Yoga Anatomy: Menstruation, Myths and Misconceptions about Your Period and Yoga or Pilates

Menstruation

Can I do Yoga when I’m on my Period?

Of course you can! Yoga is a great way to prevent menstrual cramps, stop cramping, and relax and rejuvenate the mind to take the edge off any mood swings you may experience. Centering and breathing exercises as well as practicing grounding poses are recommended.

Part of the joy of yoga is the reality-check it provides. On the mat, we land squarely in our bodies – whatever they are doing – and we begin to participate in our own internal processes.The dissociation women suffer from their sexuality and reproductive system happens in part because of Western culture’s social response to menstruation. Culturally speaking, this natural cleansing process is considered a disease, “unclean” or, at best, a grim fact of life.

Perhaps next month, you can try to allow your yoga practice bring you into a greater sense of harmony with yourself and your entire body.

Can I do Inversions in Yoga or Pilates class when I’m Menstruating?

This question and its answer are along the lines as your mother telling you that you must not go swimming for at least an hour after you eat a whole meal. Countless kids have asked their moms “Aw, why not!?” on sandy beaches across the country for time immemorial. The answer is invariably the same vague reply “It’s not good for you,” or “You could get a cramp.”

The real answer is simpler than that. In fact, it’s part of the same reason why we shouldn’t go to yoga class after a huge meal! The reason why you shouldn’t try to do something else is because – even though you can’t see it or even feel it – your body is busy. Digesting food takes energy.

Women’s bodies are expending energy to cleanse their reproductive systems from the inside out. This physiological housekeeping may take less energy than the peristalsis and absorption process of the gastrointestinal tract, but it does take energy all the same.

Heat-building, strenuous poses like inversions divert the energy that should be focused on your internal process out into your muscles. This doesn’t hurt you in a direct sense, but it does tax your system overall, and can really slow you down.

So, can you go upside-down on your period? If you really want to, sure.

Should you? That’s up to you and your body.

It is generally not recommended, but it’s not going to harm you either way. Just like every yoga class, be sure to listen carefully to what your own body is telling you.

How can I get the Benefit of an Inversion while I’m on my Period?

You can get the same lymphatic system benefits of an inversion without the acrobatics any time the head is lower than the pelvis and legs.

Viparita Karani (Inverted Lake) is a great alternate inversion. Some students find this pose more relaxing and restorative than taking a nap! Just relax on your back with your legs either straight up the wall (in an L-shape like a reclining version of Staff Pose), with your legs spread in a wide V-shape to release out the hips, or with the soles of your feet together (knees widening toward the wall like a reclining Cobbler’s Pose).

Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward Facing Dog Pose is also technically considered an inversion. While Down-Dog is strenuous to beginners, this pose is common to almost all types of yoga practice, and is not a heat-building pose for most seasoned yogis.

What Yoga Poses are Good for Menstrual Cramps?

Any of the poses that relax and lengthen the abdomen are great for menstrual cramps.

Contrary to most women’s urge to curl up into fetal position while cramping, it is not a great idea to spend the whole class in Child’s Pose. The already tense muscles tend to stay tight in that pose in that case.

For severe cramps try the following mini-sequence:

  • Viparita Karani (Inverted Lake) “sit” on the wall, with your buttocks touching it, and stretch your feet up at a perpendicular angle. Relax here for at least 7 breaths. This pose can safely be held for a very long time – try it for five whole minutes! To come out of this pose, roll everything over to one side, point your chest down toward the floor and come up to hands and knees.
  • While you’re on your hands and knees pay attention to your breath in a few Cat / Cow rolls (Chkravakasana)
  • Slowly bring yourself back down onto the mat with your head toward the wall, hug your knees and roll gently from side to side for a nice lower back massage. If that feels great, try a few spinal rolls to stimulate the glands up and down the length of your back.
  • Resting on your back, keep your knees bent and bring your feet flat on the floor. Separate the feet to the edges of your yoga mat, slowly drop the right knee downward to the left ankle, and allow the left knee to float out to the left. Like Windshield Wipers, alternate knees to opposite ankles – coordinating deep, slow relaxing belly-breaths with this super-gentle twist.
  • Stretch out nice and long for Savasana the Final Relaxation Pose. Try to concentrate on incrementally relaxing each part of your body starting with your feet. Remember to take the tongue off the roof of the mouth, and to relax the jaw and forehead.