Most guys freak out at the mere mention of ‘woman stuff’, but this post isn’t just for women. If you’re a male yoga instructor, you might find the sequence and modifications in this post extremely helpful. There is some controversy, among the various schools of yoga, whether or not it’s contraindicated for women to practice yoga during their monthly cycle. Some say believe it’s fine to keep up with your practice, but avoid inversions, while others say take a break all together. Is there a right answer? Here’s a comprehensive guide to yoga during menstruation.
As women, we instinctively put others before ourselves. Working mothers push through each day from nine to five only to come home and take care of families. Single mothers assume the role of both parents, and single women assume the roles of provider, maintenance man, mechanic, chef and housekeeper. We rarely take time for ourselves, especially during the one time of the month when our bodies tell us to. So if you don’t listen to your body any other time, acknowledge your need to rest for a few days each month.
If you sustained an injury, you would recognize the need to modify your practice until you healed. Menstruation is similar. The body needs time to heal so you don’t create new injuries.
Menstruation is an elimination process, and as such, most every yoga teacher understands and agrees that women who are menstruating should at the very least avoid inversions which counter the flow of energy during their cycle. Geeta Iyengar believes that women should not engage in asanas that create an obstruction to the menstrual flow, expend too much energy, or bring about hormonal disturbance.
The biology of asana (yoga poses) and menstruation
Most experts recommend that we stop strenuous exercise during the heavy days of the cycle. The body is sloughing off the lining of the uterus and it is a good time to practice gentle self-care. Rest, have a nap, enjoy a cup of tea, go for a walk or read a book. Take the time that you might practice yoga and sit in quiet meditation or simply breathe deep and full for 5-10 minutes.
Dr. Prafulla Dorle, a doctor, senior yoga teacher and yoga therapist from Yoga Vidya Gurukul, shares his expertise on why some postures should be avoided. In some cases, Dr. Dorle even advocates skipping practice during menstruation.
1. Inverted postures – If they are practiced during menstruation they can cause reflex or back flow of menstrual blood from the uterus to the fallopian tubes and then to the abdominal cavity. The blood would carry along with it some endometrial cells and tissue – this is called retrograde menstruation. It is quite possible that the endometrial cells could get implanted and grow in the pelvic peritoneum and abdominal cavity. These implanted cells would cause menstrual bleed during each cycle under the hormonal influence, a condition called endometriosis.
2. Increased pressure in the abdomen – Just before menstruation there is regression of the endometrium. The coiled arteries become buckled up and there is stasis of blood flow in them. This local stasis and the vasoconstriction of the arteries supplying the endometrium causes the necrosis of the endometrium. At this stage the arteries relax and the menstrual bleeding starts. An increase in abdominal pressure, through certain asanas, the blood flow through the arteries would increase causing more blood loss.
3. Aches and pains – Though some asanas may decrease the pain it is important to be aware that we should not practice any asanas that cause pain or strain to the body. Every woman is different and will have different effects of the asanas. So it is important that they listen to their own body.
Personally, I believe menstruation is a time for rest, so I focus on other aspects of my practice like meditation and deep relaxation. Your yoga is for your health, no one else’s.
Yoga poses for menstruation
The below sequence from Diva Cup helps to alleviate the discomforts associated with menstruation. Cramps, fluid retention, heaviness and/or bloating in the abdomen and legs, irregular digestion, ache or spasm of the lower back, up and down emotions, and fatigue in both the body and mind, are some of the characteristics associated with menses.
Contraindications for this practice include: headache, large clots/heavy bleeding, menses extended beyond ten days, or severe abdominal cramping. Above all, it’s best to listen to your body and if you DO decide to move forward with a physical practice, talk to your Yoga teacher, who can help you modify your practice.
- Sit comfortably for 5 minutes:Pay attention to the breath
- Head neck and shoulder warm up: Turn head side to side, right ear to shoulder, left ear to shoulder, circles (like drawing a circle on a chalk board with your nose)
- Spinal Flexion: Forward and back, side to side then circles Right/Left
- Badakonasana: Bound angle
- Supata Badakonasana: Reclined bound angle
- Prasarita Padottanasana: Wide legged forward bend right/left/centre
- Jathara Parivartanasana: Spinal rotation right/left
- Svasana: Relaxation
The one pose you MUST do during menstruation
No matter what your feelings are on practicing asana yoga during your cycle, there is one pose that every woman should do – savasana. Use your energy wisely, allow your body time to rest, recover and restore and you’ll preserve your energy for the whole month.
Remember, that modifying or taking a break from a vigorous physical practice doesn’t mean you’re ‘giving up yoga’ for a week. Instead meditation, omkar chanting, mantras, yoga nidra and relaxation can be practiced when a woman is more in tune with her mind and can become more easily focused.
– Your Charmed Yogi
(Photo: Bikram Yoga Salt Lake City)