Should you really practise yoga on your period?
Remember, as a young teenager, how your period was a great excuse for not attending your physical education lessons?
Maybe that’s changed as you’ve aged and you aim to continue your exercise regime with the same intensity throughout your cycle. Or perhaps your periods have become so heavy and painful that you have had to stop exercising, even if you really wanted to push on.
Either way, now you’re into yoga. You love it. It’s your weekly fix. Suddenly, your yoga teacher tells you to eliminate certain poses, or perhaps stop practising altogether when you are on your period.
Wait, what? No!
The thing is, our hormones change throughout the month. We have menstruation, then the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. When we discuss menstrual cycle awareness, we talk about the four different seasons of our monthly cycle: think winter being the time of the period, with spring following, ovulation in the summer, and premenstruum serving as an internal autumn.
We are cyclical beings. The seasons of our cycle are natural. Think about it like this: night time is the best time to sleep. We need sleep to rest and rejuvenate so that we can be active, focused, and awake during the day. We feel different in the morning than in the afternoon. In the evening, we want to wind down to prepare for the night. It makes sense to follow this natural 24-hour cycle. So, why not embrace our monthly cycle too?
If we learn to follow our natural cycle, we will reap the benefits. There is a reason sports coaches monitor their athletes’ menstrual cycle: our body and performance change as our hormones shift. For instance, knee injury (specifically anterior cruciate ligament damage) is more prevalent around ovulation, while muscle strength increases as oestrogen rises in the follicular phase and around ovulation. Other research suggests that the late follicular phase promotes improved performance in cycling time in professional cyclists. Our monthly cycle even affects breast cancer surgery: “Patients with breast cancer…operated on during the luteal phase had a significantly better prognosis than patients operated on during the follicular phase.”
Instead of ignoring our monthly cycle, why not use it to our advantage?
In your follicular phase and around ovulation:
During your spring, and especially your inner summer, oestrogen rises. Embrace endurance and muscle building exercise, and focus on your stronger vinyasa flow yoga classes, power yoga, and enjoy an abundance of muscle-building strong yoga poses.
Our personal springs and summers are also the time when we generally feel most confident. So, increase holding times for warrior, plank, and arm balances to encourage endurance.
Be mindful of not pushing yourself too much, though, as we have seen injuries such as anterior cruciate ligament damage may be more prevalent around your inner summer too.
In your luteal phase:
The first part of your inner autumn is actually quite good for higher intensity and strength building. But as we get into the second half of the post-ovulation state and are more premenstrual, we naturally feel more fatigued and tired due to the drop in hormones. This is the time to readjust again.
Slow down and enjoy gentle walks, nurturing yoga and restorative practises, or alignment-focused pilates. Supported yoga poses such as bridge pose, legs-up-the-wall, and supported reclined goddess might be a good way to transition from autumn to winter.
Our inner winter is time for hibernation, rest, and rejuvenation—a bit like nighttime or the actual winter season. Taking it easy and enjoying plenty of rest is on the menu. Slow, meditative movement, restorative yoga, and yin or soma yoga may feel more appropriate. Find your own flow.
We are so used to being on the go. We have adopted a very linear approach to life, rather than embracing our natural, cyclical being. Allowing time to replenish and recover is essential for rebalancing our nervous systems, which will have a beneficial effect on our hormones as well. So perhaps a rest around our menstruation is exactly what we need.
I know what you’re still wondering: can I do headstands when I’m menstruating?
There is plenty of controversy when it comes to yoga around our menstruation, so here is my take on it: Medically there is no reason not to move however you like. Sure, do a handstand or cartwheel. The blood won’t reverse and cause disease.
From a yoga and ayurvedic, or traditional Indian medicinal perspective, there are other aspects to consider. Consider apana vayu, or the downward force of prana (energy). This energy naturally moves downward and out. In ayurveda we want apana vayu to flow in its natural direction during our menstruation. In fact, apana vayu is responsible for menstruation, urination, elimination, childbirth, and ejaculation. This is one reason many yoga instructors suggest not to do inversion during menstruation.
Additionally, when we have a strong practice and we invert, we need to engage our deep core muscles which include the pelvic floor. In yoga, we consider this the root lock, or the mula bandha. Engaging the pelvic floor, or mula bandha, you also manipulate the energetics of apana vayu. This is not appropriate during your bleed from an energetic, yogic, or ayurvedic point of view.
I invite you to notice the subtle (or not so subtle) shifts during your monthly cycle. Practising menstrual cycle awareness does not need to be all-consuming. Simply write a few notes or doodles on how your energy is, what kind of yoga or exercise you feel drawn to, your energy levels, or what your meditation is like every day. You will quickly notice a pattern.
Learning menstrual cycle awareness and living ayurvedically is all about listening to your own body and the environment you are in. We are all unique, and allowing ourselves the time to dive into how we feel and how we change throughout the month can be an empowering practise in itself.
I’d love to hear if you live according to your menstrual cycle and how. Tell me in the comments how your cycle affects your yoga practise, or if it doesn’t at all.