It’s typically said that a woman’s monthly cycle consists of two phases. The First phase, known as the Proliferative or Follicular Phase, spans from the menstrual period until ovulation (usually occurring mid-cycle). The second phase, called the Luteal or Premenstrual Phase, extends from post-ovulation until we bleed again.
However, if we track the array of physical and emotional changes that we can experience during our cycle, we discover that there are in fact four phases.
I first came across this idea in Miranda Gray’s groundbreaking book, The Optimized Woman. Gray suggests that if we tune into our changing physical energy, moods, and mental states that become evident throughout the four phases of our cycle, we can maximise our wellbeing and productivity by adjusting our work-load and our self-expectations accordingly.
Moving with the Moon
These four menstrual phases are mirrored by the rhythms of the lunar cycle.
As the lining of your uterus builds, your energy also rises as you move into the fullness of ovulation reflecting the energy of the waxing and then full moon. Then, your energy begins to gradually decline as the uterus prepares to shed its fertile lining, for menstruation, echoing the waning of the moon into its dark moon phase.
If women live together in a natural setting without the influence of artificial light their hormonal system becomes influenced by the changing light of the moon and they often find that their bodies naturally sync so that they are ovulating in time with the full moon and menstruating with the dark or new moon. According to yoga’s ancient sister science of Ayurveda, we can achieve optimal menstrual health if we can align our bodies to this ancient lunar rhythm.
However, regardless of where your cycle falls in relation to the phases of the moon—because it can vary for every woman—using this lunar metaphor to represent the phases of our menstrual cycle can help us more deeply understand the four phases, and this has a positive flow-on effect for our overall health and enjoyment of our menstrual cycle.
As you become more aware of the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle shifts throughout the four phases of your menstrual cycle, and how to take care of yourself as you move through its phases, you’ll experience a deeper connection with all of the aspects of your unique femininity and in turn enhance your emotional and physical health and wellbeing.
So what are these four phases?
Phase One: Dark Moon Menstrual Phase
When there is no moon, or ‘dark moon’, our natural inclination is to stay indoors. In the same way, the energy of menstruation encourages us to rest and retreat.
As your uterus works hard to shed its menstrual blood there is usually a natural dip in our energy. This is the most sensitive time in your cycle – your immune system is at its lowest point and you actually need more sleep at this time of the month! It represents the dormant, ‘winter phase’ of our cycle.
Miranda Gray calls the time that we menstruate the “Reflective Phase”. It’s when you have the opportunity to reflect on the events and feelings of the past month, and to let go of anything that no longer serves you. So it involves not only a physical cleansing of your body as it releases the menstrual blood, but also an emotional cleansing. To do this you need to take some time and space for yourself; separate from your obligations as mother, wife, girlfriend, worker, and nourish your energy with deep, inner reflective practices.
3 Self Care Tips for your Dark Moon Phase
- Indulge in a nurturing and restorative Dark Moon Yoga practice. Any kind of gentle yoga will do (as long as it follows the all important ‘dos and don’ts’ of safe, menstrual yoga—see my new book, ‘Moving with the Moon‘ for more information).
- On the first day of your period try to take at least a few hours to rest and retreat from your daily obligations. Sip a cup of herbal tea; taking the time to dream and regenerate your energy.
- Try to defer or delegate at least one task on your ‘to do’ list to lighten your load and allow you the all important time to rest and nurture your energy. For instance, I ask my husband to cook dinner or organise take-out when I’m in my Dark Moon phase
Phase Two: Waxing Moon Pre-ovulation Phase
Miranda Gray calls this the ‘Dynamic Phase’ which occurs just after the completion of menses in the lead up to ovulation. This is when you may notice your energy is building again, in the same way that your uterine lining is proliferating and your hormone levels are escalating. It equates seasonally to spring, or to the waxing phase of the moon.
After the heaviness and lower-energy of our menstrual period, we emerge like a butterfly from its chrysalis, with renewed vigour, as we now feel unencumbered by the more challenging hormonal symptoms that accompany the Waning and Dark Moon phases of our cycle. This is when we exhibit the most ‘yang’, or ‘masculine’ qualities of our cycle. We are driven and full of energy. Our focus is outward, and if we harness this energy, it’s when we are most productive and outcome-oriented.
