The Cycles: Autumn
A series of practices, guidelines and observances to help you navigate the stages of your menstrual cycle with harmony using blend of yoga, pranayama and essential oils.
I draw on the wisdom contained in Maisie Hill’s Period Power and Emine & Paul Rushton’s Sattva, as well as other respected sources and my own personal experience.
Keep an eye out for my guides on the other seasons in the cycle...
Image credits: Jennie Agg (left); This Conscious Life (right)
The Seasons of Your Cycle
Maisie Hill beautifully compares the four phases of our menstrual cycle to the seasons of nature. This helps us better understand and tune in to the differences, learning what to harness and what to avoid.
This covers the full length of your menstruation, from the first day of your period.
This represents the follicular phase from the last day of your period up to the days before you ovulate.
This encompasses ovulation when your ovaries release an egg.
This is the luteal phase and starts around a week or so before your bleed which leads you back into winter.
Why tune in to your cycle?
Understanding your cycle is a bit like the weather forecast. It might not be accurate all the time but it does give you a way to prepare for whatever the weather might throw at you.
Tracking your cycle
One of the best ways to tune into your unique seasons is to track your menstrual cycle. This gives you the power to predict how you might feel physically and emotionally at certain times of the month so you can prepare for them.
If you’re lucky you may be able to organise your diary with this in mind, but even if that’s not possible, simply knowing why you suddenly seem tearful, overly self-critical, bloated or anti-social (all delightful traits of Autumn!) should help you be a kinder and more compassionate with yourself.
Autumn comprises the second half of our menstrual cycle when the levels of oestrogen in our system dips after the peak of ovulation. This hormonal shift give rises to changes in our emotions, energy, mood and outlook in what can be a subtle (or not so subtle) manner!
When does Autumn come around?
Autumn can come upon us almost immediately after ovulation (even the next day if there’s a steep decline in oestrogen) or perhaps a week after, allowing us to linger in the exuberance of summer a little longer.
It’s different for each of us and might even vary from cycle to cycle or as we move through the longer seasons of our lives.
External factors and stressors can also effect when you enter your Autumn season so the best thing you can do is to start tracking your cycle (see above) and learn to identity the day you transition from Summer to Autumn.
The Symptoms of Autumn
Remember we all experience our seasons slightly differently. You may experience some or all of the below to a lesser or greater degree….
your energy levels plummet
you feel irritable and/or argumentative
you’re more reactive than usual and the smallest things can set you off
you become very critical of yourself and others
you don’t feel very sociable and crave solitude
you find yourself reaching for comfort foods
The important thing is observation so if something keeps coming up at this stage of your cycle, notice it.
It’s only in the last few years that I’ve started recognising the pattern of irritability and reactivity that surfaces for me at this time in my cycle. This knowledge has heightened my awareness which means I’m a little more mindful in how I respond.
The Gifts of Autumn
The autumn stage of our cycle allows us to start seeing things with a new clarity and maturity. That beautiful flurry of creative energy may be dwindling but this is the time to reflect on ideas, tasks or projects you’ve been engaged in with fresh eyes and perspective.
As our energy levels naturally draw inwards, a more insightful energy begins to surface. If you tune into your body with curiosity you’ll notice that there’s a lot to absorb and learn from in this part of your cycle. This is the time when our intuitive power is at her strongest. So trust your intuition. That gut feeling… go with it. It’s so very rarely wrong.
The reduced levels of oestrogen in our bodies during this phase mean we’re less inclined to people-please and oblige others. We may begin to question everything within and around us, from relationships to work to our inner world. The things we were able to excuse or gloss over during our Spring and Summer seasons suddenly feel more pressing. Autumn is the perfect time to lose your filter and speak your truth. Be honest with yourself and others.
