Topic of the Month
May 2021 Topic of the Month: Flowing with your Cycle: Choosing the Best Exercise for Each Phase
By: Ashley, The Yogi Next Door
If you’re here reading this blog, you are probably a cyclical being, or love someone who is, and you are searching for answers. You’re tired of feeling tired, burned out, frustrated, and like you’re always fighting. You know there must be an easier way to do *waves hand* all of this but you’ve tried pretty much everything and just don’t see how.
The secret to escaping the endless cycle of overworking and burning out isn’t so much of a secret – although looking at how our society is set up, you would certainly think so.
Our society revolves around the 24 hour clock. We rise in the morning, work most of the day, and rest at night. Most exercise programs and productivity advice follow this model. Wake up early, move your body, and eat the same healthy foods every day; tick off your to-do list day in, day out and you will be successful.
While this isn’t necessarily bad advice, it really is best suited for about 50% of the population (I’ll give you two guesses for whom it works best.) Males experience a hormonal cycle which repeats every 24 hours; to put it simply, their testosterone is highest in the morning and gently ebbs throughout the day. The way our society is structured is best suited to the hormonal shifts they experience every day.
But let’s turn the tables and see how it is for the other half of us. As someone who menstruates, you also have a hormonal cycle, but it repeats roughly every month. Over this cycle, you experience surges and plunges of multiple hormones which in turn affect many systems in your body, from energy levels to brain chemistry to actual function of different organs.
You are feeling burned out and tired and frustrated because you’ve been trying to force your body to conform to a system that WAS NOT DESIGNED WITH YOU IN MIND.
Your cycle does not exist for you to manage or control or force into submission… it’s here as part of the perfect design in nature; it’s here for you to love, accept, and understand. You are worthy and whole just as you are. The moment you accept and honor all parts of yourself is the moment you find harmony, joy, and abundance in life; it’s the moment you learn to live in flow.
So you’re probably thinking, “If you have the magical answer, please share with me!” And that’s exactly what I will strive to do in this post.
The secret to living with more flow, to creating physical fitness and wellness routines that you actually enjoy, and exponentially ramping up your productivity is this:
Embrace and honor all phases of your cycle; embrace and honor all parts of yourself.
As a yoga teacher and fitness enthusiast, the biggest problem facing us as cyclical beings is getting proper rest. I can’t count how many times I see daily, intense workouts marketed to women with complete and utter disregard for our cycles!
I’m sure you’ve seen them too. “Try our 30 day HIIT challenge” or “Kickbox your way into a bikini” or “Run a 5k every day!” The problem with these programs isn’t the type of exercise, (I love HIIT, kickboxing, and running!) but with the scheduling.
Your cyclical hormonal changes mean you feel and function differently throughout the cycle. When you take the ebb and flow into consideration and honor what’s best for your body in each phase, you will experience more energy, better and more sustainable results, and you will actually look forward to exercising!
So let’s get into the nuts and bolts! Keep reading to learn what’s happening in the body during each phase of the menstrual cycle and how you can best honor yourself during each phase. Please keep in mind that the suggestions made in this article are just that, suggestions, and at the end of the day, you know yourself and what’s best for you.
1. Menstrual Phase – Inner Winter – New Moon – 3-7 Days
This is the first phase of the cycle and it’s when you are actually having your period. During this phase, both estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest levels and this generally means your energy will be too. Your body expends a LOT of energy while shedding your uterine lining so this is the ideal time of your cycle for rest. Take a day or two off from exercising. This rest will not only feel good in the moment but will have lasting benefits throughout your cycle.
A couple days into this phase, you might feel your energy rise slightly and be up for exercise. I recommend going for a walk, deep stretching, or a restorative or yin yoga class.
2. Follicular Phase – Inner Spring – Waxing Moon – 7-10 Days
As your period ends, your brain triggers the release of FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) which signals to the follicles in your ovaries to begin maturing into potential eggs. The follicles begin to develop and in this process, release estrogen. (In fact, the egg that releases the most estrogen as it develops will be the chosen one, but we’ll get to that a little later!
Just as everything seems to burst forth and bloom in spring, your energy starts to rise in this phase. Your period is over, the mental fog lifts, surges in estrogen bring a surge in energy, and you are starting to feel good!
The change in hormones in this phase makes it exciting and fun to socialize, try new things, and be a little daring.
This is the phase to begin ramping up your physical activity. Try something fun like a dance or kickboxing class, go for a run, or flow with Vinyasa yoga.
3. Ovulatory Phase – Inner Summer – Full Moon – 3-5 Days
Ovulation is the main event of the cycle! As a frontrunner egg emerges, the brain triggers the release of LH (luteinizing hormone) for the chosen one to burst forth from the ovary and make its way down the fallopian tube where it will potentially meet the sperm.
Energetically, during this phase is when you will likely have the most energy of any point during the cycle. You might feel more outgoing, magnetic, and even sexier than usual. – Take advantage of the higher energy in this phase and kick it up a notch! These exercises might feel great for you: Power or Hot Yoga, HIIT (high intensity interval training), or cycling/spin class.
4. Luteal Phase – Inner Autumn – Waning Moon – 10-14 days
When the egg burst forth from the ovary in the ovulatory phase, a small structure was left behind – the corpus luteum. This structure produces progesterone which signals to your cervix to close up shop and not admit anymore potential suitors, aka sperm. This is the crucial waiting window to determine whether or not conception and implantation has happened before your next period arrives.
Progesterone signals to your uterine lining to thicken up and provide a nice, cushy spot for the potentially inseminated egg to implant and grow.
You might experience slowly dwindling energy during this phase. Progesterone is often personified as the chilled out, hippy aunt and like her, it’s good to begin to slow down. As your body biologically prepares to possibly support a pregnancy, you might feel the desire to start to slow down, turn more inward, and get some rest. Your temperature is also significantly higher during this phase so it’s extra important when exercising to stay cool and hydrated.
In the first half of this phase, you still might be riding the high of ovulation, and want to do exercises like HIIT, Pilates, or barre class. As you approach your period, intuitively slow down your exercises as well, substituting for a slower Vinyasa yoga or weightlifting routine.
If you are experiencing the infamous PMS symptoms during this phase, you might want to evaluate why these symptoms are arising. Did you push too hard in the previous phases, have you been getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods, etc.? I think our body sends these somewhat painful messages during this phase so we can reflect over the last cycle, evaluate, and readjust our habits/routines for the upcoming cycles ahead.
…and that’s all she wrote! At the end of the luteal phase, it all starts over again with menstruation. I know this is a lot to take in and more than that, it will take you time tracking your cycle and checking-in with your energy on a daily basis to really get in tune with yourself and see what personal patterns emerge.
If this has all been illuminating but somewhat overwhelming and you’re not sure where to start, come join us at Energy Flow Yoga! I teach yoga and meditation along with the lunar cycle that helps you connect with and honor your body, mind, and soul in every phase.
If there is one thing I’d like you to take away from this blog post, it would be to remember that you are whole and worthy just as you are, and all parts of you are important, beautiful, and deserving. The bottom line is this : do what makes you feel good and exercise in a way that feeds not only your physical health but makes your soul happy too!
Can’t wait to see where your cyclical living journey takes you.
Namaste friends 🥰,Ashley – The Yogi Next Door