The phases of my menstrual cycle

A woman's menstrual cycle is an incredibly delicate and very precise process ...

Without any interference, a menstrual cycle is likely (but not always) to be a monthly occurrence for around 40 years of a woman's life. This delicate and very precise interplay of hormones that occurs each and every month, is something to really 'wow' at!

More often than not, we are aware of our periods when we have our menstrual bleeding and then for the rest of the cycle we are oblivious ... yet the wonder of a woman’s period cycle keeps going whether we are paying attention to it or not. In order for the menstrual bleeding to come, there is so much throughout the other stages of the female menstrual cycle that needs to occur.

So let's take a look in a little more detail at the events that happen throughout our menstrual cycle to give us the opportunity to begin to appreciate how amazing it really is ... and how amazing women truly are.

The menstrual cycle video above beautifully demonstrates the physiological changes that occur during the phases of a woman's menstrual cycle. It also shows us how we are literally 'cycling', i.e. going around in circles, each and every month. This way of viewing our menstrual cycle provides a new depth to our understanding of ourselves as women as it shows us that we are not on this one-line track to nowhere, having no control or power to stop the train. We are actually coming back to a starting point each month. The same starting point.

This means we have the power to see where we have been and the power to choose differently 'next time round', on the next period cycle.

Menstrual cycle phases:

The first day of menstrual bleeding, when there is a noticeable flow of blood, is considered Day 1 of the period cycle. This is when the buildup of blood and tissue on the wall of the uterus is released. The blood builds up throughout the menstrual cycle in response to hormonal triggers in preparation for the potential implantation of a fertilised egg. When this doesn't occur, the uterus lining sheds and the period cycle begins again. The menstrual bleeding is likely to last for 2 - 7 days.

We could call this the 1st out of 4 phases of the menstrual cycle – a time when we can sense a 'new beginning'.

Our body is naturally drawn 'inward', we can feel 'reflective' and we may feel particularly sensitive and fragile. It is also a reality for many women that they will feel some period symptoms such as pain and discomfort, or experience other issues associated with the menstrual bleeding time. All of these symptoms may be a loud call from the body to take things very gently and to slow things down.

After the period bleeding has stopped, we begin to move into the next phase of the menstrual cycle. Much is changing, so it is great to become aware of how you feel, your moods and any physical symptoms that may be happening throughout the month. In this second phase of the period cycle, which may be from around day 7 -14 (only a guide, every woman is different), a woman's body begins to prepare for the ovulation cycle. So the ovaries begin to signal for the release of hormones to prepare for this stage. In response, the cervix begins to release a mucus that changes in its consistency as it gets closer to ovulation.

The cervix sits above the vagina and at the base of the uterus. It is the opening or passageway between the two and is responsible for producing and releasing the cervical mucus as well as housing and nourishing the sperm in the tiny little crevasses, called crypts, that sit in the walls of the cervix. The cervix is also responsible for providing a ‘plug’ during the time after ovulation, by changing again the consistency of its mucus, which stops any more sperm from potentially entering – and also supporting pregnancy if fertilisation has occurred. At the same time as the cervical mucus is being released, the lining of the endometrium (the uterus wall) responds to the release of the hormone estrogen and begins to thicken in preparation for a potential pregnancy.

Just before ovulation the cervical mucus will become quite wet and clear and in a consistency that is able to carry sperm in channels up through the vagina. The vagina is naturally very acidic and is a hostile place for sperm without the protection of the cervical mucus. The cervix is not often referred to in reproductive education but deserves to be well noted as a wonderful contributor to the female menstrual cycle as a whole.

In addition to all of this, the ovary itself is stimulated and one follicle will develop further to a ripe enough state for it then to be released ... hence why this is called the follicular phase. An egg is 1/10th the size of a poppy seed, so quite small!! We only ovulate from one or the other ovary each month, usually alternating. So only 1 egg is released each month from 1 ovary.

So as a natural progression from the last phase where we experience the energy of a 'new beginning', this phase brings us the opportunity of developing new growth, within ourselves and in our way of being with the world around us. If we align to the natural flow of our cycle, we open to feeling a sense of lightness and the inspiration to re-imprint this cycle with the new understandings that were available to us in our reflective period time.

