Let it shine: Embracing inner summer aka the ovulatory phase

It’s been a while since I shared my experiences with menstrual cycle awareness practice and part of the reason is that it has become such a habit for me to live this way that I don’t consciously think about it as much as I used to. Menstrual cycle awareness is exactly that, living with a conscious awareness of your menstrual cycle. I’m not sure I really like the term but at least it does what it says on the tin. In their book Wild Power, Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Wurlizter use the term “Menstruality” which I also love as it brings in the elements of spirituality and mysticism which are directly tied to this practice.

Today I want to share about my experience with inner summer aka the ovulatory phase. Usually the second half of our cycle gets the most attention because PMS and difficult periods can be the most disruptive to our lives and therefore the luteal and menstrual phases are the ones we tend to focus on. Ovulation is usually forgotten about, until we decide we want to get pregnant and then it becomes the holy grail and something to be measured, analysed and hunted down. However, I think there is such a beauty in the ovulatory phase even for women like me who are not ready to have children yet, or those who have already passed this phase of life.

To begin with the science, ovulation is the process of releasing an egg from one of our ovaries. Ovulation itself can be considered as the main event of the menstrual cycle because if we do not ovulate, we do not menstruate. Yes, you can still experience a bleed during an an-ovulatory cycle but you will not be fertile and it is not considered to be a true period. To me, ovulation is the creative miracle of feminine energy and something to be celebrated. Ensuring healthy ovulation is an important part of my holistic health coaching practice as it brings so many benefits on all levels of our being: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

The ovulatory phase begins a few days before ovulation and lasts until a few days after. It can also be considered the “fertile window” for women practicing fertility awareness method as these are the days when we are most likely to get pregnant if we aren’t using contraception. At the beginning of the ovulatory phase, we are dominated by the hormone estrogen but we also experience spikes in Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinising Hormone (LH) which cause a mature egg to be released. Progesterone levels remain low until after ovulation as this hormone is released from the ovary at the site the egg was released.

Image credit: Hello Clue app

For me ovulation brings with it this sense of expansion and super-human capacities. In a good month, I can feel energised and radiant and like I can handle anything life throws at me. There is this almost fizzing creative energy where I feel inspired and have many ideas for creative projects, my business and life in general. It’s also a time when I feel most social which as an introvert I embrace whole-heartedly. Often I find being around other people exhausting and I need time to recharge afterwards but around ovulation my social capacity increases a lot! I feel like I have more energy for my close relationships and a greater capacity to put myself out there in challenging social situations.

It’s also a time when I feel my most physically attractive and confident. At this time of my cycle I love wearing clothes which feel feminine and taking the time for self-care routines which make me feel beautiful like taking time to style my hair or painting my nails. At other times in my cycle my self-care is more focused on the emotional level like meditation, journalling and relaxation. During ovulation I feel more liberated and comfortable in my body but there is also this sense of magnetism which I think runs even deeper than the physical level. I think as women we just have this energy during ovulation that attracts others, whether that is sexual partners, friends, work connections or even children.

Before I started to practice menstrual cycle awareness, I did notice these subtle differences but I didn’t understand what I was experiencing. I distinctly remember one week feeling on top of the world and the next feeling it come crashing down around me. I would wonder what was going wrong and point the finger of blame towards others or towards my own body. In reality the shifts we experience are perfectly natural and more gradual like a tide moving in and out throughout each month, the waxing and waning of the moon or the changing of the seasons. When we have present awareness and consciously go with this flow rather than fighting against it, life can be a truly beautiful experience.

Although awareness is always the best place to start, actually making lifestyle changes can be tough. One of the ongoing problems I have with this phase of my cycle is that I think that I can do it all. I start multiple projects at once and then either don’t finish them or burn myself out trying to finish what I started. I struggle to decide how to spend my energy, whether to focus on work or play. I fill up my diary for the next few weeks without realising that once my inner autumn aka pre-menstrual phase arrives I am more likely to want to chill at home with a book or spend time writing rather than going out dancing or hosting workshops. This is why using a period tracker app or calendar can be a useful tool because it helps you to think ahead and plan accordingly!

I find that channeling the increased energy of the ovulation phase into one or a few projects is the best way to feel fulfilled rather than overwhelmed by the end of the cycle. It can be extremely satisfying to see a creative project or a specific task through from start to finish over the course of the month. If we germinate ideas and set goals after our period and focus our energy throughout the cycle, we really can achieve great things. Just like we have this sense of closure and preparation for hibernation at the end of summer, it brings us a sense of fulfillment to tie up lose ends as we approach our next bleed and we can surrender to relaxation knowing that we have put our creative energy to good use.

If you are interested in learning more about living in sync with your menstrual cycle, take a look at my other posts in the menstrual cycle awareness category and definitely consider reading the book Wild Power which I recommend to all of my female health coaching clients. Discovering and syncing with this inner rhythm has helped me so much to understand and connect with my body, my feminine energy and nature itself. It’s something that is rarely talked about and we are not taught in school but yet it is a current that runs under the river of our lives and affects everything we do. Living in a female body comes with many challenges but I would never change it for the world.

Over to you…

Do you currently track your menstrual cycle? What is your experience of ovulation aka inner summer? Is it a time you are consciously aware of or would like to be in the future? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Like this post and follow my blog for more posts on nutrition and yoga for healthy, balanced hormones!

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified Public Health Nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and my specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after restrictive dieting. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

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Why (and how) women should approach health and fitness differently to men

Ladies, ever wondered why it seems so much easier for your boyfriend or husband to stick to a diet or fitness plan and get results? Why some weeks you are full of energy and others you hardly want to drag yourself out of bed? How you can go 2 weeks eating healthily then all of sudden all you want is chocolate and ice cream? If you’ve found yourself questioning whether you just have less motivation or your body just doesn’t function as well then you’re not alone. The answer is simple and something that we live every single day, often without even being aware of it. Can you guess?