“Autumn is where we grow up and get real…..the rose-tinted spectacles of Summer are replaced with x-ray specs granting you the power to see things with laser like clarity… there is a lowered tolerance for bullshit which can either feel freeing or dangerous!” - Maisie Hill, Period Power
Organisation & Release
The increase of progesterone in our Autumn phases can often manifest as an urge to ‘nest’ as our bodies prepare for a possible pregnancy. That makes Autumn the perfect time to clear things out and get organised. Just like the seasons in nature when the trees let go of their leaves, the Autumn of our cycle is an invitation to let go of what no longer serves us, be that relationships, a work project or something as simple and mundane as turning out our wardrobe, cupboards or fridge! Trust what you need to let go of.
The Challenges of Autumn
Our inner critic feels right at home in this stage of our cycle and if we don’t keep her in check, we can let her voice absolutely get the better of us. There have been countless occasions where I’ve let my insecurities magnify at this time and if I'm not careful, my imposter syndrome can run riot. It's NOT a good place to be!
Here are a few tips to deal with that tricky inner critic:
1. Make self-care a priority
If you’re lacking in sleep, feeling stressed, and perhaps not paying attention to what you are feeding yourself food wise, the inner critic will feel even more unforgiving so take care of your basic needs - plenty of rest, water, nourishing food.
2. Be aware of triggers
Try to bring aware of potential triggers in your environment that exacerbate your inner critic and avoid them if possible. For instance, I love Instagram, but during Autumn, I find myself fixating on all the wonderful things other people are accomplishing and I feel myself spinning into a spiral of self-doubt and criticism. This is where my inner critic can show up so I try to avoid getting sucked into social media at this time.
3. Focus on small positives
Take a moment to recognise something positive that's happened in your day. It might be something small you're proud of like having ticked something off your to-do list. These tiny acknowledgements can often be enough to quieten your inner critic. Even just a touch.
Carrying On As Usual
We tend to exacerbate and extenuate the symptoms of Autumn by ignoring the signals our bodies send us and insisting on ‘business as usual’. Instead of honouring our desire to retreat and get quiet, we try to be everything to everyone (a classic oestrogen trait that’s not easy to pull off when we’re low on oestrogen), which can leave us completely burnt out.
Autumn is an opportunity to store up reserves for our inner winter, when we’re menstruating, so the more in tune we can become with our cycle, the more we can learn to give our body what it needs during this period, and the less challenging Autumn becomes.
Try to find a few minutes in your day for quiet reflection, ideally first thing in the morning although any time is better than none.
This might be with a cup of tea and a journal, or perhaps listening to a guided meditation (I love the Insight Timer app).
Even taking a few minutes to listen to the stillness of the early morning helps to set the right tone for your day in a calm, insightful way.
If you have a yoga practice, you’ll want to honour the shift in physical energy and introspection with a slower paced practice. Try the following postures. I've also filmed a 45 minute flow for your Autumn. See below.
1. Standing Postures
Warrior 1 [virabhadrasana I]
Warrior 2 [virabhadrasana II]
Warrior 3 [virabhadrasana III]
Warrior 1 and 2 are wonderful for connecting with your strong inner voice. Try repeating these mantras in the postures:
This is me. This is what I believe in.
I feel strong, grounded, and present.
I am focused. I have clarity.
Warrior 3 is another wonderful pose for Autumn as it provides that sense of strength, poise balance and unwavering focus.
Similarly, Eagle pose helps bring the focus to Vishuddha chakra (throat chakra), reminding you that you have the right to be heard and acknowledged.
2. Supported Postures
Supported shoulder stand [sarvangasana]
Supported bridge [salamba setu bandhasana]
Quietening, reflective, and reviving, a supported shoulder stand is a powerful addition to your toolbox of Autumn poses, especially with an awareness on your throat chakra, the communication centre.
If shoulder stand isn’t part of your practice, supported bridge pose makes a wonderful alternative or follow-up after the shoulder stand.
