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 with anyone else who might be interested. I’ll be making a post soon on my top book recommendations for learning more about synching with your menstrual cycle so watch out for that too.

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hypothalamic amenorrhea

Real health #20 Why your period is so important for your health

It’s been a while since I talked about my favourite topic.. the menstrual cycle aka your period. Specifically why your period is important for your overall health and the problems associated with not having a regular menstrual cycle. Any guys out there, maybe this isn’t the article for you but feel free to read on and you could just learn something to help the ladies in your life!

We usually think of our menstrual cycle as two phases: bleeding and not bleeding. In reality it is a menstrual cycle with levels of several reproductive hormones shifting throughout the month. The amount of these hormones your body produces is sensitive to stress, including both physical stress from under-eating and over-exercising and mental and emotional stress. When you lose your period because something is off in your lifestyle is it called Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA). I wrote all about this in a previous post so you can check that out if you are interested in learning more. But here I want to focus on the problems that come with not having your period.

The problems with not having a period

The most obvious reason to have a regular, healthy period is of course your fertility. The whole point of your menstrual cycle is to prepare your body for pregnancy and allow you to have a baby. If you don’t have your period, it’s very unlikely you are going to be able to get pregnant. But what if you have decided you don’t want children or you’ve already had children? It’s still important for you to have your period too! I spent many years believing it was “fine” that I didn’t have my period and it was actually pretty convenient to be honest, not to have to buy tampons, worry about getting pregnant or have my period ruining my plans but once I found out what it means to not have a period and how unhealthy it is for your body I was shocked and I wished I’d been told sooner.

One of the key hormones that drives your menstrual cycle is estrogen. Apart from it’s role in your menstrual cycle, did you know that estrogen also helps to build your bones? When women enter the menopause and stop producing estrogen they start to lose bone mineral density and are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis or brittle bones. Not having a regular period is a sign that your hormone balance is off and estrogen levels could be low. Girls who don’t have their period due to hypothalamic amenorrhea during their teenage years are at risk of developing early onset osteopenia which can lead to osteoporosis if not treated. This might not mean much when you are young but trust me, you want to make sure you are building strong bones while you can! And don’t forget that your if your bones are losing minerals then it’s highly likely that your teeth are suffering too putting you at increased risk of cavities and teeth sensitivity. Who thought that periods and teeth were related??

Another surprising link is between hypothalamic amenorrhea and heart disease. Estrogen has an anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory effect in the body and also acts as a vasodilator meaning it causes your blood vessels to expand and low levels of estrogen have been linked with an increased risk of developing heart disease. Even though most of the research is in post-menopausal women, there have also been studies linking low estrogen levels in younger women with build up of plaque in the arteries and increased risk of heart disease in later life. And yes this is even for those who exercise! You might think you are being super healthy and boosting your cardio-vascular system but if you are exercising excessively and you have lost your period then you are undoing all of that hard work. Another thing I wish I’d known about sooner..

Other problems with hypothalamic amenorrhea

Not only does hypothalamic amenorrhea put you at risk for issues later in life, it can also cause problems in the here and now. Low estrogen can also be the explanation for fatigue, headaches, low sex drive, vaginal dryness, anxiety, depression and insomnia just to name a few. And as well as your reproductive hormones, not having your period could be a sign that other things are off in your body. We often think of our body systems acting in isolation but in reality, all of these things are connected and if one falls down it can have a domino effect throughout your body.

Often women with hypothalamic amenorrhea have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol which also has been associated with bone loss as well as anxiety, insomnia and lower thyroid hormones. In hypothalamic amenorrhea, your metabolism is suppressed which could explain symptoms of hypo-thyroidism such as feeling cold all of the time, hair loss and low energy levels. Many women who develop hypothalamic amenorrhea due to restricting their food intake also experience digestive problems like bloating, stomach pain, constipation and food intolerances. If you don’t have your period and you feel like you are constantly struggling with digestive issues, then maybe the two could be related.

What should you do if you’ve lost your period?

