As you enter the last phase of your menstrual cycle, don’t forget to breathe, slow and steady breaths. The luteal phase, more commonly known as PMS, can be a wild ride. The first 2 or 3 days of this 9 day phase feels a lot like a relaxed version of the ovulatory phase, and then the tell-tale signs may begin to creep in with growing intensity: agitation, weepiness, cravings, headaches, fatigue, mood swings, depression, breast tenderness, cramps, anxiety, achy back, the list goes on… Understanding that these symptoms in moderation are totally normal can provide some relief. Also, by anticipating and planning for this phase, you can count on minimizing your discomfort.
To begin, let’s get clear on why this is all happening. As estrogen and testosterone begin to decline, progesterone increases. Progesterone will boost your metabolism, which explains the often-ravenous nature of the week-before-your-period. It also acts as a muscle relaxant, which can have a dampening effect on bowel contractions, leading to constipation. Be sure to drink extra water during this time, which can not only prevent regularity troubles, but will also help to lessen the water retention that comes along with your period. Lesser amounts of estrogen and testosterone can lead to emotional upset: less confidence, more anxiety, weepiness, etc.
As for your energy, you can expect it to progressively taper down, and in order to set yourself up for ease during menstruation, I recommend tapering down your activities in correspondence. While sticking to daily exercise can be very helpful during this phase, shifting your approach to your movement during this phase is also important. In fact, plan on it! Mark your calendar, in whatever way makes sense to you, to remind you of this phase. I’ve found it’s especially important to be reminded of this particular phase. Just knowing why you feel all the ways that you feel can help alleviate some tension. Also, seeing on your calendar that this phase won’t go one forever (though it may feel that way) is immensely encouraging.
But it’s not all difficult! There are wonderful ways to use this phase to your advantage. Clear your schedule of big social obligations, and get to cleaning! Dig into that closet-you-haven’t-opened-in-9-months, get rid of those clothes-you-maybe-will-wear-but-never-today, sift through the unidentified-packaged-foods in the shadowy depths of your pantry, and know that it will feel so good! If you’re feeling especially pent up, call your best girlfriend over (and be sure to preface her of your current phase) for the sole intention of venting and processing. That, too, will feel so good!
Also, be aware that the issues that arise for you during this time of lessened tolerance may seriously need to be addressed. And know that you do not need to address everything that arises at once! For the sake of not overwhelming your loved ones, perhaps even set a goal of addressing only one topic that pushes your buttons per luteal phase. Journaling can be a helpful method of addressing big feelings that surface without dumping these feelings onto loved ones.
This time is the perfect time to prepare for menstruation, as well. Cook some extra meals ahead of time and finish up some To-Dos so that you are free to rest next week. Towards the end of your luteal phase, shift further into self-care mode, allowing yourself to sleep in one morning or linger in the bath, winding down from the frenzy.
Now that we have covered how to honor this phase in your life, let’s look at how to honor this phase in your yoga practice. As you enter this phase, permit yourself to slow down. Enjoy a Hatha style practice, with a slow, deliberate pace and longer holds in postures. Focus on grounding movements to encourage an erratic state of mind to relax and sink into each moment. Once you begin to experience symptoms of PMS, allow yourself to slow down even more, and include some restorative postures in your practice. Focus on deep, slow breathing and on releasing tension and emotions through your exhales. Pay closer attention to your meditation practices as you may find your spiritual connection deepening nearer to menstruation. For pranayama, practice alternate nostril breathing, inviting balance into the chaos.
Each phase is special and unique in its own way. Each phase presents both challenges and wonderful opportunities. Getting to know your body and mind during each phase is a never-ending process. Be gentle with yourself, and try to cultivate curiosity as you approach each magical experience of being a woman.