As we enter the season of Autumn here in the northern hemisphere and Spring in the southern hemisphere it felt appropriate to introduce the topic of the four seasons of the menstrual cycle. I first discovered this concept back in 2008 at a workshop hosted by Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo in Brighton, UK. At the time I was suffering with debilitating period cramps and knew nothing of the language my body was trying to communicate with me. To say what they shared blew my mind is a complete understatement! It was as if I had suddenly been told a massive secret about life. I kept thinking, ‘why didn’t anybody tell me about this before’? I had been suffering and pushing, not knowing that the solution lay in surrendering to my own energy needs each month.
The Four Seasons
Just as we watch the earth go through four phases each year, if we slow down and notice, there is an equally extraordinary four phase process going on inside our menstrual cycle each month. Through charting, exploring and getting to know it, we can start to build a relationship with our needs, wants and tendencies in each part of the cycle and use this vital wisdom to, on a practical day-to-day basis, navigate our life from a place of power. On a spiritual and emotional level it can crack us wide open to connecting with our life force power.
The big ahaa moment for me was in realising that I wasn’t meant to have a 24 hours cycle where I woke up each morning with loads of energy and could perform at the same level each and every single day. Thinking and believing that I should was the very thing that was causing all of the pain in my body, most prominently in my premenstrual and menstrual phases.
Instead of a 24 hour cycle, it’s a 4 part cycle that repeats each month. To give you a rough idea of these phases, in a classic 28 day cycle, it begins with Spring, moves into Summer, then Autumn and ends in Winter.
Spring – pre-ovulation/follicular phase – days 7-13
Summer – ovulation phase – days 13-21
Autumn/Fall – pre-menstrual/luteal phase – days 23-28 (or the start of menstruation)
Winter – menstruation – days 1-6 (or the end of menstruation)
The days will vary depending on your menstrual cycle. And guess what? If you’re no longer bleeding (because of a hysterectomy or you’ve reached the menopause phase in your life) you still have this inner cycle going on. Spring will most likely begin with the new moon, however feel into it and chart your cycle and you will discover what resonates for you.
Pope & Hugo describe these four phases as having their own developmental task, which is similar to your sacred task. They think of these phases as different ‘muscle groups’ within you that need exercising for you to be able to experience a more coherent, grounded, easeful relationship to your power. Each phase ushers in a set of very specific resources and psychological challenges that help grow you into and embody your power. In meeting these challenges you strengthen your metaphorical muscles, these elements of your power, and build the inner container to hold and express your full magnificence or Wild Power.
Inner Spring – Cherishing
Your inner Spring is where you’re transitioning from the deep interior of your Winter and negotiating your way to full expression of yourself in your inner Summer. You’ve just bled and released a whole bunch of stuff and now there is a potential to start afresh. We’re so lucky that each month we get to start over and this is a place of becoming. The choices we make now at the start of spring will affect the whole of the rest of our cycle as well as the quality of our next period.
After the heaviness of the bleed, there’s an energy rising up, a yes to yourself, a yes to life and there is a sense of feeling held in a possibility of hope. You have a natural motivation and focus and a playfullness. The steady increase in oestrogen boosts your brain’s serotonin levels, which leads to an increase in energy and enthusiasm for just about everything you put your energy into.
This is the time to access your inner Spring’s gifts with the sacred task of cherishing yourself. Verbal abilities may heighten at this phase as well as your ability to be articulate so this is the time to give a big presentation or make an important call. You’re basically a powerhouse of creativity at this phase so this is the time to pull longer hours at work and get stuff done.
Inner Summer – Self Celebration
Your inner Summer is the glamorous part of the power process. The aspect that is most acknowledged, valued and recognised as power in our culture – the ability to get stuff done. It sits in a continuum that is made possible by all of the work that has gone before – the resting during Winter/menstruation and the cherishing ourselves during Spring.
Oestrogen and testosterone reach their highest peaks during your entire cycle, this is the time when a tiny egg is released from one of your ovaries (they alternate from one cycle to the next) and all of the energy that has been building and growing since day 1 is peaking. This is the time to be social and visible. Sasically anything you desire this is the time, without a doubt, that you can make it happen and fulfill yourself and your spirit.
