Natural Rhythm

Compiled by Kamala (Elaine Miller) from the lectures of Sister Rosemary Vickers at the Yoga Clinic, Hobart

No one likes to take drugs, especially those affecting our masculine and feminine hormones. Any chemical we take which alters our internal body rhythms will leave us with that nagging subconscious feeling that something may be going wrong inside. This intuition is probably quite well founded because we are very sensitive to the internal changes that go on in relation to the external cosmic rhythms. The area of contraception is perhaps one of the more sensitive and emotional areas of drug usage as it is directly linked with our sexual lives. After all, we are taking drugs, but not to cure anything.

Most women would prefer to avoid the pill if they could, but they are not aware of any safe alternative. The pill is one of the most 'sure' methods as long as it is taken regularly. Experts have statistics to show that other methods of contraception are less safe, especially the natural rhythm method. However, the fault lies not in the method but in the lack of discipline and sensitivity of the users. It is said to be the best method for yogis. Its main advantage is that it keeps the body free from chemical pollution and maintains our harmony with the natural cycles.

The cycle

Natural contraception is based on abstinence from sexual intercourse, which includes genital contact, during the days of fertility in the woman's menstrual cycle. Awareness of physiology, including the changes occurring in one's own body, how the ovaries keep responding to stimulus from the pituitary gland, etc. is of primal importance if natural contraception is to be successful. As soon as we understand and begin to feel what takes place during the monthly cycle, we can effectively time and control our sexual responses in order to achieve or avoid conception as the case may be. The sexual relationship becomes far more rewarding and mutually satisfying when both partners are able to partake freely without worrying about the possible consequences.

The time between the beginning of the period and the next one is known as the 'menstrual cycle'. It is divided into two parts- the first being the time prior to ovulation and the second, the time after ovulation has occurred. Ovulation occurs when an egg is released from the ovaries and makes its way through the fallopian tube to the uterus. A few days prior to ovulation, during ovulation and up to three days after ovulation are the most fertile periods and intercourse should take place during this overall period only if a child is wanted. This is the danger period which must be avoided if conception is not desired. Sperm can live in the uterus or fallopian tubes for up to five days, and fertilise an egg when it is released from the ovary. It is necessary to be aware of this and to avoid intercourse for at least five days prior to the expected ovulation and three days after when the safe period commences.

After menses, the hormone oestrogen is released from the ovary. It travels via the bloodstream to the uterus or womb where it begins to build up the inner lining or endometrium in preparation for a possible conception. This hormone also exerts an influence on the cervix, and causes the mucus producing glands situated above the cervical opening to secrete a slippery, stretchy, clear type of mucus. This is called 'fertile mucus' as it serves to nourish, collect, protect and guide the sperm through the cervical canal before they are freed into the uterine cavity.

When the ripened egg leaves the ovary, the ovary begins to produce a second hormone called progesterone. This hormone continues the preparation of the uterus lining for the possible implantation of a developing embryo. It also stops the flow of the fertile mucus within 24 hours of ovulation, as the egg only lasts from 24 to 36 hours. The final effect the progesterone has is to raise the resting temperature of the body until menses occurs.

Developing awareness

The next step is to develop awareness of the bodily processes so that we can know when ovulation occurs. The first day of the period, which is day one of the cycle, and a number of days following this, can be considered safe. Thus, allowing for the sperm survival of five days and if the shortest cycle you have experienced is 28 days, your safe period time is the first seven days commencing day one of the menstrual cycle. During this period post-menstrual and pre-menstrual strands form a net across the cervical opening keeping the canal closed. If no mucus is present, this is an added safety factor.

After menstruation the mucus is usually scant or absent, and there may be a feeling of dryness which persists for several days depending on the length of the cycle. As the pre-ovulation period draws near, however, the oestrogen level rises and a definite change can be observed in the mucus. It increases in quantity and changes in quality. One may become aware of moisture; sometimes a clot of mucus passes from the vagina, creating a sensation of wetness. This fertile mucus is often lumpy and tends to stiffen the underwear. It is wet, highly lubricative, and tacky. It is usually clear but may also be white, yellowish or brownish in colour.

Other indications of fertility may include pain, which sometimes occurs at the time of the fertile mucus, and slight bleeding. Some women may also notice a swelling of the vulva as the tissues respond to the oestrogen, and a feeling of openness or fullness. The cervix may change from firm, low, and closed to soft, more difficult to reach, and open. The period when maximum symptoms are felt is known as the 'oestrogen peak' and ovulation usually occurs within 24 hours of this peak.

A temperature rise may occur one or two days prior to ovulation, but this rise is most noticeable after ovulation and remains high until the next period. After ovulation the mucus changes abruptly, giving a sticky or dry sensation which persists until the onset of the next period. This is initiated by the rise in progesterone which has a strong inhibiting effect on the production of the oestrogen fertile mucus.

Important points

The important points to remember when using the natural method of contraception are as follows:

  1. During the time of infertility, before ovulation, the ovarian oestrogen level is low, and this hormonal pattern is reflected in the cervical mucus. Usually, there is no mucus evident at all and there is a positive sensation of dryness which may be uncomfortable. Alternatively, there can be a small amount of mucus which has infertile characteristics. Reference is therefore made to this basic infertile pattern as indicating that ovulation is still too far away for conception to occur.
  2. As the ovarian oestrogen rises, the fertile mucus pattern develops indicating the approach of ovulation and the accompanying sperm supporting mechanisms.
  3. Due to the rise in progesterone level at ovulation time, the temperature rises. For complete accuracy the 'resting temperature' should be taken first thing in the morning with the thermometer held in place for at least five minutes. Do not take the temperature reading after exertion because the temperature will naturally be higher.
  4. A sustained rise in body temperature is a sure sign that ovulation has occurred. After the temperature rises there must be three days of elevated temperature. Then if the vagina feels dry, and the temperature is still high, the rest of the cycle is safe until the next period.
  5. At the start of the next cycle a drop in temperature will occur and there will be a few safe days before the ovulation cycle occurs again. Remember, however, that sperm can survive for five days prior to ovulation. To be successful with natural contraception it is advisable to use both the mucus identification and the temperature method together. Awareness and understanding of the characteristic mucus changes is of great value to every woman.
  6. Finally, yoga postures and meditation help to develop sensitivity to the internal processes so that we can intuit or feel when ovulation will take place. It has been found that some women even know which side of the fallopian tubes the egg is being released from. At the same time, yoga keeps the body in good shape and prepares us for a healthy and easy pregnancy if we so desire it.


Many doctors and experts in the field of contraception feel that the rhythm method is the most unreliable of all methods, judging by its high failure rate. This is in part due to lack of discipline, but also due to gross irregularities within the menstrual cycle. For example, there can be a big variation in the time of ovulation. In this day and age when many stresses and strains impinge upon us from all levels, irregularity develops in the mind and the neuro-endocrine systems follow suit. Thus the menstrual cycle is affected. Even given the best circumstances, we must remember that nothing in our universe is constant.

Therefore, to utilise the rhythm method properly and to know it thoroughly, we suggest that you first stabilise your body and mind slowly with yoga. When impurities are removed and some stability is generated then the rhythm method can be adopted, but with great caution. It takes approximately one year to adjust to it, to learn the various signs and to understand the different feelings of the body.