4 Phases of Your Cycle
When we say the words “menstrual cycle” or “feminine cycle”, we’re talking about much, much, much more than just the days of your period.
What we’re actually talking about is the entire month that creates the ebb and flow of your hormones, emotions, the expression of your physical body, and life in general!
What is the Feminine Cycle?
When we say the words “menstrual cycle” or “feminine cycle”, we’re talking about much, much more than just the days of your period. We’re actually talking about the entire month that creates the ebb and flow of your hormones, emotions, the expression of your physical body and life in general! (P.S. this applies whether you don’t have a uterus or have an irregular cycle like a no-show or all-month period. You have a built-in feminine cycle no matter how dysfunctional your endocrine system is right now! In fact, if you fall into any one of these cycle abnormalities or one we haven’t mentioned, you’ll most definitely benefit from the Syncing With Your Cycle approach.) The entire feminine cycle is roughly 28 days. Each of the 4 phases of this cycle contains about 7 days (give or take, depending on your cycle length).
Because each woman is a little different, we named each phase to be more easily applicable to all women. Here are the 4 distinct phases of the menstrual cycle:
- Release: approximately Days 1-7 of your period
- Rise: approximately Days 7-14 (or Day 7-ovulation)
- Plateau: approximately Days 14-21
- Pause: approximately Days 21-28
Day 1 begins on the very first day of your “full flow” period. If you’re dealing with low progesterone or another imbalance between progesterone and estrogen, you may have spotting before your actual period starts. Don’t count spotting as Day 1. Instead, wait until you get your full-blown period to start counting.
Before we jump into the definitions of each cycle, let’s establish a few things.
Next, it’s helpful to figure out roughly the time you ovulate each month. We suggest getting some cheap ovulation test strips to track your first few cycles. (Note: This isn’t mandatory. You can use the general outline we offer instead.) Once you have a general idea of when you’re ovulating at this point in your life, you no longer have to track this month to month.
Lastly, you may be coming to us because you’re looking for help with a wonky cycle (and we’re happy you’re here!) If you don’t have a predictable or steady cycle that you can track, THAT’S TOTALLY OK. Instead, we’ll have you use the cycle of the moon to track the 4 phases of your cycle since the length of the moon cycle almost perfectly aligns with the feminine cycle. (No wonder cultures across history correlated the moon with feminine intuition, power, and renewal!)
Why Do the Phases of the Cycle Matter?
Each phase of the cycle is characterized by what happens in the physical body, our emotional landscape and how we are primed to spend that time.
Let’s go through the phases individually so you can understand the flow of each and begin to reap the benefits of living in sync with your cycle.
These are Days 1-7 of your cycle (where Day 1 is the first full flow of your period). If you don’t have a reliable cycle to track, go by the cycle of the moon from the New Moon (Day 1) to the Quarter Moon (7 days later). The Release phase is a period of release, rebirth and transformation. Both physically and emotionally, we are called to let go of what we no longer need so we can have space to consciously rebuild more of what we desire in our world.
The Dark Moon Sub-Phase Days 1-3 of the Release phase are quite unique. This is when you’re most intuitive, most ready to identify what’s working or not working in your life, and it’s when you should get clear on where this upcoming cycle is taking you. Yes, this applies to health goals (like treating your hormonal acne or making your periods less painful) but also extends beyond that to an overall happy life! This Dark Moon Sub-Phase is also when you feel most physically impacted by your period, and it’s especially helpful to set aside a couple days each month to honor your body’s need to rest, restore and renew. The first few days of your cycle can bring out a sense of loss of what you are letting go of, and this is totally normal and natural. As you take the time to honor everything you have experienced and learned from, you give yourself space to recover and replenish from a more deliberate and purposeful place. This is a time for self-love, intuition, and either alone time or being in the presence of supportive loved ones.
