Written by Natasha Richardson
For centuries, women have been associated with the moon. The moon is seen as a feminine energy, soft, gentle and nurturing.
The words ‘menstruation’ and ‘menses’ come from the Latin menstruus, meaning “monthly”, and the word ‘month’ comes from old Norse menon, meaning “moon”.
So you can see how intertwined menstruation and the moon are. Now, of course, that measurement of a month is written into the Gregorian calendar and doesn’t resemble the actual moon cycle because it makes things a tad easier for global trade. But many women notice similarities between the moon cycle and their menstrual cycle. Sometimes, the two marry up perfectly.
It is said, by some, that all women once menstruated with the dark moon and ovulated with the full moon. I personally think this was very unlikely. Rather than using the moon as another measure by which we can say our periods have somehow come up short, I’d rather we use it as a wonderful metaphor to tune into our cycle more.
The moon has 4 phases: the Dark moon (or New moon), the Full moon, the Waning and the Waxing. These phases are very close to the phases we experience during the menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle can also be split into 4 parts, as you’ll see below. The division of them into 4 equal parts is arbitrary. You’ll find that your phases aren’t equal in length. But for the sake of explaining the concept it’s best we start here.
Menstrual (Day 1-7ish) – Dark Moon
During menstruation the body is letting go of the un-fertilised egg and endometrial lining from the previous cycle. Whilst this is occurring, it is already starting to gear up for the next ovulation. The hypothalamus releases a hormone (GnRH) that tells the pituitary gland to release the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
This stimulates follicles (aka immature eggs) to start to mature in the ovary on one side of the womb (ovulation alternates sides each month). Those maturing eggs make oestrogen of their own and feed back to the hypothalamus to keep providing the support it is.
During this phase you are losing blood, of varying quantities, and this can leave you feeling drained. So be mindful of this, take it slow and eat nourishing blood-building foods like raw cacao, red meat, red wine, dark leafy greens, molasses and apricots. Towards the end of this phase you might stop bleeding but it’s unlikely your cervical mucous will return till the next phase. Your waking body temperature will be relatively low during this phase. I used to find mine would drop on the morning my period came, I could actually use it as a heads-up that she was on her way that day.
You may be feeling introspective, or hermit-like. If you can’t get this space and time to yourself, the outside world can get pretty tiring and annoying. Try to carve out as much me-time during your bleed as possible. Alternatively, you might be one of those people who, as soon as they bleed, feel relieved, and find their energy starts to build. I was one of those people. If that’s you, still try to take it easy and slowly build yourself back up into out-going life. Try to rest just a touch longer, or spend the energy you have on yourself, rather than prioritising others. This is a good time for planning what you want to do in the coming month, and tuning into your emotions and intuition.
This phase, if not supported correctly, can leave us in an energy deficit for the rest of the month. It’s a good idea to drink lots of nettle and raspberry leaf tea during this phase to build blood and tonify the womb. I actually put these two herbs in a drink I make called Aunt Flo. It’s a raw cacao drinking chocolate with those herbs combined within.
Pre-Ovulatory (Day 8-14ish) – Waxing moon
After a few days most of those follicles start to die off, except the one that will go on to be the egg for that cycle. Once a peak surge of FSH is reached the pituitary gland releases luteinising hormone that triggers ovulation itself. You’ll notice your cervical mucous will start to change during this phase from non-existent to sticky or crumbly. Your waking temperature during this part of the cycle is relatively low.
Your energy has built up since you bled and this is when you’ll start to want to go out and socialise again. It’s a good time to make plans, and communicate anything to your loved ones that you discovered during the menstrual or pre-menstrual phase. This is a time to plant seeds. It is also a highly creative time for many people, and this new burst of energy can be great if channelled well. However, for some they can be left feeling unfocused and ungrounded, so this is a good time for grounding and embodiment practises.
It is a good idea to keep feeding and nourishing the body during this phase. It is a time of gentle blossoming of new ideas as energy rises. I think delicate flowers are beautiful during this phase such as rose bud tea. Helping us to open our hearts to the week ahead.
Ovulatory (Day 15-21ish) – Full moon
The egg is released from the ovary and starts its journey down the fallopian tube. The body has the next 24-48 hours to fertilise that egg or pregnancy won’t occur that month. The egg leaves behind the capsule that it grew in; this is called the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum will release its own progesterone for the next few days in the hopes that pregnancy does occur. This supports the endometrial lining for the next few days. You’ll find your cervical mucous is at its most abundant during this phase. Often it will get watery or even super elastic like egg white (which is called spinnbarkeit). Your temperature will suddenly rise by 0.2 degree centigrade and stay high like this till your next period.
This is the peak of your energy for most people. It’s also when you’re feeling most sexy and sociable. Make the most of it by going out or booking in those important meetings. You will feel confident and be at your best for communication. Words will flow freely from your mouth. You’ll feel like you’ve had some of the luck potion, Felix Felicis, from Harry Potter!
Usually people find ovulation to be the easiest part of the cycle. I personally find that the energy boost can make me a bit hyper. Taking ashwagandha helps me to just pace myself a bit better so I don’t accidentally over-work and burn myself out for the next phase.
Pre-menstrual (Day 22-28ish) – Waning moon
It takes a little while for the body to realise fertilisation hasn’t occurred, and as the corpurs luteum uses up its resources and disappears, progesterone takes a nosedive, initiating menstruation. During this phase you’ll find your energy dips, along with your immunity so tiredness and colds are more likely. Your cervical mucous will go back to crumbly or sticky and perhaps you’ll have some dry days before the period begins again. But your waking body temperature remains high till then.
It’s normal to feel easily irritated and moody during this time because your energy reaches a natural low point and balanced blood glucose levels are harder to maintain. Communication skills are at their lowest but your instincts are heightened. If there is a contradiction between your instincts and what you are able to do this causes friction and irritability, which you may not be very good at expressing in a considered way. It tends to all come tumbling out in moody, angry or tearful outbursts instead. To be on the safe side, we usually pick a tiny, insignificant pet hate to lay into so we can express the feelings without actually making any real progress. It’s pretty impressive. I have found that if I’m able to actually have downtime to relax, lessen my workload and eat well, then my irritability and tearfulness just don’t occur. I implore you to experiment with using this phase to transition into a time of self-reflection and solitude. It can also be a great time for more introverted work such as planning and taking stock of life – the perfect tasks for solitude, and the perfect preparation for the next phase of your cycle where you can tune into your intuition more.
One herb that really encapsulates this phase of looking inwards and slowing down is passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). This herb helps you slip into that dream-like state that is just out of reach for so many people in the premenstrual phase. If you are able to let go of your responsibilities (even if it’s just for half a day) you’ll find there is a bliss-like state that you can grasp, passionflower will help you do this.
By charting our cycles and knowing where we are in them at all times we can harness the strengths of every part of it. We can also avoid the bad sides too. A lot of our suffering with periods comes down to the indoctrination we’ve received in western culture that they’re a negative experience. But there is a wave of menstrual activists, such as myself, whose purpose is to turn that narrative up on its head.
Viva la Menstrual Revolution!