Here’s a special guest post courtesy of the fine folks at Halfmoon Yoga!
Yoga students, have you ever participated in a yoga class during your period and when everyone is working on an inversion or some abdominal work, and your body is saying “No, not today!”? Are there other poses in the class that your body is instinctively telling you not to do at a certain time?
Having practiced for years in larger studios with little understanding of what a “special practice for menstruation” is, I did many poses that did not feel right in the moment and I now better understand why. During a menstrual phase the body is in a natural process of cleansing and we want to assist it with that downward flow of energy. Going upside down, twisting, or doing deep abdominal work can interfere with what nature is trying to help us achieve.
When I began studying Iyengar yoga, I was surprised to see some menstruators in these classes doing their own practice. They would join in for some poses, use modifications for others, and do more restorative work while the rest of us practiced inversions or poses that worked the abdominals intensely. Having now experienced the benefits of this quiet and steady work, there is no going back. Knowing which asanas to practice, which to avoid, and how to make adaptations can make all the difference in soothing physical discomforts or emotional rough edges that may occur during a menstrual cycle. If you are going to practice in a class environment at this time of the month it’s important to inform your teacher at the start of the class, and learn how to adjust your yoga practice to be safe and healthy.
Here are some basic guidelines to follow during your special practice:
- Timing: During the first few days of your monthly period (48-72 hours) complete rest is advisable. If there is tightness and tension in the body, wide legged forward bends are helpful, but over-exertion should be avoided. Normal practice can resume on the 4th or 5th day.
- Avoid Overworking: In general, the menstruation practice involves adding more support for the body in the poses to help the facial muscles, neck and abdomen remain soft and relaxed. This may mean holding a pose for a shorter amount of time, and then repeating it, and/or using more props.
- Alignment: In standing poses like Mountain Pose, Tadasana, keep the feet hips distance apart or wider. Similarly, in poses such as Triangle Pose, Trikonasana, line up the feet with an imaginary straight line on the mat running from heel to heel, rather than heel to arch and it will allow for more space and stability. If you are feeling fatigued during the standing work, consider giving yourself even more support and do these poses with your back against a wall.
- Contraindications: If you have serious issues with your cycle like headaches, heavy bleeding or severe abdominal cramps it is best to speak with your doctor and work with an experienced teacher.
- Monitor your State: Your practice at this time of the month should leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed. If the rest of the class is working on poses that aren’t appropriate, choose a restorative pose like Reclined Hero’s Pose, Supta Virasana, or Reclined Bound Angle Pose, Supta Baddha Konasana. Give yourself enough prop support that you can relax, quietly turn your attention inward, and find space.
For a full sequence of poses, and images demonstrating how to set up the props, check out Geeta Iyengar’s book Yoga: A Gem for Women or Dr. Lois Steinberg’s book Geeta S. Iyengar’s Guide to a Woman’s Yoga Practice.
Meghan Goodman is a professional dancer and Vancouver yoga instructor with Vinyasa training from Flow Yoga. She is currently working towards a certification in Iyengar yoga under the guidance of training teacher Louie Ettling. Meghan teaches regularly at Flow Yoga, East Side Yoga and Green Room Yoga. For more information on classes, to book a workshop or private session, please visit www.meghangoodman.wordpress.com