As a women doing Yoga, I was lucky enough to be with teachers who understood the human body and a women’s well-being very well. My yoga teachers taught me from day one that certain yoga poses are to be avoided during menstruation. As I made my move from India to the US, I noticed that a lot of yoga teachers do not guide women on how to practice on the days of their cycle.
This could be happening for two reasons –
- The teacher himself/herself was not taught by his/her yoga teacher or yoga teacher training on how to practice when women are on their cycle.
- Women do not believe in practicing anything different. They do not want to be singled out and also want to do all that men can do.
In India, this tradition of women not practicing yoga during their menstrual cycles has a two-fold reason. Firstly, women did a lot of housework back in the day. This meant sweeping and mopping the floors, washing the families clothes by hand, doing dishes by hand, cooking family meals, running errands, raising the children, and so on. I must remind you that we are referring to a country and a time where things were and are very different from what we experience today. Today running a house in the western world often includes the use of vacuums, microwaves, dishwashers, and so on. But it was not so in India. Even today many houses, including my own, do not have most of these new age home gadgets. So women on these days were allowed and encouraged to use the days of their menstrual cycle as a body holiday or rest so they could get some R&R in for themselves as well. The second reason was hygiene. Tampons and sanitary napkins are all very recent, and available only to those who can afford to pay for them. India is largely a poor country. Not everyone in the modern world can afford feminine hygiene products easily, as hard as it is to believe. So by winding down on activity, it resulted in less accidents.
But the reasons yoga teachers tell us not to go upside down during our cycles is actually pretty simple and largely common sense. The menstrual flow is downward, away from the center of the body, and by going upside down, we mess with the natural order of things. The flow is redirected back into the body. Do not take this literally, but a constant, strong vinyasa practice of inversions done throughout cycles, after a prolonged period of time, will upset the cycles and in certain cases cease the menstrual cycle all together.
So what yoga poses do we avoid during our cycle? We avoid inversions, deep backward bends, deep abdominal twists, arm balances and deep core work.
Poses where the head is way below the hips and heart is an inversion. Poses like shirshasana (headstand pose), sarvangasana (all limb pose), vipreeta karani (inverted waterfall pose), adhomukha vrkshasana (handstand pose) etc are to be avoided.
Certain deep backbends stretch the abdomen pretty intensely and need the organs to work a bit more. On other days, this is okay, but the approach is not to mess with the reproductive organs and to let them do their thing. Poses like urdhva dhanurasana (upward facing bow or wheel pose) , dhaurasana (bow pose) etc. are to be avoided.
Deep twists wring the toxins out of the organs, but during the days of the cycle, these are meant to be left alone and not strained. So deep twists like ardha matsyendrasana (lord of the fish pose), marichyasana 3, and others.
Arm balances, and deep core work like navasana (boat pose), chaturanga dandasana (four limb staff pose) are to also to be avoided.
Again, not all yoga schools and teachers offer variations for people based on what is going on within the body. But as a woman, I know that by being mindful of my body and the changes it goes through I am able to practice better each day and enjoy the benefits that yoga has to offer a lot more easily, now and into the future.