The Four Seasons of Your Menstrual Cycle

The Four Seasons of Your Menstrual Cycle

The idea of living more mindfully in sync with the cycles all around me was what eventually led me to find menstruality work. I wanted to enjoy the winter season more (seasonal affective disorder makes that challenging), and I wanted to feel time move with more texture, rather than feel the years just slipping away (time had been playing tricks on me ever since I’d had a baby two years prior). 

I liked the idea of simply paying more attention to nature’s cycles so I could appreciate them more, not only in witnessing the exciting changes each season brings, but also to remind myself that all seasons are here for a rather brief time, then gone, then come back again! 

As I paid more attention to nature’s cycles unfolding outside my home in the world around me, I began to recognize that I was missing out on another natural cycle that happens right inside my own body: my menstrual cycle. 

At the time, I had an IUD that shut down my internal cycling. 

I watched the world around me sprouting, blooming, wilting, hibernating, again and again, and sensed a stillness in my body, a too-quietness, a stagnancy. A lack where there could instead be something beautiful to witness, just like the trees I often gaze at outside my window, glorious in their changing rhythms.

So I removed my IUD to welcome back my period, to feel my own most intimate cycling. 

To participate again as I was meant to be: A little piece of nature myself. 

Just like nature’s seasons, your menstrual cycle also has four distinct phases. And they echo the energies of the outer season, too! 

Think about springtime. Spring is the time of new life, we feel energy rising, things start growing, and life feels brighter. 

And in summer, we enjoy longer, sunnier days and fill them with lots of activities, gardens of all kinds are bursting with flowers, we take vacations and live life to the fullest. 

Autumn is when things start to slow down, we spend more time indoors, the leaves fall, we gather the last harvest and put the garden to bed, we prepare for winter. 

Winter, of course, is quiet, dark, slow. Everything is dormant outside, but snow can feel magical. 

Of course these are just the briefest of summaries and very incomplete. But these energies are reflected in our own bodies too. And we have my mentors at Red School, Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer, to thank for being the first to give words to and illustrate the concept of these inner seasons. 

Inner Spring: Roughly days 6-11 of your cycle / Pre-Ovulation / Follicular phase

Inner Spring begins after your bleeding days end. You begin to feel more energy, possibly more creativity, life and ideas and energy feel fresh, like a new beginning. 

In your inner spring, the follicles (little sacs) that hold ova (a.k.a. eggs) in your ovaries are growing and maturing. Estrogen is rising, which has been deemed “the Beyonce hormone” by Maisie Hill in her book Period Power. You just feel good! Your confidence grows, your outlook is optimistic, and you’re feeling more social. 

Menstruation is over and like outer spring, there’s a giddy lightness in the air. It’s like you’ve emerged from a cocoon and you’re preparing your wings to fly. 

“The power of the inner spring is a lovely natural motivation, a fresh beginning, full of natural focus and optimism, a sort of willingness to go out and try things again.” -Alexandra Pope

Inner Summer: Roughly days 12-19 of your cycle / Ovulation / Follicular to Luteal phase

Inner Summer is when your energy is at its peak. One lead ovum fully matured (usually), and ovulation happens when that egg is released, hoping to be fertilized. (Whether you are actually hoping to conceive or not is another matter; our biology is always preparing for reproduction!) 

You’ll likely experience vaginal discharge of cervical mucus around ovulation; this discharge may resemble egg whites and arrives to help sperm travel right to the ovum during your fertile window.

Energy is highest, estrogen peaks, we literally look most attractive at this time of our cycle (again, thanks to biology doing its best to reproduce), we feel social, lighter, and tasks feel easier. Like outer summer, we might be a flurry of activity at this time.

Inner summer is the time of our cycles where we’re most likely able to get a lot done, not feel put upon if we’re doing a lot for other people, and still have energy to socialize. It’s “superwoman week” where you feel like you actually can do it all!

(Side note: Culturally, this is the phase of the socially conditioned “ideal woman.” We are expected to perform at ovulation level throughout our entire cycle, but we only have the actual biological capacity to engage in this manner around one week a month, if that.

Menstruators are much more dynamic than this social conditioning: When we embrace the abilities and specialties of each inner season, we're much more powerful, in tune with ourselves, and well overall. We naturally have a much wider range of strengths and capacities than the robotic always ON "ideal woman.")

“You're in a state of flow, and with that comes an inner strength and flexibility that enables you to adjust and move with what life chucks at you, all with a dazzling smile on your face.” -Maisie Hill

Inner Autumn: Roughly days 20-26 of your cycle / Premenstruum / Luteal phase

Inner autumn is when energy starts to drop, as estrogen falls and progesterone rises. Progesterone is the hormone mainly concerned with maintaining a pregnancy. So your body has just ovulated, released an egg in anticipation of being fertilized with sperm (again, regardless of your goals), and is preparing for that fertilized egg to implant in your uterine lining. 

Your body is now essentially in nesting mode. 

Progesterone tries to keep you, your body, and your potential little one safe–it does this by slowing you down, encouraging you to take fewer risks. You’re likely to be less interested in a full social calendar, and you likely have less energy for it anyway. Your focus turns inward, more introspective, less talkative. 

Remember the follicle that was home to the ovum as it matured before ovulation? Well, now that it’s empty, it transformed into the corpus luteum and this is where progesterone is made. This is actually a short-term hormone producer, and once the body gets the signal that implantation did not occur, the corpus luteum disintegrates and therefore stops producing progesterone.

I’m telling you this because the length of your luteal phase is determined by how long that corpus luteum produces progesterone. Which can be anywhere from 11-17 days, but on average is closer to 12-14. 