IT’S

OUR

MENSTRUAL

CYCLE!

As women we are simply not the same from week to week. Our hormone levels are continuously shifting which has a huge impact on our energy levels, mood, cravings, sleep and so much more. This can make it hard for us to stick to a routine and often feel like a failure for being inconsistent. We can think of men as being like the sun and women more like the moon. The sun shines consistently day by day, sometimes there might be some clouds in the sky or even a huge storm that affects how brightly we see its rays but behind all of that it keeps on shining just the same. The moon however moves through it’s lunar cycle from the new or dark moon where the sky appears empty to the full moon where it shines big and bright.

The lunar cycle is such a good metaphor for our menstrual cycle. The new moon represents menstruation, the time of the month when we are much less energetic and physically need to rest. The full moon represents ovulation when our energy levels are at their peak and we are overflowing with creativity and physical energy. Don’t get me wrong though, just because the moon appears dark at the new moon, it doesn’t mean there is no light, the light is just on the other side so we don’t see it. This is the time when lots of inner work is being carried out including physical and mental healing and the seeds of inspiration for creative projects are being birthed.

Because for men, the hormonal shifts are much more subtle and occur mostly on a 24hr basis, they can more easily stick to a daily routine that works for them week in week out whereas us women have both our daily and monthly rhythms to take into account. Our bodies are also more sensitive to stress from working out or not eating enough food as they are constantly trying to maintain hormonal balance and fertility. We can choose to see this as a weakness or we can see it as a super power that we can work with. There are times of the month when our strength and stamina can feel unlimited and we can surprise ourselves with what we can achieve and there are other times when we can push ourselves through a grueling workout and actually cause ourselves more harm than good because our bodies have to rely on stress hormones and adrenal reserves to make it through.

Of course we all know this on some level but we often think of it as something we have to work against rather than work with. Often we feel like we are “normal” for a couple of weeks and then BAM our hormones come along to ruin everything and we fall off the wagon. But what if we became more aware of how our bodies change throughout the month and actually build this into our health and fitness plan? What a game changer that would be! No more beating yourself up because you got so hungry before your period that you ate a large bar of chocolate every day. No more dragging yourself through intense workouts on your bleeding says when your body is crying out for rest. Instead using self-awareness and self-compassion to create a health plan that truly works for you.

What could this cyclical approach to health and fitness look like? When it comes to nutrition, this would be truly trusting your body and allowing yourself to eat intuitively. This doesn’t mean allowing yourself to eat a large bar of chocolate every day because, “PMS”, but it does mean loosening up on the diet rules, understanding why those cravings might be there and making sure that you are well fed and nourished during the day. The quantities and types of foods you crave will likely change throughout your cycle and this is ok, in fact it is essential. Your metabolic rate and nutrient requirements shift with your hormones and so the foods that will support your body also change week to week.

The simple overall guideline for a healthy diet of eating mostly whole, unprocessed foods applies throughout the cycle but the amount of energy, macro-nutrients and the ratio of raw vs. cooked foods can definitely change. It’s much better to tune into your body to find what works for you, but if you’re struggling with getting started I did write a series of posts on how to eat for each of the phases of your menstrual cycle.

With fitness and exercise, again it is very individual. Some women need to fully rest during their period otherwise they will feel like they are dragging throughout the month ahead. Others, me included, need a bit of easy movement to help manage painful cramps. I’m sure there are some women who can exercise intensely during their period without any issues but I think this is the exception rather than the rule. If you do workout during your period, ask yourself whether you are doing it because you feel like you should or whether it is what your body is genuinely asking for. In general, during your period and the few days before it’s a good idea to at least slow down, decrease the intensity of your workouts and create space for some more restorative activities like yoga, stretching and gentle walking to help your body recover and restore energy.

On the other hand, the rising energy and stamina in the couple of weeks after your period (the follicular and ovulatory phases) are a great time to really get out there and move your body. This is a good time for more intense cardio workouts as you can get all of the benefits of getting your heart rate up and sweating without feeling totally drained. Movement can also be a great way to boost your mood and reduce PMS symptoms as you approach your period, but our energy levels tend to start to drop off towards the end of the pre-menstrual phase so it’s good to be aware of this and be prepared to take it easier without feeling guilty for not performing at your best.

In general it’s about understanding and accepting that as women we are not the same everyday and we can’t expect ourselves to show up, robot-like, in the same way every day. That is a recipe for disappointment, hormonal imbalance and burn out as I’ve learned the hard way!

Over to you

I hope you found this post interesting and it gives you a new perspective and understanding of why a traditional approach to health and fitness might not work perfectly for you as a woman. If you have any questions or want to share your experiences, let me know in the comments below! If you’re interested in health and wellness for women, follow along with my blog and please share to support my business!

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on your holistic health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer. My specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting but I also help anyone who is looking to improve their overall health and find the perfect balance for their body. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

Other posts you might like

Follicular phase recipes: Berry smoothie bowl

I know it’s so stereotypical for a health blogger to share a smoothie bowl recipe. At this moment there are over 2 million posts on Instagram with the hashtag #smoothiebowl. But hey.. they taste good and they can be a great healthy breakfast so why not! This recipe is great for the follicular phase (i.e. the week or so after your period) as it is light and hydrating and supports your natural fresh and vibrant energy during this time. It’s more of a summer recipe, especially if you live in a cold climate, but here in Greece the winters aren’t too harsh so I’m still enjoying cold breakfasts when I feel like it.

