How To Practise Yoga When Its Your Period
In the last blog post I explained how powerful it can be for us women to get up close and personal with our menstrual cycle.
Two ways I suggested doing this was by one; tracking your cycle with an app and secondly understanding the four different parts of your cycle as spring (pre-ovulation), summer (ovulation), autumn ( pre-menstruation ) and winter (menstruation).
Confused? Read the last article here!
When we track our cycle and thus know what season we are currently in, we can choose the yoga practise we need from a place of self love, intelligence and intuition.
So let’s begin our story in winter. Menstruation. All you wanna do is curl up under your covers with tea and a hot water bottle.
This isn’t laziness and this isn’t a coincidence! Your body craves rest because your womb is contracting, shedding blood and renewing itself. That’s a lot of work!
On top of that, the hormone estrogen (which increases feel good serotonin in the body) is at its lowest so our mood is naturally low. Hello anger, frustration, impatience and tears as we continue life as normal without taking this into account.
Yoga for Winter / Curl Up Under Your Covers Yoga
Firstly, acknowledge and accept how you are feeling during this part of your cycle. If you take a moment to listen to your body rather than go to your regular yoga class on autopilot, you might find that deep down you don’t really fancy a dynamic heat building practise.
Even hardcore ashtanga yoginis do not practise yoga on their period. This is the time to rest, turn inwards and do what would nourish you the most.
Sometimes for example my yoga practise during winter becomes journaling, yoga nidra, meditation or one delicious reclined bound angle pose.
If you do choose to go to a yoga class, listen to your body. This is not the time to push or challenge yourself (unless it's a push towards a bolster and a challenge to do less).
If you do go to your regular dynamic yoga practise allow yourself to take pauses, omit some of the standing poses and add alternative restorative poses instead.
Sometimes all we actually want, is to be in the space and with the teacher that we associate with relaxing me-time. If that’s the case feel free to skip some or all of the actual practise, rest up on your mat and press pause on the ‘do, do, do’ button.
If you can, seek out a Restorative Yoga or Yin Yoga class instead and notice if this serves you better. Headaches, cramps and lower back pain can be greatly soothed by restorative yoga and breath work.
Let your teacher know that you are menstruating so they can support you in taking the class at your own pace, as well as offering alternative poses for you. Letting your teacher know is also one way of moving away from a culture of ignoring our cycle and feeling shame about it.
When it comes to doing inversions (a position in which your heart is further from the floor than your head), there are various opinions on this. Scientifically there is little if no evidence that doing inversions whilst menstruating is harmful to the body.
However. The intelligence of the body is releasing a downward flow of blood in the direction of gravity (and your body has worked quite hard all month to get to that point) so I believe the question isn’t ‘can we do inversions?’ but ‘why do we want to do inversions?’
If we choose, the season of winter can be a time of reflection and letting go of what we no longer need. It can be a time of introspection, new understandings and renewal.
Our yoga practise can greatly facilitate this if we allow it. Poses that connect us firmly to the earth, relax our lower body, are working with gravity (not against it) and calm the mind are poses that can help access the great potential this time holds for women.
There is plenty of time the rest of the month to do inversions! Get curious about why you want to do inversions and tune into what your body truly fancies.
Even downward dog is an inversion so perhaps do less of them, bring the knees down, take child’s pose, explore and search for that sweet spot in which your body says ‘yesssss this feels soooooo right for right now’.
For the same reason certain pranayamas (breathing techniques) do not support us when we are menstruating. Techniques which build heat in the body, move energy up the body and put pressure on the abdominal like kapalabhati (skull shining breath), bhastrika (bellows breath) and all bandhas (body locks) are not recommended.
Instead choose mind calming and emotional balancing bhramari (humming bee breath)and anulom vilom (alternate nostril breathing) for your seated pranayama practise.
For your asana practise perhaps omit the body heating ujjayi (victorious breath) and simply find a deep, steady, comfortable breath that will not only soothe the mind but will also let you know what you need and dont need from your practise.
Period or no period, when you are struggling to maintain a deep, steady breath in an asana, this is a clue that you need to ease off a bit, modify the pose or even take a wee pause!
The winter of our cycle is so often dreaded, complained about and even feared by both men and women! What if we accepted the inherent qualities of our winter season instead of resisting them?
What if we allowed ourselves to surrender to our needs and got curious about the potential gifts of menstruating?
Perhaps we would find ourselves not only no longer dreading our period but looking forward to it as an opportunity for reflection, for letting go of what is no longer needed and for nourishment, in preparation for spring; the next season (and the next blog post).