Yoga, Hormones, and Fertility Artwork
Season 1 - Episode 2

Your Menstrual Cycle

15 min - Talk


Maria offers a talk on the process and stages of the female menstrual cycle. Whether you are looking to conceive or looking to balance your hormones, this talk will help you better understand the entire process.
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May 04, 2019
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Welcome, thank you for joining me today. So I wanted to spend some time today just talking about the menstrual cycle and really looking at this chart and explaining what it means because there are a lot of things happening simultaneously every month, throughout the whole month, and the whole process of our menstrual cycle is very dynamic. Our hormones change drastically and it can be really helpful to understand that process, whether you're trying to conceive or just looking to balance out your menstrual cycles because you're having issues like PMS or intense cramping or whatever, or maybe you're trying not to conceive. So we'll look at this chart and this can take a long time to understand. You may have to watch this video several times or look to other resources if you're really interested in the subject matter.

On the first line we have our ovarian cycle. So a little more detail here, these are follicles and inside of the follicles are eggs. So when we have ovulation, the follicle releases an egg. After ovulation, the remainder of the follicle becomes the corpus luteum, yellow body is what that translates to, and here's our yellow corpus luteum. So the first half of the cycle we have follicles, second half corpus luteum, right in the middle roughly we have ovulation.

So this whole chart is based on 28 days. Not everyone's menstrual cycle is 28 days, right? So it doesn't mean that you have a problem if your cycle is less than that or more than that. It's just nice to have that baseline and then you can kind of see, oh wait, my cycle was 28 days, now it's more like 37, things are getting a little unregulated. Then our next line is the basal body temperature.

So this temperature is typically taken between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. in the morning and you should take it before you get up, like while you're laying down in bed before you move, you just have your thermometer there, you take your temperature and you chart it at that point. If you've gotten up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you should take your temperature when you get up to go to the bathroom and then again in the morning. And ideally it's taken exactly at the same time because even a half-hour difference can make a difference in what your body temperature is. And if we look at the chart, we see that the basal body temperature is much lower in the first half than it is in the second half. Second half of the menstrual cycle, it rises and that's after ovulation.

And I'll explain why in a little bit. But just notice that it also drops a little bit before it rises. So that's a really good indicator, let's say, that ovulation is about to happen when you get that extra drop in body temperature. Then our next line here is our hormonal levels and we have follicle stimulating hormone, or FSH, and luteinizing hormone, or LH. So these are hormones that are actually secreted by the hypothalamic pituitary axis, so they come from the pituitary gland.

And they are what tell the body to start to create more follicles. And the LH in particular actually is what kind of stimulates, triggers ovulation. They both do, but the LH really stimulates ovulation. And the LH is also the hormone that sustains the corpus luteum. That's what keeps the corpus luteum alive during the second half of the menstrual cycle.

And then as the LH levels start to drop, you see that the corpus luteum slowly starts to die. So then on this line we have our estrogen and progesterone. We've all heard of estrogen and progesterone, most likely. What you may not know is that a majority of these hormones actually comes from our follicles. And the estrogen comes from the actual follicle.

The follicle is made up of theca cells on the outside and granulosa cells on the inside. And these theca and granulosa cells together help to build the estrogen in the system. And on the second half we have that corpus luteum, that yellow body, and the corpus luteum secretes more progesterone. And progesterone is actually means for life, progestation. And there's good reason for that because this is the time where there would be implantation into the uterus.

And so its function is really to help bring blood flow, to slow down any cramping of the uterus so that the embryo can implant or the blastocyst can implant. So what you see here is that the yellow line, estrogen starts to rise as the follicles grow. And then after ovulation, the progesterone starts to rise as the corpus luteum is there. And that is what is helping the progesterone levels to rise. Then we have our last layer which is the endometrial lining, the endometrium layer.

And here what you see this day one till I guess they're saying about day six, day five six. This is when you're shedding the endometrial layer from your previous cycle. Then you see that it's starting to grow. And just notice that actually the follicles were already growing as you were starting, as you were shedding your layer. And then the endometrium layer grows even more during the second half.

But both the estrogen and the progesterone help to build this endometrial layer. The estrogen helps to build it, but then the progesterone actually helps to bring blood flow to that endometrial layer. So a little bit about how this works. As I said, these come from the hypothalamic pituitary axis, these hormones. So what happens is in the beginning of the cycle, the menstrual cycle, you see that our hormones are low.

The hormones being low is what triggers the brain to say we need to have more hormones in our system, let's stimulate more follicles to start growing. If we stimulate more follicles to start growing, then our hormones will start to rise. And so we stimulate the follicles to grow. Here we see these levels rising in the FSH, the follicles are growing, and then as the follicles grow, the hormone levels also grow, the estrogen grows. And around here, when we're ready for ovulation, we see this peak in estrogen.

