Hormones play a large role in our overall well-being, and for people who menstruate there are ways to support the body through the different phases each month. Most of us aren’t familiar with the natural hormone phases associated with the menstrual cycle and how they are designed to change over time.
Learning how to skillfully ride the predictable, normal hormonal waves leads not only to greater comfort but also to better health. To get there, one needs a basic understanding of the hormone cycle and how to support the mind and body through each phase.
Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle 101
More and more people are starting to care about how to feel better and age well. We are curious about how to eat, how to get better sleep, and how to reduce stress for longevity and a good life. As we get older, people who menstruate would do well to learn about the hormone cycles and how they affect mood, energy, and the aging process.
The sooner we understand hormones and get familiar with how we feel in each phase of the menstrual cycle, the better informed we will be to support ourselves in the moment and over time as natural hormonal changes occur.
In her book, Hormone Intelligence: The Complete Guide to Calming Hormone Chaos and Restoring Your Body’s Natural Blueprint for Well-Being, Yale-trained, board-certified family physician and women’s health expert Aviva Romm, MD, shares the ancient blueprint that is meant to orchestrate our hormones.
Explaining life cycles, Romm lays out the arc that begins in puberty, carries on into the twenties and thirties, might shift a bit in the late thirties and forties, and shifts greatly in the mid-to-late forties and early fifties during perimenopause.
Hormones regulate so much, including:
- Sexual function
- Metabolism (which determines weight, energy levels), and more.
Romm explains that the menstrual cycle is so significantly intertwined with our lifelong health that it can be used as “our sixth vital sign, after temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and pain.”
The menstrual cycle begins with menstruation, the shedding of the uterine lining. In this phase, the hormones estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest. While it’s normal to feel mild signs in the body to signal that the period is about to begin, pain is not normal. Expect to feel low energy during this time.
During the second phase, the follicular phase, estrogen is dominant, progesterone begins to rise, increasing energy levels, sexual drive, and mental clarity.
The third phase is ovulation, usually midcycle. It leads into the beginning of the fourth phase, the luteal phase. During the start of the luteal phase you can feel energized, enjoy optimal sleep, and feel mightily productive. These feelings start to decline toward the end of this phase, leading to the first phase of the cycle again: menstruation, when energy drops to its lowest.
Over time, as you get to know how your own body feels and what it craves in each phase, you will be able to ride the waves in greater harmony and provide support for yourself. Of course, always reach out to your physician if anything concerns you or feels different than it did before.
Checking In with Your Body
It’s normal to have energy highs and lows during the cycle and to notice mild signs before your period starts. In order to become familiar with what precisely happens for you, checking in with yourself on a regular basis is the best way to recognize your needs.
Here are some ways to check in:
- Journal. Take time to write out how you feel, physically, emotionally, mentally, and energetically in the page of a notebook or journal. Have compassion for yourself wherever you are during the cycle, and follow practices that will support you (see the next section for suggestions).
- Meditate. Set aside time to meditate either in silence or guided by the Chopra app. During meditation before the mind and body feel still and quiet, you will notice how you feel. You will notice if your energy feels low and weary or if you are feeling amped up and wanting to get on with the day.
- Do a body scan. Sit up tall and comfortably. Take a few deep breaths. Relax. Then, scan your body with your awareness and notice what you feel without judging the experience. Notice sensations, and invite the body to relax. If you scan from head to toe as a daily practice you will strengthen general body awareness.
- Have a cup of tea. Make yourself a cup of tea and sip it slowly staying present. As you relax and enjoy the tea, take time to notice how you are feeling, body, mind, and spirit.
Becoming aware of the attributes of each phase of the menstrual hormonal cycle and noticing how you feel during each one will help you know which practices can help you remain in balance. Being in balance can help periods stay on track and keep hormones cycling normally.
In The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies, Vasant Lad, BAMS, MASc offers preventative advice for menstrual problems. His advice includes:
- Take one tablespoon of aloe vera gel three times a day for the week preceding your period to prevent menstrual pain and discomfort.
- Throughout the month, follow the dietary guidelines for your constitutional type.
- Each day of the month, spend a few moments on key yoga postures for your type, except during the menstrual period. During that time, Lad recommends resting, reading, and relaxing as much as possible.
In his book, Lad also explains the types of experiences that are associated with each dosha and the corresponding remedies if you want to go deeper into the Ayurvedic approach.
Hopefully, this introduction to the hormonal changes associated with the menstrual cycle serves as a jumping-off point for you to look further into this fascinating aspect of being human. As you dive deeper into the Ayurvedic wisdom and western medical approaches for balance and health, you will gain a deeper understanding of yourself and what you are going through during the different seasons of your life.
Through this expanded knowledge, you can experience greater ease throughout your cycle, adjust the fullness of your schedule according to the different phases, and have compassion for what others are going through, too.