Wisdom of the Menstrual Cycle

Honoring the Sacred Moon Cycle

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Menstrual Cycle

The menstrual cycle is the most basic, earthy cycle we have. Our blood is our connection to the archetypal feminine. The macrocosmic cycles of nature, the waxing and waning, the ebb and flow of the tides and the changes of the seasons, are reflected on a smaller scale in the menstrual cycle of the individual female body. The monthly ripening of an egg and subsequent pregnancy or release of menstrual blood mirror the process of creation as it occurs not only in nature, unconsciously, but in human endeavor. In many cultures, the menstrual cycle has been viewed as sacred.

A Sacred Cycle: The Moon and Fertility

Even in modern society, where we are cut off from the rhythms of nature, the cycle of ovulation is influenced by the moon. Studies have shown that peak rates of conception and probably ovulation appear to occur at the full moon or the day before.

During the new moon, ovulation and conception rates are decreased overall, and an increased number of women start their menstrual bleeding. Scientific research has documented that the moon rules the flow of fluids (ocean tides as well as individual body fluids) and affects the unconscious mind and dreams.1

The timing of the menstrual cycle, the fertility cycle, and labor also follows the moon-dominated tides of the ocean. Environmental cues such as light, the moon, and the tides play a documented role in regulating women’s menstrual cycles and fertility.

In one study of nearly two thousand women with irregular menstrual cycles, more than half of the subjects achieved regular menstrual cycles of twenty-nine days’ length by sleeping with a light on near their beds during the three days around ovulation.2

Menstrual Cycle: Wisdom and Creative Flow

The menstrual cycle governs the flow not only of fluids but of information and creativity. We receive and process information differently at different times in our cycles.

I like to describe menstrual cycle wisdom this way: from the onset of menstruation until ovulation, we’re ripening an egg and—symbolically, at least—preparing to give birth to someone (or something) else, a role that society honors.

Before Ovulation

Many women find that they are at their peak of expression in the outer world from the onset of their menstrual cycle until ovulation. Their energy is outgoing and upbeat. They are filled with enthusiasm and new ideas as well as being quite willing to fold the towels and fulfill their perceived role of helping others.

The menstrual cycle itself mirrors how consciousness becomes matter and how thought creates reality. On the strictly physical level, during the time between menses and ovulation (known as the follicular phase) an egg grows and develops, while deep within the wall of the uterus circular collections of immune system cells, known as lymphoid aggregates, also begin to develop.4

On the expanded level of ideas and creativity, this first half of the cycle is a very good time to initiate new projects. A researcher friend of mine tells me that she has the most energy to act on ideas for new experiments during this part of her cycle.

Peak Ovulation

Ovulation, which occurs at midcycle, is accompanied by an abrupt rise in the neuropeptides FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone).

The rise in estrogen levels that accompanies this has been associated with a rise in left-hemisphere activity (verbal fluency) and a decline in right-hemisphere activity (visual-spatial ability, such as the ability to draw a cube or read a map).5

But this may be offset by the simultaneous peak in testosterone production, which enhances visual-spatial ability while also increasing libido. Ovulation represents mental and emotional creativity at its peak; FSH-LH surge and subsequent rise in hormone production that accompanies ovulation may be the biological basis for this.

At midcycle, we are naturally more receptive to others and to new ideas—more “fertile.” Sexual desire also peaks for many women at midcycle, and our bodies secrete into the air pheromones that increase our sexual attractiveness to others.3 (Our male-dominated society values this very highly, and we internalize it as a “good” stage of our cycle.)

One woman, a waitress who works in a diner where many truckers stop to eat, has reported to me that her tips are highest at midcycle, around ovulation. Another man described his wife as “very vital and electric” during this time of her cycle.

After Ovulation

The weeks following ovulation lead up to the menses; this is evaluative and reflective time, looking back upon what is created and on the negative or difficult aspects of our lives that need to be changed or adjusted. My researcher friend notes that during this part of her cycle, she prefers to do routine tasks that do not require much input from others or expansive thought on her part.

