The Cycles: Winter
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.
Winter starts the day we begin to bleed and covers the entirety of our period. Our hormones are at their lowest levels which can often lead to changes in our emotions, energy, mood and perspective.
The days around the the start of the winter of your menstrual cycle are when your hormones are at their lowest levels.
During this time, emotional, energetic and physical fatigue, overwhelm and feelings of anxiety may all be present to some greater or lesser degree. It is often only as we begin our period that we recognise that that was what perhaps was going on.
We may feel a sense of wanting to withdraw from the busyness of everyday life. This is our body’s natural way of communicating that winter is about to begin.
The Symptoms of Winter
Aside from the tell-tale sign of bleeding as you start your period, here are some other symptoms that you may notice as you enter the Winter of your cycle.
lack of energy, extreme fatigue and/or exhaustion
vulnerability, sensitivity and tearfulness
dissipation of bloating, emotional tension and sore breasts
menstrual pain and/or cramps
deep inner focus and/or introspection
desire to withdraw from the outside world and/or hibernate
The Gifts of Winter
Our body and mind is crying out for rest during our winter. The best thing we can do is honour that and carve out time to rest and restore. Pushing on through regardless of how we are feeling means we may enter our Spring (typically a time when we feel most energised, creative and ready to plan) depleted and we may struggle to fully catch up on that deeply nourishing rest our bodies require.
Our winter can truly be a time of great nourishment and self-care if we let ourselves lean into our body’s wisdom. It affords us the gift of becoming clear about what you require more of and what you may need to implement to honour your needs.
Don’t be afraid to set some boundaries for yourself, to unearth space for activities that’ll serve you well at this time. Perhaps some gentle or restorative yoga (see below), walks out in nature, curling up with a good book, an extra long soak in the bath with some soothing essential oils (see below for my favourite winter blend).
Reflection & Release
Our bleed can serve as a grounding friend. It is opportunity to use that natural inclination to turn inwards away from the external world and take stock. Use this time to reflect and release (literally as well as figuratively).
The Challenges of Winter
The idea of taking some time out to rest fills many of us with a deep sense of guilt. We don’t feel entitled or deserving of a moment of stillness, or perhaps we feel we have too much responsibility to allow ourselves the time to slow down. Try to offer yourself compassion and consider the advice you would give to a friend or loved one who was overwhelmed or exhausted.
Ignoring Signs To Rest
Prioritising rest during our winter allows us to move into the more productive season of our cycle with renewed energy. If we ignore the signs our body and mind sends us to rest and take stock, we run the risk of further depleting ourselves and jeopardising any progress we're set to make during the following seasons. If rest in its entirety is too challenging, try to make efforts to slow down.
Positioning hands into yoni mudra helps to direct energy/prana into the pelvic area, where the womb and ovaries reside.
The relaxed connection between the belly and the warmth of the palms and fingers, assists in protecting and nurturing the womb space, which can be particularly soothing during menstruation.
Practice this mudra at any time or use it as a prelude to a gentle restorative yoga practice. See below.
Place the mudra over your lower abdomen and allow your belly to soften. Relax the musculature and the skin.
Tune into the body through the breath. Exhale to let go fully, then welcome the gentle swell of the belly as you inhale, feeling a deep sense of space and ease.
Guide yourself towards a steady in and out breath.
Restorative yoga is the ideal practice for both body and mind during winter. It offers us the chance to slow down, rest, reflect and release in a gentle yet nourishing way.
Here are some restorative yoga postures that should help support you through your bleed.
Setting up your practice
I like to begin my practice with some gentle movement as it encourages my mind to drop into the sensations present in my body, the areas that are feeling tender, blocked or in need of extra care.
Start with the left shin back, right foot towards left inner knee/thigh then try some hip and upper body spirals first. Keep it fluid with a sensual quality, almost as if the body is practising in a warm, pool of water.
After a minute or so, ease the body forward on an exhale, fully grounding your palms into the floor in front of you with the arms a good shoulder width apart.
Breathe fully but without force for 5-10 breaths. The belly should be soft and relaxed. Then repeat on the other side before trying a few of the following poses.
Reclining Butterfly Pose [supta baddha konasana]
If you only have time for one restorative posture, make it this one!
