The Seasons of our Menstrual Cycles

by Oct 6, 2021

As women, we know that our energy, emotions, appetite and other symptoms can ebb and flow through different points of our menstrual cycles. Most of us have heard about how the menstrual cycle can sync with the moon, and the moon cycle can help us to ‘go with the flow’ of our cycles, so to speak. A metaphor I’ve found even more helpful that this though is the metaphor of the seasons and how they present throughout our menstrual cycles as ‘inner seasons’. 

This is a really practical framework that I find incredibly helpful, both personally and with my patients. Keep in mind that this is a very general framework and won’t suit everyone (especially given the wide variations in menstrual cycle length and regularity) – as always, it’s important to try these things for yourself and see what feels good and what doesn’t.

Let’s start with the first phase of the cycle: menstruation.

Our Inner Winter – Menstruation

When our period arrives, we enter our inner winter. In Chinese Medicine, this corresponds with the element of Water (which encompasses the Kidneys and Urinary Bladder), the colour black, and the Dark Moon phase (interestingly, in Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, the Kidneys actually govern the entire reproductive system – I’ll write more about that another day as that could be an entire blog post on its own!).

During menstruation, our hormones drop and we start to feel tired as our body starts to shed the lining of the uterus. Think about what happens in the environment during winter (though less so for us here in Queensland!) – the leaves drop from the trees, animals go into hibernation and things slow down. This is when we also tend to want to hibernate – really want to hibernate. Shut the world out, hide under a doona and stay there for a week. If possible, this is the best thing to do at this time is to take some extra time and practice the art of surrender – surrender and let go of the plans that you did have, to allow for rest and introspection. This will set you up for the rest of your cycle – ignoring this draw towards rest and pushing through can leave us feeling tired and depleted all throughout our next cycle.

Activities to include at this time: Low energy activities. Rest, meditation, stretching and journalling.Foods to include at this time: Warm, well cooked and easily digestible foods – and make sure to include plenty of salt. Broths, soups, stews, roasted meats and veggies, congees and warming teas.

Our Inner Spring – The Follicular Phase (pre-ovulation)

Once our bleed ends, we move from Winter into our Inner Spring. In Chinese Medicine, this corresponds with the element of Wood (encompassing the Liver and Gallbladder), the colour green, and the waxing (growing) moon.

Think about what goes on during spring in the world – there are strong themes of growth, renewal, awakening, and new life. Our Inner Spring is no different. We start to move out of the period of hibernation, ready to return to life and work. In the external environment, plants are flowering, and (in cooler regions at least) leaves are growing back after the period of hibernation – gently stretching and growing toward the sun.

In our bodies, this is the time in which our bodies are producing more oestrogen, and dedicating energy to growing an egg in our ovaries. Now is the perfect time in your cycle to gently engage with your creativity – whether this is an artistic pursuit or simply creating ways to make your life easier – it will all come to you most easily during this phase.

Activities to include: exercise increasing in intensity – walks, hiking, yoga, jogging.

Foods to include: still keeping it warm and cooked, include some more green leafy veggies, mushrooms, sprouts, and maybe sour foods like lemon & pickles, if they tickle your fancy.

Our Inner Summer – The Ovulation Phase

During ovulation, we enter our Inner Summer. In Chinese Medicine, this corresponds with the element of Fire (encompassing the Heart and Pericardium), the colour red, and the full moon. This is most peoples’ favourite part of the cycle – we feel more energetic, and are likely to start engaging in more exercise and social activities. Internally, our oestrogen reaches peak levels, and a hormone called luteinising hormone also peaks to stimulate and ovary to release a mature egg. This is the time we are most vibrant and fertile, and most likely to have a better libido than at other times in our cycle. In fact, the whole environment is fertile – animals and plants alike are having babies and celebrating life during the summer months. We tend to feel more motivated and focussed, and like we can say “yes” to EVERYTHING – which can be a trap for the coming week/s, so be mindful of that!

If you’re finding that you’re not having this energy spike mid-cycle, cast your mind back to the beginning of your cycle – did you rest enough during menstruation, and take it easy during your pre-ovulation phase, or push through?

Activities to include: this is the time to be most active. If you enjoy a good HIIT workout, this is the time in your cycle to do it. This is also an excellent time to engage in activities your find fun – invite some play back into your life.

Foods to include: Now is the time to include some cooler foods – but only if it fits your constitution! If you’re not sure have a read of Dr Renee’s blog on digestion from a TCM perspective here. Green tea, mint tea, seasonal fruits, salad vegetables and seafood are great additions at this phase of your cycle (oysters strike me as a particularly good option, given their aphrodisiac effects…😉).

Autumn – Luteal Phase (The Pre-menstrual phase )

After ovulation, we enter our Inner Autumn. In Chinese Medicine, this corresponds with the element of Metal (encompassing the Lung and Large Intestine), the colour white, and the waning (declining) moon. This is most peoples’ LEAST favourite part of the cycle, as if we have neglected or stretched ourselves during any of the previous phases, this is when it shows up – in the form of unwanted symptoms such as fatigue, bloating, water retention, tender breasts, cramping, headaches, mood swings, food cravings, and other fun symptoms that we associate with PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome). It is also said that during our Inner Autumn is when our inner critic (and our outer critic at times, in my experience) comes out to play – this can be particularly challenging especially in conjunction with the other fun PMS symptoms.

Think about the physical changes in Autumn in the environment – everything starts to slow down again, the leaves come off the (deciduous) trees, and the world becomes a little darker and quieter. This can be reflected in our bodies in this pre-menstrual phase – in this phase, progesterone is our predominant hormone, which encourages us to slow right down. And it’s really important that we listen to those messages from our bodies – I acknowledge the difficulty of this in a world where we are expected to show up exactly the same (and as our energetic best) every day of the week, so just do what you can to rest when you can. Maybe this looks like scheduling a massage or acupuncture, taking a bath, or going for a walk alone.

Activities to include: more relaxing activities such as yoga, stretching, walking

Foods to include: warm, cooked foods like broths, soups and casseroles.

I get that this can all seem a little daunting at first – so I’d like to invite you to just notice how you feel during different parts of your cycle, first and foremost. After all, our own bodies are our best teachers.

If you’re interested in diving deeper into this subject, there is a whole book I can highly recommend on it – “Wild Power” by Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer & Alexandra Pope.

Until next time,

Dr Grace 

Dr Grace Jones

About the Author:
Dr. Grace Jones (BHSc.Acu) is the Director, principle acupuncturist and owner of Bloom Chinese Medicine, and has always been fascinated about the ways in which the body is able to heal itself, if given the right tools. This fascination (and total love of learning) led her to complete her studies in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine with honours. Learn more about Grace here.

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