Understanding the Womb and our Sacred Cycle
She stands firm, her two bare feet, still, on a blue yoga mat. Slowly and elegantly, she begins to move in her flow, reaching her crane-like neck towards the starry, candlelit ceiling and stretching her arms as if they were feather-covered, beginning to take flight. She bows to herself, and in this safe feeling, she begins to let go- letting her body move itself. She notices how it feels to be moved by movement. Her naked belly swings in freedom. Her hands lovingly caress each limb. The left and right meet in the middle and do their own dance, entangling and breaking apart over and over, feeling the air as if it was a velvety fabric. Her hips sway in seduction of the mirror, of the moon, of herself. The room becomes a mirage of the deep purple sky, and the floor below is the cold, dark ground. She stands somewhere between Heaven and Earth- at the same time, in both places at once. She stands, calling back to her body, calling out to home. For once, her body is hers. No one watches. No hungry hands reach for grabbing. She is sexy and gross in movement, strong and delicate as she chooses to convey. She is the sole generator of the yin and yang within her- they twirl in sacred space. She rejoices and lifts the Earth with her, laughs with her whole being.
-the piece of love she gives back to herself after a long day.
I remember being so excited to get my first period when I was younger. And when I finally got it, I felt special (as I should). I was changing and so was my body. I felt like I was becoming a woman. I was finally experiencing my wonderful rite of passage.
Though I had my special moment, it slowly turned to humility. It rotted in my memory. I’d come to forget the magic of my first moments exploring my body- as it would soon turn into a weapon. And though I’d felt powerful and untamed in my skin, I would soon be told to cover up, to hide.
My public school education affirmed these beliefs. My 6th grade science teacher taught us how to hide our pads and tampons, so no one would know we were on our period. The world wasn’t supposed to know because bleeding was disgusting. And we should absolutely, never talk about what we were going through, unless it was in private. Over and over we would hear how we were bitches because we were on our period (“She must be on her period.”). We weren’t allowed to just feel things. We weren’t allowed to stand our ground or express how we felt. We weren’t allowed to be strong in our own right.
I sat with a textbook in my palms, written by a man, open to the page on the female reproductive system, and was taught that you bleed for one week of your cycle- and that’s that. Female body parts are for babies and male pleasure. I got no explanation of how my hormones orchestrated a symphony in my body throughout the month. No explanation as to why I was experiencing PMS- that was apparently normal. No explanation as to why I ended up developing debilitating period pain. They never even attempted to explain the parts of the vagina. The female orgasm was never talked about and thought of as unimportant. In fact, there was no complexity to the female body at all!
Who was I supposed to ask questions to when I felt too ashamed to speak up? When I didn’t have the right words to ask questions (though I’d think to myself, what does this do?)? Why is such important information kept from us? Objectified and sexualized, I was meant to be kept quiet and ignorant to my own body.
Knowledge is power, right? Learning about my body and body parts was a part of how I began reclaiming myself. I felt like something had been taken away from me, or at least hidden. It was belonging to someone else, and they had the control. Because of this, I struggled to connect to myself on what seems like such a simple level. What I knew was my mind, not my body.
Luckily, you can find almost anything on the internet. And in today’s climate, I see women everywhere reclaiming their power. I see female educators taking storm and teaching not just the youth, but all of us. I honestly didn’t learn the complete truth about my body and cycle until about a year (maybe more) ago. And I’m fortunate enough to have access to some awesome books and teachers who’ve educated me on the reproductive system, as well as the cycles it goes through.
THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE
The female body not only operates on the circadian rhythm (lasting 24 hours), but also the infradian rhythm. The infradian rhythm is a biological clock that lasts about a month. There are two phases overall, which can be split again in two. These are the proliferative phase (1st day of menstruation to ovulation) and the luteal phase (ovulation to next period). These can then be split into; menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal. Throughout this duration, your hormones shift, affecting your energy levels, cravings, moods, etc..
THE FOUR PHASES:
1. Menstrual Phase (Day 1-5)
Your uterine lining is being shed and pushed out of the body because there was no conception, thus no implantation. There’s a drop in progesterone. This phase is characterized by low hormones levels and a low basal body temperature (BBT), which will be reflected as less than 37 degrees celsius (<37).
This is the time to rest and reflect. Be honest with yourself, as you can see things clearly. Reevaluate aspects of your life. Notice how that makes you feel. Trust your intuition, and do what feels right to you. Engage in light activities like yoga or walking, and know it’s okay to feel vulnerable. I personally don’t feel very social when I’m menstruating, so it’s a good time to self-care and do things for me. I like to think of it as time to get to know myself (me-time).