So if you have made it to the end of this post, well done and I hope I didn’t scare you too much. If this is you, don’t worry, now you know you can do something about it! First you can read my blog posts about hypothalamic amenorrhea, how to recover and my recovery story. I’d also recommend buying the book No Period Now What by Nicola Rinaldi if you want an in depth explanation of all things hypothalamic amenorrhea related. If you need that final push to commit to getting your period back, definitely buy her book. If you think you have hypothalamic amenorrhea, visit your GP to get your hormone levels checked and Nicola also offers blood test results analysis through her website if you’re unsure. Three steps you can take right now:

  1. Eat more food and let go of any dietary rules and restrictions
  2. Take a break from intense exercise for at least a month
  3. Reduce the stress in your life and add more stress relieving activities

Easier said than done I know, but I believe in you! It’s never too late to recover your period and undo at least some of the damage to your body from hypothalamic amenorrhea. Recovery is challenging but so worth it.

References

Emma O’Donnell, Jack M. Goodman, Paula J. Harvey, Cardiovascular Consequences of Ovarian Disruption: A Focus on Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea in Physically Active Women, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 96, Issue 12, 1 December 2011, Pages 3638–3648, https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2011-1223

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article on why it’s important to have your period and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences, I’d love to hear from you.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

Shufelt, C. L., Torbati, T., & Dutra, E. (2017). Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and the Long-Term Health Consequences. Seminars in reproductive medicine35(3), 256–262. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0037-1603581

menstrual cycle awareness - wild power - menstrual cycle stages

Why is understanding the menstrual cycle stages important?

Getting to know your menstrual cycle and understanding the menstrual cycle stages is not just for women who are trying to get pregnant, it is an amazing way for any woman to connect with her body and develop on a psychological and soul level. Our menstrual cycle is the rhythm of our life, like an under current which is always present whether we are aware of it or not. Each month we shift through four menstrual cycle phases, each with subtle but distinct effects on our energy levels, mood, desires and abilities. Learning about these menstrual cycle phases and starting to track your own menstrual cycle is the first step along a path of becoming a truly healthy and connected woman.

When I first started my periods as a young teenager, I had no clue about my menstrual cycle and how to work with it. I saw it as a monthly inconvenience that either took me by surprise, risking embarrassment at school every time I stood up from my chair, or warned me of it’s arrival through horrible mood swings and painful cramps. When my menstrual cycle stopped due to undereating and over exercising, part of me was glad because I didn’t have to deal with the mess of my periods and the fear of getting pregnant. But after a while, I started to feel kind of lost and unfeminine without it and when I finally got my period back after 8 years of having no natural cycle I was overjoyed and found I had a whole new desire to understand and connect with my menstrual cycle.

Whilst trying to recover my period I read a lot from inspiring female leaders in the field of menstruality and cycle synching including Alexandra Pope, Sjanie Wurlizter, Miranda Gray and Alissa Vitti. They opened my eyes to the magic of my hormones and helped me to understand the menstrual cycle phases. I could finally see how my hormones were impacting me on a day to day basis and it gave me a framework to understand some of the seemingly random physical symptoms and mood changes I was going through each month. I’d always known about the dreaded PMS and “shark week” when I could be moody and snappy as hell. But what I didn’t know that these were also times where I was primed to see through the BS to view things as they really are, stand up for myself and others and be more open to spiritual connection. Women have been trained to see the abilities of these times as negative and disruptive when in reality there are hidden gems there too.

Same goes for the start of a new menstrual cycle. I always had some awareness of the relief I felt after my period was over and I could get back to “normal” but I didn’t know how to move slowly and gradually build up my momentum to avoid burning out and reaching ovulation feeling depleted and unmotivated. In fact I didn’t even know what ovulation meant, outside of the biology textbook definition that is! I didn’t know that the ovulatory phase brings with it it’s own powers of sensuality, magnetism and the ability to make things happen in the world. I wasn’t ware that that ovulation is a phase of the menstrual cycle where we are primed to connect with others and build strong relationships both in our personal and work life, or that this isn’t a state we should expect ourselves to be in continuously but that we should appreciate it and enjoy it while it lasts each month.

