What’s in a cycle; the power of a woman’s body
What’s in a cycle; the power of a woman’s body
They say life works in cycles, and most certainly when we look around us we see this statement is true. There is day and night, the seasons of summer, autumn, winter and spring, and if we pay close enough attention there are patterns and cycles we experience within ourselves, in our own bodies.
One of the more obvious cycles of the body is a woman’s menstrual cycle.
What’s interesting yet somewhat saddening to note, is that as women we are only really taught the surface of what goes on in our bodies in relation to our menstrual cycle. In fact, some or most women (and men) remain completely unaware of the true beauty of this cycle for the entirety of their lives.
The reality is that when it comes to education and awareness around the menstrual cycle, there is still so much focus placed on the bleeding aspect that occurs each month, as if every other part of the cycle has little to no value or importance. Some women may educate themselves around ovulation, however when this is the case it is usually for contraceptive means and nothing more, when there is in truth so much more.
The word ‘cycle’ itself comes from the Latin word for circle, and a circle is only complete when every part of its movement is present. So why is it that we have been educated to focus primarily on one point of the cycle/circle rather than see it as a whole?
When we look at the seasons that make up a calendar year, we can see that there is a purpose and beauty to each of them. Be it winter, spring, summer or autumn, each season offers its unique quality by reflection and together they complete the cycle. When we look at the woman’s menstrual cycle in this same light, we cannot but see the importance and exquisite beauty in each and every phase.
Be it ovulation, post ovulation, pre-bleeding, bleeding, post bleeding or pre-ovulation, there is so much for a woman to explore and get to know about her body and how she feels during each phase of her cycle.
When a woman opens herself up to her body in this way, she opens the door to an inner wisdom that once tapped, cannot be contained.
On a purely practical level, the truth is a woman would not bleed if it were not for ovulation, and ovulation would not occur if not for the hormones communicating to the ovaries that it is time to stimulate the follicles in preparation for an egg to be released. Then there are the changes that occur in the cervix and the uterus in response to the hormones throughout the cycle, the production and changes in mucus consistency and body temperature, not to mention the many other physical symptoms such as changes in breast size, tender breasts, changes to digestion . . . the list goes on.
There are also patterns to what a woman will experience in relation to how she feels at particular times throughout her cycle. This can be described as a dance between periods of repose (or deeper inner stillness and reflection) and periods of motion, when a woman may feel more outwardly expressive and activating of her inner resource. Of course if a woman rejects the call to go deeper, or to express more when it is required of her, she may feel at times emotional or unsettled within herself and this is okay too as it is always a communication and opportunity to learn, and never a criticism on the woman herself.
The entire cycle, including the interplay between the hormones, ovaries, uterus and cervix, and the movement back and forth between repose and motion, can only be described as a magnificent dance, so finely detailed and ever so subtlety changing in response to how a woman is living, This begs us to ask the question . . . why then do we place so much focus on the bleeding aspect of the cycle, often viewing it as an inconvenience or annoyance, when clearly there is so much more here on offer?
Let’s look at the dance in more detail . . .
At every single moment there is something happening in a woman’s body within her cycle. Physiologically we can say this begins with the production and interplay of the hormones estrogen and progesterone and their stimulating factors, Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Lutenizing Hormone (LH), beginning with a signal from the hypothalamus gland and moving down through the pituitary gland to the follicles held in the ovaries.
This dance of hormones is quite extraordinary and exquisite to connect with, and the deeper a woman chooses to go in connecting with her body and cycle, the more she is able to feel in relation to when each of the hormones is more or less active throughout her cycle, and exactly what they are doing within her body.
Beyond this interplay of hormones, and directly related, is the development and movement of the follicles, and the egg that will be eventually chosen and released at the time of ovulation to travel towards the uterus that has, during this pre-ovulatory phase, already prepared itself with a rich lining to enhouse the potential new life.
Is this in itself not telling of the incredibly nurturing nature of the woman's body?