3 Self Care Tips for your Waxing Moon Phase
- Go for it! Tackle the big tasks on your ‘to do list’. But be sure you keep the balance and don’t burn out by getting too carried away with the energy of this phase—it’s still important to incorporate rest and quiet time during this phase.
- This is when we are most likely to be in ‘hunter mode’ so that means we’re all about the endgame and not necessarily focused on the people around us and tuning into their feelings and needs. It can pay to remind yourself to not lose touch with your ‘people skills’ during this phase of your cycle so that you don’t inadvertently hurt the feelings of others. Another way of looking at it is that this is a great time to focus on work and not so much on socialising or work that involves collaboration.
- This is the optimum time to work with strength and stamina-building yoga practices; work on perfecting your more active inversions and also enjoy the dynamism and empowerment offered by the Warrior Standing Poses.
Phase three: Full Moon Ovulation Phase
Around the time that we ovulate and are potentially fertile every month we can usually quite clearly notice a shift into this phase which is like the ‘summer’ of our cycle, reflecting full-moon energy. Just like the Waxing Phase we continue to feel energetic and outward focused. But rather than the achievement-oriented, ego-driven energy that gets things done, we shift into more of the nurturing, mother energy.
Miranda Gray calls this the “Expressive Phase” when we become more relationship-focused and we naturally reconnect with those who are close to us during this time of the month—most particularly our lover. At this time we sparkle in our femininity and we are generally at the peak of our sexual appetite and openness towards others, reflecting the womb’s biological imperative to receive and ‘hold’.
3 Self Care tips for your Full Moon Phase
- This is a wonderful time to really indulge in your femininity, whether that be by treating yourself to a new hair-do, a day at the spa, a new outfit, or jewellery. Or simply taking the time to give yourself a breast or body massage with your favourite oil or moisturiser.
- Make a date with your partner for some intimate, reconnecting time—this will then feed you both for the more rocky times ahead when you move into your premenstrual phase. Or, if you’re single, this is the optimum time to go out and socialise; you’ll be more extroverted and attractive to the opposite sex.
- A heart-opening Full Moon Yoga practice can beautifully complement the energy of this phase (see my new book ‘Moving with the Moon‘).
Phase four: Waning Moon Pre-Menstrual Phase
During this phase our physical and emotional energy and fortitude begins to wane, and we begin to focus inwards, reflecting the moon now moving towards darkness and emptiness.
This phase spans the time after ovulation up until we start to bleed again, when we often experience premenstrual symptoms (PMS). In our modern society this is the much-maligned aspect of a woman’s cycle. Women commiserate with each other about the numerous annoying and sometimes distressing PMS symptoms, ranging from bloating, to headaches, to moodiness.
However, if you can learn to honour and embrace all of the changing faces of your cycle, even this more challenging one, you may in fact find that your overall experience of this phase becomes much more positive.
Miranda Gray calls this the ‘Creative Phase’, which has helped me immeasurably in my enjoyment and experience of this time. I have learnt to value my heightened intuition and creative abilities that become obvious during this phase, and to cut myself some slack in terms of limiting my expectations for tackling left-brain, rational, detail-orientated tasks during this time.
3 Self Care Tips for your Waning Moon Phase
- Take some time out for yourself away from friends and loved ones. Do whatever really nourishes your soul—reading your favourite book, taking a walk in nature, or watching your favourite TV show.
- Take regular Epsom salt baths during this phase. Your skin absorbs the magnesium in the salts which can help to balance your hormones during this often tumultuous time.
- Adjust your yoga practice to how you’re feeling from day to day. On same days during your Waning Moon phase you will be feeling fiery and irritable, whereas on others you may feel sluggish and tired. See my ‘Moving with the Moon‘ book for some suggested practices and sequences to support the numerous symptoms we can experience during the premenstrual phase.
 Alison A. Armstrong talks about the ‘hunter’ mode as being when men but also women can tend to being driven and single-focused. See here to find out more about her work: http://www.understandmen.com/