I used to wonder why I could feel fine about my life for three weeks of the month and then when the pre-menstrual phase came around I would start to doubt and question everything. I felt like the menstrual cycle gremlin was invading my mind each month and disguising my true thoughts and feelings under this veil of negativity. I would get so emotional, triggered into an hour of screaming frustration or soggy tears and wonder where the hell it came from. But after learning about the menstrual cycle stages and becoming more aware of my hormonal changes I started to understand that during the follicular and ovulatory phases we are more outward facing and we can more easily tune out our inner world and deep emotions. However as we cross over into the pre-menstrual phase, those inner lights become brighter and we can’t help but look at them and sometimes be blinded by it.

Understanding the menstrual cycle phases can help us to accept and appreciate the many different parts of ourselves, both the ones that our praised by society and the ones that give women a bad name. I think it’s a shame that we weren’t taught how to connect with our menstrual cycle from a young age and I think teaching girls this now will help to raise a generation of strong, powerful women. If you are interested in learning how to connect with your cycle, you can enroll in my health coaching program where I will teach you how to nourish your body using nutrition, intuitive movement, stress management and menstrual cycle awareness. Or if you’d be interested in joining a monthly women’s circle where I will teach you about the practice of menstrual cycle awareness and you can share your experiences with other women, send me a message and if there is enough interest I will set it up ♥

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post on the importance of understanding the stages of the menstrual cycle. Let me know in the comments below how you feel about your cycle, do you feel connected to it or is it a pain? I’d love to hear your experiences.

  • If you found it interesting please like this post and follow my blog for more on menstrual cycle awareness, yoga and holistic health
  • You can also follow me on Youtube at Moon Life Yoga where I post videos about hormonal health and follow along yoga sequences. I only have a few videos at the moment but it’s my intention to share lots more over the next few months!

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how to have a healthy christmas - move your body

Staying healthy during the holidays / How to have a healthy Christmas

I want to start by saying this won’t be the typical health blog about how to restrict yourself and avoid temptation at Christmas. If you have been reading my posts for a while you will know I am all about seeing the big picture of health, listening to your body and building sustainable habits rather than extreme dieting and intense workout regimens! Nonetheless this is a post about how to stay healthy during the holidays and these are my top tips for how to have a healthy Christmas.

Relax and surrender

Whatever you do, now is not the time to be stressed about not meeting your health goals. If you are trying to lose weight or improve your fitness and you feel like the holidays are getting in the way, try not to stress as it will only slow down your progress. If you want to have a healthy Christmas, I suggest you focus on allowing your body and mind to truly relax. If you have time off work, use the time to have fun and do things that you enjoy. I know it’s tricky this year with not being able to see friends and family but there are lot’s of things you can do at home like watching cosy movies, starting creative projects or playing games with people you live with. Try to take your mind out of the information overload that is the internet and be present and mindful throughout your day. Let your thoughts slow down, your breathing become deep and the tension in your body melt away. A couple of weeks of true relaxation will help your body to recharge, your metabolism to restore itself and be ready to hit your health and fitness goals in the new year.

Enjoy your treats

Like I said, Christmas is really not the time to deprive yourself and stick 100% to your diet. Who wants to spend the holidays constantly restraining themselves and avoiding temptation? Who wants to be counting the calories in Grandma’s Christmas dinner or saying no to their piece of the Christmas pudding? Dietary restraint has been shown to lead to over eating later on so it is much better to have a yummy treat here and there and truly enjoy it. The days are short and the weather is cold and there’s nothing like a comforting hot chocolate and Christmas cookies to make you feel warm inside. BUT if you want to stay healthy during the holidays, I’d say really be mindful about the treats you are eating and go for quality over quantity. That doesn’t mean spending a fortune on expensive chocolates, but it is more about choosing treats which are made with real ingredients rather than cheap, mass produced boxes of biscuits that don’t even taste that great. Choose things that you genuinely enjoy and savour them when you eat them. And brownie points if you can make them your self!

