The candles are lit, music is playing and I’m nursing a hot chocolate with added dark chocolate squares. I’m wearing my most comfortable trousers and a jumper that reminds me to have ‘Happy Savasana Dreams’, while a hot water bottle rests on my belly. I am well and truly in menstruation mode which, for me, just happens to fall at the same time as the New Moon.
Menstrual cycles have long been linked to their lunar equivalent. As the moon orbits the Earth, it goes through four principal phases: New Moon (where it is invisible to the naked eye), First Quarter (also known as the Waxing Crescent), Full Moon (where it is fully illuminated) and Third Quarter (Waning Crescent). Some see it as no coincidence that the length of the average menstrual cycle (29 days) coincides with the lunar cycle (the time between two New Moons – 29.5 days). In the ancient world, lunar cycles were believed to affect the growth of plants, as well as the ebbs and flows of both animal and human life.
But what does the moon have to do with us in this day and age? In yoga, we practise to reconnect not just to ourselves but also to the world around us. Our human, internal cycles are part and parcel of the cycles of nature, so being aware and tuning in to them can bring much personal understanding, acceptance and strength.
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For women, menstruation correlates to a downward and outward flow of energy (apana) and a release before the start and regeneration of our next cycle – much like the natural cycles of the moon. It can be useful on a personal level to consider the two in the same way. Having recently come off birth control, after taking it for 13 years, reconnecting with my cycle has been a journey in itself. Initially, I despised this new period (pun intended). I was used to having a steady hum of energy and a pretty neutral mood throughout the month – highs not so high, lows not so low, everything ticking along OK. So this new phase in my life with ups and downs in energy levels was rather confusing.
The first few months I pushed through, trucking on as normal, and then wondering why I was so tired. With each month that passed came more tiredness and irritability, and questions over why I chose to reintroduce my cycle. That is, until the day I mentally surrendered and made the choice to listen to my body.
I began resting on the days when I needed it, and read more about the different phases of the menstrual cycle – what to expect energy level-wise, and how to adapt (and even enjoy) the ups and downs. When we apply lunar terms to our menstrual cycle, the bleeding phase can be considered a New Moon – a time for reflection, rest, restoration and setting intentions for the month to come. In yoga, this is a time to slow down, to be more yin and less yang.
Try practices that can be done without much resistance, and postures that promote relaxation in the hips, legs, back and belly. Staying upright promotes the cleansing outward, downward energy of menstruation. You might choose not to go upside down so as not to counteract this natural process.
Slowing down your lifestyle at this time is also helpful. By learning to let go of being on-the-go, I found that accepting this time as one of rest gave me more energy throughout the rest of the month. The next phase is pre-ovulation, which can be related to the First Quarter Moon. At this time, you may find you have a renewed sense of energy to take action, make decisions, work towards your goals and ramp up your yoga practice again with strength-building postures. Try building heat on your yoga mat with sun salutations, warrior postures or chair pose.
During the next phase – ovulation, or Full Moon – you’ll often find that you’re full of energy, positivity and good feelings. This week is about celebrating you, having fun and being social. In your practice, it’s about enjoying space to deeply express yourself. My personal favourites are backbending and any upside-down play at this time. Adding in some balance postures helps you find a sense of grounding and centeredness in the midst of the extra energy this week. It is also a great time to release any negative thoughts – try writing down something you would like to let go of, then burning the paper to symbolise this process.
We move then into the Third Quarter, the pre-menstrual phase – a time for releasing, sharing and reflecting. In your yoga practice, try cleansing postures like twists, side bends, and more restorative inversions. Continue to let go of negativity, both mental and physical, and try not to push yourself too much as you prepare for the bleeding phase once more. It’s important to remember that not every woman will experience these same ebbs and flows at the same intervals. There are many factors affecting the length and time of each woman’s cycle, and associating it with the lunar phases may not be helpful for everyone, however we can all use this wisdom of phases, cycles and energies to better recognise when we are at our most productive and when we should embrace rest.
Your menstrual cycle may start on a Full Moon or a Crescent, and may last 40 days or 15, but by acknowledging and accepting it, you can learn to use the changing energies to your own advantage. In order to better predict your own ups and downs, start recording the days of your period. Every day, jot down your mood, any food cravings, your yoga practice, and anything else of note. You could also record where the moon is in its cycle to see if there is any correspondence.
Allow yourself to accept when you are having a low day, and even begin to enjoy it by indulging in your emotions fully. Walk slower, eat your favourite food and spend some quiet time with yourself. On the flipside, harness energy when you feel it rising – make a plan, have an adventure or spend time with friends. As time goes on, you will become familiar with your moon cycle, discover its rhythms, and get to know your own tides. Maybe, like me, you’ll find that you even start to look forward to your New Moon phase, seeing it as that precious time to open that book you’ve been meaning to read, slow down your yoga practice and sip that hot chocolate – without feelings of guilt. Oh Moon, you’re so wise.
Yoga poses for wherever you are in your menstrual cycle
New Moon (bleeding phase)
- Set intentions
Postures: Forward folds, garland pose (malasana), reclining bound angle pose (supta baddha konasana).
First Quarter Moon (pre-ovulation)
- Develop new possibilities
- Make decisions
- Overcome challenges
Postures: Goddess pose (utkata konasana), warrior pose (virabhadra), chair pose (utkatasana).
Full Moon (ovulation)
- Celebrate you
- Have fun
- Express yourself
Postures: Backbends, heart openers, arm balances.
Third Quarter Moon (pre-menstruation)
Postures: Inversions, easy twists, plow pose (halasana).