How to hack your cycle to optimise your yoga practice
Tips on how to hack your cycle to create your new yogic super power! By Ellie Spear
Have you ever been curious about how your cycle affects your yoga practice? Seems you're not the only one. You'll be amazed what a quick search of #LutealPhase on TikTok will uncover. It seems people are becoming increasingly aware of how their cycle affects their ability and motivation to exercise. And you know what they say about knowledge, right? So read on for tips on how to hack your cycle – it might just become your new yogic super power.
Unsurprisingly in a field that centres around being in tune with your physical body, cycle hacking is nothing new in the yoga world. But while some practitioners have been ahead of the curve when it comes to awareness of how hormonal fluctuations affect yoga practice, it's only now that this area of health is really being explored and researched. And the results are fascinating!
The low down
Have you heard of the two phases of your cycle? They're called luteal and follicular, right? But what if I told you there are actually four or five phases? Yes, you heard right. And I'm here to give you tips to optimise your practice for each one.
If you've read Dr Mindy Pelz's work (and if you haven't, I highly recommend you do!), you'll know she talked about the power up, the manifestation and the nourish stages of your cycle. And I really think her terminology captures the essence of these very distinct stages.
But let's face it, what us yogis all really want to know is how do we use this new knowledge to really hack our yoga training.
So let's break it down, phase by phase.
Early menstrual phase – days 1-2
You might feel curling up with a hot water bottle on the sofa (and if you're really suffering with menstrual pain, who am I to deprive you of comfort). But the reality is that this is the beginning of your first power phase, meaning your body is primed for physical exertion. And it might just make you feel better too! Why not try some hot yoga or a vinyasa flow to get your blood pumping and relieve your pains.
Power Up – days 3-11
Your hormones will be low at the beginning of this phase (which might affect motivation levels) but your oestrogen will be rising fast. This is great news for gradually increasing your training and doing strength based work. Depending on your individual energy levels – and we know yoga is all about going at your own pace and within your individual capabilities – this could be the time to build on your Ashtanga programme, cultivate a strong vinyasa practice or cultivate a longer, deeper hatha practice. Think long, strengthening holds and slow transitions to build strength in your body. Your muscles are primed for it.
Manifest! – days 12-15
Around ovulation (if you're having monthly cycles) testosterone joins the hormonal party to really boost your motivation and ability to train hard. There is no better time to build a progressive practice to the max! Your oestrogen is also peaking, giving you more energy and a mental boost. So now's the time to practice those handstands, learn to fly like a bird or practice full chaturanga over and over and over. Do the hard things!
Power On – days 15-19
Progesterone peaks around day 17 so you might notice a little dip in energy and motivation. But stick with it and you'll reap the rewards. you can absolutely build a stronger, progressive practice in this phase. This is a great time for strong hatha, astanga, vinyasa or hot yoga practice.
Nourish phase – days 21-28 (or 30/32 depending on your cycle length)
Do exactly what it says on the tin, people; it's time to tune in to yourself and slow it down. As your oestrogen and progesterone lower, your energy levels will drop and your body will give you signals that you need to rest and recuperate. Think soft, calming, nourishing practices. You might want to switch up some of your stronger yoga sessions for more restorative practices, yin yoga and plenty of restful yoga nidra. This is also a great time to cultivate your meditation practice as you're naturally primed to turn inwards and soften. Listen to your body! It is wise.