Our creative biological and psychological cycle parallels the phases of the moon; recent research has found that the immune system of the reproductive tract is cyclic as well, reaching its peak at ovulation, and then beginning to wane. From ancient times, some cultures have referred to women having their menstrual periods as being “on their moon.”

When women live together in natural settings, their ovulations tend to occur at the time of the full moon, with menses and self-reflection at the dark of the moon. Scientific evidence suggests that biological cycles as well as dreams and emotional rhythms are keyed into the moon and tides as well as the planets.

Specifically, the moon and tides interact with the electromagnetic fields of our bodies, subsequently affecting our internal physiological processes.

The moon itself has a period when it is covered with darkness, and then slowly, beginning at the time of the new moon, it becomes visible to us again, gradually waxing to fullness.

Women, too, go through a period of darkness each month, when the life-force may seem to disappear for a while (premenstrual and menstrual phases).4 We need not be afraid or think we are sick if our energies and moods naturally ebb for a few days each month. In many parts of India, it’s perfectly acceptable for women to slow down during their periods and rest more.

I have come to see that all kinds of stress-related disease, ranging from PMS to osteoporosis, could be lessened a great deal if we simply followed our body’s wisdom once per month.

Many women, including me, have noticed that on the first day or two of our periods, we feel an urge to organize our homes or work spaces, cleaning out our closets—and our lives. Our natural biological cleansing is accompanied by a psychological cleansing as well.

If we do not become biologically pregnant at ovulation, we move into the second half of the cycle, the luteal phase—ovulation through the onset of menstruation. During this phase, we quite naturally retreat from outward activity to a more reflective mode.

During the luteal phase we turn more inward, preparing to develop or give birth to something that comes from deep within ourselves. Society is not nearly as keen on this as it is on the follicular phase. Thus we judge our premenstrual energy, emotions, and inward mood as “bad” and “unproductive.”

Luteal Phase: Seeing in the Dark

Since our culture generally appreciates only what we can understand rationally, many women tend to block at every opportunity the flow of unconscious “lunar” information that comes to them premenstrually or during their menstrual cycle. Lunar information is reflective and intuitive. It comes to us in our dreams, our emotions, and our hungers. It comes under cover of darkness.

When we routinely block the information that is coming to us in the second half of our menstrual cycles, it has no choice but to come back as PMS or menopausal madness, in the same way that our other feelings and bodily symptoms, if ignored, often result in illness.5

The luteal phase, from ovulation until the onset of menstruation, is when women are most in tune with their inner knowing and with what isn’t working in their lives.

Studies have shown that women’s dreams are more frequent and often more vivid during the premenstrual and menstrual phases of their cycles.1 Premenstrually, the “veil” between the worlds of the seen and unseen, the conscious and the unconscious, is much thinner.

We have access to parts of our often unconscious selves that are less available to us at all other times of the month. In fact, it has been shown experimentally that the right hemisphere of the brain—the part associated with intuitive knowing—becomes more active premenstrually, while the left hemisphere becomes less active.

Interestingly enough, communication between the two hemispheres may be increased as well.6 The premenstrual phase is therefore a time when we have greater access to our magic—our ability to recognize and transform the more difficult and painful areas of our lives.

Premenstrually, we are quite naturally more in tune with what is most meaningful in our lives. We’re more apt to cry—but our tears are always related to something that holds meaning for us. Years of personal and clinical experience have taught me that the painful or uncomfortable issues that arise premenstrually are always real and must be addressed.