Ingredients

  • 200g frozen bananas (make sure they are ripe before you freeze for the best taste and texture)
  • 100g frozen raspberries
  • 1 cup milk or non-dairy alternative
  • 10g protein powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 1-2 tbsp pumpkin seeds to top

Instructions

Simply place all ingredients, except the pumpkin seeds, in a high speed blender until you get a thick creamy texture then serve in a bowl with the seeds sprinkled on top.

For any of you health nerds out there, I plugged the recipe into Chronometer so that you can see the nutritional value of the recipe. It has a good balance of carbs, protein and fat to keep your energy levels supported throughout the morning. Smoothies with only fruit can cause a blood sugar spike followed by a crash leaving you starving and irritable an hour or 2 later so it’s much better to add in some nuts or seeds and a milk which contains protein to slow down the release of the natural fruit sugars. The recipe does have 40g sugar but these are natural sugars from the fruit and milk, it’s much better to satisfy your sweet tooth in this way than over-doing it on processed sweet treats later in the day.

This recipe also provides half of your recommended daily intake of fibre, great for keeping your digestive system moving and flushing out any excess hormones such as estrogen during the follicular phase. Other highlights are the B vitamins which support a healthy metabolism and energy levels, vitamin C to support your immune system and detoxification processes. The milk and seeds also provide plenty of minerals including phosphorous and calcium to keep your bones and teeth strong and zinc and selenium to support healthy hormone production, ovulation and fertility.

The protein powder is optional but can be a good addition, especially if you are working out to help with performance and muscle recovery. I like the Sevenhills vanilla flavoured vegan protein powder but you can experiment and find one that you like. You can top your bowl with any seeds that you like. I chose pumpkin seeds for this recipe but flaxseeds or hemp seeds are also especially good for the follicular phase of your cycle. A method called “seed cycling” involves eating flax and pumpkin seeds in the first half of your cycle, from day 1 of your period until ovulation, and switching to sesame and sunflower seeds during the luteal phase. It’s not scientifically proven but it is an old remedy to help with hormone balance and if nothing else it is a fun way to mix things up and get a range of healthy fatty acids and nutrients throughout the month.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this recipe, let me know in the comments below if you try it out!

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more recipes and posts on nutrition, yoga and holistic health to support your menstrual cycle.
  • If you’re interested in reading more about nutrition and the menstrual cycle check out the posts linked below.
  • If you want to work with me to get healthy and balance your hormones, contact me for more information about the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer.

Other posts you might like

what to eat on your period - banana oat pancakes

Recipes for your period: Banana oat pancakes

As promised, here is the recipe for the banana oat pancakes I made on the first day of my period. I’m not much of one for complicated recipes so this one is simple and quick. I’m sure you can find many pancake recipes out there but this is one that worked for me. I love eating energy dense meals like this during my period as it helps me to get in plenty of nutrients without feeling too full and bloated. I also don’t have as much of an appetite during the first couple of days of my period (after being super hungry the days before!) so making tasty meals, especially with a bit of sweetness is perfect!

Ingredients

2 eggs**
2 small ripe bananas
1/2c oats
1/4c milk (or non-dairy alternative)
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch salt
1 tbsp coconut oil for cooking
Toppings of choice!

**To make the recipe vegan try replacing the eggs with 2 “chia eggs

what to eat on your period - banana oat pancakes

Instructions

  • Start by blending the oats on high speed into a flour (I used a nutri-bullet but any blender should do the trick)
  • Add the rests of the ingredients and blend for about 10 seconds until combined well
  • Let the mixture rest for about 10 minutes to thicken up
  • Heat approx. 1/2 tbsp coconut oil on a frying pan on medium heat
  • Pour the pancake mix into small circles on the surface of the pan, trying to keep them separate
  • Heat until bubbles start to appear on the surface of the pancakes
  • FLIP to the other side and cook for a few more minutes
  • Serve the pancakes and repeat with any remaining mixture (this batch did 2 pans of 3 pancakes each)

I topped mine with honey this time but you can do any combination you like. Chopped nuts or nut butter, tahini, chocolate syrup or fruit are all great options so experiment and find your favourites!

Over to you…

Let me know in the comments if you try this recipe and what your favourite toppings are!

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more recipes and posts on how to eat to support your menstrual cycle.
  • If you’re interested in reading more about nutrition and the menstrual cycle check out the posts linked below.
  • If you want to work with me to get healthy and balance your hormones, contact me for more information about the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer.

Other posts you might like

Yoga for during your period / Yoga for period cramps

Should you practice yoga during your period? Yes! Practicing yoga can be very supportive for women during menstruation. Yoga can help to relax the body and mind, reducing tension which can cause symptoms such as intense cramps, lower back pain and headaches during your period. However, I recommend taking a break from exercise for a few days during your period and this includes any intense yoga practice. If you normally practice a more active form of yoga such as vinyasa flow or ashtanga, I suggest taking a break for a few days. Instead, choose a more gentle, restorative yoga practice during your period, at least during your first couple of bleeding days or until your flow is less heavy. A yoga sequence for period cramps, such as the one in this article is a much better way to support your body during this time to relieve period cramps and help you to feel better.

Yoga poses to avoid during your period

As well as more intense yoga flows, you should also avoid strong standing poses, inversions and backbends during your period if you really want to support your body and it’s natural rhythms. These poses can be strenuous on the body and could leave you feeling more fatigued during this natural time of rest and rejuvenation. Standing poses and backbends require a lot of core activation and tension in the abdomen which can increase period cramps and pelvic pain during your period. Inversions such as headstands, shoulder stand and handstands can also interfere with the downward flow or apana energy associated with elimination of period blood so it’s better to avoid these poses for a few days and practice the yoga sequence for period cramps below instead if you want to feel your best during your period and throughout the rest of your menstrual cycle.

