Every woman experience her menstrual cycle differently. For some lucky ones, during the actual period there’s almost no pain, light flow, no emotional changes, and their life is not really affected. On the other extreme, there are woman with painful heavy periods, mood swings, bloating, and other symptoms, to the point that they have to take sick days and spend a few days in bed before they can resume any sort of normal activity. Everybody else falls in the continuum between these two extremes. That’s why it is very challenging to give a general advice on wether or not you should do yoga during your period. The best answer I can come up with is LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. I know, sounds very cliche, but I think if you have been practicing yoga for some time, you will know that this is what your instructor says every lesson multiple times. Our bodies intuitively know when we can push and when we shouldn’t. The longer you practice yoga, pranayama, meditation, and other movement-based spiritual practices, the better you get at understanding your body and its needs!
Menstrual phase of our cycle is a phase of calmness, contemplation, analysis, turning inward, and letting yourself rest. During the first 2-3 days of your period, when you have your strongest flow, I do not recommend any strenuous activities, not only physical, but also mental, meaning I would not recommend starting any new projects or learning any new skills. Instead, I suggest spending some time journaling and analyzing your past projects and results. If you feel the need to spend most of the day in bed or at home- do it! It is totally ok napping your regular yoga class.
Understand that what you are experiencing is a blessing, not a curse. Be grateful, be patient, and try to enjoy simple things, get yourself distracted from your pain by watching a favorite TV show, cuddle up with your loved one, read a book, get a coloring book out, etc. Any relaxing, calming activity is your best bet.
One thing you can and should practice though, is breathing exercises and meditation, that support that natural need of turning inwards. If sitting down is uncomfortable, lie down on your back in a corpse pose, bound angle (feet together, knees apart), or with legs up the wall, that will help draw blood away from the lower extremities. Place your hands on your abdomen and spend some time breathing through your nose. deep and slow, directing your attention into your lower abdominal region. Feel your belly rise and expand with inhalations and soften with exhalations. Just a few minutes a day of this breathing technique will help you connect deeper to your body and promote blood flow to your pelvic region.
After your heaviest days, you will most likely have more energy for movement. I recommend walking or light jogging to promote blood flow, rolling out your back and your hips, stretching or gentle yoga. There are many opinions about what asanas should or should not be practiced during period, but here, again, your inner wisdom is your best guide. If doing core engaging poses such as navasana or plank pose feel uncomfortable to you, substitute them with modifications that don’t put as much stress on your core, such as single leg navasana or holding a half plank (knees down). If deep twisting is painful, twist less! If laying down on your stomach is uncomfortable, get on all force instead. If inversions feel funky, skip them. I am personally a huge fan of inversions and depending on the heaviness of my flow and on my overall energy, I sometimes skip them for a few days until I feel ready to resume. There are some asanas, in my opinion, that are really beneficial overall, but especially during menstruation. My top five are:
- Baddha konasana (seated or supine), or butterfly pose. It opens the hips and promotes circulation to the pelvis.
- Deep squat. If you can, squat all the way down till your butt is on the floor. If necessary, turn your feet and knees out slightly. This pose helps to relax pelvic floor muscles and also very good for proper elimination (I mean #2).
- Gentle supported backbends are great. Lie down on your back, place a foam roller or a yoga block underneath your sacrum, let your legs turn out naturally and relax. Breath deeply into your lower abdomen/hip region. Great asana for stretching abdominal muscles and hip flexors. Take 8-10 breaths.
- Move the prop under your shoulder blades, place your hands behind your head to support your neck, lean back over the prop as far as you feel comfortable, and repeat deep breathing- amazing chest opening supported backbend.
- Childs pose. Very grounding, nurturing, and relaxing position. Experiment with it, maybe use a pillow or a bolster under your belly/chest, or inside your knees to make the pose even more comfortable!
Last but not least, I’d like to reiterate that you should always listen to your body first and do what feels right for you. One of the most wonderful principles I learned a few years ago from one of my favorite Thai massage teachers Gwyn Williams is
LESS IS MORE
I remind myself a lot of this principle during my yoga practice and when working with clients. Highly recommend adopting this principle into your life! If you have any questions about your yoga practice during or outside your period, feel free to contact me. I would like to share years of experience and personal experimentation with you in order to help you manage your menstrual cycle and reduce pain.