Prop up one end of a bolster with a yoga block, cushions or a stack of books so it's at an angle. If you don't have a bolster, wrap a couple of pillows end to end tightly in a bath towel to create a bolster shape
Sit yourself up against the base of your bolster before draping yourself over it. If it feels as though there's too much of an arch for your lower back, sit on a folded blanket or block.
Support your outer thighs and knees with blocks, blankets or a strap.
Arms can either rest on your belly in yoni mudra or down by your sides with your palms facing upwards.
Stay for at least 5 mins or up to 20.
Head to Knee Pose [janu sirsasana]
In the restorative version of this pose, the intention is not to stretch but to relax the abdominal and pelvic area as well as feel spacious in the lower back. This is particularly soothing if you feel heavy and achey during the first few days of your period.
Your bent knee can be supported by a blanket or brick if needed.
Prop a bolster on its narrow end and allow your head to rest gently on it.
Relax your belly, and take slow, full and easy breaths here for as long as feels comfortable. Ideally for at least 3 minutes.
Repeat the other side.
This is wonderfully reviving pose for any dull lower back ache or abdominal pains associated with your period. Twists also have the beautiful ability for balancing our energy and bringing us back towards steady ground.
Laying on your left side, place a bolster between your shins. Rest your right palm on top of your left.
Inhale and open your chest, taking your right hand all the way along your left arm, collarbone and across to the floor on the right side. Twisting through the waist and opening the chest so as you are looking up to the sky.
Rest here for 3 minutes.
To come out of the shape, gently roll back onto your side, right palm resting on top of left. Remove the bolster before rolling on to your other side and placing the bolster in between the shins once again.
Repeat on the other side.
Inverted Leg Pose [viparita karani]
Although inversions are generally not encouraged during menstruation, viparita karani (otherwise known as inverted leg pose or simply legs up the wall) can feel wonderfully relaxing and gently reviving during your bleed.
If inversions feel right for you and your cycle, there's no need to eliminate them from your practice when you're menstruating. Simply stay aware of any changes in bleeding along with physical sensations and energy levels.
The pose boasts multiple physical, mental and emotional benefits including improving circulation, digestion, lowering blood pressure, boosting energy and soothing your nervous system.
Approach the wall sat down, side on, keeping your bottom as close to the walls as possible.
You might like to place a folded blanket under the hips to elevate them slightly.
Slide yourself around so the lower back is as close as it can be to the wall, lie back then rest your legs up against the wall.
Place your arms either out to the side, palms up or rest them on the belly in yoni mudra.
Stay for as long as time will allow.
Breath work during your period can be a wonderful and effective way of creating balance and calming the mind.
The ideal breath practices for winter include:
Bee breath [bhramari]
Alternate nostril breathing [nadi shodhana]
Victorious breath [ujaii]
Cooling breath [sitkari]
As with any pranayama or breath awareness, you should never feel that there is any strain in the breath. Your belly should feel relaxed, soft and at ease.
Do make sure there's no retention of the breath as this directs 'prana' in an upward motion, which goes against the downward flow of prana that naturally occurs during menstruation.
During the winter of your cycle, it's also best to avoid pranayama practices that create heat in the body and /or a pumping effect through the abdominal area, such as bastrika and kaphalabati .
Whether you suffer from painful menstrual cramps, heavy bleeding or experience low mood or lethargy during your winter, essential oils can offer natural yet effective assistance.
Many essential oils are analgesic, antispasmodic, circulatory (stimulating) and sedative in nature so can assist with the multitude of different symptoms associated to our menstrual bleed.
Here are a selection of oils that might resonate with your Winter…
Highly effective at easing menstrual cramps and a wonderful oil for easing anxiety and promoting relaxation.
A beautiful and gentle oil that can help to reduce inflammation with its calming and soothing properties. Also promotes feelings of ease and well-being. Not just for your Winter, rose if a must-have for any self-care tool kit.
A fantastic oil for easing menstrual cramps. Best used diluted in a base oil and massaged onto the abdominal area.
Traditionally used to ease tooth and gum pain, clove oil may also relieve stomach cramps and pain from lower backache as well as easing heavy flow.
Recommended blend: clary-sage, lavender and geranium
Clary-sage, lavender and geranium make a wonderful blend that is relaxing, balancing and soothing for both body and mind particularly when added to a nice, warm bath. Never put undiluted oils directly into water or on to the skin as irritation and/or burning can occur. Instead, dilute in a carrier oil, such as sweet almond oil or in a little milk.