It took me a truly long time to start listening to my body’s stress signals.
About five years ago, I was running my body to the brink. I was a middle school choir teacher at two buildings (teaching over 550 students), I was taking a master’s degree, and I was getting married that same year.
I had so much going on all at once, but I wasn’t giving my physical or mental body the space it needed to catch up. This meant the stress just kept piling on. I was constantly receiving these warning signs that I needed to slow down and relax, but I was “too busy” (or stubborn) to listen. So, my body decided it was really going to make me listen! I started struggling with cystic acne, inconsistent and painful periods, and chronic anxiety. I became so anxious that I wasn’t able to function like my “normal” self anymore.
I was waking up every morning with a stomach ache, my appetite was shifting, and tiny stressors that never used to bother me before felt catastrophic. I knew it was time for me to seek help, and that’s when I decided to schedule appointments with my gynecologist and physician.
After all of my bloodwork and examinations came back normal, I was told that the birth control pill and anxiety medicine was my only solution. It was in that moment that I felt this deep knowing in my gut that there was something bigger going on. Thankfully, it was this gut feeling that led me down the path of holistic health, and eventually, prompted me to become a certified hormone and fertility coach.
I began researching nutrition schools, and eventually, I stumbled upon the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Their program gave me a beautiful overview of holistic health concepts and taught me the basics. As I learned more and more about the human body, I felt a newfound sense of ownership and control over my own. I knew I wanted to learn even more in regards to women’s hormone health and decided to enroll in IIN’s advanced hormone and gut health programs shortly after.
I soon realized that there is so much power in connecting to my body and learning about its cyclic nature. We were designed to work well! In fact, when we learn how to live in accordance with our menstrual cycle, our physical health begins to thrive again. It was truly liberating to finally understand how my natural hormones affected my day-to-day life.
Now, I have made it my passion to keep researching and learning more about women’s menstrual health and fertility through self-study and additional training, like Reiki and the Fertility Awareness Method. Early on, Yoga became a huge part of the work I did through my own self-discovery and personal practice, and now I recommend it as a hormone healing tool for all of my clients. It keeps me grounded and helps me stay connected to myself so I can make decisions for my health that feel aligned with my body’s signals and needs.
My story is not uncommon. Like me, many women, trans, and non-binary people are becoming increasingly aware of how their stress levels and hormones affect their overall health and wellbeing. Deep down, we know that our body is giving us these beautiful physical and mental clues for a reason, and we know that there is a better way. Learning to pay attention to the role our hormones play in our wellbeing is the first step in feeling better. For those of us who menstruate, we need to know more about how we can honor our cyclical body, and in what ways we can use our menstrual cycle to enhance our lives.
Yoga Asana and Exercise Practices As Ways to Honor My Menstrual Cycle
Once you start to bring awareness to the natural hormone fluctuations within your monthly cycle, you’ll be able to structure your yoga sequences from a place of alignment and love for your body. And as we connect to our bodies and follow their rhythms, yoga can help us to reduce our stress levels and support the endocrine system in each phase of the cycle.
Have you ever stopped to think about your choice of movement and whether or not it is best serving your body?
Each week of a menstrual cycle, the body fluctates between two main sex hormones – estrogen and progesterone. These variations in hormone levels affect our mood, energy levels, and even the way we move our bodies.
So, let’s take a deep dive into the 4 phases of the cycle, and how you can choose your yoga sequence from a place of love for your body!
The main thing to remember here is that physical activity can either support or deplete the body. When we learn to listen to our body in this new and intuitive way, it is incredibly empowering. You begin to understand your body’s unique signals and needs, and you choose movement accordingly. Not only will you feel better physically, but you’ll feel more in tune with your emotional body as well. So, whether you choose a heated power vinyasa or a calming restorative class, the right movement is going to be extremely important for supporting your menstrual cycle.
Phase 1: Follicular Phase / Rising Spring Time Energy
You just ended your period and your energy is RISING! Literally, your physical energy is increasing by the day as your estrogen climbs during these first two weeks. You’re ready for new and exciting experiences… a great time to try a new movement practice, like a super slow weight workout or a vigorous asana sequence!
