It’s a debate that has been going on for ages.
Is yoga practice during menstruation a good idea? Do inversions and other high-intensity asanas during your period, mess with your ‘natural flow of energy’? Well, there is no foolproof scientific mandate to either support these claims or to completely prove them to be bogus. It’s been a controversial issue for a long time now. The only sane reply to this argument is, “Ladies, listen to your body!!”. Isn’t that primarily what yoga is all about? It’s about self- awareness, knowing when to push your limits and knowing when to pull back.
Balance is key.
Different women experience and endure menstruation differently. Ranging from mild discomfort to unbearable cramps, bloatedness, exhaustion and high-flying emotions, we’ve all been there. Some months are smoother and free-flowing than the others. But then there are months when we do not want to leave the comfort of our couch owing to heavy bleeding, and the hot-water bottle is our best friend for the first couple of days.
It’s also well-known that exercise (in any form) will help you when your ‘monthlies’ come knocking at the door and that physical activity improves blood circulation to the lower regions of your body, gets the endorphins a.k.a the feel good-hormones kickin’, and is ultimately a good method to distract yourself from the unpleasantness of the ‘crime-scene like’ situation down there. Yoga as a form of physical exercise checks every box in the list, and is known for its soothing capabilities by way of stretching the tender and inflamed pelvic/abdominal muscles and thereby bringing relief.
But here is the catch! According to the ancient schools of Yoga and other traditional disciplines, Menstruation is your time to relax and rejuvenate. Inversions and strong asanas involving full-blown backbends, arm balances and intense twists are a big no-no for you during your period if your yoga instructor is a follower of one of these traditional disciplines. You may ask why? Yoga inherently aims at activating the movement of ‘prana’- the intrinsic life force. ‘Prana Vayu’ regulates the intake functions whereas the ‘Apana Vayu’ active in the pelvic and lower abdominal area regulates functions like excretion, urination and menstruation. It basically is a downward moving energy, which is eventually released out of the body. So, when inversions such as the headstand or shoulderstand are performed during your period, you are going against the natural flow of energy and disrupting the menstrual process. And Yoga in its traditional form does not encourage this disruption.
And the reason for discouraging strong and intense twists and balances is to avoid unnecessary pressure on the abdominal muscles that are already in a cramped state. These asanas also tend to generate excessive heat in your body that could possibly lead to heavy bleeding. So yes, Yoga when performed with gentleness and mindfulness can indeed help with relieving cramps, tightness in muscles and when paired with meditative practices, it helps you deal with the emotional and mental upheaval that sometimes periods bring along.
The other side to the above story of disrupting the downward flow of energy, is the refusal of contemporary practitioners to come on board with the theory owing to lack of pragmatic and scientific evidence supporting the same. Scientific studies have no hard-line proof that inversions cause the menstrual blood to flow back into the fallopian tubes or any cohesive evidence proving that this causes endometriosis. So, ‘why hold back?’, ask the modern day yogis! Some have even gone to the extent of calling these restraint practices sexist. Well now, that’s another topic altogether.
Let me address the issue from a personal level. I have been practicing yoga for more than half a decade now, and when your period strikes, the last thing on your mind is to go ahead and hold a headstand for multiple minutes. Like, NO!! The routine that works best for me (at least for Day 1 and Day 2) is to design my practice with gentle restorative yoga asanas that softly stretch my spine, lower back and abdominal muscles. And, if I still have some energy left, slow Surya Namaskars never disappoint. I can do without the intensity for a couple of days, and why not? As they say, discretion is the better part of valour, and it is better to be safe than sorry.
In conclusion, if you feel as energetic and vibrant on your period as you do on other days, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from a kickass yoga session. YOU DO YOU, GIRL!! It ultimately boils down to do what feels right for your body, and if you practice self-awareness, you will be able to pick signals that your body sends. Each body is unique in itself. And the beauty of yoga lies in the fact that there is something for everybody in it. Do not buy into the myth that women are supposed to push themselves, look after themselves and everybody around, and not rest even when their body is struggling. SELF-CARE is of utmost importance.
Ravleen Khera (Author)
Certified Power-Yoga Instructor