The other day I had a discussion on whether to invert or not while having your period. Opinions about this subject vary widely. On the extreme ends you have people who say you don’t need to change your yoga practice at all while menstruating and others say you should not do any yoga except for some gentle restorative yoga poses while menstruating. If I’ve my period I usually practice inversions like headstand and shoulder stand. I think your body should be your guide, since every woman has different experiences. For sure it is a controversial issue. Most yoga teachers always offer other options, if you don’t feel like doing inversions, because you’re having your period or for any other reason. A lot of women choose not to invert while menstruating, because the blood flow can be interrupted or disturbed. I think it is important to honour your body, for example you should give yourself permission to take it easy if you are experiencing discomfort such as low energy level, pain, mood swings, fatigue, bloating and irritability.
Naturally, menstruation is a time to look within and explore. Women have an increased awareness and sensitivity during this period. Therefore, existing problems and issues in your life can affect you more strongly. Your period is a time to nurture and heal your body and mind. The menstrual cycle is also very delicate and easily affected by stress, travel, diet changes and emotional issues. My menstrual period started irregular, but when I was living in Senegal for three months my period became regular to my surprise. During my stay in Senegal, I felt relaxed, enjoyed the lovely weather and was eating fish regularly. The state of your menstrual cycle is a reflection of the state of your physical and mental health. Your mind can have a great impact on your cycle as well. Therefore it can be helpful to include meditation and reflection into your practice.
Certain asanas are said to be avoided during menstruation, especially inversions or any asana that makes the uterus upside down. Once again, my opinion is that every woman needs to decide for herself, since we all have such different experiences. The reasoning is that if you practice inversions one type of prana, known as apana, which normally flows in the downward direction from the manipur chakra (navel centre) to mooladhar chakra (cervix) is reversed. This can be useful to increase the prana in the body and to help awaken the kundalini energy. Though, if you’re menstruating it goes against the natural flow and in some women this can stop or disturb the menstruation. Another reason for not practicing inversions during your period is that the uterus is pulled towards the head and causes the broad ligaments to be over stretched. This can cause partial collapse of the veins and leaving open arteries to continue pumping blood. This can lead to vascular congestion and increased menstrual bleeding.
Besides inversions, strong asanas in particular strong backbends, twists, arm balances and standing positions that put a lot of stress on the abdominal and pelvic region should be avoided. Also, because these positions need more physical strength and exertion which can be lacking during your period and can be depleted further by intense practice. Bandhas should be avoided for similar reasons. In the end, it is all about listening to your body and accepting that menstruation is a time of introversion, acceptance and balance. If you decide to practice yoga while on your period, do not push or strain and instead do some more gentle poses, but hold them a little longer.
Yoga for menstrual discomfort
Gentle yoga poses can actually alleviate the painful symptoms of your period. The following asanas are great choices if you’re experiencing menstrual cramps and bloating:
- Bhadrasana or butterfly pose
- (Ardha) Paschimottanasana or (half) seated forward bend
- Marjariasana or cat pose
- Pavanamuktasana or the wind relieving pose
- Viparita Karani or legs-up-the-wall pose
- Vajrasana or diamond pose
- Savasana or corpse pose
A gentle restorative yoga practice can ease away any period or back pain, balance the emotions – mood swings, anxiety, anger, depression, irritability and gentle open the pelvic region, relieving any congestion. Other techniques such as pranayama, yoga nidra and meditation can be very beneficial. In general, it is recommended to practice positions that allow one to become more grounded, to alleviate any emotional disturbances and to gain inner strength. Or any poses that relax and lengthen the abdomen, since they are great for menstrual cramps. It is not the best idea to spend a long time in child’s pose, contrary to most women’s urge to curl up into fetal position while experiencing cramps. Since the already tense muscles tend to stay tight in child’s pose.