My period started today, so I'm thinking about what to do in my yoga practice this week. I used to never think about this. Back in the days when I had yet to establish a daily practice on my own, I went to yoga classes at the gym and did it all. I didn't even think about it. It was only later that I discovered there are views about menstruation and your yoga practice. Some teachers are adamant about NO YOGA during this time. I sort of regarded this view as dumb. I threw it on the ridiculous pile of things women have been told not to do while on their periods, like swimming in the ocean because you will attract sharks or hiking because you will attract bears. I am amazed that our species has survived with all of us women attracting predators all the time. The raging feminist yogini in me wants to shout "you can't tell me what I can and can't do!" Women have been fighting the stigma of menstruation since the dawn of time.
Though in the defense of yoga, the reasons some teachers believe that you should not do yoga during your period is not because you are considered to be 'unclean' or you will attract wild animals to the studio. That time of the month is considered to be a time of cleansing and renewal and you should just take it easy. That's a nice thought and my kapha side tells my pitta side that this is exactly what we should do. Except my pitta side is a jerk and I end up trying to do all of the things on my yoga mat because I feel better when I get off my mat. A study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health of sixty four women found that practicing breathing exercises, cat-cow, down dog, cobra, plank and child's pose reduced the effects of premenstrual stress. Of course this is a small study that took place in Taiwan, but the data is sound. [A different rant is the complete lack of research in reducing PMS, at all]
There are many yoga poses that are beneficial to relieving cramping and bloating. Twists and supported fish pose are great. Bow pose is good for belly bloat. There are also poses that I just won't do during that time. I avoid certain inversions like headstand and shoulder stand, but there's no definitive scientific evidence that inversions cause problems if performed during menstruation. Really it just comes down to how you choose to interpret the word yoga. Yoga means 'to yoke'. I hear 'yoke' and I think of two large oxen yoked together and pulling a plow. One ox is your brain and the other ox is your body. They are forced to work together. The brain listens to the body and the body respects the brain's choices. Sometimes my body does not want to take the stairs, but my brain says "Come on! It's good for us!" and I take the stairs. Sometimes when my brain is saying that, my body goes "no, really. My knee hurts." I take the elevator. Practicing yoga doesn't just take place on your mat.
That time of the month is a good time to remember that lesson and really listen to what our bodies are telling us to do or not do. You know how on some days during your period, you feel just fine and other days you feel like a truck is rolling back and forth over your fat bloated body? On the days you feel just fine, have a regular asana practice, but on those other days when you feel achy and gross, take care of yourself. Choose a restorative practice with cushions and blankets. Sometimes I do a little bit of both by mixing in an asana practice at the beginning and finishing up with restorative poses like supported supta baddha konasana and supported twists. Sometimes, I just don't do anything but rest in final relaxation. I will it admit that it has taken me years of practice in order to be okay with doing less, but this is true self care.