January 21, 2012 § Leave a Comment
This is something that I get asked a lot and because I’ve always sort of rebelled against anyone telling me not to do something I’ve also rebelled against the whole idea that women can’t do something just because they are menstruating. But as usual, after my initial reaction to authority, followed by empirical investigation and experience plus a dose of mellowing with age – and even I can see some value to the practice of “ladies holiday”.
So what is it?
In accordance with yoga tradition, it is suggested women do not practice during the first three days of their menstrual cycle. Students are encouraged to take a “ladies holiday” allowing their body to rest and nurture itself during the heaviest time of the flow.
The practice of the “ladies holiday” stems from the days when women viewed their “moon cycle” as a time of rest (particularly from reproduction) and reflection (often time spent in solitude). In modern times, particularly when practicing yoga six days a week, many look forward to a few days off.
Energetically speaking, the flow of energy during menstruation is apanic (downward flowing). Therefore, the argument against performing yoga postures (especially inversions) during the menstrual cycle is that there could be a disturbance of the natural flow of energy in the body (because everything is turned upside-down).
There are two opinions on inversions: those who think women shouldn’t perform any inversions during their cycle and those that think it varies from woman to woman.
Those who encourage women to avoid all inversions during menstruation are mostly concerned with excessive menstrual flow due to “vascular congestion.” According to Mary P. Schatz, M.D. from an article in Yoga.com, “During inversions, the uterus is pulled toward the head by gravity, causing the broad ligaments to be stretched. This can cause stretch and partial collapse or occlusion of the thin-walled veins, while allowing the un-collapsed arteries to continue to pump in blood. Thus, more blood enters the uterus via the arteries than can be carried away by the veins. The vascular congestion that results can lead to increased menstrual bleeding.”
Another past concern was endometriosis. However, in articles concerning the subject, both Dr. Schatz and Barbara Benagh (Yoga Journal columnist) agree that earlier fears of endometriosis occurring in women performing inversions during menstruation have been fully dispelled.
There is some debate on the above idea that the uterus is pulled and the ligaments stretched during inversion. Again, each person will have her own experience of practicing during her cycle. In fact some women find that practicing yoga during menstruation helps to eliminate excess apana, alleviates cramping and heavy bleeding, and helps with lower back pain, pelvic discomfort and even mood swings.
I always recommend that each woman be responsible for making her own decisions concerning inversions during menstruation.
But most of all this aspect of the practice reminds me that yoga is a wonderful tool for getting to know your body more and more deeply. Being more in touch with the cycles of nature by observing the cycles of the moon and our own moon cycles is just one of the beautiful aspects of Ashtanga yoga….