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Harness the moon's cycles for success and healing


Moon’s cycles

Dominik Wycislo, Unsplash

Discover how the Moon’s cycles for progress and rest can be used for achievement, wellness and relaxation

The Moon in all her glory looks down on us every night; watching, glowing, growing and changing through her monthly cycle. The Moon moves the tides, and the animal kingdom is influenced by her. For centuries humans have discussed how the Moon can influence our lives, including our actions and emotions.

In Medical Astrology, the Moon governs the rhythm of the body, as well as emotions, habits and patterns of living. The Moon is linked to the breasts, the uterus and menstruation, part of the lungs, the diaphragm and all the mucus membranes of the body.

In addition, the Moon is associated with nutrition, digestion and food on both the physical and emotional levels. Humans are often stress eaters, emotional eaters and celebratory/reward eaters all in one. How would we ever separate our emotions from our digestion?

THE BRAIN/BELLY CONNECTION

Advances in science mean we now know about the vagus nerve, which connects our digestion to our brain and nervous system. These two systems are intricately intertwined and speak to each other in a variety ways – many of which we still don’t understand.

The digestive system and our ability to process foods and absorb their nutrients is governed in part by what is called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This system works almost like a seesaw in that one branch of the ANS, known as the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), is our fight/flight nervous system and reacts to stress and danger by pushing blood up to the brain and out to our extremities (arms and legs), to enable us to run from danger and focus on survival.

“Being constantly ON, in fight-or-flight mode, can lead to weight gain, poor sleep, anxiety and increased aging and oxidation.”

The SNS is a system that carries programming from when life contained more immediate dangers, and it still doesn’t know the difference between being stressed from sitting in traffic or due to a work deadline, versus stress from being chased by a wild animal or attacked by Viking invaders.

The other branch of the ANS seesaw is the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). While the PNS oversees many functions, one of its most important is to support the digest and relax functions. Our PNS needs to be strong to help us with digestion and the assimilation of nutrients, as well as to rest and experience a deep and healthy sleep cycle.

THE MOON’S GROWTH AND DECLINE CYCLE

The Moon in her waxing (growing) and waning (decreasing) cycles can be connected to many cyclical aspects of life. This 28-day cycle happens approximately 13 times a year and is a beautiful amount of time to focus on a project or idea.

The waxing cycle, from the New Moon until the Moon’s peak at the Full Moon, is a growth phase. It symbolises the process of a plant from seed to full bloom, like the way an idea or project grows till it reaches its peak. The Moon’s waning energy, from the Full Moon to the New Moon, symbolises wisdom and the release of what is not needed, like a turning away from what has been. In the waning cycle there is also a slow consolidation of energy that will be replanted, to be reborn again at the New Moon.

Many books have been written on the Moon phase cycle, which is also known as the lunation cycle, as it offers deep teachings about rhythms and patterns.

SCIENCE CATCHES UP TO THE MOON

Until the 1970s there were very few clinical trials in science that focused on women. Most scientific research has been conducted on men as the “average person” and then the results have been extrapolated for “smaller women”.

Sports nutrition research has finally started to focus on how women’s bodies respond differently to men’s with the same food or training stimulus. What has been found and theorised is that women have different strengths and weakness in the different parts of their menstrual cycle.

“The waxing cycle, from the New Moon until the Moon’s peak at the Full Moon, is a growth phase.”

Recent research1,2,3 has shown that the two parts of a woman’s cycle not only have vastly different hormonal profiles but also indicate different abilities in relation to training results, response to stress and cortisol levels, and differing abilities to handle different types of foods, such as carbohydrates and fats.

The first half of the menstrual cycle, which is known as the follicular phase, is from the first day of the period until day 14, when ovulation is likely to occur (this can differ slightly with each person). The follicular phase is characterised as a low hormone phase.

Ovulation is the peak of the cycle, when hormone levels are high and the egg is released from the ovary, ready to be fertilised. The second half of the cycle, typically, but not always, from day 15-28 is referred to as the luteal phase and is accompanied by higher levels of progesterone and other hormones.

The first half of their cycle, from period to ovulation, is when women are at their strongest. During this phase women are more resilient, have a higher ability to withstand harder exercise and recover faster. Their bodies are more capable of burning carbohydrates as fuel, and often women in sport will accomplish a personal best in strength or speed. This is a building phase as muscle mass is potentially easier to gain and recovery is quicker.

