How a Less is More Approach to Fitness Elevated All Aspects of My Life
Jordan Rome is the Editor-In-Chief of Gaia Goddess who enjoys her carefree life without a zip code. She loves to create worlds that challenge limited perspectives through performance, words, and visual arts!
How a Less is More Approach to Fitness Elevated All Aspects of My Life
When it comes to women's health, mainly women's fitness, very little data involves looking at the female anatomy. Because of this reality, what happens is that women are told to apply the same formula to fitness and are not getting the expected outcomes. Thankfully, there's been popular discourse around this. Professionals are integrating knowledge encompassing women's hormonal disposition to support their overall wellness and fitness goals. It's essential to be mindful of lifestyle scams that don't honor the complexities and nuances of female biology, as blindly adopting health trends can be quite detrimental in the long run. Unlike men who operate on a circadian rhythm, or a 24hr cycle that resets every morning, women on top of the circadian rhythm also have an infradian or monthly cycle. This means that women are susceptible to more fluctuating hormonal changes that must be accounted for when embarking on their fitness journey.
As a former track star and overall lover of fitness and athletics, I was always enamored by the grit, discipline, and physical dedication athletes put into their training. Coaches constantly bombarded me with messages to affirm this fascination. I pushed past the limits of my body because I knew I could, and that only created a mentally negative feedback loop and devastated hormones in the end. The discipline slowly but surely turned into a form of self-control, micromanaging, and poor body image. Ultimately the joy was taken out of something I once really loved.
Pushing yourself past your limits and hard workouts during your luteal and menstrual phase, which is 2 out of 4 cycle phases, can harm your estrogen, progesterone, insulin, testosterone, and cortisol levels, which reverse affects your muscle and fat mass. Honoring these unique differences of the body is reverence for the totality of the female form. When I began to work with my body's natural rhythm rather than against it, not only did I finally see the results I was killing myself for, but the weight of burdens in all aspects of my life began to fade. The less is more approach has transformed me to my core and provided newfound freedom that I could never have imagined possible had I not tried. So what did that look like for me?
There's a ton of information that promotes quick fixes and hacks for our health. To navigate it all, I relied heavily on my intuition and the information I found resonated in my spirit. I wanted more than cheap fixes. I wanted sustainability and to thrive in my female body. This came with facing some hard truths and getting honest with myself. Through bravery, I got comfortable analyzing my motivations behind pushing past my limits and getting to the root of the need to go above and beyond. With my therapist's help and reframing my idea of success, pleasure, and nourishment, I began to write my narrative on my own terms. Though this emotional shift was helpful, I wanted to be able to metabolize practical information to supplement the changes.
I started by educating myself on what makes our bodies uniquely beautiful: the infradian cycle. When I understood the four phases of the menstrual cycle, broken down into seasons, it all started to come together for me. Each phase could be understood as a season, and with each phase came different seasonal activities and foods that paired best with that particular moment in the month. For instance, on a cold winter's day in the Midwest, enjoying watermelon, mango, and cherries wouldn't make the most sense after a nice dip in the outdoor pool. Why? Simply because it's not the season for it, and our bodies operate similarly. That being said, practicing HIIT (high-intensity interval training) during your luteal phase and definitely during your menstrual phase is counterintuitive or not the seasons, yet we push forward regardless. Discovering this information unlocked something within me, allowing me to slow down. To appreciate working with my body, not against it. Here is a brief explanation of the four seasons and the foods and exercises complimenting them, provided by the book Wild Power: Discover the Magic of Your Menstrual Power and Awaken the Feminine Path to Power, written by Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer.
Menstrual - Winter
The menstrual phase can be considered our "inner winter" and marks the start of the menstrual cycle. Our reproductive hormones, progesterone, and estrogen, are at their lowest during this phase. We may experience dips in our energy levels and feel fatigued. In the inner winter, our natural powers include internal connection, effortless presence, stillness, restoration, expansive awareness and altered states of consciousness, the forgiveness of self and others, experiencing all life as sacred, ecstasy and union, and inner guidance and instruction.