A note on shoulder stand: blankets should be folded under the shoulder blades so there’s space at the nape of the neck, avoiding compression of and direct pressure on the next. If you have high blood pressure or glaucoma, please refrain from shoulder stand until you’ve spoken to a doctor.
3. Seated Forward Folds
Head to knee [janu sirsasana]
Seated forward fold [pashimotanasana]
Conclude any Autumn-based practice with seated forward folds that move you towards the earth. These honour the natural dip in energy that occurs during this part of the cycle, and encourage the more contemplative, introspective and insightful qualities the season gifts us.
Tip: If you’re feeling particularly drained and in need of support, you can amplify the restorative nature of these poses with the addition of a bolster and/or blankets. If that feels like a nourishing place to be, remain for up to five minutes to absorb the restorative qualities.
Here's a nourishing 45 minute flow to help you find more ease in your body and mind when you're bleeding.
Breath work can be incredibly beneficial throughout the seasons of your cycle. Whether you incorporate it into your yoga practice or use it as a stand alone session, bringing awareness to the breath helps us find equilibrium, ease and clarity.
1. Lengthening the exhale
Ideal when you’re feeling overwhelmed with emotion, this exercise calms the nervous system, encouraging us back to ‘rest and digest’ mode. Either seated or standing, lengthen the exhale slowly to the point where it becomes twice as long as your in breath. I find this a particularly useful exercise when anxiety or my inner critics rises to the surface.
2. Equal length inhale/exhale
The powerful of ‘sama vritti’ brings an immediate sense of balance and ease to the body, breath, mind. This simple act of curating a breath in which the inhale and exhale are of equal length can be performed anywhere and at any time. When you feel like you might respond from a place of reactivity, try this pranayama and see if it helps to modify your thoughts and actions with more clarity.
Essential oils are a beautiful and effective way to support you through the different seasons of your cycle. Their gentle yet profound healing qualities have assisted me often in my self-care practice.
Here are a selection of oils that might resonate with your Autumn…
1. Clary Sage: The Oil of Clarity and Vision
encourages you to remain open to new ideas and perspectives
helps to clear mental and creative blocks, eliminate distractions from the mind and dispel darkness
assists you in embracing emotions
relaxes, comforts and grounds you
helps you acknowledge and accept what's going on with your hormones but guides you to communicate them in a way that is neither reactive nor volatile
encourages sound sleep
avoid if pregnant!
2. Frankincense : The Wise One & Oil of Truth
perfect for quieter, more contemplative practices like mediation, pranayama and restorative yoga
helps align you with compassion, kindness and empathy, not only towards others but also towards yourself
connects you to a higher consciousness that can help reveal deceptions and false truths
brings focus and clarity to a scattered mind
helps you re-centre and bring you home to your truth
3. Geranium: The Oil of Love & Trust
can gently guide you back to balance from moments of emotional turmoil
restores confidence when we're feeling vulnerable or like we're ‘not enough’
encourages emotional honesty, love and forgiveness
supports the notion of parenting ourselves with love and tenderness when needed
balancing, soothing and gently uplifting
4. Lavender: The oil of Communication & Sweet Transformation
beautiful oil to use for meditation, said to bring in blessings of love
cleansing scent and energy deter negative energy from other people
calms the mind of incessant chatter and brings mental clarity
assists in reducing mental exhaustion, stress and anxiety
aids true verbal expression, encourages emotional honesty and assists us in communicating our innermost desires, thoughts and feelings
imbued with courageous spirit
calms and soothes turbulent emotions, guiding you towards peace and calm ('the 'grandmother' of oils)
a universal oil that travels to the place in the body that's in need of healing and cleansing
How to use essential oils:
Massage into the skin (belly, chest, throat, soles of the feet)
Try a whole body massage by diluting in a carrier oil (eg. sesame, fractionated coconut oil, sweet almond or jojoba) for an incredible act of self-kindness
Add a few drops into your bath
Use a diffuser/vapouriser (no need to dilute in a carrier oil)