Menstrual cycle tracking charts such as the one downloadable for free on Woman’s Wheel, or with Eco Femme’s ‘make your own cloth pad’ kits are a really wonderful way to raise self-awareness of your inner cycle.
It is possible to track several different aspects of the cycle, for example body tracking, emotional tracking, dream tracking, and moon charting (or all at once!) giving you the opportunity to ‘observe’ yourself each day; an invaluable observation practice that can give you clues about where your areas of difficulty lie.
Charting the cycle can be done by any menstruating woman, or even by women who have already made the transition into Menopause. It can be done as a mindfulness exercise. Mindfulness is defined as the ‘quality or state of being conscious or aware of something’. Or ‘as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations’.
The idea with menstrual cycle tracking is that each day you note down any general underlying emotional feelings, physical states like symptoms or body temperature (for natural fertility purposes), any really ‘big’ dreams, where the moon is in her cycle etc.
You can choose whether to write a few quick words or a longer description – the ‘how’ is completely up to you. The chart is circular and split into slices (like a giant pie!) with Day 1, Day 2 etc. listed around the edge and a space for the date so you can keep track easier.
Day 1 is the first day of full bleeding, so on that day you start a new blank chart and fill in the ‘Day 1’ segment with whatever’s going on for you. Sometimes I note just a few words, or I cram it full of tiny writing. Other times I have to continue on the back of the sheet because there is so much I feel is important to note.
If you can start to consider the menstrual cycle as something valuable (which I understand depends on your relationship with your body and your personal circumstances) you will automatically bring your cycle into awareness. Bringing something into awareness gives it energy, which then brings with it the potential for understanding and transformation.
The practice of recording the underlying emotion daily develops your ability to understand how you are feeling in the moment, explaining why and how you may react differently to the same scenario from day to day, and most importantly what you need. For example how many times have you done or said things in a fit of anger and then realised you were pre-menstrual and it was too late to take the words back? Ponder this one too; have you ever made any mistakes just because you were at the most sensual sexy ovulatory time of the month? We talk of these things often at our monthly Red Tent gathering and conclude that categorically YES! We made most of our ‘mistakes’ during those potent times.
But why didn’t anyone tell us to be aware of these fluctuations in our body rhythms? I believe that if mothers grandmothers and aunties have an awareness of the many changes throughout the cycle, then they can help guide younger women. Even if it is just the basics, hopefully it will help them to make the most healthy and appropriate choices in their lives.
The very act of cycle charting is self-affirming. Your cycle is your friend, an innate part of you, and will guide you through the menstruating portion of your life, over and over again. It brings with it a certain consistency (albeit in a seemingly inconsistent way) with the patterns that start to become evident in your changing ego qualities, energy levels, and emotions. This will allow you to understand and care for yourself better all round the cycle.
Like day and night (or the seasons of the year) the cycle as a whole is a balance of light and dark with shadowy bits in-between making a complete circle. We all know and love the happy times in our cycle – the clarity and ability to be able to cope with everything really well. But how about those times we are crushed and defeated and low? The pre-menstrual and menstrual times are phases that have been resented by so many people (women included) for many years and still ARE to a greater extent.
Both the ‘scary’ woman who is the archetypal pre-menstrual character with her ‘out of character’ and sometimes ‘out of control’ behavior, and the menstrual women who has often been feared and isolated by society for her heightened sensitivity and power, both have their valuable place in our cycles. The sooner society accepts that, the better!
As for me personally, I wasn’t aware of any relationship between how I related to the world and the pattern of my cycle when I was a teenager. Things just felt pretty chaotic in general; my emotional maturity wasn’t so great! In my twenties I was aware of very distinct changes throughout the cycle, especially pre-menstrually (when I got really angry with my colleagues). I was working as the only woman in my company ‘out on site’ in a very male industry. I’d have these foggy times where I was completely unable to manage the team properly or make decisions, but felt overly sensitive and powerless to know how to handle it, and so I rejected the cycle as being anything other than big trouble!
Now, thanks to the work I have done and the mentors I have had (thanks Alexandra and Sjanie!) I am living with my cycle not against it, and it feels much more in keeping with me in a much deeper sense. I usually find that my cycle follows a general pattern of highs and lows, change and stillness, ups and downs and often there are many days that don’t ‘fit’ this pattern, but that’s OK because it isn’t a hard and fast rule.
I don’t give myself a hard time any more, and I love being so nicely attuned to my physicality and in the habit of noticing how I feel.
I think the main misconception with the very action of repeatedly charting your cycle is that people think you are trying and force your cycle into a pattern. It’s not about defining your pattern and trying to force yourself to stick to it “I must feel good today” or “What’s wrong with me? I’m supposed to feel terrible but I woke up smiling!” It is about being mindful of the nuances within your cycle, noticing small changes, but not allowing them to become a rule or how you should ‘be’.
It all became easier for me to understand when I accepted that women naturally are change; just as the river flows towards the ocean, down glistening waterfalls into dark sinkholes, compressed between rocks, emerging at springs and wells, and providing nourishment and life to so many on her journey. But also like the river she depends on the goodness of the environment that is feeding her. She will never ever be the same from day to day, and that is how it is.
Charting your menstrual cycle helps you to embrace that change and embrace yourself in the process. So, happy charting women, and leave any comments below about how you find the experience!