What’s Happening in the Body During the Release Phase
Physiologically, this is the lowest point of your hormones before the new cycle starts again. While this phase might seem like there isn’t much going on, it is actually a crucial time to build the foundation for a happy and healthy cycle for the upcoming 4 weeks. As your period finishes, your ovaries are getting the signal to build up multiple eggs so that ovulation (and possible fertilization to make a baby) is possible. At this time, it is crucial to help the ovaries get the appropriate signals that allow one egg to reach maturation and trigger the hormonal cascade involved in ovulation. When ovulation happens at the set time, we have cycles that are regular, predictable and less painful. Regardless of whether you plan on having a baby anytime soon or not, healthy cycles with appropriate ovulation is key to feeling healthy, happy and in control of your life!
Building up the body with sufficient nutrients to power cellular activity and lower inflammation (so the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-ovarian axis isn’t suppressed) is key this week. This is also the time to take it easy physically. This doesn’t mean giving up on your fitness and body goals, though! Rest, so you can rise up replenished and cleansed. Try decreasing the intensity of your workouts, and move your body in gentle and intuitive ways.
These are Days 7-14 of your cycle (or Day 7 to the time of ovulation). If you don’t have a reliable cycle to track, use the cycle of the moon from the Quarter Moon to the Full Moon (7 days later). This is the most powerful and extroverted time in your cycle, when we come forth as the powerful female figures of the world. This is the week to move, create, build and command. Take concrete and powerful steps toward the goals that you identify in the Release phase to make them a reality. This is akin to what is happening in the ovaries as one egg takes over control of communicating with the hypothalamus and pituitary and begins to ramp up the products of hormones that will dictate the rest of your cycle.
What’s Happening in the Body During the Rise Phase
Physiologically, estrogen production in the growing egg begins to remind the pituitary that ovulation should be occurring shortly. The pituitary, in turn, makes this a reality by creating adequate levels of hormones called LH and FSH. As the LH surge is released from the pituitary (this is what you measure on a home ovulation test), the ovaries get the message to release the developed egg into the fallopian tube.
This is a busy time for the entire body as we gear up to make ourselves a welcome home for creating and sustaining another being (or our “work babies” if you’re more focused on your career at this point in your life). Because of this, it is important to use our power in ways that protect, support and build up our internal environment. This is an active week, and you’ll feel great making changes that will serve you for months and years to come.
Break a bad habit or begin a new way of eating! Your determination and clarity are high right now, and it’s easier to stick with new ways of doing things. P.S. Looking for nutrient-rich recipes to fuel a healthy endocrine system? Check out our Nutrient-Rich Recipes section! Use this week to establish new routines so they’re already in place when you feel not-so-motivated. You’re at your strongest, fastest and most determined this week! Take the time to move your body in all the wonderful ways that it can serve you. This is an ideal time to try a new fitness routine or to start taking daily walks with your family or friends.
These are Days 14-21 of your cycle (or you can look at it as the time of ovulation to ~7 days later). If you don’t have a reliable menstrual cycle to track, use the cycle of the moon from the Full Moon to the Last Quarter Moon (7 days later). Ovulation and the week afterwards is a time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. This is the week where we feel our hormones rising and evening out, and with them, our sense of stability. (Having low progesterone or any other luteal phase defect will leave you feeling groggy, moody and off-kilter!) We feel empowered by the decisions and actions from the week before and begin to nestle more easily into a new way of being. This is a great time to focus on following a routine and get more comfortable with the flow of our lives. This week is a fantastic time to make to-do lists and follow through on them. Just make sure that your to-do list is filled with the things that are most important to YOU, not the people around you. Fill your daily to-do list with activities that nurture your spirit in addition to the work we need to do to turn our dreams into reality. You can do this by making separate to-do lists for work, home and self-care; then treat each to-do list with equal importance and care!
What’s Happening in the Body During the Plateau Phase
Physiologically, the collection of cells that used to house the egg that was just ovulated begins to collapse and secrete progesterone. This progesterone has a calming effect on our minds and body, so it’s a great time to methodically put one foot in front of the other for your goals. As the hormones build and plateau in the body, supporting the body’s natural detoxification systems becomes more and more important. There are also hormone-disrupting toxins and estrogen-like compounds in the environment that are important to protect against (even if you have low hormones). The Plateau phase is a great time for finding balance with your dietary goals.
