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Cycle Tracking: The Phases and Their Elements

Updated: Jan 23, 2023

Before we even jump into all of the good stuff, I’m going to make a PSA now that if you are partnered up with a man, it is so vitally important that he is included in your cycle tracking journey! Trust me, understanding your cycle and its ebbs and flows is going to benefit him too. Knowledge is power, ladies and gentlemen.

Let’s break down the four phases of the monthly cycle!


The average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days. The numbers I give for each cycle are purely for example and are not reflective of everyone’s cycle. Some women have shorter cycles, some have longer. There is no “correct” length. Cycle tracking will help you know the natural length of your cycle.


And before I forget, here are 2 books I highly recommend if you want to dive deeper into the female reproductive cycle:

7 Times a Woman by Dr. Lia G. Andrews ( you can buy it here)

The Fifth Vital Sign by Lisa Hendrickson-Jack (you can buy it here)


1st Phase: Menstruation


This is the beginning of your follicular phase, or days 1 – 5 of your cycle. These are the days of your bleed. On average, menstruation lasts 3-5 days, although this varies by individual.

This is also the phase that gets mistakenly crowned as the only days that are worth marking on the calendar. In reality, menstruation is only one piece of the puzzle!


From a Chinese Medicine (CM) perspective, menstruation is viewed as the ultimate Yin

phase, and is aligned with the element of Water. Yin is all about rest, darkness, loss, solitude, and going inward. Not to mention, blood is the most Yin fluid in our body! Yin is Winter, slowness, reserved energy, hibernation. This is the time of month where we feel most tired. We crave rest and comfort and staying home curled up under a blanket with a heating pad, as we are physically shedding, releasing, and losing a part of ourselves.


Ancestrally, our time of menstruation is linked to the new moon which signifies the darkness and death before rebirth. You can see how this lines up with Water element outlines above.


Hormonally, this is the time that progesterone drops, and estrogen will peak before dropping off as well.


2nd Phase: Follicular Phase


This accounts for the first half of your cycle. The follicular phase begins with the first day of your bleed and ends at ovulation. On average, this phase lasts 14 days.


In CM theory, the follicular phase represents Yin turning into Yang, and is aligned with the element of Wood. Yin turning into Yang is best portrayed as Springtime, coming out of hibernation, growing and preparing for a harvest soon to come. The light begins to shine, creativity and energy are on the rise. Internally, our bodies are creating a springtime of their own, preparing for the event of a successful fertilization of the egg, preparing the environment for an “abundant harvest”. This is when we feel a boost in energy. Perhaps we feel a little more outgoing, a little more social, a little more inspired to dive into that project we started last month.


Ancestrally, this phase is linked with the waxing moon, on its transition to a full moon. The light begins to shine just as with the Wood element detailed above.


Hormonally, this is the time where follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) rises, and estrogen and progesterone slowly begin to rise as well.


3rd Phase: Ovulation


This phase consists of the day that your egg is released from the ovary. This usually happens around day 14, but varies by individual. Cycle tracking will be your best friend in determining when you ovulate. Ovulation itself lasts about 24 hours.

In CM theory, ovulation is pure Yang—creation, brightness, passion, and energy! It is associated with the element of Fire. A flame that burns quickly. A fire that has the potential to grow and harvest new life. It has an impact, and it cannot be missed. Yang is aligned with Summer. This is peak activity and creation time. Not only is this a time to CREATE life, it is the best time for expressing your creativity, letting your ideas grow and expand like a wildfire. This phase is all about action. Go out more, meet more people, do more things. Your energy peaks with ovulation.


Ancestrally, ovulation is linked to the full moon. The brightest phase of the moon matches the Fire element. Back before we had electricity or even fire, it was common for women to ovulate on or near the full moon, as this was the time that the night sky was the brightest. This made it easier to see their lover’s face and body, thus making it easier to engage in intercourse, ultimately leading to conception.


Hormonally, a lot happens in a short amount of time! Estrogen, testosterone, FSH, and LH surge. This is a very active time for your hormones. The only one that remains low is progesterone.


4th Phase: Luteal Phase


This phase accounts for the second half of your cycle, days 15-28. It starts after ovulation and lasts through to the day before your bleed, which is, on average, 14 days.


In CM, the luteal phase represents Yang turning into Yin, and is aligned with the element of Metal. It represents the season of Autumn within your cycle—you may start to hunker down, perhaps feeling more restful, with a little less energy as your body prepares for the upcoming menstruation. Your creative fires begin to dwindle, or perhaps at this point, you have turned your creative action into a tangible result. This time is less about taking action and more about reaping the rewards of your creativity from your Yang-Fire-Ovulatory phase.


Ancestrally, the luteal phase is linked to the waning moon, the phase that prepares for darkness, which you can see lines up with the Metal element.


Hormonally, progesterone is the star of this phase. Progesterone steadily rises during this time as the other others like estrogen, FSH, LH, and testosterone decline and remain low.


 

From the luteal phase, your cycle returns to the 1st Phase, menstruation. A healthy and non-pregnant female will repeat this cycle every month until reaching menopause.


When learning this information, it’s important to have a sense of curiosity around your own cycle. Start tapping into your own phases of your cycle—How do you feel through each phase? Do you notice any symptoms arise during a particular phase? Do you have food cravings? Does certain types of movement or exercise appeal to you more? How does your mood change?


If you are new to cycle tracking and not sure about how to know when you have entered each phase, read on!



UP NEXT: Cycle Tracking: 3 Ways To Connect With Your Cycle (Coming Soon)


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