How understanding my menstrual cycle revolutionized my prayer life

Let me paint a picture: One day you’re sitting in the chapel, eyes fixed on the Blessed Sacrament, nose deep in Scripture, experiencing consolation and peace. Then, maybe two days later in that same chapel, you feel like you don’t even know how to pray. You search for some tips on concentrating and reread that book on prayer because you feel like you’ve failed and lost touch with the Lord.

That was me. Until I realized I wasn’t failing at prayer. Turns out, I’m human. Turns out, I’m also a woman. Here is what happened.

Learning the woman’s cycle

During my Catholic formation as a college student, I learned about St. Ignatius’ discernment of spirits, which helped me understand that the ebbs and flows of my prayer life are normal. What I didn’t realize is that, as a woman, there was more to this that a man cannot fathom.

In August 2022, I was trained and then led a Natural Womanhood’s Cycle Mindfulness Club on my college campus at Texas A&M University. The Cycle Mindfulness Clubs are designed for women who want to learn about their natural cycles and fertility and support one another in this journey. A group of 12 women like me met weekly throughout the school year to discuss topics such as ovulation, hormones, emotions, anatomy, self control, good cycle health practices and more. The club provided a safe space for us to share our experiences and to support each other in learning the practice of charting.

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Through this program, I grew in my understanding of how a woman’s body functions and that it is normal for my emotions and energy to ebb and flow throughout my menstrual cycle. In fact, they would fluctuate in a predictable pattern every cycle, and certain emotional or behavioral tendencies were dominant at different times.

The ultimate ‘life hack’ as a woman

If you’re not familiar with the science of the cycle, here is how it works. Unlike men, women’s hormonal levels are tied to the various stages of their natural cycle (that is, when they’re not on contraception). The shedding of the uterine lining during menstruation, the maturation of follicles in the ovaries, the release of an egg at ovulation, and the resulting release of the corpus luteum are all accompanied by the production of important hormones in our body. In turn, these hormones have an impact on our brain, feelings, emotions, energy and even capacity to concentrate. When I started charting my cycle, I began to connect and appreciate the changes I felt in all these areas. It made sense!

Researchers call this “cycle syncing.” When I learned this, I felt like I had just discovered the ultimate “life hack” to success and freedom as a woman. And, as my understanding of my cycle deepened, so, too, did my understanding of the natural ebbs and flows of my prayer life.

I soon started adjusting my calendar to allow me to capitalize on the strengths I had in each cycle phase, and it produced a great sense of self-understanding and peace. I found myself in awe of God and, for maybe the first time, in awe of myself as his creation. At last, there was a tangible way to live my identity as a woman, as his beloved, where I no longer needed to live in the dark about how my body works and how my physiology also affects my mental and emotional wellbeing. I can be informed. I can understand. And when I intuitively sense something is off with my health, I can receive help. My mind was being renewed. While bringing all these exciting and new thoughts to the Lord, I reflected on the beauty of being both body and soul, noticing that I was already beginning to see myself with much greater reverence than before — and, as a result, God as the creator, too.

A ‘spiritual game plan’

One day while praying, I received some inspiration. If my mood, energy and sociability change throughout my cycle and affect the way I show up each day, wouldn’t it also stand to reason that this would affect my daily prayer? And if so, could learning what to expect in prayer in each cycle phase help me dive deeper? I decided to test this theory.

I began by simply taking notice of what naturally happens in prayer each day for a few months. I observed that when my estrogen was high, as it should be during the first half of my cycle, I naturally felt more joyful and thankful in my prayer because I felt good. As I transitioned into the second half of my cycle where progesterone dominated, I was more analytical, introspective and motivated to finish things, like a spiritual book I had been reading. But then, when both estrogen and progesterone were low as my cycle started over, I was much more reflective, still, and it was easier to be honest in prayer.

The Bible verse, “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk 2:19), took on an entirely new meaning as I realized that following my natural hormone shifts could invite me into deeper intimacy with Christ through Mary’s example of embracing her femininity.

I also gathered precious insights about how my struggles in prayer differed throughout my cycle. In the first half, near my fertile window, I was more easily distracted in prayer and had a harder time sitting still because I was wanting to be out and about doing things. So my prayer tended to be more “fluffy” — saying the things you think you should say, but not really putting your heart into prayer. During the second half of my cycle, it was typical that I would spend a lot of time praying about all the things that were making me mad since I would often feel irritable and emotional during this time. I would struggle a lot with gratitude or to see the bigger picture. When my period came around, I might still feel irritable or maybe just tired.

My point in sharing these things is that it’s normal for your prayer experiences to sway from one end of the spectrum all the way to the other — sometimes in a span of a few days. This does not mean you’re regressing in your spiritual life. It simply means that you are a woman, and that maybe you could benefit from creating a “spiritual game plan” like I did.

How to cycle sync your prayer life

As I continued to do research on cycle syncing, I discovered that some women use it to plan different activities for different times in their cycle in order to grow their businesses. I thought, why not do that for your prayer life, too? So I’m going to share with you this strategy I like to follow in my spiritual life that helps me “go with the flow” of my natural cycle (i.e., the plan follows a cyclical pattern, too), utilizing some of the information I just described to you.

First, learn to chart your cycle. You can pick a simple method of charting, as long as it allows you to know the time of ovulation, because that’s how you know when the most important shift happens. A few fertility apps give you that information, but it is helpful to take a class. If you’re married, you want to learn a natural family planning method.

During your period, use this time to reset. Reflect on the past month — consider what went well, what didn’t. Since it’s easiest to be honest here, it’s the perfect time to take an accurate assessment of where you’re at and how you can move forward. After you reflect, start thinking of some new or amended goals for this next month, in your spiritual life or otherwise.

Since the next phase of your cycle brings lots of energy, motivation and joy, start working toward those goals. Do the things you committed to. Finally, as the last portion of your cycle comes around, realize that it might be harder to achieve your goals and you might be asking for more grace from the Lord. You might even feel discouraged here. But persevere, and soon you will be starting the cycle all over again.

Isn’t it beautiful to see that our changing strengths and weaknesses throughout our cycle can lead us into deeper intimacy with Christ? Isn’t it amazing that we have the ability to integrate the reality of our bodily experiences into our spiritual life in a way that fosters growth? Perhaps it really is a gift to understand our true womanhood and the power that lies therein. It just needs to be tapped into.

Through this process, I realized that the sooner I embraced my biological reality, the sooner I could also embrace the One who made me this way. Not only that, but I believe that learning about my cycle in this way has allowed me to grow closer to Jesus and see that, by embracing my femininity fully just as Mary did, holiness is possible.

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