Did you know that a woman's body actually prepares several eggs within the ovaries each cycle, yet only one is released at the time of ovulation? This collection or group of eggs develop side by side until just one is chosen at the time of ovulation, and those that don’t get released (ovulated) are reabsorbed back into the the ovaries (just as the egg that is released at ovulation is reabsorbed into the uterine wall if it isn’t fertilised), thus revealing that nothing is ever lost in this grand cycle.
There are other bodily changes a woman may notice during each of the cycle phases that can support her to track and stay connected to where she is up to in her own cycle. The cervical mucus, which varies in response to the hormone levels as they change throughout the cycle, can tell a woman exactly when she is preparing to ovulate, when she ovulates, and when her body is getting close to bleeding. This can be observed through the amount, consistency and texture of the mucus, and it is also a way for a woman to know when she is the most fertile within her cycle.
Another fascinating area to explore in the cycle is how the basal body temperature changes in response to the hormones, and being particularly heightened at the time of ovulation. Many women who use/d the popular rhythm method for contraception (or conception) were taught to track their body temperature daily so they knew exactly when they were ovulating and hence fertile. The hormone most responsible for the rise in temperature at the time of ovulation is the lutenizing hormone, however high levels of estrogen at this time also play a role.
If and when a woman is in tune with her body during the time of ovulation, she may feel this rise in temperature as a warmth within her whole body, and sometimes she may even feel ‘hot’ depending on what is normal for her in relation to her basal body temperature and the spike she experiences.
There is also the way the cervix feels during the cycle that can communicate to a woman when she is close to ovulation or close to bleeding. As a woman approaches ovulation the area around her cervix tends to feel more expansive and full. This is the time when the cervix sits slightly higher in the body and is more open . . . ripe like a flower in full bloom so to speak and this is very true – it’s a gorgeous feeling to connect to and something every woman can do the more she allows herself to feel her body from the inside out.
Following ovulation and up until a woman is approaching her period, the cervix sits lower and is more closed, with a mucus plug at the tip. This is in case the egg is fertilised which requires a closed environment for a potential growing embryo. Once the body realises there is no embryo to nurture, progesterone levels begin to drop, signalling to the mucus plug that it is no longer needed and in turn it starts to fall away. A woman may at this time notice a small discharge of thicker white mucus in the days leading into the menstrual or bleeding phase of her cycle.
When the body is then ready, and with the mucus plug no longer sitting at the opening of the cervix, the uterus lining is able to be released and the woman will start to bleed. This bleeding phase may last anywhere between 2 to 7 days (sometimes more), and the flow will vary from woman to woman based on what is needed and in direct relationship with her body and how she is living. Some women will experience shorter, heavier periods, others may bleed for longer with a lighter flow, and others again may have a longer bleeding phase that is heavy throughout –
The point here being that there is no right or wrong or so called normal to compare to, just the beauty of that woman’s cycle and all that it is communicating to her.
Developing a greater awareness of our body throughout our cycle starts with getting a sense for the bigger, grander picture at play, but also acquainting ourselves, if we haven’t already, with our reproductive organs and in particular our ovaries, uterus, cervix and surrounding tissue. This can be as simple as allowing ourselves to stop and feel this area of our body, connecting to how moist or dry we may be feeling at any time during the day, feeling if there is an openness or a hardness or discomfort. All this, without judgment, but simply as an observation is all that is needed, and it is what allows for an ever deepening relationship with our body and our innermost being.
As women there is such a joy and intimacy to be had in getting to know ourselves through our menstrual cycle, and diarising is a great way to keep track of and learn from the changes in our bodies, and our feelings throughout our cycles.
When we are able to remove all judgment, criticism or comparison and simply allow whatever is there to be, a woman’s relationship with her cycle becomes a foundational point for her to constantly deepen and expand her inner beauty and connection with her soul.
"A woman’s body is, by design, living in Cycles. By nurturing awareness of the Cycles, you allow the woman’s true nature to blossom."Natalie Benhayon