Keep moving

This one is especially important this year as most of us are stuck inside unable to go out and socialise or travel. We are spending more and more time in front of our screens and this sedentary lifestyle is not the best from our health. If you want to stay healthy over Christmas, try to incorporate a bit of movement every day. It doesn’t have to be anything extreme but 60 minutes of low intensity exercise like walking or yoga or 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise like jogging, cycling or body weight exercises will help to keep your body mobile, release mood boosting hormones and help to keep your blood sugar stable. Establishing a good routine with moving your body now means you will have a solid fitness foundation to build on in the new year if that is your goal. Outdoor sports are the one thing we are allowed to do right now so take advantage of the opportunity to go on winter walks with people you live with or maybe try out an online fitness class if that’s not your cup of tea. Find a way to move your body that you genuinely enjoy and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy Christmas.

Enjoy seasonal fruits and veggies

Even those there are lots of produce that isn’t available over the winter, especially if you live in a colder climates like the UK where I am from, there are still plenty of seasonal fruits and veggies to enjoy over Christmas and into the New Year! Here in Greece we have lots of citrus fruits and pomegranates right now and in the market there are plenty of root veggies and dark leafy greens. Two things I haven’t seen yet which I’ll miss this year are brussels sprouts and parsnips! Wherever you live, Christmas is a great time to lookout for local and seasonal produce and experiment with new recipes like Deliciously Ella’s maple roasted sprouts or BBC good food clementine winter leaf salad. When we eat intuitively, we naturally crave fresh and earthy tastes to balance out the holiday treats so go for it and eat your 5 a day to stay healthy during the holidays.

Stay connected

Even though we might be stuck at home and not able to be out and about as usual this year, it’s so important to stay connected as best as you can. Whether that is through phone calls or video chat with friends and family, joining online groups and virtual meet ups or even by sending Christmas cards. It’s a tough time for many people, especially when we are forced to be alone and it’s so easy to isolate ourselves when we are struggling and feeling down. So don’t be afraid to reach out to loved ones to get support and to talk about how you are really feeling over Christmas. Staying connected is such an important part of staying healthy during the holidays so see if you can make it a priority to connect with others in whatever way feels best for you. Personally I am sad to not be able to make it home for Christmas for the first time in my life but we will be having our Christmas dinner tradition via Skype!

Over to you…

I hope this post helps you to have a healthy Christmas and enter the New Year feeling happy and refreshed. Let me know in the comments below if you have other top tips for staying healthy over the holidays!

  • Like this post and follow my blog to for more posts on holistic health and how to reach your health goals in a sustainable way.
  • If you are interested in working with me 1-2-1 I am taking on new health coaching clients in January. Check out my services and send me a message through the contact form and we can work together to reach your health goals whatever they may me

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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.

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cycle tracking day 1 menstrual phase

Stress and the menstrual cycle: Self-care tips for the menstrual phase

Today is the first day of my period and day 1 of a new menstrual cycle – yay! I love the menstrual phase or “inner winter”, not only because it brings a relief of the tension of the pre-menstrual phase but because it is the time of the month when I honour myself with rest and self-care. The last couple of cycles have been pretty messed up for me with all of the craziness going on in the world. Being stuck in lockdown working super hard then quitting my job and moving abroad then going into lockdown again here in Greece.. it’s been pretty stressful to say the least and it showed in my cycles. I had 3 cycles which were 35-37 days long, intense period pains and stagnant blood (this shows up as brown colour with the texture of dirt). So I’m happy that this month things seem to be back to normal with a 30 day cycle and a healthy red flow.