Learn More — Additional Resources

References

  1. Hartman, E., 1966. Dreaming sleep (the D State) and the menstrual cycle, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, vol. 143:406–16; Swanson, E.M., Foulkes, D. 1968. Dream content and the menstrual cycle, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, vol. 145(5):358–63.
  2. Brown, F.A., 1972. The clocks: Timing biological rhythms, American Scientist, vol. 60:756–66; Gauguelin, M., 1978. Wrangle continues of pseudoscientific nature of astrology, New Scientist, Feb. 25; Menaker, W., 1959. Lunar periodicity in human reproduction: A likely unit of biological time, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol. 77(4):904–14; Dewan, E.M., 1967. On the possibility of the perfect rhythm method of birth control by periodic light stimulation, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol. 99(7):1016–19.
  3. Michael, R.P., Bonsall, R.W., Warner, P., 1974. Human vaginal secretion and volatile fatty acid content, Science, vol. 186:1217–19; Cutler, W.B. 1999. Human sex-attractant pheromones: Discovery research, development, and application in sex therapy, Psychiatric Annals, vol. 29:54–59.
  4. Wira, C., 1996. Mucosal Immunity: The Primary Interface Between the Patient and the Outside World in “The ABC’s of Immunology,” course syllabus, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, September 20–21, 1996.
  5. Hampson, E., Kimura, D., 1988. Reciprocal effects of hormonal fluctuations on human motor and perceptual skills, Behavioral Neuroscience, vol. 102:456–59.
  6. M. Altemus, B.E. Wexler, and N. Boulis, “Neuropsychological Correlates of Menstrual Mood Changes,” Psychosomatic Medicine, vol. 51 (1989), pp. 329-36.

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.

Comments

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  1. Kirsten
    6 months ago

    Hi, I am interested in any information regarding how women connect to the lunar cycles while they are not menstruating, eg. pregnant and breastfeeding women, or any woman who does not menstruate. Thank you!! x

    Kirsten

  2. Natalia
    10 months ago

    For like a week before my period I feel like staying home most of the time and outside activities don’t interest me. I feel very sensitive and I can have mood swings and cry. Some days I want to clean my apartment, the next day just doing nothing, then go for a walk, but I don’t want to do anything related with jobs or anything outside apart form being in the nature. I feel more tired and lazy during this week. I also have more vivid dreams and sometimes I am not sure which world is real hahaha. Let me know your thoughts.

  3. I have a concern and maybe you can’t point me in the direction of right information. Over the past 2 months, I have bled with both the new and full moons. I start the day before (the moon event) , and 3 days later it’s over (so I bleed the day before the full/new moon, the day of, and the day after). Regularly I’m on a 26 day cycle, between May and June it’s been every 2 weeks… Any thoughts?

    1. Maria
      11 months ago

      maybe you are having bleeding on your ovulation too? some women get mid-cycle bleeding at their ovulation, but it’s not an actual period.

    2. Julia
      9 months ago

      Go to the doctor and have it checked out. It may be nothing but rather be safe than sorry. My friend started bleeding every two weeks for 6 month and it turned out to be ovarian cancer. Good luck!

    3. Michal
      6 months ago

      I had the exact same on the same dates. Normal 28 day cycle.

  4. 28 Days X 13 Months + 1 Zero Day = 365 Days (1 Year), fair is fair, Dr. Northrup, we need to admit that our current calendar is bullshit, mathematically imprecise, and that we are missing the 13th Month and 13th Zodiac Sign and that the lack of Calendro-Biological Congruency is Harmful to Women and all of us.

    1. Anna
      10 months ago

      Moon cycle is 29 and half day, in case you do not know cycles change, change is the universal constant. Western astrology, follows the the seasons not the constellations this is a misconception when it comes to western astrology, as for the calendar, as time changes so will our our calendar…

  5. Lala
    1 year ago

    I may not be understanding but when “should” women get their periods?

  6. Arwen Stankowska
    1 year ago

    The Altemus reference is missing (6). I really wanna read it. Is it possible that you can reveal the title?

    1. Kathryn Wells
      1 year ago

      Hi Arwen, thank you for pointing this missing reference out! Dr. Northrup has updated it!