In essence your inner summer is about the expression of your power in the world, daring to really be true to your own nature more than anything else. It’s about showing up as who you are.
Inner Autumn/Fall – Holding Yourself
The inner Autumn is where you are challenged and tempered to grow up, and take full responsibility for who you are. In holding the tension of the complexity of who you are, the light and dark, you allow your power to evolve. You have the power of ‘no’ on your side to clarify what’s in and what’s out and establish firm boundaries.
If your egg wasn’t fertilised during ovulation, from roughly day 23 through to your bleed, you will experience a withdrawal from all three of the following hormones – oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone. The drop in oestrogen can cause bouts of nervousness, anxiety, teary-ness and the blues due to the reduction in the mood stabilizing serotonin. The drop in progesterone has you weeping and the reduction in testosterone can bring in feelings of self doubt. No wonder this part of the cycle can be so difficult!
The inner autumn is where your inner critic lives and it’s message can be delivered with a sting, which is perfectly designed to cause disruption and disturbance within you, to break down the walls of your protection (in other words deflate the ego) so that you can grow and strengthen beyond what you have been before. Your sacred task to meet this figure is to Hold Yourself – to hold the discomfort of what is happening in yourself when you encounter the critic. In other words, hang out with the discomfort long enough to be able to to hear what you critic is saying; to be present with the emotions long enough that you can hear through the barrage of crap into the heart of what it is saying and be able to acknowledge whatever kernel of truth there is, while simultaneously holding on to your own goodness and standing up to what’s not true in the critic’s words.
The inner critic can be so helpful when it comes to doing the accounts, cleaning out cupboards – basically spotting a problem and having the creative fire to fix it. It’s a time to move through creative blocks, meet deadlines and get super organised.
It can be a roller coaster, but the gifts of the muscles your strengthen here can be taken into your bleed to be transmuted and that’s where the real treasure resides.
Inner Winter – Surrender
Winter is a season filled with the most amazing resources such as the ability to experience expansive awareness and altered states of consciousness, effortless presence, ecstasy and visioning, love and Union. But to access these resources requires the sacred task of Surrender.
Surrender is your ability to let go and allow. It sounds so simple but in our action driven, action packed world Surrender can feel almost impossible…there is always another thing to do. And if we are honest, letting go can feel a little bit scary for most of us. Stopping may expose us to feelings that we may have been keeping at bay with activity. We might also feel like we are missing out, or it could feel plain boring. There is no way around this one if you want to come into a more aligned, wholesome place with your power.
As you let go at menstruation you release tension, repair and refuel (through rest and the activation of the soothing balm of oxcytocin), re-connect, remember who are and what you are really about (your Calling or Wild Power). In this way your power process is fully prepped for the next round of action and the realisation of your Calling.
If you needed permission to lay around for a few days doing nothing but rest, well then this is your permission slip to do that. In fact it’s more than that. It’s an essential prescription.
As I’ve explored these four phases and given my body the space and nurturing it needs in the different seasons I’ve been amazed at how that has enabled me to show up more empowered not only in the home with my role as a mother and a wife, but also in my creative capacity at work. The downloads that I receive during the stillness of my bleed are brought into physical form in my Spring and Summer phases as the energy comes in to materialize them. Because I take the time to confront the inner critic in Autumn, and use the bleed to release what no longer serves me, I show up light, recharged and with the ability to cherish the life I have in my next Spring. Similarly my exercise routine changes to adapt to suit my needs in that cycle. So when I’m doing more yang exercises like a dynamic yoga practice or a run in my Spring and Summer phases it charges and fires me up. When I’m doing a restorative yin practice or gentle swim in my Autumn and Winter phase it grounds and drops me inside.
To summarize, I invite you to explore this inner landscape and get to know your own energy levels and needs throughout the month. When your body is calling you to rest, allow it the space (to the best of your ability) to take that rest. When the energy is there harness it’s power and create.