Yoga poses for period pain

There are certain yoga poses which help to relieve pain in the pelvis and lower back during your period. Yoga poses for period pain include forward bends, hip openers and supported reclining postures which all help to relax and open up the muscles which tend to hold tension causing painful period cramps and back ache during your period. The yoga for period cramps sequence below includes a combination of supported standing and seated forward folds, hip openers and reclined back bends which will help to relieve period cramps and lower back pain as well as encouraging your nervous system to relax and let go so you can feel a sense of calm and wellbeing during your period. Menstruation is a natural time to reflect and turn inwards and yoga can really help to experience this effect.

Practicing the restorative period yoga poses below regularly during menstruation can help to reduce pain and discomfort during menstruation and help you on your way to pain-free periods in future cycles. If you have problems such as irregular menstrual cycles or heavy menstrual blood flow, these period yoga poses can also help to regulate your menstrual cycle over time by toning the muscles within your pelvic bowl and improving blood flow to your reproductive organs.

What you will need:

  • Yoga mat, towel or blanket
  • Bolster or dense cushion (see here for how to make a DIY bolster out of rolled up towels)
  • Folded blanket or towel (optional)
  • Yoga blocks (optional)
  • A quiet space to practice where you won’t be disturbed

Explore the period yoga pose descriptions and photos below , then practice this yoga sequence for period cramps in your own time. You can hold each posture for between 1 and 5 minutes, depending on how much time you have for your yoga practice. To improve flexibility, longer holds are better as you can really relax into the poses and allow your deep muscles to open up in their own time. The final reclining pose I suggest taking a bit longer, maybe 5 or 10 minutes to rest and relax with your eyes closed.

Standing forward fold (Uttasana)

Standing forward folds help to relieve tension in the lower back, reduce period cramps and calm the nervous system. During your period, practice forward folds with the knees bent deeply so you can rest your chest on your knees or support yourself with your hands on the ground or head on a block for a more restorative posture. Focus on a long straight lower back as much as possible to avoid straining and really feel the stretching along the back of your legs and a release in your neck and upper spine.

Hip opening with butterfly pose (Baddha Konasana)

Tight hips can create tension in the abdomen leading to painful period cramps and back ache. Baddha konasana pose is one of my favourites to release the inner thighs and outer hip muscles. This is where you bring the soles of your feet together and allow your knees to open, creating a diamond shape between your legs. Practice with your hips raised by sitting on a folded blanket and rest your upper body on a bolster or dense cushion for a full body relaxation. Yogi squat is another great pose for increasing hip flexibility! Sit on a block or two in this pose if you have knee issues or you can’t quite access the full squat yet, don’t be afraid to lift the heels off the ground.

Seated wide angle pose (Upavistha Konasana)

Another great yoga pose for period pain is seated wide angle pose or seated wide leg forward fold. This pose opens and relaxes the pelvic floor muscles, supports a healthy menstrual flow and helps to relieve period cramps. To practice this pose, open your legs in a straddle position, as wide as comfortable to stretch the inner thigh muscles gently. Again, during your period I recommend using a bolster or cushion for support and focusing on relaxing into the pose rather than trying to force a deeper stretch.

Adding a side bend and forward fold over each leg helps to lengthen and release tension in the lower back during your period. Focus on keeping both hips grounded on the mat and feel the stretch all the way from your hip, through your side body to the tips of your fingers in one long line of energy. Again, use the cushion or bolster for support, taking the weight of your upper body so that you can relax and let go.

Supine bound angle pose (Supta baddha konasana)

My favourite restorative yoga pose for period cramps or painful periods in general is supine bound angle pose. Practice this pose leaning back on a bolster for the ultimate relaxation experience! This gentle chest opener replaces back bends and acts as a counter pose to all of the forward folds in this sequence. The legs are in the same diamond shape as in the seated version of the pose above. The bolster should be touching your sacrum so that your spine is fully supported. Play around with different heights of your bolster to find the most comfortable spot where you can relax for 5 to 10 minutes at the end of your practice.

You can experiment with different arm variations to find what feels good, either arms outstretched at shoulder height or resting on your lower belly. You can even try out variations of yoni mudra in this position (as demonstrated by Ancient Yoga in the video below) as a gesture of connection with your womb and creative centre.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoy practicing this sequence of yoga for period cramps. Let me know if you give it a go and how you feel afterwards. Please like this post and follow my blog if you want more yoga sequences for support throughout your menstrual cycle. You can find a follow along version of this sequence on my Youtube channel Moon Life Yoga.

Other posts you might like

Sources

The Women’s Yoga Book (2011) by Bobby Clennell
Yoni Shatki (2014) by Uma Dinsmore Tuli
My BWY teacher training instructor the lovely Emma Lloyd

Inversions and the menstrual cycle

Today I am on day 9 of my menstrual cycle. I finished bleeding on day 5 so I am now into the follicular phase or “inner spring” of my cycle. For the last few days my yoga practice has included lots of inversions which is an amazing way to rebalance the body after your period.

What exactly are inversions? Inversions are any yoga pose where your hips are lifted higher than your head. This includes bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), downward facing dog (Ardo Mukha Svanasana) and more advanced asana such as plough (halasana), headstand (Sirsasana) and shoulderstand (Savangasana). There are also supported versions of these poses using yoga blocks, bolsters or a wall to make the postures more accessible for beginners or for days when you just need that extra bit of support.

