This article was included in November's My Club Red menstruality magazine, which is included in My Club Red subscriptions. You can get a free download of the full issue and peek behind the cover of this one-of-a-kind menstruality magazine that's typically available exclusively to subscribers by clicking HERE.
A great first step toward knowing the intricacies of your entire menstrual cycle is to keep track of your daily experiences. As we learned in The Four Seasons of Your Menstrual Cycle article (download HERE), our menstruating bodies change a lot from day to day, cycle phase to cycle phase. It is so helpful to start to chart and begin to recognize patterns in our experiences, behaviors, needs, and energies.
And of course there are a lot of outside influences that affect your daily experience that are helpful to track and begin to understand.
By tracking your inner and outer experiences, you not only reveal patterns in your experiences, you’ll start being able to prepare for those patterns beforehand, too, which is the real magic of cycle charting.
For example, I get a final burst of sociality in my inner autumn. I generally feel like gathering friends or family and hosting a dinner. Inner autumn is the time of my cycle where I feel like nesting, feel like cooking nourishing foods, and connecting deeply with others. It’s almost like a mini-Thanksgiving vibe every month.
Which is different than the social vibe I feel in my inner summer, which is more playful, active, higher energy. In my inner summer I want to go out on the town with my husband or friends more than I want to stay home and host.
So by paying attention each month, now I know ahead of time these two different flavors of the same social and emotional need at different parts of my cycle and can plan accordingly.
And that’s just one example–the possibilities for personal insight and preparation really are endless! And perfectly tailored to your unique experience of each of the seasons and phases of your cycle. In my experience, and so many other menstruators’ who practice menstrual cycle awareness and track their cycle, it’s the most potent form of self-knowing I’ve encountered.
It’s like opening the back of a clock and revealing the intricate inner workings. Only, you are the clock and the inner workings are the intricacies of your personal cycle.
How To Start
To start tracking your cycle, you’ll need a tracking system. There are lots of options here! Some people prefer to simply journal at the end of the day, noting particular symptoms and experiences. Some like a visual chart, like a checkmark system or a symbols-coded circular chart. Some systems lump all Day 1s together, all Day 2s, etc. so you can more easily see patterns in retrospect. And of course there are hybrids.
There’s no wrong way to chart!
The right way to chart is the way that you will actually do, will enjoy doing, and will find helpful.
You can find lots of free downloads online (if you need help with this let me know).
One important note: If you start looking for charts to either download or purchase online, keep in mind that you want a chart that allows you to capture your entire menstrual cycle, and not just the days of your period. Many period tracking journals only focus on tracking your experience in your bleeding phase.
What I’m teaching you here will help you go far beyond tracking your period symptoms–we will be observing and learning from every day of your full cycle.
If you’re not sure which system you’ll like the most, don’t worry! Just start with one and consider it an experiment. You can always try another system next month.
Setting Up Your System
Cycle Day One is always the first day of the full flow of your period. You do not have to wait until the first day of your period to start tracking though; every day is a cycle day filled with important information.
Set up your chart by calculating what day of your menstrual cycle you’re currently on (a.k.a. your Cycle Day). Do this by identifying the date of the first day of your most recent period and counting forward to today.
An example: Say your period started last Monday, and today is the following Wednesday. Last Monday was Cycle Day 1, Tuesday was Cycle Day 2, all the way through the rest of the week, making today Cycle Day 10 for you.
Back to your chart: Note the date of Cycle Day 1, and add in the dates up to today. Note each Cycle Day.
Dates and Cycle Days: That’s all the basic set-up you’ll need for now.
If you don’t know the date of Cycle Day 1 of your most recent period, don’t worry. You can start charting without noting the Cycle Day for this cycle. You’ll still be able to notice important information right now, wherever you are in your cycle.
When your next period starts, label your chart with Cycle Day 1 and begin noting your Cycle Days moving forward.
What to Chart
Once you have a tracking system, begin charting your daily experiences. Stuck on what to chart? Some common categories to note are:
Physical: How did your body feel today? Note physical sensations, symptoms, changes, appearance, movement, libido, energy levels, etc.
