One of the great tasks of healing, and of living as a human, is embodiment; how do we inhabit our bodies, live in them, know them deeply? The body is a collection of biochemical processes departing and returning to equilibrium. It is a collection of atoms and stardust, trillions of complex interactions happening all the time. Our bodies are matter that we are vested in; investing in them is a homecoming. One way to learn about and invest in our bodies again is by understanding our hormones and how they cycle.
“It was so incredible to be in my body, to not have this be an abstraction.” Eve Ensler
A hormone is defined as: a regulatory substance produced in an organism and transported in tissue fluids such as blood or sap to stimulate specific cells or tissues into action. Some common human hormones include: estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, oxytocin, cortisol, and serotonin. Hormones are biological communicators, causing the body to respond in certain ways. In addition, hormones that circulate in the blood (such as estrogen and testosterone) are global communicators and impact our bones, brain, blood vessels and so many other physiological processes as well as affect our mood, appetite, thoughts, and energy. Men and people with external genitalia generally experience a 24-hour hormone cycle whereas women and people with internal genitalia generally experience a 28-day cycle. Hormones play a large role in our day-to-day life, impacting every part of our bodies in some way. Understanding our bodies and being able to live in them requires that we understand our hormone cycles and do our best to support them.
For women and ovary owners, our hormones transition through four different phases: the menstrual phase, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. The menstrual phase is the first stage of the cycle. Your levels of estrogen and progesterone drop and you shed your uterine lining and the unfertilized egg. This phase usually lasts 3 to 7 days. The follicular phase starts on the first day of your period, overlapping with the menstrual phase, and ends when you ovulate. This phase sets off a surge of estrogen to thicken the lining of your uterus and can range in length from 11 to 27 days depending on your cycle (the average length is 16 days). Ovulation occurs when your ovary releases a mature egg and is the only time during your cycle where you can get pregnant. Ovulation usually happens around day 14 of a 28-day cycle and lasts for 24 hours. The luteal phase is accompanied by decreased levels of estrogen and progesterone, which causes the onset of your period. The luteal phase is normally 11 to 17 days, with an average length of 14 days.
The fluctuations estrogen and progesterone that occur over this monthly cycle play a crucial role in our body’s responses, such as mood, strength, appetite, and other physical symptoms such as soreness and cramps. Each of us have a hormone cycle specific to us, and learning when our body experiences changes in our hormones throughout the month can give us insight into how our bodies work. Understanding and attending to our hormone cycle is an opportunity for self-care and gives us the opportunity to know what is going on in our body. Nicole Negron says, “Once women understand these monthly hormonal shifts, they can avoid becoming casualties to their hormones and begin to maximize their hormonal power.”
Your body has grace to it that we cannot wrap our head around. Our hormonal cycles do not have to be a burden. We don’t have to be at the whim of cramps and mood swings, instead we can approach our cycles with curiosity and learn what is going on in our bodies and how to support them as we shift.
Part of getting back in our bodies is learning about our specific cycle. Every body has a different hormonal cycle, and as such, there is an invitation to understand what yours is. Shifts in hormones are accompanied by changes in basal body temperature. It can take up to three months before you can identify how long each phase of your cycle is.
You can track your cycle using a basal body thermometer paired with cycle tracking apps. You can read this blog post on Funkit Wellness to learn more about cycle tracking!
Supporting Our Cycle: Seed Cycling
Nutrition is incredibly important in predicting menstrual distress. One option to support our bodies as they cycle is called “Seed Cycling.” Seed cycling uses food in the form of seeds to support and work with your body as it changes throughout the month. It works by eating flax and pumpkin seeds during the first half of your cycle (the follicular phase) and then switching to sesame and sunflower seeds during the second half (the luteal phase). If you choose to start seed cycling, it helps to buy your seeds whole and then grind them before eating, This keeps them fresh for longer and then helps aid in digestion.
Follicular Phase: Eat 1 TBSP Pumpkin Seeds + 1 TBSP Flax Seeds Daily
Luteal Phase: Eat 1 TBSP Sesame Seeds + 1 TBSP Sunflower Seeds Daily
Seed cycling is a naturopathic remedy seeking to balance estrogen and progesterone levels. Like many women’s health questions, the scientific literature has room to grow. So, while seed cycling may not balance hormones, eating more seeds can help boost your intake of vitamins and minerals and has been shown to have benefits such as reduced inflammation, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. Seeds are calorie dense foods and should be eaten with portion size in mind.
Back in Our Bodies
We are the most medicated, obese, and addicted humans to have ever lived. One of the ways our bodies and minds have learned to live in this modern world (especially in Western cultures) is by dissociating: disconnecting and separating from our bodies, experiences, and sensations. Dissociating from our bodies is a form of protection and a reaction to trauma. We have tried to protect ourselves through disconnection… a path which has contributed to the profound loneliness and unhappiness many of us experience. Reclaiming our bodies and experiences is not just an anecdote to our isolation, it is a revolutionary act. By returning to our bodies, we are returning to connection. We are able to connect with ourselves, others, and with our world.
One path back to our bodies is hormone awareness. For women and ovary owners, this can look like cycle tracking and seed cycling. It is about approaching our bodies and their processes with a recognition that our body has a grace to it that goes beyond our conscious understanding. Our bodies are wise and have much insight to give us, and our hormones can be an access point.
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