Why are inversions beneficial for the body? Inverting the body boosts blood flow to the head, bringing fresh oxygen and nutrients into the brain. This promotes optimal function of the thyroid, parathyroid, pineal and pituitary glands and helps to balance and strengthen the entire hormonal system. Inversions also counter-act the effects of gravity on the body which can have anti-aging effects and prevent varicose veins forming in the legs by improving flow of blood and lymph. They improve circulation throughout the body, relieving fatigue and improving digestion and elimination. When practiced with presence and focus, inversions can super charge the brain, eliminating fatigue and nervous exhaustion and bringing a sense of stillness and peace. Including inversions as part of an evening yoga practice helps to calm the mind, reducing stress and promote restful sleep.

What are the pre-cautions for inversions?

  • You shouldn’t practice inversions during menstruation (aka the bleeding days of your cycle). This is because it disrupts the natural downwards flow of energy or “apana” in the pelvis and lower abdomen which promotes elimination of blood from the body. Practicing inversions during your period can cause backflow of blood into the uterus which can increase the risk of endometriosis. This is questioned by modern science but in my opinion it is safer to go with the natural flow of your body and not take the risk.
  • Do not practice inversions such as headstand or shoulderstand if you have neck injuries or eye/sinus issues such as a detached retina or ear infection as you are putting excess strain on these areas. You should always listen to your body and if you want to include inversions in your practice you can choose alternatives such as downward facing dog, bridge pose or legs up the wall (I always recommend this one for any severe condition) which still bring most of the benefits of the more advanced postures.
  • I do not recommend inversions if you have a headache, nausea or diarrhoea. These poses can help to balance the body and act as a preventative but if you are actively suffering from any of these issues you should wait until you feel better before practicing any strenuous yoga and particularly inverted poses.
  • Finally, you should always make sure you warm up the body properly and practice preparation poses to allow the body to open up before moving into more advanced postures. Always listen to your body, be kind and work within your limits, challenging your body to improve over time but without forcing and risking injury.

When is the best time in the cycle to practice inversions? Inversions can be practiced any time during the menstrual cycle except during your period. For maximum benefits, your yoga practice in the few days after you finish bleeding should be focused on inverted postures. This will stabilise and rebalance your bodily systems and help the nervous system recover from menstruation. It will boost circulation around your reproductive organs, support relaxation of your womb after it has been working hard, contracting to release blood during your period. Inverting the body during this time will also stimulate the pituitary gland which controls the release of FSH (the hormone responsible for maturing eggs in your ovaries) and after several consecutive cycles can help to regularise your cycle and support fertility. You can then include inversions as part of a balanced yoga practice throughout the month to improve strength and flexibility in the body and mind.

Example sequence including inversions (for intermediate students)

Opening sequence: Warming up and awakening the body

  • Extended child’s pose (30 seconds)
  • Cat cow tilts (explore for 1 minute)
  • Downward facing dog (30-60 seconds)
  • Standing forward fold (1-2 minutes)

Main sequence: Supporting menstrual rhythm

  • Supported headstand using wall (1-5 minutes)
  • Supported headstand – Wide legs variation (10-20 seconds)
  • Supported headstand – Butterfly legs variation (10-20 seconds)
  • Extended child’s pose (30 seconds)

Finishing sequence: Recover and calm the mind

  • Bridge pose with arm variations (1-2 minutes)
  • Plough pose (1-3 minutes)
  • Supported shoulderstand (1-3 minutes)
  • Legs up the wall and wide leg variation (5 minutes)
  • Reclining butterfly pose (1-5 minutes)

In the video below I summarise the information on inversions and the menstrual cycle and demonstrate the sequence above. Let me know if you try out any of these postures or if you are already including inversions in your yoga practice and noticing the benefits. If you are interested in 1-2-1 or group yoga sessions (currently online only) you can send me a message through the “Work with Me” tab at the top of this page ♥️

References
The Women’s Yoga Book by Bobby Clennell (2011)
Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness by Eric Schiffmann (1996)
Yoga Sequencing: Designing Transformative Yoga Classes by Mark Stephens (2012)

Yoga and the menstrual cycle / Yoga for women

Today I decided to post my first video on Youtube – eek! I really wanted to share how yoga can benefit women and how we can modify our practice to align with our hormonal cycles. I’m not very confident with speaking in front of a camera but I’m sure that will improve with time and I hope you enjoy the video anyway. I have summarised the main points underneath the video too for anyone who wants the short version.

There are so many benefits of yoga on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level. For example yoga:

  • Increases strength and flexibility of muscles and joints
  • Strengthens bones to reduce risk of osteoporosis
  • Reduces tension from the physical, mental and emotional bodies
  • Calms the nervous system and the mind
  • Boosts mood and reduces anxiety and depression
  • Helps to connect with something larger than yourself through meditation

Practicing specific yoga asana and pranayama throughout the different phases of the menstrual cycle can also help women specifically by:

  • Regulating cycles or bringing back a missing cycle
  • Normalising menstrual blood flow
  • Reducing pain in the pelvis, lower back and thighs during menstruation
  • Creating emotional and mental stability especially during the pre-menstrual phase
  • Reconnecting with feminine nature and yin energy
  • Boosting creative and sexual energies

There are 4 main phases of the hormonal cycle to be aware of which can be referred to as the “inner seasons”.

Menstruation (inner winter) – A time to rest and recharge. Focus on gentle yin and restorative postures and meditation rather than intense standing poses or dynamic sequences. Use props to support the body and conserve energy. Avoid standing backbends and inversions (where the hips are raised higher than the head) as well as intense pranayama. Focus on abdominal or yogic breathing instead

Follicular (inner spring) – Time to rebalance the body. Bring in some inversions in the days following your period. Pay attention to your energy levels and start to increase the intensity of your practice as you move through this phase. Include flowing vinyasa sequences if you have this in your practice and enjoy moving your body more dynamically.