"Menstruation is the time to abandon all responsibilities and do nothing. It's the moment for rest, repair, and renewal; it's the anchor, the magnetic truth north that gets you all lined up, filled up, loved up, and prepped for the creative art of living." This is the time for a natural retreat, setting you up for the other seasons. One would greatly benefit from hearty warm meals, root vegetables, meaningful rest and alone time, and finding ways to nurture oneself. I personally enjoy practicing gentle yoga flows, meditation, breathwork, and leisurely activities like sunbathing and warm sensual baths.
Follicular - Spring
The follicular phase can be considered our "inner spring" or pre-ovulation. In your innerspring lie the natural powers of tenderness, innocence, containment, curiosity, playfulness, imagination, possibility, surging energy, sexual and emotional desire, focus, motivation, enthusiasm, positivity, and assertiveness. We emerge from winter hibernation and must indulge in this process as our inner lights turn on. It's a time of build-up and growing anticipation, where your visions from the winter season bloom within and you have the energy to back them up. Your Follicular Phase is vital in preparing your body for ovulation, and carbohydrates rich in antioxidants are key as your body metabolizes and needs carbs most during this season. I support this phase by consuming foods rich in probiotics, delicious carbs like quinoa and sweet potatoes, and gradually increasing the intensity of my fitness regime, including pilates with light weights and some dance-based movements.
Ovulation - Summer
The ovulation phase can be considered our "inner summer" when we put on our superhero capes and take on the world! Our natural powers include outward focus, loving others, visibility, optimism, taking charge, mastery, high energy, charm, magnetism, attraction, generosity, diplomacy, being in the flow, allowing, gratitude, and pleasure. Your energy is at an all-time high, making you a powerhouse and giving you the capacity to shine center stage. Your resting metabolic rate has hit its lowest point and has begun to rise, so your need for and ability to digest protein and carbs is heightened. Your HIIT workouts, high-level cardio, and weight training are optimal with all this newfound energy. The verbal and sociable parts of our brain are activated during this time, so chances are, during this season, you feel attractive and magnetic, and the world reflects this juicy energy right back!
Luteal - Fall
The luteal phase can be considered our "inner fall," or pre-menstruation. Perhaps this is the season that gets the most "play," as there are plenty of media depictions of women experiencing premenstrual symptoms. However, it's misunderstood and sometimes mismanaged. Though this time is critical to pay attention to, our natural powers include insight, truth-speaking, discernment, channeling, and honoring boundaries. Your shadow side has begun to awaken now, "We have the power now to hold the tension of all we feel within and allow it to be. It's as if you're asked to be present to the "little girl" inside who may not have had her needs met, or have someone show up for her when she was in distress. Your premenstrual reactivity, rage, and self-rejection could have a direct link back to her." In addition, Wild Power mentions that "This presence and self-holding is a direct act of love that transforms these reactive and defensive ways into vital elements of your being and becomes the means for you to soften and expand into your Wild Power." I like to support this phase by moving about life more slowly and mindfully and starting to decrease my movement towards the latter half of this by taking long nature walks, leisurely swims, or low-impact pilates.
Understanding that I am a cyclical being and honoring that allowed me to reframe what consistency is and take the pressure off of feeling guilty when I'm not operating at my ovulatory capacity. There's a season for that, for a reason! This newfound wisdom brought more intentionality into my movements. I rediscovered pleasure in moving my body, and my body rejoiced in it too! Adopting this mindset allowed me to flourish in other aspects of my life and soften into my daily tasks and responsibilities. When my personal philosophy becomes one with nature, all felt right in my world! If this resonates, I encourage you to begin to do further research into how you can support each season of your cycle and see for yourself how living in accordance with your body's natural rhythm can elevate not only your fitness regimen, but all aspects of your life.