A most commonly debatable concept when it comes to yoga, is practicing during Menstruation.
Firstly, it is very important to understand yoga from a view point of commoner. Yoga for anyone is all about postures, prayanama pictures with mudras on the internet.
When a girl gets her first menstruation, she goes through a lot of changes mentally and physically. She has many questions for which she seeks explanations. Sometimes the guide can be a Mother. But in various cultures Menstruation as a topic itself is taboo to discuss and people refrain from speaking about it. Moreover, women are treated differently during their periods which can lead to accumulation of negative thoughts and emotions in their mind from the tender age. Sometimes, this also leads to a rebellious attitude wherein they seek equality with men.
This is the time when they shall seek proper education with appropriate reasoning. Unfortunately, if they do not find proper mentors, they approach social media influencer as their role models. Therefore, here's an attempt to understand the truth and how as teachers we must guide students with reasoning of do’s and don’ts during Menstruation.
What is Menstruation?
Before we understand the Menstrual cycle, let's understand about the reproductive organs of a woman's body:
- 2 Ovaries – where eggs are stored, developed and released.
- The Womb (uterus) – where a fertilized egg implants and a baby develops.
- The Fallopian Tubes – two thin tubes that connect the ovaries to the womb.
- The Cervix – the entrance to the womb from the vagina.
- The Vagina
The menstrual cycle is controlled by hormones. In each cycle, rising levels of the hormone, estrogen causes the ovary to develop and release an egg (ovulation). The womb lining also starts to thicken. In the second half of the cycle, the hormone progesterone helps the womb to prepare for implantation of a developing embryo. The egg travels down the fallopian tubes. If pregnancy doesn't occur, the egg is reabsorbed into the body. Levels of estrogen and progesterone fall, and the womb lining comes away and leaves the body as a period (the menstrual flow). The time from the release of an egg to the start of a period is around 10 to 16 days.
Why is body tender during periods?
There are several reasons why a woman finds her muscles and joints are particularly sensitive around the time of her menstruation. Some of them include-
- Hormones – They might find the effects hormones can have on muscles and joints surprising. These are often overlooked. Between ovulation and period, the hormone progesterone is dominant compared to estrogen. There is some evidence to suggest that progesterone may have some suppressing action on the immune system. As women approach their period it is also important to take into the account the big drop in estrogen they experience. Estrogen is important for lubricating their joints and low levels can mean they can easily become dehydrated – this makes them more susceptible to irritation.
- Prostaglandins – It is likely that prostaglandins have a big part to play in muscle and joint aches. Prostaglandins are released from her womb in order to initiate contractions which ultimately give her period. In excess, prostaglandins can diffuse past the womb into surrounding areas and also into her blood stream. As they diffuse into nearby areas, this is possibly why many women feel that their period pains can radiate into their backs and down their legs. If these hormone-like chemicals make it into their blood stream, they can exert a more widespread inflammatory response. Many women experience headaches as well.
- Magnesium – As levels of important hormones drop, so can the levels (or efficiency) of certain minerals. Estrogen can affect the uptake and utilization of magnesium and sufficient levels are crucial for healthy muscles – low levels can result in aches, pains and cramps during the menstruation.
Asanas to be practiced during Yoga for Menstruation
Do remember that it is not necessary for one to practice asanas during their menstruation. For the first two days women may take a break from asanas. That doesn't mean that they cannot practice other aspects of yoga, such as Pranayama, Yoga Nidra and Meditation. All will have its respective benefits. It is important that if a women decides to practice, she should be aware and listen to her body. She should not push or strain herself. Instead, do some gentle poses but hold them a little longer. Generally, it is good to practice positions that allow one to become more grounded, to alleviate any emotional disturbances and to gain inner strength.
A general sequence from Indea Yoga beginners series works best during the first two days of menstruation:
- Joints Movement
- Backward And Forward Bend
- Hands In And Out Breathing
- Ankle Stretch Breathing
- Side Stretch
- Vyagra Shwsha
- Setu Bandhasana
- Single Leg Raises
- Upavishta Konasana
- Bal Kridasana
- Druth Utkasana
You can watch and learn these asanas from this video below-
Restorative wall exercises in Yoga for menstruation to reduce pain:
- Lying Down In Vipriti Karni
- Sitting In Vajrasana
- Veerasana With Pillow Or Bolster
Practice Suryanamaskara (Sun Salutation) if there is no heavy bleeding or cramping, but it avoid faster pace.