Cardio and high intensity exercise will really serve you during this phase. I personally enjoy goddess squats with weights and some quick vinyasas during this phase. It gets my body moving and helps me utilize my rising estrogen and energy levels.
Notice: a challenging physical posture is likely to feel easier during this phase of your cycle than in phase 3 or 4.
Phase 2: Ovulatory Phase / Heat It Up Summer Energy
Your body is getting ready to prepare for the release of an egg for ovulation, and your estrogen is PEAKING. You have a rise in follicle stimulating hormone and will soon have a spike in luteinizing hormone as your body gets ready to ovulate. This means your energy is at one of its highest points in the cycle! You feel energized, vibrant, and ready for adventure.
A more strenuous & aerobic exercise will serve well you during this phase. I love scheduling corepower yoga with cardio + weights during this phase. You can quickly move through skandasana, flow into chair pose with blocks/weights, or even run along your mat! This gets my heart rate up and allows me to use my strength in a more creative way. Plus – the cardio addition is fantastic!
Notice: in this phase, your mind is likely to buzz with new ideas. Why not use that energy to create your own asana sequence or fun warmup routine, or an energizing playlist to go with this phase?
Phase 3: Luteal Phase / Inward Fall Energy
Progesterone takes over during this phase of your cycle. This is your cool, calm, and collected hormone. The first part of this phase might still be full of energy, so continue the movement described above if it feels good. Towards the end of the luteal phase, before your period begins, lighter activities will be best. This phase will be all about listening to your body! You may have some extra energy to burn before your period… so take note of that!
At the beginning of the luteal phase a simple vinyasa class is just what I need, but towards the end of the luteal phase, my body begins craving more restorative poses. Choosing a sequence that allows you to hold poses for longer, like plank pose or steady warrior two, will help you build strength while also honoring your need to slow down during phase 3.
Notice: your breath is likely to feel like your superpower during this phase. Deep breathing before you move or a longer savasana might feel extra delightful in phase 3.
Phase 4: Menstrual Phase / Hibernate Winter Energy
Ah, finally… it’s period time. Your hormone levels are at their lowest point as progesterone starts to decrease again and you start menstruating. You might feel PMS symptoms taking over (especially if your hormones are unbalanced), and your body is craving REST. Honor this!
Calming restorative or yin yoga will serve you best at this time. You can even do these poses while laying in bed (because we all know that is needed!). Try putting legs on the wall with a heating pad, laying on your back in butterfly pose with hands resting on your belly, or releasing your lower back by rocking side to side in happy baby.
As you end your period, and estrogen begins to ramp up again, check in with how you feel. You might feel ready for more active movement as you head back into your follicular phase again. Learning to listen to your body is KEY here.
Notice: Touch can be a lovely way to connect your body without pushing it to move in ways that don’t feel comfortable in this phase. Try massaging your legs and feet gently and see how that feels.
Thank goodness there are so many lovely ways to practice yoga to fit our body’s cyclical needs, right?! I find it reassuring that all of this is information our body intuitively knows. It just takes some practice to understand our body signals and to learn how to tune-in to your cycle. Over time, it becomes second nature and a source of self-trust and confidence.
Resources to explore your cycle further
If you’re curious to learn more about how to live intuitively with your cycle, here are my three favorite resources to nerd out. They might be life-changing. You’ve been warned!
1. The Fifth Vital Sign by Lisa Hendrickson Jack
Your menstrual cycle is a vital sign, just like your pulse, temperature, respiration rate, and blood pressure. And it provides you with essential information about your health. This book brings together over 1,000 meticulously researched scientific references in a textbook-quality guide to understanding your menstrual cycle.
2. WomanCode: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source by Alisa Vitti
Alisa Vitti found herself suffering through the symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and was able to heal herself through food and lifestyle changes. Relieved and reborn, she made it her mission to empower other women to be able to do the same.
Editor’s note: This article was written by an able-bodied, cis-gender woman. The monthly hormonal cycle represented here is simplified and exemplified to provide guidance and offer insights for everyone with a monthly cycle to use as they see fit and based on their own personal experience.