time to schedule a night out and when I’m going to be the most fun auntie, and also when to stay home a bit more and enjoy my own company or deep chats with a close friend. I’m learning when to say NO to what doesn’t serve me – in life or simply in that moment. And I have more confidence to say YES to myself and those around me at the times it will be most meaningful.
Life Goes On, Period.
Ultimately, cycles are nature. Life, the universe, everything is cyclical – and we absolutely know that. But even though we watch the leaves falling from the trees and the nights drawing in, we seem to have forgotten that seasons are necessary. Time moves forward, it has to. If we were stuck in a permanent summer we’d be miserable, because we need to slow down at some point. We need the rain to come so the trees don’t die. We need the winter to appreciate how wonderful the summer is, and vice versa. The only thing that grows and grows, that charges ahead with no heed for cycles, is a cancer, and it’s destructive. And tuning into the cycle that happens every 28-31 days within my own body has made me so much calmer about all that. Knowing – truly knowing, deep in my belly – that everything will pass, means I can breathe into the more trying times and be more present in the joyful times.
Going with my own flow really has changed my life, my outlook on the world, and my relationship with myself. It’s been a huge force on my path to self-love, acceptance and respect. And through it I’m able to be more present, giving and caring to the people around me. After years of feeling so much chaos and despair and betrayal from my own body, I now couldn’t feel more in harmony with it.
Resources I’ve Found Useful
Hormonology – Hormone Horoscope
This App is often spot-on at predicting my moods and energy and behaviours, and made me feel better about the wild fluctuations of my whims before I even had a vocabulary for all this stuff.
A great resource for tracking the cycle, logging symptoms and accessing all kinds of info on women’s health, with personal analysis on the paid version.
A nice little tracking App that logs how you’re feeling at any given time, and also offers lovely advice about energy and factors like the moon and weather.
Leaders in the global Menstruality movement – read Wild Power and don’t look back. They also do a lot of work on menopause and living cyclically without a womb.
Yoni Shakti by Uma Dinsmore-Tuli
A deeper, more spiritual resource with womb yoga techniques for different times of the cycle and loads more.
Unwind the Feminine with Bex Tyrer
A profound experience – Bex’s next yoga immersion is in Bali in December. Go.