During the second half of their cycle women fatigue more easily, don’t recover as well, and are not as good at burning carbohydrates as fuel. With higher hormone levels there can be increased cravings, and fluid retention, a process that hold more fluids outside of our cells rather than inside – which is what makes women feel puffy and bloated even if the scale tells them they are the same weight. This is the resting phase of the cycle. It’s not a great time for hard exercise and is better suited to endurance activities, and long, slow exercise, or walks, yoga and stretching. To push feels harder and women tire more easily, not to mention the increased food cravings and more volatile emotional states created by higher hormone levels.

HORMONES AND THE MOON

If you consider this hormonally driven cycle of strength and rest, there is an obvious rhythm to it, just like the Moon’s cycles. The New Moon to the Full Moon is a growth phase, where women have strength and stamina, just like the Moon as it grows from a tiny sliver to a bright, full circle.

After the Full Moon, which is like the ovulatory peak, the Moon begins to wane and shrink. Just like the Moon, decreasing in light and size, women have a drop in strength and stamina. This period of the cycle is when women need more rest, recovery and nurturing rather than pushing outwards.

Consider how we might take this glorious cycle and apply it to other parts of our life. What if we used the strength and stamina of the New Moon to Full Moon phase and in this cycle took on not just new projects and ideas that we can put our muscles and energy behind, but also other challenges, pushing forward with a new creative endeavour or health goal? This active part of the cycle is about energy, intensity and creation. Imagine if we put all that energy to good use – regardless of whether you have the same hormones flowing or not.

For those women who have yet to have a menstrual cycle or those who are past their monthly menses, as well as all men, you can still use this cycle in two very distinct ways. There is the Moon’s visible monthly cycle that anyone can tap into and, in astrology, you also have your unique lunar phase cycle.

You might choose to use the visible lunar cycle, which can be tracked in the sky or via a Moon calendar, to apply this pattern of growth and rest as you watch the Moon grow and release over the month. If so, you’d start the cycle at the New Moon, just as a menstrual cycle starts at the first day of a full bleed. Then you have the next 14 days to power ahead and put your energy and willpower to good use to create the new that you desire, before you get to the full moon/ovulation peak and the start of the two week rest phase.

YOUR PERSONAL MOON PHASE

The other, more personal option is to work with your lunar phase return, which could potentially be an even more precise way to use lunar energy for habits and patterns of health.

Each month when the Moon returns to the same phase it was in when you were born is your lunar phase return, which is like a personal new moon in your astrology chart. This is an enlightening subject once you learn about it.

Even if you don’t know your exact birth time, it is possible with an ephemeris or an astrologer with a good astrological software program to look up what the Moon phase was on the day you were born. You can also try a google search using the terms “Moon phase Australia XXXX” and your birth year.

Your moon phase has nothing to do with Zodiac signs, instead it identifies which of the eight specific phases of the Moon, or to be more precise what the angle between the Sun and Moon was, when you were born. The table below shows the eight phases and the angles between the sun and the moon5,6.

 

Moon Shape

 

Degrees from the Sun Days into lunar month (after New Moon)
New Moon 0-44 0 – 3.5 days
Crescent Moon 45-89 3.5 – 7 days
First Quarter Moon 90-134 7 – 10.5 days
Gibbous Moon 135-179 10.5 – 14 days
Full Moon 180-224 14 – 17.5 days
Disseminating Moon 225-269 17.5 – 21 days
Last Quarter Moon 270-314 21 – 24.5 days
Balsamic Moon 315-360 24.5 – 28 days

 

This moon phase return each month is a personal New Moon within you on an energetic level. It can be a day of insight and wisdom, and is a good day to take for nurturing yourself and self-reflection.

If you use this cycle in your life, you can see a pattern of two weeks of striving and goal-oriented behaviour where you have the energy and stamina to push forward. Then, you have a two week cycle of rest, consolidation and retreat for self-nurturing to build your energy again for the next month’s forward push.

EATING, WELLNESS AND WEIGHT LOSS

In scientific research there are whole areas of study on the circadian rhythms that exist, not just for the sleep/wake cycle but for every organ in the body7,8. Digestion even has its own cycle, and research is just starting to uncover when our bodies are most primed to take in food and when we should let the body rest and fast, and for how long, to be of most benefit for longevity and weight control4.

