It’s easy to forget that humans — like most living beings, including plants, animals, fungi, and cyanobacteria — are cyclical beings, operating on a 24-hour circadian rhythm. Everyday we go through phases of alertness, creativity, and sociability, followed by periods where we require recharging in the form of sustenance, solitude, and rest.
However, the world we live in no longer caters to these rhythms which can make it difficult to tune into our bodies’ needs. We might find ourselves working into the wee hours of the morning, passing half a day without eating, or unable to sleep because our brains have been overstimulated from the blue light on our screens.
It’s unlikely that our world will slow down any time soon, but we can take personal measures to re-tune ourselves to nature’s cycles and become more aware of our bodily rhythms.
For people who get regular periods, tracking the menstrual cycle is a powerful way to reconnect with the body and honor its natural rhythms. Menstruation represents the beginning of the cycle and is usually a time when people with periods require the most rest, but are also most intuitive. In pre-patriarchal times, bleeding people would gather in red tents and be catered to by the rest of their community. They were given solitude and plenty of rest because it was believed that this would allow the greatest insights to come through.
In some Indigenous cultures today, women are not allowed to indulge in certain plant ceremonies while on their periods because it is believed that they can reach similar states while bleeding and that they are so powerful that they would interfere with other people’s experiences. One way to tune into this wisdom is to avoid over-scheduling your calendar while on your period and set aside plenty of guilt-free time to rest. If there is no fear of repercussions from your employer, you can help normalize periods and their side effects by being upfront about why you’re going home early or rescheduling a meeting.
The follicular phase begins on the first day of menstruation and lasts through ovulation. Normally, the end of bleeding coincides with increased clarity and a boost of energy as estrogen levels rise in preparation to release an egg.
Ovulation is the only time during the menstrual cycle when a person can get pregnant. It usually occurs about halfway through the cycle when the ovary releases a mature egg. The egg then travels down the fallopian tube toward the uterus, preparing to be fertilized. This is usually when bleeding people have the most energy, are most social, and feel the most confident. This is typically the best time to schedule social events, meetings, or dates — just be sure to use protection unless you’re interested in getting pregnant. Other symptoms might include a slight increase in basal body temperature and a thicker discharge that has the texture of egg whites.
The luteal phase is the last phase before menstruation starts the cycle over again. After the egg is released, the follicle that released the egg will change into the corpus luteum. If the bleeding person is not pregnant, the corpus luteum will shrink and be reabsorbed by the body. This results in decreased levels of estrogen and progesterone which causes the onset of the period. This is the phase when pre-menstrual symptoms (PMS) such as bloating; breast swelling, pain, or tenderness; mood changes; headache; weight gain; changes in sexual desire; food cravings; and trouble sleeping can become common. The luteal phase typically lasts between 11 and 17 days so paying attention to which symptoms come up for you and when can help you plan your days accordingly.
For those who do not have periods, there are other ways to work with nature’s cycles. The moon follows a rhythm similar to the menstrual cycle and many people feel sensitive to its waxings and wanings. If you are a person who gets a period, it’s possible for your menstrual cycle to sync with the moon’s phases and you might find that you ovulate on the full or new moon and get your period on the new or full moon.
The new moon represents the beginning of the moon’s cycle, when the moon and the sun are in the same astrological sign. This is an ideal time for setting intentions, visioning, but not pushing yourself too hard.
The waxing phases of the moon represents the time when the moon is moving towards fullness, which is seen as the peak of the cycle. This might coincide with increased energy and inspiration and is a good time for taking concrete actions to meet your goals.
The full moon represents a culmination and an opportunity for renewal and release. It’s a good idea to slow down and reflect on what was revealed during the first half of the moon’s cycle and let go of anything that is not serving you.
The waning phases of the moon are a time for reviewing and refining ideas, but with minimal effort and leaving plenty of time for rest and regeneration. Imagine that you are living in a time before electricity and think about how the darkened skies would encourage ancient civilizations to spend their evenings indoors, lest they subject themselves to the dangers of the night.
Another option for connecting with nature’s cycles is to tune into the wisdom of the seasons, where winter would represent a time for rest and slowing down, spring symbolizes waxing, rising energy, summer represents the full moon or a climax of energy, and fall would represent waning tides. You can make an effort to eat seasonally, to spend more time recharging in the sun during the spring and summer seasons, and to meditate under the moonlight during the fall and winter when your nights are longer.
If you are more attracted to solar energy, you might try following the sun as it cycles through different zodiac signs and seasons, planning your days according to its risings and settings and noting how you feel when the sun is in different signs. You can also try this exercise with inner planets like Mercury, Venus, and Mars, making it a point to look for them when they are visible in the sky and noticing any internal changes when change signs or retrograde.
Remember that everyone is different and there’s nothing wrong if these cycles don’t resonate with you. There are infinite cycles to be found in nature, simply look around and see what makes the most sense for you. A good practice is to journal your mood and how your disposition changes throughout the menstrual cycle, sun, moon, or planetary cycles, and seasons. Eventually you will see patterns emerge and can begin to schedule your life accordingly.
Feature Image by Danielle Dee Winter