Mental: Where were your thoughts today? Note mental patterns, outlook, etc.
Emotional: What was your emotional landscape today? Note feelings, mood, responses, etc.
Spiritual: How connected did you feel today? Note spiritual practices, longings, etc.
Social/Relationships: How was your relational experience today? Note connection, conflict, outlook, etc.
Events: What outside influences were at play today? Note synchronicities, stress, happenings, etc.
You are free to define the categories however you’d like to, and include or not include any aspect you’d like to.
Remember: Your goal isn’t to “do it right”--your goal is to gather insights on your own experiences.
Keep in mind, too, that you want to chart desires and urges, too, not just what actually happened.
For example, did you want a lot of alone time today, but weren’t able to get it? Note that desire. These are the inner workings that we’re really trying to bring to light here, and this is what differentiates menstrual cycle awareness from simply journaling your daily experience.
You’re welcome to personalize this as much as you’d like to! If you’d like to track a particular habit, or the moon cycle, or your biomarkers for fertility awareness, go for it.
As you get used to charting, you could add in a symbol representing which inner season you’re in as well. That will help you start paying attention to how you experience the inner seasons, and help you identify crossover days eventually too (though this may take practice, so be patient and give yourself some grace).
A Peek at My Chart
I use a hybrid system: I like to chart with both a visual and a written journaling system. My current visual guide is actually this moon cycle journal from April McMurtry of The Moon is My Calendar. I use this one because I had actually started tracking the moon cycles before I started tracking my cycle, so this was a natural progression.
I love using a circular tracking system because it really illustrates my cyclical nature. I connect more deeply with the energies cycling through each phase as I work with a circular wheel-image which reflects that.
This journal also has a list of included symbols you could use, but of course you’re welcome to create your own symbols for what you’re tracking, or look up symbols online.
And then I also use a regular lined journal for my longer written daily tracking. I simply write the date, my Cycle Day, and notes under the categories I listed above. I also keep my journal by my bed so in the morning I can record any dreams I had. This allows me to notice patterns in my subconscious as well that I find really fascinating.
One day I plan on creating my own version of a cycle journal that will include both of these aspects so I don’t have to have two separate journals, but for now, this is the system that I enjoy using.
As you can see, I’ve cobbled the bits of other systems I like and made a system that works for me. You’re welcome to do the same!
Why Not Just Use an App?
Of course it’s your choice to track however you’d like to, but with apps, there is always the chance that your sensitive data may be sold or used in ways you don’t want it to be used. If you are interested in learning more about the potential problems with period tracking apps and sensitive data, there are many articles you can find online.
And if you currently–or previously–use a period tracking, fertility, or other bio-tracking app, be sure to read the app’s commitments to your privacy. And perhaps consider deleting your data and account if you are concerned about your data privacy.
I’ve also found that I’m simply more connected to the details of my cycle when I use pen and paper than when I’m checking off symptoms in an app. There is so much more nuance and personalization available with a pen and paper method.
If you already use an app, you can look at what the app tracks for you that you appreciate and recreate those aspects in a paper system as a good starting point. Then you are free to personalize your tracking system far beyond what the app offered you.
Take a Moment to Look Back
At the end of every cycle, you may want to look back at your cycle and notice any patterns. You could note the total length of your cycle, perhaps including the start and end dates, and maybe jot down any significant events or disruptions that may have impacted your cycle experience that month, or any other notes on that full cycle.
You can make this monthly reflection time a moment to check in with yourself and the cycle you just completed. You may consider setting an intention for the upcoming cycle or otherwise marking the transition from one cycle into another in a way that feels supportive to you.
And that’s it! You are now practicing menstrual cycle awareness and attuning to your own unique rhythm each cycle.
Remember, you can make this as simple or as complex as you’d like. Some menstruators simply write the date, Cycle Day, and three words that summed up their experience that day. And if that’s the most feasible method for you, excellent!
However cycle charting looks for you, I hope it helps you connect with yourself and your experience as a cyclical being. I hope you start to see the magic in discovering patterns of how you might respond to life in a cyclical way.
I hope you begin to treasure these moments of tuning into yourself, your body, your experience.
Remember: What you experience matters.
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