Your body is losing key nutrients like iron and zinc. I remember my mom always telling me that I needed to eat food with protein during my menses. Mineral-rich veggies, like kale/seaweed/mushrooms, are a good choice to help replenish nutrients. Consume bone broths, which contain a lot of wonderful nutrients to nourish your body during this time.
Some kitchen herbs that I find are helpful for this time are black pepper, fenugreek, and cinnamon (warming herbs that promote circulation/movement of blood), as well as nettles (mineral-rich) and chamomile (stress-relieving and calming). I also swear by raspberry leaf tea for painful menses. You can pick it up at your supermarket.
2. Follicular Phase (Day 6-11)
Your ovary is beginning to prepare the egg. The uterine lining begins to build, and cervical fluid increases. Estrogen is rising, so your body can ovulate. Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) is released by the pituitary gland and tells the ovaries to mature the follicles. Your hormones are still at their lowest, and your basal body temperature is lower (<37 degrees celsius).
This is the best time in your cycle to brainstorm and get creative. It’s also the perfect phase for planning. Set intentions, write your to-do list, and fill up your calendar for the month ahead.
Because this is the “start fresh” phase (a new moon), eating light foods that can help match that nourish your body best. Think leafy greens, nuts, and avocados (bonus: fermented foods, which are great to incorporate into your regular diet as well!).
3. Ovulatory Phase (Day 14-17)
Luteinizing Hormone (LH) kicks in and tells the ovary to release the egg. Estrogen peaks in order for the uterine line to thicken in preparation of a fertilized egg. LH, FSH, and estrogen are all at their peaks. A day before your ovulate, BBT peaks, then drops (> or = 37 degrees celsius). It will build up consistently afterwards. (Fun Fact: the ovary you ovulate from often switches sides by month. If you feel where your ovaries are, you may be able to tell which one you’re ovulating from.)
Time to be social! You may find yourself having your highest energy levels at this time. Connect and collaborate. This is my favorite time to do cardio or exercises that require a lot out of me. Bask in the extrovert within!
To support your cycle, eat lightly steamed veggies, and have a nice raw juice. Ovulation can be a constipating time, so make sure you get enough fiber in your meals. You could make a warm oatmeal with blueberries, figs, and flax seeds to top! Maca can be a nice herb to incorporate in your meals to help support endurance, and dandelion as well to help your liver metabolize hormones.
4. Luteal Phase (Day 17-28/30)
This is the longest phase in the cycle. Progesterone levels are at their highest, and BBT is over 37 degrees celsius (>37) until it drops before menstruation. Estrogen declines, and FSH and LH level out. The uterine lining is still building.
Get things done! Check off your to-do list! In the first half of the luteal phase, it can be a breeze to complete tasks and projects. The second half is a time for nurturing and preparing for your moon.
The more I started eating root vegetables during this phase, the more I began to crave them. Sweet potato with eggs, sprinkled with black pepper, salt, and cayenne, for breakfast is an excellent choice. And instead of eating sugary snacks, curb your cravings with sweet fresh or dried fruit like dates! In the second half of the luteal phase, try to incorporate warming herbs, like ginger and cinnamon. Bone broths can be nice to warm the body up before bleeding. Stray away from cold and raw foods at this time. Have a hot cup of fennel tea to encourage optimal digestion. ❤
There’s a disconnect between many people and their bodies. I think the fact that we’re given a very impartial (and kinda false) story about them is a huge cause of this. How do we become closer to ourselves when we’re constantly being fed falsities and stereotypes? How can we work with our bodies and tend to our needs, if we don’t know how to? How can we listen? And frankly, how can we enjoy our cycles, when we’re in pain and taught that that’s NORMAL?
Our cycle is part of our vitality. It is beautiful and amazing, and it is even more so knowing all that our bodies are capable of- all the work they do. We are incredibly strong, yet vulnerable at the same time and own it so well. We’re divine, and I hope that you can see the divinity in yourself and continue to explore your body. It has been an immense gift for me to grow into myself. The more I learn, the more I understand, the better I feel, and the better I help myself…
- Alisa Vitti’s In the Flo
Things to Check Out:
- Alisa Vitti’s In the Flo and her website
- Organic Olivia’s Podcast interviewing Alisa Vitti (EP. #16)
- The MyFlo App
- Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angler
- The Vagina Bible by Jen Gunter