This peak is really important because this peak in estrogen tells the brain, okay, we have enough hormones in our system so we can actually suppress the follicle stimulating hormone. So we see that little drop. But then we see the estrogen go a little bit higher, and then we get that drop in our basal body temperature, which means ovulation is really about to happen any time. And then because the estrogen has risen a little higher, it actually tells the brain to have a surge in FSH and LH. But notice we only get a surge in LH, the FSH does not really, it raises a little bit but not much.

And that's because of another hormone that's not on the chart, and that's inhibin, it tells the FSH not to rise. And so we have this spike in luteinizing hormone, and then we have ovulation. So this is a really key time of the month for women who are wishing to conceive. After ovulation, the egg really only lives for at the most 24 hours. So if you're trying to conceive, you really want to be actively having intercourse and trying right around that time where you get that estrogen peak.

So right when your basal body temperature starts to drop, because that tells you ovulation is going to happen. And semen sperm can live within the woman for up to five days. So it's better to get a head start than to be too late and have missed ovulation and the egg is expired. And then as we said afterwards, we have that rise in body temperature and that tells you that most likely you have ovulated. Now what can happen is that some women actually don't have high enough progesterone levels, so we won't see this high level body temperature in the second half.

We'll see like a flat line. Some women don't ovulate. That's why looking at this chart and doing your basal body temperature and getting to understand your menstrual cycle can be really helpful. I look at charts of all of my clients and I find things. And then it tells me a bit about like where's the imbalance.

In some cases if let's say the body temperature was just typically very low, it might be an issue with the thyroid, because the thyroid helps to sustain the body temperature. And that can be incredibly helpful for conception. So some signs of ovulation, and this is not exact, it's very complicated. You can go and you can get tested by your doctor and see if there's actually, they can actually look in your ovaries and see if there's any follicles that are growing and about to ovulate and they can see if it has happened. You can do LH test strips and there's actually test strips that will show you both when you're having that estrogen surge and when you have the LH surge, which is helpful because you know okay I'm about to ovulate and then okay most likely I have ovulated or I will any moment now.

And then another helpful tool can be your cervical fluids. So in the beginning of your menstrual cycle, your cervical fluids tend to be more clear and watery. Then around the time when you have that estrogen surge, you start to get that more uncooked egg white mucus. So I say uncooked because you hear egg white mucus and sometimes people think it's the cooked and they're like I never have that, but it's the clear sticky kind of mucus. And then after ovulation, it gets a little less sticky and it's more white, more of a white type mucus, but not very thick.

Otherwise it could be a sign of like a yeast infection. And so one more thing I want to cover is as these if you see when the corpus luteum starts to die because the LH has started to drop so it doesn't have what it needs to sustain life, then we start to see the body temperature going down and the estrogen and progesterone starting to go down. And when these drop, that's what triggers our next menstrual cycle, triggers the body to release our previous endometrial layer and then to once again start secreting that FSH to start growing more follicles. Now in the case of pregnancy, what happens around day 19 to 21, somewhere in there, is typically where implantation will happen. And when you're pregnant, very often what pregnancy tests are looking for is the hormone HCG.

And HCG actually can also keep the corpus luteum alive. It works kind of like LH does in that way. So the HCG continues to keep the corpus luteum alive and then the corpus luteum is actually what continues to generate estrogen and progesterone until the placenta, which is the organ that grows and nourishes the fetus, until about the first trimester, the end of the first trimester somewhere in there, when the placenta has grown and is ready to take on that duty, then the placenta continues to keep the fetus alive and the hormone levels up. So thank you for listening. I hope that helped answer some questions and I hope you enjoy this process of learning more about your hormone levels and how much they change.

If we really understand this process, it's so empowering because we understand why throughout the whole month our moods change, why our body changes. And you really see how incredible the female body is, the fact that all of this mechanism is just built in within us and that we can grow life and we have potential for life every month is just beautiful and incredible. So thank you for joining me. Namaste.


Jen T
1 person likes this.
Interesting, but a little heavy on the science / terminology. I thought it would be more in layman’s terms, and focus on explaining the emotional and physical effects that occur at each stage of the cycle, and how yoga can help support or ease those effects. For example: during pre-ovulation it’s common to feel your energy levels increasing, but post-ovulation is a time not to over commit as energy levels are dropping, etc, etc.
Maria Villella
Hi Jen, I’m sorry you found this to be too heavy on science. In the other videos of the series I offer more practical information and practices. I just wanted to show how much hormonal changes we go through during the month and have a place for women to reference and learn as they watch the other videos.  
Isa R
1 person likes this.
I absolutely love this explanation, THANK YOU!
Maria Villella
I’m so glad you liked it Isa!!! 🙏
Lily A
Thank you for such a thourough explanation! What happens to all these levels when on the pill birth control? Does everything just stay level and flat?
Maria Villella
Hi Lily!  Good question. Your guess was pretty much right. The pill aims to keep hormone levels from fluctuating because it’s the increase in estrogen that then triggers the LH surge and ovulation to occur. So if the levels stay more even then that doesn’t happen. 

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