Yoga Turns the Menstrual Cycle into a Celebration of Womanhood

Most women have experienced the pain of menstrual cramps at some point in their lives. A new book shows how to transform this sometimes dreaded experience into a sacred ritual through yoga.

In her book, The Woman’s Yoga Book: Asana and Pranayama for All Phases of the Menstrual Cycle, Bobby Clennell, author and Iyengar yoga teacher,shows women how to observe their hormonal rhythms and their physical and emotional impact. With this awareness, women can use their yoga practice to ease menstrual cramps and tap into vibrant health from puberty to menopause and beyond.

Practicing yoga during menstruation

There has been long standing debate on whether or not women should practice yoga during menstruation. Clennell believes that there are certain yoga sequences that women can safely practice during each phase of the menstrual cycle. These range from supported bridge pose to stabilize mood swings during the premenstrual phase, to restorative poses allow the body to rest during menstruation. In the post-menstrual phase inversions can be used to allow the body to cleanse and recover. A woman can participate in her regular practice during ovulation.

A woman “can have a long, interesting and fulfilling practice during menstruation, she says. Because hormone levels are at their lowest, a less strenuous asana practice is recommended. “You’re not jumping, you’re not heating or exerting yourself, and you’re not going upside down,” she points out. “Be sensitive and explore it.”

Clennell recommends avoiding certain postures during the menstrual cycle. In particular inversions should be omitted from menstrual sequences because turning upside down alters the flow of build-up as it sloughed from the uterine wall. Poses such as sirsasana (head balance) are physically very demanding, and not advised.

“Don’t do strenuous poses when you’re menstruating,” Clennell says, “Your energy level is not so high, which may be difficult to notice if one is very busy or overworked in their daily life. If you’re putting out a lot of energy in any one direction, menstruation is a time in which to draw the energy down”. The key is just to slow down.

Clennell’s book also offers solutions for a variety of menstrual and premenstrual problems, including amenorrhea (failure to menstruate), menorrahgia (excessively heavy periods) and dysmenorrhea (painful periods).

Yoga as Remedy

In cases of cramps, Clennell recommends the practice of supta baddha konasasana with a bolster to support the spine and slight support for the legs. Other useful poses include: supta padangusthasana 2 (supine leg stretch to the side), as well as setubandha sarvangasana (bridge pose) over a bolster.

This same family of poses is helpful for women at other stages of life including menopause, she says. Women approaching menopause who experience menstrual flooding often benefit from supta baddha konasana with blocks under the hips, which helps to relieve heavy bleeding.

For women who suffer from disorders such as endometriosis, there are other modifications.

“The variations are infinite because each person is so different,” Clennell says. It is important to work closely with a yoga instructor and pay close attention to your body, she says.

“It’s very important for a woman’s health, as well as men’s, to practice inversions on a regular basis,” she says as they can strengthen and support the endocrine system and boost brain chemistry, key principles in the Iyengar system, she adds.

No matter where you are in your menstrual cycle, there is a yoga practice that is right for you.

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