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Cycle-Aware Exercise: Go With the Flow

Let’s face it: Fitness culture neglects the menstrual cycle. This is another way menstruators continue being oppressed.


I’m writing this from my perspective as an ex-national level competitive swimmer of 10 years. As someone who used to train 8+ times per week (specially for long distance events), I know a lot about what it’s like to push the boundaries of the body and mind.


Before the age of 15, my stamina was out of this world. As I got into my teen years, I began hitting a wall and my performance started going down hill. There would be times when I would have so much energy, and other times when I didn’t even want to get out of bed. My body’s limits became more apparent which had an impact on my mental health.

Woman swimming the butterfly stroke
Photo of me in a competitive swimming race in 2010

Reflecting back now over 10 years later as a holistic cycle educator, I know my teenage-self could have really benefitted from #cycleawareness and being educated on the puberty-related changes that were occurring on a hormonal level.


Not once do I remember ever having talked about the impact of my cycle on my athletic performance (and overall wellbeing) with my coaches, trainers, teammates, parents or other figures in my life. It’s likely because they didn’t know about it either.

Shortly after ending my swimming career at age 18, I became a #gym rat and went to the gym almost everyday. Then, I became a die-hard yogini that hit up all the power classes.


All those years of being an #athlete taught me a lot about the importance of exercise, discipline, commitment and working hard towards your goals. I’m so grateful for that. However, this conditioning has also led to #perfectionism, #overachievement and #burnout… And in some cases, going over my edge and getting #injuries. These are some of the #shadows of the #fitnessindustry.


A feeling of “falling behind” and “not being good enough” infiltrated my being anytime I took time to rest and slow down. This wasn’t only present in my relationship to exercise, but quite literally everywhere - lifestyle habits, academics, work, etc. Can anyone relate?

 

While many people in the West use #yoga for physical #exercise (like myself initially), the asana or physical aspects of the practice are just a minute portion of it. If you’re interested in knowing more, look up the eight limbs of yoga.

There’s a saying that goes around in the yoga community that goes something like this: “The way you show you up on your mat is how you show up in life.” Indeed, hitting up all the power classes, trying to max out my edges and getting injuries said a lot about how I showed up in life. My yoga practice was a mirror.

A skilled yoga teacher will go beyond the physical practice to help you connect the mind, body and spirit. This union between #mindbodyspirit often facilitates deep life reflections, such as the personal example I shared above.


Thankfully, when I lived in Sudbury, Ontario, I connected with incredible teachers at (the now-closed) MYoga Studio. My yoga journey encouraged me to tune inwards and slow down. From here, I started paying attention to my body’s messages which led me to discovering cycle awareness and understanding my natural rhythms.

In brief, energy levels, mood, immune system, physical strength and stamina change with the different phases of the menstrual cycle. By connecting to your cycle, you gain insight for #exercising and moving your body in a way that's appropriate for the phase that you're in. This is also known as cycle-aware exercise.

In other words, there are parts of the cycle where you want to push yourself and maximize your energy (typically around #ovulation), and there are parts of the cycle where you want to restore and rejuvenate (typically in the days before and during your #period). When you can tune into your body’s rhythms in this way, it’s incredibly empowering. From personal and professional experience, cycle-aware exercise is also a really powerful way to connect the mind, body and spirit.


People who don't menstruate or for whom the menstrual cycle is not an accessible resource have cyclical rhythms too! In that case, we can use the Moon cycle as a map for tuning into your cycle on an energetic level. This is what I teach in my Love Your Phases program. However, understanding the reason why you don't have regular periods is extremely important so you can receive appropriate treatment as needed.

 

On a more serious note, missed periods is a common occurrence among athletes with wombs. When excessive exercise and lack of appropriate nutrition contributes to an absence of periods, we enter the domain of amenorrhea. This is a sign or message from the body of a deeper underlying issue rather than a condition, and has a significant impact on bone density and reproductive health. When the #menstrualcycle is considered a 5th vital sign by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, missed periods is extremely alarming.

Running Magazine published an article in 2019 about Rachel Hannah, one of Canada’s best marathon runners, and her experience with amenorrhea. In my opinion, this story alone illustrates how important it is for people involved in sports, fitness and athletics to be educated on cycle-awareness. Read up on the female athlete triad to learn more about the relationship between the menstrual cycle, low energy and decreased bone density in female athletes.

I’ve had clients share that they are incredibly hard on themselves when they aren’t able to stick to a training program. They notice that they “fall off track” in the days leading to and during their periods.

Nothing is wrong with the cycle, it’s the standards of performance and lack of awareness that is the problem. The "grind" and "hustle" cultures aren't helpful for anyone.

Personally, connecting to my cycle to guide the way I move my body has been a GAME CHANGER. Rather than allowing my mind or other people run the show, and feeling like shit when I can't stick to "standards of performance", I now work with my body to support what it needs.


This way of approaching exercise is a form of #preventativehealth and provides increased energy, wellbeing and vitality because we’re honouring what our body needs. Also, how supportive this is for mental health and self-esteem is priceless.


With respect to cycle-aware exercise, a past client recently said "Go with the flow. Your body isn't meant to be running 100% all the time.” I couldn’t agree more.


More than 800 million people menstruate daily. Read that again and let it brew for a moment. I didn’t hear about cycle awareness until my early twenties. Can we please make sure younger and future generations are empowered with this knowledge?


Love. XO


Alex Albert, Wild Astrology

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Want to learn more and receive cycle-related support? Join my cycle-aware yoga class on July 14th, 2021 and/or book a cycle-awareness consultation. Both operate on sliding scales for pricing.


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