This is one thing I love about menstrual cycle awareness practice. When something isn’t quite right in our lifestyle, often our menstrual cycles are the first place it shows and if we’re not paying attention we can totally miss it. Tracking your cycle length, flow quality and any symptoms showing up throughout the month is a great way to get to know your cycle and tune into the state of your health. Intense pain, excessive PMS symptoms or irregular cycles can all be a sign that something isn’t quite right internally or in your environment. If you notice something strange or unusual, that is a red flag and a hint for you to get quiet for a moment and ask yourself what is going on.

Stress alone can be enough to throw a spanner in the works when it comes to our cycles. This doesn’t have to be a traumatic event but it can be the build up of small stresses due to living in the fast-paced high pressure society that we do. If we don’t have an outlet or a way to manage these stresses, this can lead to chronic tension in the mind and body which affects our overall health, including our hormones. In this post I explain how you can reduce stress and balance your hormones using minimalism, journalling and meditation. Using these techniques, or anything else that helps you to unwind and relax are important all throughout your cycle but even more so during your period. Yin yoga sequences are perfect and I am planning to share more here soon so watch out for that if you’re interested!

Today I was lucky to have the space for a slow morning. I made one of my favourite menstrual phase breakfast recipes, banana oat pancakes and swapped out my morning coffee for a warming chai herbal tea. I’ve been trying to get into the habit of dry body brushing for the last month after reading about the benefits but I’m not always good at remembering to do it. This morning though I decided to pamper myself a bit and took the time to dry body brush, have a long relaxing shower and moisturise from head to toe. I even straightened my hair and put on a bit of make up even though I have no intention of going anywhere today! This afternoon I was teaching a yoga class so I had to prepare for that and do a bit of house work but I did my best to move at my bodies’ pace and take it easy. I made the class a really relaxing and grounding hatha flow and I put on some calming music while I worked.

Now I am feeling peaceful and comfortable in my body – a welcome change from the agony of the last couple of months! I was feeling inspired to share a bit about my experience of the menstrual phase and a few of my tips for looking after yourself during this time. I’m aware everyone’s experience is different when it comes to periods and that conditions such as endometriosis and PCOS can make menstruation a difficult time. However, I’m sure that taking as much time as you have available, whether that’s ten minutes or three hours, will help you to make your period as comfortable as possible. A few months of practicing this and you never know, you might even start to love this phase too.

My top 5 tips for self-care during your period

  1. Wipe 3 things off your to do list – delegate them to a day in the cycle when you have more energy

2. Slow down – even if you have tasks you can’t avoid, try to do them at your bodies’ pace

3. Pamper yourself – whether that’s a luxurious shower (try to avoid hot baths while you are bleeding) or wearing your favourite body lotion, do something to nourish your body

4. Nourish your body – make yourself some nutrient dense, yummy foods. See here for my tips on nutrition for the menstrual phase

5. Rest – take a break from intense exercise and focus instead on light stretching, walking or yin yoga. Your body will thank you for it!

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this short post on stress and self-care during the menstrual phase. Please like this post and follow my blog for more on healthy hormones and holistic health.

  • Let me know in the comments below if you try out any of these tips or any other self-care you practice to feel better during your period
  • If you are looking for support and guidance in balancing your hormones and looking and feeling great, contact me for further information on the health coaching packages I offer. Together we will set you up with a plan to get your hormones balanced and you feeing your best mentally and physically.

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exercise and hypothalamic amenorrhea

What is Hypothalamic Amenorrhea? Why have my periods stopped?

What is Hypothalamic Amenorrhea?

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) or Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (FHA) is when a woman has no period for 6 months in a row or more, despite having no anatomical or disease-related reason for lack of menstruation. Functional means behaviour related and we will come to what those behaviours might be later in this post.

Primary vs. Secondary Amenorrhea

Amenorrhea is the medical term for missing periods or the absence of a menstrual cycle. HA and FHA are known as secondary amenorrhea, which is when a woman’s periods have stopped or she has missed several periods in a row. Primary amenorrhea is when a woman has reached reproductive age (usually considered to be 15 or 16) and her periods have not yet started. Primary amenorrhea can be due to genetic conditions affecting the ovaries, hormonal issues relating to the pituitary or hypothalamus glands or structural problems with the reproductive system. The most common causes of secondary amenorrhea are pregnancy, breast-feeding and menopause but it can also be due to birth control methods such as the contraceptive pill or implant as well as functional conditions such as Hypothalamic Amenorrhea.

