Just as a yoga practice should be adapted for its one-of-a-kind yogi, a woman experiences her menstrual cycle uniquely. Though many women feel less energetic on their periods, some may feel little to no change. Where one woman may crave the soothing flow of Sun Salutations, another may wish for gentle restoration or complete rest, without practicing yoga at all. Still others may crave an intense, inversion-filled Ashtanga sequence.
Yoga practice depends on the yogi and the choice of how to practice yoga while on her period depends on the woman. A sincere practice of yoga is done to learn how to listen to the intuitive wisdom of the body. It is with this intention that a woman learns to care for her practice – and herself – during the so-called “critical days” of the menstrual cycle.
Hormone Fluctuations of the Menstrual Cycle
In a typical four-week menstrual cycle, three hormones, estrogen, progesterone and progesterone, fluctuate and dance. These fluctuations can impact body mass, mood, appetite, and energy levels. A few days before her period, an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone may cause unusual mood, such as anxiety, depression or irritability. When bleeding begins, estrogen and progesterone levels drop, which can cause physical pain in the form of menstrual cramps, but typically regulates emotions. Some women even feel calm and peaceful during this time of more regulated hormone levels1.
Schools of Thought on Practicing Yoga During Menstruation
By practicing, we learn to listen to the needs of the body. This skill becomes more relevant than ever during menstruation. This is especially true since there are nearly as many opinions on practicing during menstruation as there are schools of yoga.
The “cornerstone” schools of Western yoga, such as Iyengar and Ashtanga (which, it should be noted, were founded by male yogis), insist that women limit their asana practice, if not eliminate it altogether, as is the case of Ashtanga. Instead, they recommend physical rest and meditation.
Other schools of yoga, including Forrest Yoga, do not see any problem with a regular practice, including inversions. Founder Ana Forrest is famous for suggesting that though she’s been practicing yogic inversions for decades, even during menstruation, it hasn’t done her any harm.
Probably the most convincing argument to forgo inversions during menstruation is its potential to cause endometriosis. Theoretically, there is a possibility that blood flowing in the opposite direction could lead to the painful uterine condition; however, no study has indicated that practicing yogic inversions makes it more likely.
It is important to distinguish the reasons behind the suggestions for how, and if, to practice during menstruation. Advice to abstain from practice, and especially inversions, is largely derived from dated yogic traditions. Modern-day medicine has largely debunked assumptions that it does any harm, as there are no studies or research proving otherwise 2
This contradictory advice stresses the importance of each yogini to decide for herself how to make her practice as nourishing as possible. This may mean a restful, Yin-based practice or an energetic, Vinyasa practice that is full of inversions. It is really up to the yogini’s discretion.
How Useful is Yoga During Menstruation?
After regular practice, many women notice that Yoga has a soothing and healing effect. Therefore, Yoga can help to ease pain, ill mood and other unpleasant phenomena throughout the menstrual cycle.
Stress is among the main reasons for severe pain during menstruation. Our body is tense under stress. This applies to not only the muscles of the face and hands, but also the internal organs. In particular, stress provokes an especially strong contraction of the uterus. Yoga has long established itself as a universal tool of stress relief. So, it is safe to say that practicing Yoga also has beneficial effects on the body’s state during menstruation.
How Should Yoga be Practiced During Menstruation?
Typically, moderation is recommended while practicing yoga during menstruation. This is more easily observed in personal study and much harder in a group. Modern women are accustomed to working and training at 100% while, at the same time, often forgetting that Yoga is not a sport. So, once again: it is very important to listen to yourself and your body, and your teacher should help to adjust the practice as needed.
What Asanas Will Help You Feel Better?
Asanas that support the stretch and energetic release of the pelvis, especially if they are performed in the supine position, can ease discomfort during menstruation. The following postures, in particular, are supportive: Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose), Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose), Matsyasana (Fish Pose), Padangusthasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose).
Seated postures may prove soothing, such as Dandasana (Staff Pose) and Buddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose). If there are no problems with knee joints, Virasana (Hero Pose), Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend), and Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) are recommended. If a woman suffers from migraines, there are also good postures for stretching the spine: Adho Mukha Svastikasana (Downward-facing Cross-legged Pose) and Adho Mukha Virasana (Downward Facing Hero Pose).
Finally, a woman needs a long, quality Savasana for maximum relaxation. This is one of the best ways to help the body to recover.
Being tapped into the natural cycle of life is a unique joy in being a woman. It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: It’s no coincidence that a common menstrual cycle mirrors lunar phases. With this inherent, ancient power, a woman has a responsibility to deeply tune into her needs during this time. Whatever those needs may be, from strong physical exertion to gentle internal reflection, she’s served by honoring them. Intuition is at its height during this time… Use this gift wisely.