Ovulation (inner summer) – Focus on building strength in the body. Now is the time to experiment with more challenges asana to find your edge and increase fitness and flexibility. Use pranayama breathing exercises to calm down the nervous system if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or frazzled by this high intensity phases.

Pre-menstrual (inner autumn) – Time to slow down again. Notice when your body sends the signal that it needs more rest and adjust your practice accordingly. Towards the end of this phase start to shift the balance of your practice towards more seated and lying postures, in particular the few days before you start your period. Make sure to reconnect with your meditation and pranayama practice if you have been distracted during the busier first half of the cycle

Masculine vs. feminine approach to yoga

Yoga means something different to everyone. There are so many lineages, teaching styles and practices to choose from that one person can have a completely different experience to the next. Now there is the debate about “modern yoga” and whether it fully reflects the depths of the ancient yoga teachings but this isn’t what I want to talk about today. I want to open up a conversation about masculine and feminine approaches to yoga. Credit to Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, author of Yoni Shakti, for sparking my thinking about this topic.

The history of yoga in the East began in a very masculine way. Only priests known as Brahmans were allowed to teach yoga and this was only to males from higher caste families. It was only later that the Upanishads enabled lower classes and women to access the teachings of yoga. Nowadays, at least in Western yoga, it is a completely different story with the majority of yoga teachers and practitioners being women. I know from my own experience, the classes I have attended have been 90% female and the two yoga teacher trainings I have been a part of have been all women expect 1 token male in each (shout out to Mark and Phil if you’re reading).

Masculine approach to yoga

Why does yoga mostly attract us women? In my opinion yoga is the perfect antedote to the very masculine world we live in today. Often we have to “man up” and push ourselves to make it in the male dominated society that we live in. Most women work these days and the typical jobs where we are expected to show up and perform at our best each and every day is totally against the cyclical nature of our beings. But a yoga practice can be that space in our lives where we can totally let go of the pressures of life and be ourselves. Practicing yoga regularly is great for our physical health and vitality but also helps to meet our mental, emotional and spiritual needs. Yoga classes can also provide that feeling of community and support that is so important to our wellbeing.

But even with this new wave of women in yoga there are still masculine undertones in certain types of practice. Traditionally, yoga schools are hierarchical in structure with gurus acquiring followings of students who dedicated themselves to moving along the yogic path. Examples that are common today in the West are Iyengar, Bikram and Ashtanga yoga, both highly demanding physical practices although in different ways. Why is this a masculine approach? Well often these practices are very rigid. They teach a specific practice and often other forms of yoga are disregarded as “not real yoga”. The practice is goal orientated, trying to achieve a specific posture or state of mind. Ashtanga and Bikram yoga in particular also follow a fixed sequence of postures making the practice more repetitive and less intuitive.

In terms of yogasana there are “perfect postures” with the thought being that every body can get there in the end with enough dedication and persistence. This can be seen in the meticulous way that Iyengar teaches alignment in poses with props and similarly Ashtanga yoga is a very strict practice where the same sequence of poses is practiced each time, working towards more advanced postures. Now I am not criticising either of these yoga practices. They have huge benefits, enabling the practitioner to open up physically, emotionally, energetically, mentally and spiritually. However, the strict nature of these practices leaves little room for individuality and listening to the body. The practices are designed by men, for men and therefore do not take into account the cyclical nature of the female body.

So what  does a feminine approach to yoga look like? There are many types of yoga available today which specifically incorporate the softer, graceful, intuitive aspects of feminine energy including Yin yoga and Shakti yoga. But the key point is encouraging students to use their practice to become aware of the rhythm and cycles of their bodies. Instead of forcing the same practice, allowing some space for the body to speak about what it needs. This could look like adapting the practice based on where she is in her menstrual cycle or in the cycle of life, whether it be motherhood, pregnancy or menopause. This could still include yoga practice based on traditional teachings but also incorporating less conventional practice to compliment this.

When it comes to asana practice, feminine yoga also opens up to enable variations on the “traditional” postures which better suit the body. Whether this is bringing softer, more graceful energy into the poses rather than an angular, straight lines or modifying poses to allow for our curvier female bodies that have bellies and breasts to consider. Pranayama and meditation practice can also be adapted to match the different energetic and emotional states women experience with the tides of hormones in their bodies. Particularly around menstruation, women can access levels of spiritual connection almost effortlessly when practicing menstrual cycle awareness throughout their cycle.

The majority of the yoga teachers I have learnt from have been women, and conversely to India it is true that the vast majority of yoga teachers in the West are female, however I have had a couple of male teachers too. I respect and admire both but there was definitely a different energy about the practice. I love to feel that nurturing, motherly energy when I am in a yoga class so that I feel safe to fully let go and feel deeply during the practice. The classes I have been to with male teachers have felt more structured and masculine energy compared to the more flowing feminine energy. Of course that’s not to say all male yogis teach this way, it’s just been my experience so far.

Right now I try to take aspects from each and change up my practice throughout the month, both in classes and at home, to suit where I am at in my cycle. I really want to start a teaching a yoga class where I can incorporate this cyclical aspect to the practice and help women connect with their bodies and cycles through their yoga practice. Developing this idea is my intention for this month, I’m not sure yet how it will look but I’m planting the seed that will hopefully grow into a beautiful creation I can share with other women over the next weeks. Its the new moon today and I am also embarking on a new chapter of life, moving to a new country so it’s the perfect time.

