Technology-driven period trackers like Embody may be the newest thing on the reproductive block, but the practice of monitoring menstruation may be as old as mathematics – and for some, almost as useful.
In 1960, a baboon fibula engraved with groups of notches was discovered near the border that today divides Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. While at a distance of 11 millennia it’s impossible to be sure of its purpose, there are some mathematicians who believe that the Ishango bone may be the earliest known example of a menstruation calendar.
Early cycle tracking was probably as much about childbearing as wellbeing in an era where menstruating women were treated as pariahs and made to feel ashamed of experiencing symptoms that were both natural and inevitable.
While some societies still ostracize those having a period or even isolate them in what are known as “menstrual huts,” the stigma around menstruation and menstruators has lessened considerably in many parts of the world.
Indeed, there is a growing recognition among health professionals that understanding and adjusting the rhythm of our lives to our unique monthly cycles can be a powerful way to improve physical and emotional health, work, creativity and even love.
The practice of making lifestyle and diet changes to fit the four phases of the menstrual cycle is known in many circles as “cycle syncing” – not to be confused with the widespread (but so far scientifically unproven) theory that women who live together tend to experience the different phases of their menstrual cycles at the same time.
Turning Cycle Awareness into a Superpower
For those who suffer debilitating hormone-related conditions such as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), being cycle-aware can make the difference between managing symptoms and being overwhelmed by them.
Importantly, medical practitioners are finding more and more evidence that the monthly ebb and flow of hormones can have an impact on neurotransmitters. One of these – the so-called “happy hormone” dopamine – can affect the severity of everything from depression to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Sports coaches have found that dropping a one-size-fits-all approach and taking the menstrual cycle into account can help athletes train more efficiently and perform better in competition.
Coaching for Life
But even for those of us who never enter a velodrome or who suffer nothing more each month than plain vanilla premenstrual syndrome (PMS), there is enormous value in knowing the duration of the phases of our personal cycle, and how each affects our minds and bodies.
The growing awareness of this has given rise to a burgeoning new industry: that of the cycle coach.
Cycle coaches work with clients to help them learn about how the different phases of the menstrual cycle – menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase – affect their individual energy levels, mental acuity, emotional resilience and creativity.
They can then use the predictive power unlocked by this understanding to help clients plan life and work accordingly: for instance, blocking out time in the buoyant follicular phase for job interviews or mission-critical presentations.
But even if you can’t afford a cycle coach, self-knowledge can offer you the same benefits. Using a privacy-first period tracker like Embody can help you map out your personal cycle and make smart adjustments to activities or diet to make the most of the ups and minimize the downs.
From running a marathon to entertaining your in-laws to dinner, knowing in advance how you are likely to feel on a given day has great power.
While the typical cycle is roughly 28 to 32 days long, no two are the same. So while it’s helpful to learn about what other menstruators experience at specific times of the month, it is far more important for you to know what you experience.
This way you can tailor any cycle-related changes you plan to make to diet, exercise regimes, or self-care to your body.
Awareness of when specific symptoms typically hit also makes it less likely they will derail or worry you. Knowing you get a migraine headache in the middle of your luteal phase, say, will keep you from planning strenuous physical or mental activities that clash. And that understanding will keep you from panicking when the pain hits.
The flipside is also true – and could be life-saving: a grasp of what symptoms are usual for you means you can spot worrying anomalies early and report them to your doctor.
And with the peace of mind of knowing that this most personal of data is stored safely away from the eyes of others, you can refer back to previous cycles and discover whether symptoms are growing milder because of behavioral changes – or whether it’s time to seek medical support.
Above all, body literacy can help you be kinder and fairer to yourself when you feel off-kilter, to make maximum use of the uptimes, and to schedule pampering or downtime when you need them most.