Like in outer winter, you might find yourself preparing for inner winter by prioritizing cooking or baking, cleaning out unnecessaries (in your physical space and your life in general!), and seeking creature comforts. 

“For many, this season of the cycle is the most misunderstood and mismanaged. It has a bad rap. In part, that’s because its powers aren’t valued–you channel some fierce, kick-ass, provocative energies…You receive a strong call to come back to yourself as this phase asks, ‘How are you really?’” -Wild Power, page 84

Inner Winter: Roughly days 27-5 of your cycle / Menstruation / Luteal to Follicular phase

Inner winter includes the very end of your luteal phase through your bleeding phase. I likely don’t have to tell you that at this time of the month, you’d rather hibernate than host a gathering or run a marathon. Your energy is very low, your pain threshold is low, and your body is working hard to shed the uterine lining and ova tissue that did not get fertilized this month. Your body is naturally cleansing itself from the inside out. 

Your hormones are all at their lowest point of the entire cycle. This drop in hormones can lead to headaches, fatigue, anxiety, and all sorts of physical and emotional challenges. 

And low estrogen also means you’re more sensitive to all kinds of sensory input. (It’s not in your mind; everything is much more annoying and hard to deal with when estrogen is low!) But your intuition is heightened here, so pay attention to your inner world. It’s common to crave alone time, so deliver that to yourself as much as you can so you can capitalize on the winter wonderland of intuitive visioning. It’s restorative.

Wintertime is the time for rest. Plants and animals hibernate, resting from all the hard work they’ll do the rest of the year’s cycle. Don’t forget that you’re nature, too!

The first day of your period marks both the end of your previous cycle and the beginning of a new one. 

“How you care for yourself here sets the tone for the rest of your cycle.” -Alexandra Pope


The Big Red Rule

It’s important to remember the Big Red Rule, as Red School deems it. The Big Red Rule is this: Your personal experience trumps these patterns. While biologically our menstruating bodies may experience the same hormonal pattern (in healthy, regular cycles), our individual energetic or emotional experiences of those hormonal patterns may differ, depending on a whole slew of individual experiences and influences.

For example, my inner spring is sometimes accompanied by sadness, emotional instability, and feeling disconnected or dissociative. Inner spring doesn’t always feel like a springtime rush of twitterpation and creative energy

However, that has been changing for me as I’ve done more menstruality work, including my trauma-informed cycle coaching certification. Our menstrual cycles are an access point at the heart of so much of what we experience in every aspect of our lives, and for me, my inner spring brought up a lot of old trauma wounds from childhood (compounded by living in a patriarchal system). 

I’m telling you this so you can give yourself a little grace and look at your cycle with curiosity rather than forcing yourself into feeling “the right way” during every season of your cycle. 

The Big Red Rule says your way of experiencing it is the right way for you. 


Cycle Variations

There aren’t set days or dates to each of these inner seasons; it depends on the length of your cycle. So I can’t say, for instance, that “on Day 14 of your cycle, ovulation occurs” because that assumes a certain cycle length–and no disruptions to that particular cycle. 

(Side note here: Period tracking apps that tell you you’ve ovulated can only predict–guess–that you’ve ovulated if they don’t have means to evaluate your specific biomarkers for that cycle. Tracking apps don’t confirm ovulation, not even fertility apps. If you’re not tracking biomarkers like basal body temperature, cervical mucus, and more, you’re not actually able to confirm ovulation.)

So the corresponding “days of your cycle” for each inner season listed above are estimates based on the average 28-day cycle. You may experience changing inner seasons a bit differently. 

Also keep in mind that the actual length of a menstrual period is different among menstruators. The average period lasts 3-5 days, but there are many factors that influence this, including age, and many menstruators experience normal periods that last anywhere from 2 to 8 days. 

Another factor to keep in mind is that, just like Mother Nature’s seasons, we have a transition time between seasons. You know those days that don’t quite feel like winter anymore, but it’s too optimistic to consider them spring? Or days that start with snowfall, enjoy a bright sunny afternoon, and end in a drizzly in-between mess? 

These transitions–not quite entirely one season or the other–happen in your cycle too. In the menstrual cycle, those are called cross-over days. And they’re more an energetic phase than a set 24-hours that correspond with the sunrise and set. 

Is this starting to sound complicated? Let’s recalibrate.

Finding Your Own Unique Rhythm

The key to all of this knowledge is to actually experience it–in your own way.

So how do you figure out the unique rhythm of your own shifting inner seasons

The very first step is to start tracking your menstrual cycle! I’ll teach you how on page 33 of November's My Club Red Menstruality Magazine (get your free download HERE). This will allow you to start noticing your own patterns. 

But until then, just remember that mapping your inner seasons is intended to be a metaphor that helps you understand your nature as a cyclical being. A metaphor that helps you interpret the changes and effects you experience. It’s meant to bring you some clarity and even direction as you navigate these shifting hormones and their very real impact on our lived experience. 

Knowing where I am in my inner seasons help me nurture and nourish myself appropriately. It also helps me give myself grace, and communicate my needs more precisely to my partner and family. Listening to my body and tuning in to my inner season helps me harness my energy effectively. 

I’m not in the dark when it comes to how my cycle is impacting my day. And that allows me to respond to myself with compassion. 

All this–and more–is what I hope you will experience too. 


Don't forget: You can keep learning about your menstrual cycle in your free issue of My Club Red Menstruality Magazine!

Normally this educational digital magazine is available exclusively to My Club Red subscribers, but you can get this issue for free at THIS LINK and enjoy the sneak peek behind the cover of My Club Red Menstruality Magazine. 

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So glad you found this post valuable—and thank you for sharing!

Elizabeth Tidwell

Love all of this information so much, and you’ve made it so visual, clear, and accessible! Sharing with friends!


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