Recent research4 has shown that attempting weight loss and maintaining that weight loss is more successful and less alarming to the body to do so cyclically, instead of triggering a famine state that causes all kinds of brain and hormone reactions to try and regain the lost weight. Research shows that a cyclical form of dieting may be more successful and longer lasting.

Study participants had statistically significant results when attempting weight loss in a cyclical pattern of two weeks of restrictive dieting followed by two weeks of normal eating patterns, when compared to people in a constant state of calorie restriction.

This is an interesting finding, and more research that looks at the timing of when to eat meals, how many meals to eat each day, and the role that intermittent fasting can play will help shed light on the potential of eating on this schedule.

What much of this research suggests is to follow the body’s own circadian rhythms of the 24-hour clock (Sun ruled) and/or to follow the 14-days-on and 14-days-off routine (lunar). The research is obviously not looking at astrology, but if we take in what the science is saying, the implications of nature’s natural rhythms, and the application of the astrological cycles it becomes an interesting point of investigation.

WORKING WITH THE MOON

You have two or three potential cycles that can be followed to help you grow and nurture, to push forward and to rest. Being constantly ON, in fight-or-flight mode, can lead to weight gain, poor sleep, anxiety and increased ageing and oxidation. When you work within a cycle you create time for growth, but more importantly you make time for rest and rejuvenation. Having time to centre yourself and recover is so important. The two quieter weeks in the cycle aren’t about doing nothing, it’s about backing away from the fast pace of 21st century living and letting your body unwind and recharge in order to get ready for the next adventure. It’s a bit like a sleep/wake cycle but on a monthly basis, to let the body recalibrate and relax.

Three possible cycles to follow:

  • For menstruating women, you can use the most obvious monthly cycle linked to your period. Please note, day 1 is the first day of a full bleed and the last day is the day before the period starts.
  • For everyone, you can follow the Moon’s cycle of New to Full to Dark, as this is the most obvious of all the cycles and can be used by both men and women.
  • If you know your personal Moon phase, calculate your lunar cycle/peak, find out when your own New Moon or phase return is each month and start the cycle on that day. This cycle can also be used by everyone.

Tips for working with your cycles:

  • Weight loss | Use the first half of the cycle for a stricter eating and exercise regime, as you have more strength and are more likely to be able to follow and stick to a plan. Let the second half of the cycle be less strict and more restful, with a few extra treats. For women this is also when you crave more sweets.
  • Creativity and the start of a new work/personal project | The first two weeks of the cycle are great for getting all those projects started and moving in the right direction, as you can push harder and accomplish more. After you reach the Full Moon, be it in the sky, your own ovulation or timing it to 14 days after your lunar phase return, move into your waning energy. Use this part of the cycle to fine tune and consolidate what you have accomplished in the first two weeks. This is a period of rest and reflection, and while it may be more internal and creative on some levels, you aren’t out in the world pushing to achieve.
  • Exercise | Adjust your personal exercise schedule so you push hard for two weeks, as strength training, high intensity exercise and learning new sports/activities are best done from the new to the full phase of the cycle. For millennia astrologers have described this part of the cycle as being an ideal building and growth phase for people and plants, and now research has shown it is an opportune time to grow muscle as well. The second half of the cycle is for more rest, stretching and gentle recovery-style exercise.

This moon-phase cycle can really be applied to anything new or that you want to grow or learn. Think two weeks of motivation and pushing, then plan two weeks of rest and consolidation. It’s such a simple cycle to follow, and each month you have the chance to start again – grow and rest, learn and apply, push and pull, around whatever it is you want to work on.

Take the time to write down a few things that you want to use this lunar process for. Pick maybe just one in the first month and see how it goes. Journal your experiences and any insights you gain, then try something else the next month or return to the same project, such as weight loss or healthier eating habits, and see as each month it gets better and better.

Monthly goals and projects often feel much more manageable than long-term goals. If you find you often set too many long-term goals and then lose focus when you don’t see the progress you’d hoped for, opting for monthly goals may be a better option. This way, if you do run out of steam or find there isn’t enough energy to put in to your goal due to other circumstances, you have your monthly new moon to start again.

Remember the Moon is there each month doing her thing, starting over, growing and resting, to inspire you to do the same.