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea symptoms

Aside from missing periods, there are many other symptoms which can occur with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. I have listed some examples below although not all (or even any!) of these symptoms have to be present and every woman’s body is different.

  • Thinning hair or hair loss
  • Feeling cold, especially cold hands and feet
  • Excessive tiredness or low energy
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Low sex drive or no libido
  • Abnormal appetite
  • Low bone density or osteopenia

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea explained

**If you aren’t interested in the science-y part then feel free to skip to the next section!

Hypothalamic refers to the hypothalamus, an area of the brain sometimes called the “master controller”. The hypothalamus has many functions, the main ones being regulating hormone levels and maintaining stable conditions inside the body including temperature, blood pressure and appetite. It does this sending out correcting signals responding to changes in internal and external factors.

One of these signals relevant to HA is the release of Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) which causes another gland, the pituitary to release Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing hormone (LH) which are responsible for maturing a follicle in the ovaries and releasing it in ovulation which is the main event in the menstrual cycle. Watch the short video below if you want to learn more about how the hypothalamus and pituitary glands work together.

The ovaries are the reproductive organs which release the sex-hormones estrogen and testosterone which also play a role in regulating the menstrual cycle. The hypothalamus and the pituitary are connected to the ovaries along what is called the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovarian (HPO) axis. In HA, there is disruption to the HPO axis due to some sort of stress on the body resulting in low levels of FSH, LH and estrogen. This means no ovulation and a missing period.

What causes Hypothalamic Amenorrhea?

There are several factors at play when it comes to missing periods:

  • Under eating, chronic or restrictive dieting or poor nutrition
  • Over-exercise, especially endurance sports
  • Low body weight or rapid/extreme weight loss
  • Stress and excessive worry

The typical woman suffering from HA is a type-A personality and over-achiever in all areas of life. Especially when this perfectionism extends to diet, exercise and body weight. Extreme examples are women who are constantly on a diet, restricting calories or types of foods and go running 7 days a week. Those who maintain a very low weight even though they are fighting against their body to stay there. Or women who work or study long hours expecting nothing but the best from themselves at all times.

But HA can also affect women in less extreme circumstances who might have lost weight in a “healthy” way or who have been accidently under-fueling over a long period of time (I’m talking to you busy working mums!). Or women who have gone through a stressful life transition. Basically our bodies are trying to keep us safe and alive by conserving calories during a stressful time.

Treatment for Hypothalamic Amenorrhea

There has been a steady increase in the number of searches for “how to get my period back” over the last 10 years. In the case of HA recovery the formula is pretty simple!

EAT REST RELAX REPEAT

  1. Eat plenty of food and I’m talking a surplus of calories
  2. Let go of any diet restrictions and consume all food groups
  3. Take a break from intense exercise
  4. Rest or focus on low intensity movement such as light yoga
  5. Remove as many stressors from your life as possible
  6. Take time to relax and de-stress every day
  7. Consider therapy to help with making the changes above if they feel challenging

Over to you…

I hope this article helped you to better understand HA and why your periods might have stopped. If you want to read more on how to get your period back and recover from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, check out the posts linked below. Like this post and follow my blog for more like this!

  • Let me know in the comments, what is the most difficult part of the recovery formula for you?
  • If you are looking for support, guidance and accountability on your period recovery journey, please contact me for further information on the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer. Together we will set you up with a plan to get your hormones balanced and you feeing your best mentally and physically.

Other posts you might like


Information sources

Gibson S, Fleming N, Zuijdwijk C, Dumont T. Where Have the Periods Gone? The Evaluation and Management of Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. J Clin Res Pediatr Endocrinol. 2020;12(Suppl 1):18-27. doi:10.4274/jcrpe.galenos.2019.2019.S0178

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).