  7. Theresa Ann Booty
    2 years ago

    Thank you so much for this information. I came by this wisdom naturally a few months ago.
    I had always been a woman who subjected herself to extreme physical work, as I am a master electrician and Army Veteran. This abuse of my body caused me 33 years of painful and irregular menstrual cycles. The over-work eventually led to adrenal failure and near death.
    The near death experience allowed me a visit to the Spiritual Heavenly realms guided by JESUS. HE IS the one who revealed this wisdom to me.
    Since few of us believe in JESUS, it is comforting to have these wisdoms revealed by licensed professionals.

    1. Kam
      1 year ago

      Thanks for mentioning Jesus! God is the one who created the moon and our cycles 🙂

  8. […] women have a moon time for more than half their lives, so I highly […]

  9. Jess
    2 years ago

    What are your thoughts on spotting 6 days after your period?
    (Menstruating on the New moon, spotting on the full moon)

  10. […] And ladies, please read more about the very special relationship we females share with the phases of the Moon with Dr. Christiane Northrup at: http://www.drnorthrup.com/wisdom-of-menstrual-cycle/#sthash.vElM8Et9.dpuf […]

  11. […] The menstrual cycle is the most basic, earthy cycle we have. Our blood is our connection to the archetypal feminine. The macrocosmic cycles of nature, the waxing and waning, the ebb and flow of the tides and the changes of the seasons, are reflected on a smaller scale in the menstrual cycle of the individual female body. The monthly ripening of an egg and subsequent pregnancy or release of menstrual blood mirror the process of creation as it occurs not only in nature, unconsciously, but in human endeavor. In many cultures, the menstrual cycle has been viewed as sacred. — Christiane Northrup from Wisdom of the Menstrual Cycle […]

  12. […] During the workshop, I taught the girls about the link between their menstrual cycle and the phases of the moon. We talked about the times in a woman’s cycle when our hormones are supporting us to be more outward in our energy, energetic, creative and productive. And then we talked about when our hormones are guiding us to look within more, to seek rest and renewal and to contemplate our lives and what is working and not working. Society tends to value our outward, expansive time and to view our inwardly focused time as a time when we are moody or emotional, but I encouraged them to honour and value both times. Our outward time is a great time to connect with friends, start new projects, challenge ourselves physically, and try something new. Our inward time is a great time to nurture yourself, spend more time alone and in Nature, take a break from busyness, and spend more time in some form of contemplation. (To read more about this, visit: http://www.drnorthrup.com/wisdom-of-menstrual-cycle/). […]

  13. Tania
    2 years ago

    This was a very informative article. My question is: what if you have polarising emotions during the follicular phase. For example: I have a romantic interest overseas – a wonderful man. During the follicular phase I feel very connected to him, wanting to progress despite the challenges the of distance. The as soon as I ovlulate these feelings change and I feel it is all wrong. Which emotion is true? These opposites keep me in a holdin pattern as one minuite it feels possible, the next it doesn’t.

  14. […] information (here’s another great post on the subject) sat in the back of my brain for a while until two months ago when I decided to start putting this […]

  15. […] Seven grown women, sitting on the ground under a gazebo, the smell of the ocean coming to join us, talking about our periods. I wondered what was going on in your mind. This wasn’t what we had anticipated. The woman leading the talk stood up and moved her body in a circle to mimic the rising and falling tides of the menstrual cycle, the low tide, high tide, things I didn’t know were linked to me as a woman. She spoke of how menstruation is linked to the moon, how it mimics the ocean tides. The moon actually affects me? It’s not just a pretty painting in the night sky? Christiane Northrup explains it better. […]

  16. Lynne
    8 years ago

    I loved the movie! I was so inspired by Julie’s determination! Now that we know more about insulin resistance and low-glycemic eating, we can happily adapt most of Julia’s classics to inspire delicious healthier lifestlye choices. I now wear my pearls every time I don my apron! Thanks for bringing such “class” to cooking, Julia!

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