Ovulation is the release of the egg from the ovary. Day 14 is often referred to as being the 'ovulation day', however this is not always the case as ovulation days can vary and change with every woman according to how they are experiencing their period and ovulation cycles. It is great to get to know your body in such a way that helps you to understand this about yourself ... very valuable indeed. Getting to know when you are ovulating gives you another marker in your cycle other than your period. You may feel how there is a very different quality to this time of the month. It is not any better or worse than the menstrual bleeding time ... it is just another stage of the female menstrual cycle for you to appreciate. There is something quite empowering in knowing the inner workings of your period cycle and how you may be affected as you move through it.

Ovulation is the most outward point of the cycle, opposite to the time of the period bleeding. As mentioned, you will notice that you will feel very different in yourself here to what you do on day 1 of your cycle. So from here, a woman is beginning the journey back inwards, just as from day 1 she is heading outwards.

Energetically, we could say that a woman is being pulled to be in her fullness at this stage i.e. to express in full her true self. The egg is ripe, and so is she! She has been through her 'new beginning' and has had the opportunity to choose another way and now her cycle supports her to confirm all of this and allow the natural pull to be and live more of who she truly is. When a woman is in alignment with the natural flow of her body, there is great potential for healing.

As we make our way further back to the 'starting point', most women will experience some significant changes in this phase of the menstrual cycle. Most of the time a pregnancy will not occur so the hormone changes prepare for the lining in the uterus – that has built up over the last 2 weeks – to be released. Many women experience physical and/or emotional challenges around this time as it is an opportunity to clear out what is no longer needed in preparation to begin the cycle again. Some women may experience symptoms associated with what is known as Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) during this phase.

Just as the body prepares to release the lining, so too is there an opportunity for the woman to release old patterns and behaviours that are no longer needed in her life and thus the opportunity to review. Our body is doing a full review of how honouring of ourselves we have been.

Essentially, our cycle is our medicine, which means that it is constantly giving us the feedback we need to evolve back into the true essence of who we are as women.

This last phase of our cycle is very good at bringing up the areas for us to see and feel, where we may be resisting our innate loveliness and tenderness that is held within. Again, if we are in alignment to this, we have an enormous opportunity each and every month to let go of what is not supporting us.

Our body is unequivocally committed and dedicated to our evolution back to who we truly are. We have the choice to listen and align and therefore heal and evolve ... or not.

Appreciating the wonder and the phases of your menstrual cycle

You see here that our menstrual cycle is so much more than what is considered by some women to be one uncomfortable point in a month. It is actually a cycle that spans an entire month, cycling round and round through different phases, over months and years. Each time we revisit a phase we are offered a moment of insight and a moment to reflect on how it feels, what our experience of it is this time compared to the last time we were at this point in the cycle.

Being aware of the different phases of our female menstrual cycle – offers us the most amazing opportunity to see that how we live throughout the cycle of a month can influence our experience of our cycle. We become our own menstrual cycle calendar, not only for the purpose of predicting our period dates, but more so to deepen our connection to our bodies and the understanding of what it is showing us.

It may sound super simple because it actually is. If we observed the changes during these phases each time we passed through them, we would more easily see the choices we have made in our lives that do not support us, revealed as period pain or sore breasts for example. And thus, making clear and confident choices to change would be far easier – ALL from observing our menstrual cycle. It really is quite magnificent and certainly something to truly appreciate.

Filed under

Women's healthHuman bodyMenstrual cycleCycles

  • Thumb small sara harris

    By Sara Harris, Bachelor Health Science (TCM) (Hons), Graduate Diploma Counselling, Diploma Remedial Massage, Natural Fertility Education

    Sara has a strong interest in girls and women's health and wellbeing. She works from her established complementary medicine clinic in Melbourne, Living Stillness and is the founder of The Girl to Woman Project.

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    Illustration: Desiree Delaloye, Entrepreneur, Creative Director, J.P.

    I embrace life as the school of self-awareness and self-responsibility it is.