Pranayama during Menstruation
Pranayama is very useful during Menstruation as it helps to balance the emotions and calm the mind. It can also help one to deal with any pain. Do remember that there should be no strain with the breath and avoid practicing kumbakha or bandhas. As these might increase the heat and redirect the prana in the upward direction. Deep breathing is very beneficial, especially when practiced in Tadagasana (Pond Pose) or Shavasana (Corpse Pose). Bhramari (Humming Bee Breath), Anulom vilom (Alternate Nostril Breathing), Ujjayi (Victorious Breath), Sheetali (Cooling breath through the tongue) and Sitkari (Cooling breath through the teeth)are all useful practices.
Avoid fast breathing, Bhastrika (Bellow's Breath), Kapalbhati (Frontal Brain Cleansing) as they have a tendency to increase the heat. This may cause heavier bleeding and will also put excessive pressure on the abdominal region.
Asana To Avoid During Menstruation
Firstly, in Yoga practice there are certain asanas you should avoid during menstruation. The main type of asanas are inversions. Ideally, avoid these throughout menstruation, unless suggested by the teacher. The reasoning for this is that when we practice inversions one type of prana, known as a Apana, which normally flows in the downward direction is hampered. It can therefore stop or disturb the menstruation at this time and lead to other reproductive problems later on. Additionally, during inversions the uterus is pulled towards the head and causes the broad ligaments to be over stretched. This can cause partial collapse of the veins, leaving open arteries to continue pumping blood. This can lead to vascular congestion and increased menstrual bleeding.
Secondly, any strong asanas particularly strong backbends, twists, arm balances and standing positions that put a lot of stress on the abdominal and pelvic region should be avoided. The reasoning for this is very logical- if the pelvic region is causing spasm and pain, why cause more contraction and pressure to the area. Also, these positions need more physical strength and exertion which can be lacking during menstruation and can deplete further by the practice. Avoid strong vinyasa and power yoga for the same reasons. Suryanamaskara, when done slowly and gently, can be useful, however avoid it if there is a lot of pain or heavy bleeding.
Thirdly, avoid bandhas for similar reasons. On a Pranic level, they move the Apana upwards instead of down and physically they add more contraction to an already tight region. In the case of Uddiyan Bandha, it increases the heat which can lead to heavier bleeding. It may seem like there are many positions that cannot be practiced, however this is not the case. It's all about listening to the bodies needs and accepting that this is a time of introversion, acceptance and balance.
Menstruation time is a time of heightened awareness and sensitivity. It is a time to explore and look within. It is a time to nurture and heal the body and mind. Again, the way women look at our menstruation greatly differs from women to women. Some women prefer to ignore it as much as possible, pretend or detach themselves from what is going on. Strength is good but women should also have the awareness of our bodies and give time to listen to them.
One should put in efforts to remain balanced and therefore cultivate inner strength. Some associate guilt, uncleanliness or other negative emotions. These may have come up due to the cultural background, the views of one's parents or some other events in life. Relaxation techniques such as Yoga Nidra can be very beneficial for these women in clearing away these negativities and bringing acceptance and positivity of one's self.
The main reason why she may choose not to practice may be due to the associated symptoms of menstruation. If a woman is having very extreme menstruation then even the thought of practicing will cause negative emotions. The best practice at this time is then Yoga Nidra and some gentle Pranayama such as Bhramari (humming bee breath), Anulom Vilom (alternate nostril breath), ujjayi (victorious breath) and deep breathing.
If women do not feel comfortable, then a Yoga practice can be useful to help alleviate any period pain or back pain. It can help balance the emotions - mood swings, anxiety, anger, depression, irritability, and relieving any congestion.
Menstruation is a time to vary ones Yoga practice to look within and find the peace and tranquility.
This blog was originally written by Nidhi Thakkar, Level 2 Indea Yoga Teacher, and edited by Team Indea Yoga. This was a part of her dissertation work during her Level 2 Teacher Training Course.