The subject of this month’s blog had its genesis 15 years ago when I began my practice of yoga. Over the years, I have heard some teachers advise against inversions (downward facing dog, bridge, plow, wheel, shoulder/hand/head stands, etc.) during menstruation yet others never mention it. I thought I would seek some philosophical principles and professional opinions on the matter and so of course I turned to Google.
Let’s review the basics. During menstruation, the body is not only sloughing off the unfertilized lining of the uterus but also trying to move impurities down and out of the system through the reproductive organs.
Delving a little deeper, it is this downward force of energy, called apana vayu by the ancient yogis, that governs the flow of energy (prana) into the reproductive organs thus providing the energy needed for the birthing process and the monthly cycle of menstruation. In fact the yogis recognized five vayus, or ‘winds’ of prana, each with its own specific functions and directions of flow. For the sake of this discussion I will mention one other important vayu, prana-vayu, which is the upward moving force of energy that supports mental processes among other things.
Can you see the potential stress you could be placing on your body if you are not only practicing inversion postures but also, overly taxing yourself mentally during menstruation? If the body’s energetic system during menstruation is one of downward movement, and inversions and mental processes call for the upward flow of energy, this could lead to imbalance. Specifically, the body’s inability to menstruate efficiently. Regarding heavy physical activity, energy is also being re-directed toward that activity thus diverting the energy that would otherwise be used for menstruation.
The general consensus among Ayurvedic practitioners* is that the majority of female disorders in the West are caused by our failure to understand the benefits of rest during the menstrual cycle.** Over-all health is also said to be assessed by the menstrual cycle in ayurvedic medicine.
Every month women have the opportunity to cleanse and rejuvenate themselves during this purification process, a process that may be a contributing factor to women’s generally longer lifespan when compared to men. Below are some practices to consider:
- Spend as much time in quietude, rest and introspection (meditation, visualization, journaling) as you are able to. It is said that our innate abilities are increased during this time. Take note of how this may alleviate any discomfort that normally accompanies your cycle. Over-scheduling and over-exercising month in and month out over years can result in an energetic deficit for menstruation thus potentially having deleterious effects.
- Avoid inversions even in a “gentle” yoga class and consider abstaining from yoga all together – especially if you practice a more vigorous form. Observe the effects.
- Explore menstrual health according to your ayurvedic constitution* (Vata, Pitta, Kapha). There are herbal, dietary and other principles/practices that may help you find more balance.
- Follow the ayurvedic principle of acting in a way that accords with how you feel. Sounds like a pretty basic practice, doesn’t it? Putting it into practice is another story. Remember: YOU come first. Only then can you be fully present in other aspects of your life.
*Yoga and Ayurveda are sister sciences that developed together thousands of years ago. Yoga is first and foremost a science of self-realization. Its concern is spiritual practice mainly through meditation. Ayurveda is primarily a science of self-healing aimed at relieving the diseases of the body and mind. It covers all aspects of health and well-being-physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It includes all methods of healing from diet, herbs, exercise and lifestyle regimens to yoga and meditation. One of the ways in which ayurvedic medicine helps provide optimal health and development is through its unique understanding of individual constitution (the doshas: Pitta, Kapha, Vata). Source: Yoga & Ayurveda by David Frawley.
**Another school of thought as put forth by Robert M. Sapolsky in his book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, is that some of the gynecological diseases that plague westernized women is due to the way in which we have evolved. Hunter-gatherer women, a culture that has dominated most of human history, had perhaps two dozen menstrual cycles – upon reaching puberty at about age thirteen or fourteen, she is soon pregnant. She nurses for three years (a time during which she doesn’t ovulate), weans her child, has a few menstrual cycles, becomes pregnant again and repeats the pattern until she reaches menopause. Contrast this with modern Western women who have hundreds of cycles over their lifetime. Women may have evolved their physiological machinery to be activated only twenty times during their fertile lifetimes instead of hundreds of times.
Other Sources: http://lifespa.com/moody-painful-menstrual-cycle/#
Mind, Body, Sport by John Douillard