By Katie Samye
A lunar cycle lasts 29.53059 days. This is how long it takes the moon to rotate around the earth. During new moon (also called the ‘dark moon’) the moon is not so easily visible as it is too close to the sun. It can appear coloured; sometimes red or yellow in hue. During 1st quarter we see the right side lit up bright white. During full moon we see a completely illuminated disc. During the 3rd quarter we see the left side lit up. Then we are back to New Moon again. The phases in between show a growing (waxing) or diminishing (waning) full moon or crescent moon.
What has this got to do with my menstrual cycle?
Well, according to Miranda Gray, author of Red Moon, women’s menstruation tends to occur either around the time of the full moon or the new moon (dark moon). Ovulation with the full moon corresponds to what is called the white moon cycle (you ovulate with the new moon which is white and bleed with the dark moon). Conversely, ovulation with the dark moon corresponds with what is called with the red moon cycle (you ovulate with the dark moon and bleed with the full moon). Interestingly, the rumour appears to be that in societies where women still live largely without artificial light, women ovulate on the dark moon and bleed on the full moon (the red moon cycle) but in societies full of artificial light, affecting our circadian rhythms, women tend to ovulate on the full moon and bleed on the dark moon (the white moon cycle). I personally find that now I have ‘tuned in’ to my cycle I ovulate on the dark moon and bleed on the full moon (the red moon cycle), although between the two recent eclipses in 2015 I was thrown into the white moon cycle and somewhere in between for a good 6 months, before I returned to ‘my kind of normal!’.
Why should that be so?
We don’t really know. Charles Darwin believed that menstruation was linked to the moon’s influence on tidal rhythms and is a legacy of our origin from the sea. Apparently studies have shown that the average menstrual period is 29 days and changes. But many factors can influence the length and regularity/irregularity of our menstrual cycle, such as: exposure to artificial light, stress, exhaustion, sexual activity, physical exercise and nutrition and contraception. Many women go through phases in their lives when their periods are irregular or changeable. We are also brought up in a culture which encourages us to regard our menstruation (and in fact our own bodies) as purely mechanical with no spiritual dimension, and we therefore tend to ignore cyclic patterns of behaviour, which if we examined them more closely, might indicate a greater degree of mind body connection than we were previously aware. We often ‘push against’ or ignore our body’s own messages asking us to slow down, for example when we are bleeding or to express our creativity and sexuality at particular times. We have a tendency to see ourselves as linear when in fact we are rather cyclic.
What has this got to do with yoga?
Some women believe that by getting *in tune* with your menstrual cycle you can begin to identify patterns of behaviour that align with its different *phases*, and that once you begin to *see* your patterns this governs a change in your awareness: you can begin to accept the bit of yourself that has particular needs on particular days, and by being kind to yourself, soften into the experience of being a unique being in the world.
One way to do this is to create a ‘moon dial’ to help chart patterns of behaviour through your cycle. This is basically a large circle you can draw, split into 30 segments, which you can label each with a number from the first day of menstruating (day 1) to the end of your cycle. You can also place on the chart where the moon is in its cycle, so that you can begin to see any synchronicities with when you ovulate and bleed. And finally, note on each day your dominant behavioural characteristics or feelings: these might be intense dreams, a desire to withdraw, a need to be active, expressive, creative, fatigue, total clarity, or an excessive need for chocolate!!! Creating a succession of 2,3 or 4 moon dials should give you a really interesting view and create more awareness of the pattern within your cycle.
Learning to Accept Your Own Cyclic Nature
In yoga asana we do not traditionally practice for the first 3 days of bleeding, and interestingly we also do not practice on the full moon or the dark (new) moon as these are regarded as times of energy shift where we may be more prone to injury. Other practices can be done at these times, including women’s yogic practices & rituals and yoga nidra but otherwise these are times to enjoy rest and not to engage in challenging exercise or physically demanding practice.
Yoga acknowledges the cycle of the moon and within that, the differing, cyclic needs of women.
In many traditional societies women entered a red tent or a quiet place of reflection on the dark (new (red)) moon, coinciding with their bleeding, for several days. In that time there would be time for silence and reflection, time for chatter and for bonding, for talking of things both mundane and important, for crafts, for meditation, and for celebrating with special food (such as lunar cakes and sweets). At the end of that time women would emerge from the tent renewed and ready for action!
Do we have any rites of passage now that acknowledge and teach our daughters how to live in tune with their cyclic nature? How do we bring practices back that help us to live more in tune with our inner world, whilst responding to the demands of modern society? Is it possible that we can create our own red tent days to support our own monthly cycle, becoming aware of our cyclic nature and responding to our own needs with loving kindness? Can we talk more about bleeding and about women’s wellbeing and health? I hope so.
Red Moon, by Miranda Gray
The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant