Can I do yoga during menstruation?
As always, this is not a straightforward yes or no question. The simple answer is yes but it is often the case that certain asanas will be more or less suitable and owing to the wide range of experiences that can be had during menstruation there are a few guidelines that it is wise to follow.
Firstly and foremost, stay tuned in on what you feel comfortable with. Menstruation experiences are not only diverse from person to person but also each menstruation has different phases and experiences from one month to the next. Certainly it is possible to see a change in the nature of a cycle over the years. Generally speaking, the first and second day are the heaviest and during this time it is advisable to avoid inverted asana as well as during the day just before the menstruation begins. This is for two reasons: one to do with making sure that the flow of the menstruation is not disturbed and secondly, due to hormonal levels, the concentration levels may wane making it hard to focus and remain clear. These conditions may remain through out the whole cycle of course and each person must carefully listen to their inner body and respect the indications it shows.
Twists and some forward bends may prove uncomfortable during the cycle or at certain points during it, as there is often swelling around the reproductive organs. Other areas of the body may also become more sensitive and any asanas that cause tension due to discomfort should be avoided.
This all being said, the right use of asana practice can be of great help with many of the difficult experiences that sometimes come with menstruation. For some, menstruation is a time where one intuitively feels the need for introspection and it sometimes feels like a inner dying and rebirth take place, which naturally leads to a more sensitive and reflective mind state at this time. So asanas that support this inward awareness and sensitivity are recommended such as Sidhasana, Baddha konasana and Sukhasana gentle Pranayama – rechaka and puraka with ujjayi – can also be done but extra attention should be given to keeping the mind relaxed and the body free from tension. No retention should be practiced and any dizziness or tightness in the body is a sign to bring down the level of practice to a simpler practice of mindful breath awareness.
Simple mantra can also be practised but again such a practice should not go beyond what the practitioner is comfortable with and one should be prepared to stop and return to savasana whenever necessary. Where cramp or aching occurs in the legs, womb or lower back, supportive asanas such as Supta baddha konasana can be calming and restorative and supported chest opening and hip openers can be useful, though it is often worth avoiding having the head tipped back lower than the heart as changes in blood pressure can lead to dizziness.
Viparita Karani can be a good relief for leg tension as well as other legs up the wall supported asanas and are often best practiced later in the cycle. For some, towards the end of the cycle, some supported inverted work may become comfortable, particularly Salamba Sarvangasana using a chair as this can help dispel any last aches and pains and help to open up the womb and lower abdomen where it may have tightened during the cycle, as well as helping to dispel any mental tension that may have arisen and reset the brain. Care should be taken particularly of the lower back and the asana can be practise with the legs higher either with a higher backed chair or by placing a support beneath the legs, by raising the legs up altogether, or bringing them over to rest on a flat-topped chair or table top where the womb is not inflamed.
Supta Virasana is also often helpful as again it helps to open up the front body as well as helping to release lower-back tension, through the release of the front thighs and groins allowing the front groins to release and the pelvis to therefore turn more easily. This asana can also be useful in restoring the breath cycles to a deeper easier rhythm.
Always tell your teacher when you are menstruating and let them know if you are uncomfortable for any reason during a class. Don’t forget that yoga is creatively working from where you are towards a deeper state of integration and this might also mean that sometimes you may feel a warm bath, a few gentle stretches and some well-attuned breath cycles may be what your body needs. Or maybe it’s just a time for a little home study, some quiet reflection and a cup of hot chocolate.