Just like your blood pressure, temperature, or heart rate, your menstrual cycle is an indicator of your health. Your period will give you feedback on your stress levels, eating habits, or if you have been pushing yourself too hard. The colour of the blood, length of the cycle, or any premenstrual symptoms are all indicators from your body that you may need to change something in your lifestyle. During your life you will have around 450 periods - minus any pregnancies or breastfeeding - so it is important that you know how your body works, how to be attuned to any red flags your body is showing you, and how to live in sync with your changing cyclical hormones.
People who menstruate are expected to live a cyclical life in a linear world. This means that your progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone all naturally rise and fall, which will affect your energy levels throughout the month, and yet you are expected to be hyper-productive all month long. If you can connect with your inner rhythm, you will learn when you can be superwoman and when you need to rest, which will prevent you from reaching burnout.
For a young girl, starting their period can be a massive shift. They are transforming from a carefree child to a person who might be able to carry a child. They now have to navigate not just a monthly bleed, but also their raging hormones. In some parts of the world, this time in a girls life is honoured as a rite of passage. There are ceremonies, parties or some way to welcome the young girl onto her path towards womanhood. This delicate time can inform the girl of what it is to be a woman. A lot of us got a vague chat and a pamphlet from school, a warning that pain is normal, the threat to not get pregnant, and some inherited shame around bleeding. If you missed out on honouring this time of your life, then you can decide how 'young you' would have liked to have been welcomed. You can make her some red velvet cake, buy a red crystal, light a red candle, write her a love letter of what it is to be a woman, or whatever feels relevant and appropriate for you.
The most simple way is to chart your cycle. I prefer pen and paper, but you can use an app, or print a chart off the internet. Charting your cycle means that day 1 of your period is day 1 of your cycle - go from when you have a proper bleed rather than from any spotting. You can write down any physical symptoms, energy levels, cervical fluids, what phase the moon is in, any dreams or insights. Once you have been charting for a couple of months you will see your personal pattern emerge. You may see that on day 27 you are very noise sensitive, or on day 12 your libido is through the roof, or on day 21 you want to snort chocolate. There is no Google search that will tell you about yourself, but you have your very own internal map that can be your guide, and all you have to do is take a moment every day to check in with yourself and jot down any information.
Day one of your cycle is the first day of your bleed. Your oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone are at their lowest. For most women, a day or two before their period starts is when they feel their energy drop and they want to down-tools and retreat to their winter cave. There is a natural shift away from social engagements as your body is shedding a layer, which takes your awareness inwards. In an ideal world, you might wish you could take some time off from work, or time away from your family, but of course this isn't always possible. Think of how you can micro-dose what it is you need, it will be different for everyone, maybe locking the door and having a bath, buying ready meals for the family, or sitting down with Netflix and a hot water bottle instead of going to the gym. This will be something that you will have to carve out for yourself as no one is going to give it to you.
Once your period has finished your oestrogen levels begin to rise which fills you up with spring energy. If you managed to rest during your period then your batteries will feel re-charged and you will want to come out of your winter cave and re-engage with your projects, exercise or social commitments. Inside your ovaries, there are follicles working behind the scenes which release a type of oestrogen called estradiol. This boosts serotonin (feelings of happiness) and dopamine (supports motivation and pleasure) which leave you feeling happy and content with the world. Estradiol also thickens your womb lining in preparation for the potential for implantation.
Ovulation is actually the star of the show. The mature follicle which has been preparing for the past 3 months will be released from the ovary carrying with it the egg and the potential for conception. You may notice your cervical fluid having an egg-white consistency around this time. The emptied follicle now changes function into a temporary gland that releases progesterone, which is vital for supporting pregnancy, but it also supports thyroid function, promotes sleep, protects the heart, calms your nervous system and so much more - so if you are not ovulating then you are missing out on all the benefits that progesterone brings. Around this time you may find that you have enough energy to deal with everybody's demands and still have enough left to exercise, socialise and be intimate with a partner.
After the high-summer vibes of ovulation, your hormones begin to decrease, your energy pack is starting to fade, and your capacity to be everything to everyone begins to diminish. This is when someone may comment that you are 'grumpy', but actually, like autumn, your inbuilt cycle is helping you to edit your life so that you don't deplete yourself. It is shining a light on where you are giving too much of yourself away. Really listen in to your inner voice during this time, it may sound supercritical, but there is usually wisdom to be found in this part of your cycle.
These are not prescriptive, everyone will be slightly different, when you start connecting in with your rhythm you will realise what your needs are then you can get your needs met. This is a life skill that you'll wish you had been taught in school, but it's never too late to connect with your body's innate wisdom.
A healthy period will last 4-7 days, the blood will be a fresh colour with no big clots, there may be some heaviness or a pulling sensation in your pelvis, but you shouldn't need painkillers, your breasts may be a little tender but shouldn't be sore, the cycle will be 21-35 days long, you may notice some mid-cycle twinges as you ovulate but it shouldn't be painful, you may notice some tension pre-menstrually, but this shouldn't give you the kind of anger that frightens you and everyone around you. This is just a guide, you will be the best judge of your body and will know if there has been a change in your cycle.A healthy menstrual cycle is when you can comfortably ride the waves of your fluctuating hormones, where you are attuned to the signals of your body and where you use your cycle to inform you of your health status.
A carefree menstrual cycle may feel like a million miles away from where you are right now, but as someone who used to feel like satan was clawing his way out of my uterus with a rusty fork every month, I can tell you that putting the effort into reclaiming your cyclical nature is worth it.
If your periods are irregular, painful or you have pre-menstrual symptoms then an acupuncturist will give you a full-body assessment to work with your particular constitution to help bring balance back to your hormones.
Alison is a registered acupuncturist and co-owner of Blossom Natural Health in Chelmsford. She has been specialising in fertility and women’s health for the last 20 years and is the fertility acupuncturist for Bourn Hall fertility clinic in Wickford. She loves combining Acupuncture, Cranio-Sacral Therapy and Somato-Emotional Release to help her clients with stress, digestive issue and pain relief.