If you walk into a class led by a seasoned yoga teacher, you will notice that at the beginning of every session they will ask if any of the women practicing is currently menstruating. Some people may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, but that is not the point of the question. The teacher is simply trying to understand whether they need to modify the class to accommodate. Through my own journey as a teacher, I am often asked if one should practice at all during their periods and if so, what kind of practice is ideal.I always say, listen to your body. If your energy levels allow for it, yoga practice during your periods actually helps alleviate both the physical and mental discomfort that arises during your periods. But of course, the practice must be modified to suit the changes in the body at that point in time.
In yoga, it is advised that menstruating women practice a sequence very specific to the changes that their bodies are experiencing at that point in time.
All of the body's energy is being directed solely to shedding the lining of the uterus, and this causes most women to feel physically uncomfortable, suffering from abdominal cramping, backaches, swelling and tenderness of the breast, and a general feeling of deep fatigue. Mentally most feel irritable, overwhelmed, and emotional — and this is perfectly normal.Hence the correct menstruation yoga sequence can help to alleviate all of these conditions. As Geeta Iyengar, the daughter of B.K.S Iyengar, says
“From the day menstruation begins until the day it ends, one should stick to the practice of those asanas that do not obstruct the menstrual flow and hence helps the woman keep herself healthy. Only the asanas have to be done which do not make her run out of energy or bring any hormonal disturbance.”
Poses to avoid
The uterus lining is waste material to be shed, not retained. When you are in an inverted position, you are sending the blood flow towards your head, when the opposite should happen during menstruation. Inversions will restrict or slow down the flow of this waste material from the body. If these poses are done regularly during menstruation, particularly over the longer term, it could compromise your menstruation and reproductive health, possibly leading to conditions such as fibroids, cysts, and endometriosis.
2. Abdominal asanas, closed twists, ‘body knottings’, and hand balancing poses
Similarly, any poses that tighten or constrict the abdomen should not be done during menstruation. This group of postures includes abdominal asanas, closed twists, prone position with a lot of pressure on the abdomen, unsupported backbends, and hand balancing poses, which requires a hardening of the abdomen. These postures can increase or worsen symptoms such as cramping, aggravate the nervous system causing irritability, and increase the duration of your menses. When the reproductive organs are repeatedly hardened over the years by continuing to practice the poses that strain or harden the abdominal region, it could be damaging to your reproductive health.
Yoga sequences for menstruation
As explained above, Yoga during menstruation is done to relax the nervous system as opposed to activating it - the idea is to relax your body and not put it under any stress. Thus,
even if you can perform asanas without support, during menstruation you must perform them with support.
Days 1 – 2 of the Cycle: Alleviating physical discomfort and pain
Symptoms are usually at their worst during the first two days of the cycle. The yoga practice on these days should be restful and include supported postures, both supine and forward bends, with the legs spread wide, followed by shavasana. In these postures, the groin is softened, reducing abdominal cramping, and the legs are at rest which quietens the brain. The nervous system is soothed and cooled. These poses are restful, and you will feel your energy restored after you complete the sequence.
Days 3 – 6 of the Cycle
As the menstrual flow lightens, usually from days three to six, the student may wish to reintroduce modified standing poses against the wall. Let me share the sequence recommended by Geetha Iyengar, which I practice while I have my periods. It gives me enormous relief, energies me, and helps me keep a check on my reproductive health:
- Blankets - 3
- Bolsters - 1/2
- Mat - 1
- Block - 1
- Strap - 1
About 30 minutes
- Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)
Hold for 3-5 mins. You may also recline on a bolster for additional lower back support and place blankets under your knees to prop them up.
- Supta Padangusthasana 2
Hold for 1 min on each side and repeat twice. You may place a bolster under the thigh of the leg being lifted for further support. You can use a band for additional support
- Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
Hold for 1-2 mins. You can place a cushion under each knee for extra support.
- Janu Sirsasana, Supported (Head-to-Knee Pose, Supported)
Hold for 1 min on each side and then repeat twice. You can use a block and rest your head on the block for additional support.
- Paschimottanasana, Supported (Seated Forward Bend, Supported)
Hold for 1 min and then repeat twice. Use a bolster between your chest and legs for support.
- Shavasana (Corpse)
10-15 mins - I usually play a track of Yoga Nidra and allow myself to completely relax.
It is estimated that over 50% of women have poor menstrual health. This means they have an abnormal menstrual cycle. This could mean any number of things, including excess or heavy bleeding, scanty bleeding, absence of menses, bleeding for more than 10 days, irregular menses, or extremely painful periods that do not allow them to perform day to day activities. If this is the case for you, talk to your yoga teacher about it. It is possible to prescribe a practice sequence specific to your needs that may improve your menstruation and reproductive health. The practice needs to attend to the non-menstruating days as well as the days of menses.
In the end...
Menstruation is a basic biological function that more than half our population experiences, yet we hesitate to openly speak about it. But understanding how the process affects your body can help you ensure you can stay fit without compromising your reproductive health. So go ahead and practice yoga with confidence at any time of the month.Written By - Divya Rolla