If you’re interested in this you can follow my blog here or find me on Facebook @moonlifeyoga where I’ll post once I set up the yoga sessions (online only for now).

what to eat before your period - whole grains

What to eat during the luteal phase (pre-menstrual phase)

The pre-menstrual phase, the days before our period, is often the most tricky for us women. It’s when we are more likely to have symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, mood swings and definitely.. CRAVINGS. Choosing the right diet to support your body during the pre-menstrual phase can go a long way to reducing annoying PMS symptoms and helping you to sail through these dreaded days with ease.

What is the luteal phase?

The luteal or pre-menstrual phase is the after ovulation and before your period starts. During this time progesterone is the dominant hormone which is important to maintain the thick lining of your womb and support a potential pregnancy. Progesterone has a calming affect on the brain which is why you might notice lower energy and a more chilled out mood during this phase compared to earlier in your cycle. If you don’t get pregnant, progesterone production falls rapidly towards the end of the luteal phase and this is what triggers shedding of your womb lining (i.e. your period) and can also lead to those dreaded PMS symptoms such as irritability, anxiety and cravings.

What is the PMS diet? The pre-menstrual phase diet

The pre-menstrual phase diet is designed to help you:

  • Stabilise your blood sugar to maintain healthy hormone balance
  • Reduce cravings, especially for sweet foods
  • Provide your body with minerals to build the blood
  • Reduce bloating and water retention
  • Support a calm, relaxed mental state

So how can we eat to satisfy our hunger and support our body with the energy and nutrients it needs during this time? I’ll start by saying there is no perfect one-size-fits-all diet for anyone. We all have different needs, health history, culture, tastes and ethics. But there are certain principles to apply which can help us hugely with maintaining our health during this part of our cycle which I will explain throughout this article.

How much should I eat during the luteal phase? Why am I more hungry before my period?

Our metabolism naturally raises slightly after ovulation During the pre-menstrual phase of our cycle we burn up to 10% more calories therefore we need to fuel ourselves properly. If we don’t eat enough, our bodies can start to crave sweet or fatty processed foods as a way to get us to eat more and give it the calories it needs – sneaky! The pre-menstrual phase is not the best time to start a new restrictive diet. Maybe we can get away with this during the early phases of our cycle (although I never recommend it) but it’s especially important to provide our bodies with enough energy and nutrients at this time.

If you are trying to lose weight, I recommend cycling your calories throughout the month by eating less during the follicular and ovulatory phases and increasing your calories during the pre-menstrual phase. You mind find that you are less hungry in the start of your cycle and that it feels natural to eat this way. Even if you are eating the same amount of food throughout your cycle, focusing on the foods and cooking methods I recommend for each phase of the cycle will automatically have this calorie cycling effect as we focus on lighter foods during the follicular and ovulatory phases of your cycle and more energy dense foods in the luteal and menstrual phases. Working with your body in this way, rather than against it, can help to avoid binge eating and “falling off the diet wagon”.

What should you eat during the luteal phase? Carbs, fats, proteins?

During the pre-menstrual phase it is important to include sources of complex carbohydrates in your diet. Getting plenty of foods such as wholegrains, root vegetables and legumes can help to sustain our blood sugar and energy levels and reduce cravings for sweets. We want to try to stabilize our blood sugar as much as possible during this phase and combining complex carbs with fibre from veggies is a great way to do this. Unstable blood sugar sets off a cascade in the body leading to hormonal chaos – think acne, mood swings and fatigue!

When we are craving something sweet, fruit is a great option. Especially sweet fruits such as apples, pears, dates and raisins. You can also pair fruits with vegetables or nuts/seeds to slow down the release of these natural sugars into the bloodstream even further. Even some proponents of extremely low-carb diets such as keto recommend that women need to make adjustments to avoid hormonal imbalances by carb-cycling and consuming more carbohydrates at this time of the month.

Fats and proteins are also important during this time, to provide additional minerals and to build the blood. If you eat animal products, the days before your period are a good time to eat a bit of red meat, especially beef. Oily fish like salmon or sardines are also great to provide a source of anti-inflammatory omega-3s. For veggies and vegans, chickpeas with tahini such as in hummus is a perfect combo to add protein and fat to your meals.

Dark leafy greens are another great way to boost your iron, magnesium and calcium which can help to reduce cramps and bloating towards the end of the luteal phase. These vegetables also provide B vitamins which support a healthy metabolism and fertility. Especially vitamin B6 which helps to support healthy progesterone levels, great if you are trying to lengthen your luteal phase. Just 100g or a half cup cooked dark leafy greens provides 10% of your daily B6 requirements!

What foods should you eat during the luteal phase? Best foods for PMS?

  • Root veggies – potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, squash
  • Grains – whole grains such as oats, rice, bread, pasta
  • Proteins – red meat, oily fish, chickpeas, navy beans
  • Sweet fruits – apples, pears, dates, raisins
  • Veggies – cooked dark leafy greens e.g. kale, collard greens, spinach, chard
  • Seeds and nuts – sesame (tahini), sunflower, hemp, walnuts

You can create super satisfying and healthy meals by combining these with a variety of veggies of your choice, a source of animal or plant-based protein such as meat, fish or beans and a small amount of fat from high quality olive/coconut oil, nuts or seeds.

How should I cook during the luteal phase of my cycle?

Depending on your system, you might find it better to eat less raw food during this time and opt for more comforting cooking methods such as baking or roasting. This can be especially useful for anyone who struggles with digestive issues such as gas and bloating during the luteal phase. It’s quite common as progesterone can lead to slowing down of the digestive process leading to constipation and in some case heartburn. You might find that a grazing style eating i.e. little and often feels better in your body than big meals. Watching your salt intake can also help to reduce symptoms of fluid retention such as bloating and swollen breasts, although there is no need to cut it out altogether. Drinking peppermint tea is also a great option to reduce bloating and digestive discomfort.

Foods to avoid in the pre-menstrual phase?

