According to some schools of thought a woman should never do the physical practice of yoga while she is menstruating, or at least she should never do inversions. When I heard this at first I was a little on the defensive. Why should something that happens once a month keep me from my physical practice almost a week out of the year? Particularly as the week before I seem to need that time on my matt even more than before. Over the past few years, between research on my own, and personal experiments I have reached some conclusions regarding this idea and practice.
For anyone interested in gender studies and the history of yoga, you will be pleased to know that for a long time woman were not really allowed to practice yoga as a physical thing. Yes there are plenty of stories regarding women being housed with hermits and learning from Gurus, however as a general rule there were a lot of restrictions on women. One of these such restrictions was the practice of physical yoga. (I am generalizing a very broad topic of study, in general women did not have a lot of cultural freedom to do as they pleased and thus I am being realistic that most women did not practice at least the physical parts of yoga. Leaving many of the issues of the physical build of a woman up to modern teacher to discuss and debate.)
So then we are left, as women and male teachers with female students, to discuss and figure out if there is a rule of thumb regarding hormones and what the best rule would be. As yoga is the re-integration of the mind, spirit, and body together as one, any physical change in the body will upset the balance of the yogis practice; and needs to be addressed.
Over all I have found more schools of thought proclaiming that women should not practice asana, or physical poses, while menstruating. Instead they should focus on the inner parts of the practice. This makes perfect sense, as in most cultural and spiritual practices that focused around a Goddess and female ideological system, the time of menstruation was a time of great power for women; and a great time to look deep within. Further our bodies usually to some degree or another follow the moon cycle, and if you come from a background of paganism or magick, the moon can severely empower your words and intentions.
Still, even if there is historical evidence pointing to deeper connection, when I would go without my physical practice I would still feel out of sorts. No matter how many mantras I said, times I meditated, or pranayama I would practice, there would always be a rushing in my own mind and an inability to calm down. Until I started adding in my physical practice. It was a slow process for me. Many of my cycles hit me very hard, so to be able to move on a matt is particularly difficult the first day or so that I am menstruating. However with careful integration slowly I was able to add in more and more days until I was practicing every day of my menstruation. I found a greater relief of pain and a greater inner peace to go deeper within my own self.
Here is my suggestions if you are curious about what to do when your body begins to start purging its latest attempt at procreation.
Listen to what you are being told – there are plenty of cycles that still force me to carefully get out of bed in the morning. Because of that, I do not practice nearly as intensely those days. Some days I wake up and find that a gentle Yin practice is much more productive, than the hour and a half Vinyasa I practiced the day before. If you are not yet practicing at home, I suggest checking your studio’s schedule and seeing if they offer a class that more resonates with how you are feeling that day, keep in mind that slow flow can be just as intense as a full on Vinyasa or Ashtanga just holding for longer, so be smart.
Take some extra time to slow down – For myself, at least, I get can very maniac and energetic once the pain has passed, however other times I can become very wrapped up in the pain or uncomfort of my body. Often times when I am feeling this imbalance, I take extra time out of my day to add a meditation or two, or remind myself that I am not this body. If either of these things happen to you, or even if they do not, take an extra five minuets at least to sit down with yourself and breath. Breath without Pranayama or thought, just slow yourself down until you can resonate at your normal frequency.
Find the practice schedule that works for you – if you find that you have no issues getting up and doing your normal asana no matter what, then keep doing what you are doing. If you are not so lucky, find a system that works. Some times asana can be very helpful to the body, sometimes not. When you experiment really listen to what is going on inside, and write down your experiences. Then change it up next month, eventually you will find a proper schedule that works for your whole self.
NEVER PRACTICE INVERSIONS – One thing I will say that has held true, is that the practice of inversions is very harmful to your cycle. I avoid them even the day after, just to be safe. The body is trying to purge the unused matter, and if you turn upside down you will turn that purging practice against its biggest ally, gravity. Even being in headstand for a few breaths can have disastrous effects. The one time I ‘forgot’ this rule, I ended up extending my cycle for a few days – yes days plural, and I am blessed to be fairly regular. If you really need the physical release of an inversion you can use a block under your lower back and have your legs up and your torso laying on the ground. This seems to produce the same positive effects without any harmful ones.
Our bodies are beautiful creations, but they come with some flaws. For those of us blessed with the ability to carry babies we find that flaw can sometimes be a curse. However just because we have this blessing to purge unused matter for a few days, we are still able to go about our lives and enjoy our physical asana practice.
Practice in Peace and Love.