In order to fuel your body successfully long-term, you must find a way to approach yourself compassionately. This is a great time to stick to your movement goals and see advances as you begin to settle in for the long haul. It helps to keep track of your accomplishments so you can watch your progress. Whether you’re rocking out a stellar walking routine or shooting for a new Crossfit personal record, the Plateau phase is the best time to establish a sustainable routine.
These are Days 21-28 of your cycle (or the 7 days after the Plateau phase). If you don’t have a reliable menstrual cycle to track, use the cycle of the moon from the Last Quarter Moon to the New Moon (7 days later). Our hormonal levels begin to shift and wind down this week. We’ve come full circle! This is the cycle phase that’s all about respecting and responding to your body. It will use its subtle voice, sensations and nudges to guide you in the right direction. Catch up on sleep or increase your complex carbohydrate intake in response to sugar cravings. Take in all of the lessons you’ve learned from your body the 3 weeks before and put them to good use. This is important because as we optimize and support the high points of our hormonal cascades, we establish a good base for the entire next cycle! One of the most important aspects of this week is good detoxification support. Our modern environments leave us incredibly prone to elevated hormone levels with artificial, half-metabolized, hormone-like compounds floating around in the bloodstream that cause miserable symptoms (including but not limited to PMS, hormonal acne and spotting).
While we are metabolizing and removing toxins and unnecessary hormones from our bodies, this is the time to slow down mentally and physically in preparation for the upcoming Release phase. It is best to approach every part of yourself with gentleness and compassion this week. Cravings and emotions tend to come up at this time, and it is a beautiful opportunity to explore why we have chosen to believe the things we believe or rely on the things we rely on. Instead of beating yourself up for not being perfect at sticking with your new diet, ask yourself why you crave what you crave. Would you benefit from comfort, and how can you give yourself that? Do you need support? Who and what is a healthy source of support in your life? By looking at things from a perspective of love for yourself, we can let go of all the “shoulds” that make us feel small and not in control. Begin to express gratitude for all the ways you “mess up” so you can see things as a learning opportunity. When you stop making yourself small and “wrong”, you’ll become in tune with the strength you have inside.
What’s Happening in the Body During the Pause Phase
At this point in our menstrual cycles, our ovaries begin to resorb the portion of the ovary that is in charge of supporting and creating good hormone levels. As long as the rest of the cycle went smoothly, the active hormones in the body will maintain and thicken the lining of the uterus in preparation for housing a baby. Even if you’re not trying to get pregnant, this is important because a lack of stability in the lining of the uterus will cause unpleasant symptoms like spotting, hormonal acne and a painful period. As the ovaries absorb the tissues that maintain hormone creation, the entire hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-ovarian axis gets the message that it’s almost time to have a period, and our hormone levels gradually decline. If your cycle or hormonal landscape is imbalanced, this drop in hormones often triggers the symptoms that probably led you to find us in the first place!
This is the time when your cravings tend to communicate the things your body desires. A craving can signify something that you’re missing (for example, chocolate cravings can hint at a magnesium deficiency) or a food sensitivity that’s actually irritating you (like salty chips covered in bothersome canola or sunflower oil). Cravings can also signify that your spirit is in need of something more, like more time to relax or more support from your loved ones. As your hormones decrease over the Pause phase, it’s time to get back to a gentler way of moving. Instead of your usual routine, try out a detox-focused yoga video like this one. The stretching, twisting and flowing will help the detox organs (liver, lymphatics, kidneys and colon) work much more smoothly during hormone removal, setting you up for a wonderful next cycle.
Where to Go From Here
The best way to learn about the 4 phases of the feminine cycle is to starting living more in sync with yourself! If you’re new to this, we put together a free Cycle Guide that lays everything out in an easy-to-implement format. In it, you’ll find weekly rituals, elixirs (easy ways to help support inflammation control and detoxification), movement goals, journal prompts, different ways to minimize hormone-mimicking compounds that wreak havoc on our female systems and much more!