In the days before our period, it’s better to avoid alcohol and caffeine such as black tea and coffee wherever possible as they can stress out our system and affect our sleep at a time when rest and relaxation is most needed. For anyone prone to PMS this is especially important as both alcohol and caffeine can worsen symptoms such as headaches, anxiety and mood swings. Same goes for sugar, eating some chocolate or sweets now and again is unlikely to do much harm but indulging our sugar cravings too much can send us on a blood sugar roller coaster. It might seem harmless but if you struggle with severe PMS, irregular periods or any other hormonal imbalance I’d strongly recommend to make sure you are eating plenty of fruit and starches, especially during the pre-menstrual phase of your cycle.

If you do consume these things, try keeping a journal to see how they affect you at different parts of your cycle and you might be surprised. I know sometimes I am caught off guard with this if I’m not paying attention to my cycle day and end up completely frazzled after 1 coffee.. eek! Switching to green tea is a great option during the pre-menstrual phase. Or if you crave chocolate during this time, a warming hot chocolate can be a good way to satisfy your cravings and get a little caffeine boost without over doing it.

Summary of nutrition tips for the pre-menstrual phase

  • Make sure you are eating enough to meet your bodies energy needs
  • Consume plenty of complex carbs e.g. root veggies and whole grains
  • Replace sugary snacks with sweet fruits such as bananas, apples and dates
  • Consume more cooked vegetables to help with digestion
  • Reduce salt intake if you struggle with bloating or water retention
  • Cut down or avoid alcohol and caffeine

Over to you…

I hope you found this article helpful in learning how to eat to minimise PMS and feel better during your pre-menstrual phase.

I hope you found this article helpful to learn how to nourish your body and feel better during your pre-menstrual phase! If you’re interested in reading more about nutrition and the menstrual cycle check out the posts linked below. Like this post and follow my blog for more recipes and posts on how to eat to support your menstrual cycle.

  • Tell me in the comments below what are your favourite foods or meals to eat during this part of your cycle?
  • If you want to work with me to get healthy and balance your hormones, contact me for more information about the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer.

Other posts you might like

Sources

Krishnan S., Tryon R., et al. 2016. Estradiol, SHBG and leptin interplay with food craving and intake across the menstrual cycle. Physiology & Behavior. 165

Soheila S.,  Faezeh K, et al. 2016. Effects of vitamin B6 on premenstrual syndrome: A systematic review and meta-Analysis. Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences. 9 (3).

Behboudi-Gandevani S., Hariri F. & Moghaddam-Banaem, M. 2018. The effect of omega 3 fatty acid supplementation on premenstrual syndrome and health-related quality of life: a randomized clinical trial. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology. 39:4, 

The pre-menstrual power of losing it

Right now I am in my pre-menstrual phase and I have been struggling a lot with difficult emotions. I am feeling unsettled, sad, angry, lost and confused. Luckily because I track my cycle I know that this is the time of the month when things like this are most likely come up. As women we are so good at hiding how we really feel and getting on with things, often trying to keep others happy at the expense of our own wellbeing. This ability to override our darkest emotions is much stronger in the first half of our cycle when estrogen is high. And it’s not like its a conscious decision, our bodies do this automatically so we can actually experience it as feeling fine one week and then crazy the next.

losing it

So what should we do when these feelings come up shake our sense of self? It can be tempting to squash the feelings down through distraction or coping mechanisms such as emotional eating or to dismiss them as PMS or just “being hormonal”. But if we take the time to listen we can really learn something about how we feel about our lives and use it to make positive changes. Something I have been trying to do is to sit in the stew of emotions, just letting myself feel whatever comes up without judging or trying to change things. If I am feeling depressed one day letting that be and not using any of the “make yourself happy” techniques like fake positive affirmations which never really worked for me anyway. Every emotion is valid and is just a signal from your body trying to tell you something.

Another GREAT thing to do is just allow yourself to lose it. Some women, myself included, tend to be pretty controlled with their emotions on a daily basis. At work, many of us are in male-dominated environment and we don’t want to come across as weak or over-emotional. At home, we don’t want to offend or upset our partners or families with our anger or sadness. But actually letting go of control and just letting it all out is exactly what we need. Its better to do it consciously rather than being hit by an emotional outburst out of the blue. Scream, shout, cry, punch a pillow, dance like crazy.. anything to get that energy moving up and out of your body. Maybe you feel embarrassed and don’t want to look stupid? Some of my favourites are screaming as loud as I can whilst driving on the motorway, letting myself lie down and cry even if I don’t know exactly why I am crying and putting on music and just shaking my body.

If you aren’t comfortable with any of these try writing it out in a journal or making a video-diary but honestly I think the physical aspect is super important. When put our emotions to one side, they don’t go away but stay in our bodies as tension and stress. Eventually we have to release them otherwise we will manifest sickness and disease. Many conditions that are common today are influenced by chronic stress as a factor including diabetes, fatigue and auto-immune conditions (which affect women much more than men!). Our cycle provides us with the pre-menstrual phase as the perfect time to have this energy release so that we can go into the deep resting and healing menstrual phase with a clean slate.

So try it out if you’re interested. If you are tracking your cycle then from day 21-28 (or around a week before your period is due to start if your cycle is less/more than 28 days) create some free time in your schedule to just do nothing and see what comes up emotionally. If this is the first time you are doing this don’t be surprised to feel some pretty intense emotions. Sometimes tension can be stored deep in the body for a long time and it can be overwhelming to have a wave of old emotions hit you. But trust that if you practice this monthly ritual of processing and releasing what has come up that cycle then it will become much easier over time and will become something to look forward to as you shed what is no longer serving you and create space for new energy to come in.