As a yoga teacher, I often get questions about which yoga exercises you can do (and not do) during the menstrual cycle. But I also get asked about WHY certain yoga exercises, like stretch pose and inversions, are contraindicated during menstruation. It's easy to answer the functional question (do this, don't do that), but explaining that at the same time as explaining the highly sensitive women's energy body is much more comprehensive and will lead to a greater intuitive understanding about yoga, women's bodies, and the menstrual cycle. In short, for a woman, understanding your body and your menstrual cycle helps you to understand YOU.
You are an energy body.
This is easy enough to say, and also easy to dismiss. But it's not just lip service. Although you are dense matter in your "body", on a cellular level you are vibrating molecules and vast amounts of space. These molecules vibrate together and create an energy field. All living beings have one. This is why you can run a clock powered by a potato. Life = energy. Close the circuit and away you go. In a yoga exercise, when you press your hands together in prayer pose, you are closing the circuit of your body. You are directing and amplifying energy within you.
What happens to your energy body during the menstrual cycle?
It expands. Women already have an enormously powerful aura. Yogi Bhajan, the master of Kundalini yoga, taught that women's auras are 16 times bigger and more powerful than a man's. Knowing that, what happens during your menstrual cycle, when you are "with the moon" is that you are filled with radiance. It's as if YOU are having a full moon. You become tremendously more sensitive. Things irritate you that normally wouldn't. You are sensitive to emotions and cry at things like Hallmark commercials. And you become aware of imbalances within your body, which can manifest to your sensations as cramps, lethargy, headaches, etc. It's not necessarily that anything is "going wrong" within you, but that your body begins to transmit information to you that normally you are unaware of. Too much of the hormone prostaglandin? Cramps galore.
The Amplification of Prayer
Women are extremely powerful when they pray. Yogi Bhajan often taught that the strength of a woman's prayer was unmatched. The power of woman to heal and uplift he said to be among the holiest of all things in this world. Even the Dalai Lama has said that women will change this world. Because of the expansion of our energy body during the menstrual cycle, we become more "amplified". This is why in Native American cultures, menstruating women were not allowed in Sweat Lodges. Although traditions varied by tribe, Sweat Lodges were times to come together and manifest prayers for an entire village or culture. Visions would be given by the Creator to protect and guide their people, chants and prayers would be offered for peace, continued life, and honoring the Earth. In most traditions, menstruating women were not allowed. The reason for this was explained to me once by a Native American elder as being that women's prayers are so powerful during their moon cycle, that they drown out all other prayers and vibrations being offered. They would be "sent away" not out of shame or second class citizenship, but in honor and to allow them time to rest and nurture themselves, and to allow the prayers of the group to be heard. Sweat Lodges are also physically demanding events, and women in many traditions, including yoga, are encouraged to take it easy during this time.
What is Happening in Your Body During the Menstrual Cycle and Why Does This Relate to Yoga Exercises?
Your energy body begins to flow downward. All the energy within you is moving in a sacred way to release life from your body. It's not shameful, although it's appropriately private. If you practice an inversion, you are circumventing that energy flow to make your body move energy upward. It's counter productive to the body's flow. It can prevent the body from releasing toxins effectively. Therefore, inversions are contraindicated with menstruation. Now don't take my word for it. During your moon time, try an inversion. It won't feel good. Contraindications aren't dictated to you; they are discovered through experience and study and passed along for your benefit. Since the uterus walls are contracting slightly to loosen blood flow, you may experience cramps. Too much of a certain hormone, and bam...killer cramps. Tensing up this area which is already tensing and causing pain is a bad idea.
Modifications to Yoga Exercises During the Menstrual Cycle
You don't practice navel pumps during menstruation (and if you do, you do them very lightly), and Kundalini yoga exercises such as Breath of Fire and Stretch Pose are avoided. (You can do Breath of Fire with a very light navel pump, or simply substitute long deep breathing. You also may do Stretch Pose, but would only hold one leg up at a time, reducing the impact on the lower abdominal area.) You allow your own body to guide what is comfortable for you and how much is "too much" when practicing any yoga. In general, take it easy and lighten up on your practice, especially as it relates to you abdominal area. Don't twist too much or too hard, which is overstimulating to the abdominal area. Avoid inversions of the pelvis. You can hold your legs straight up in the air, when the pelvis and hips are on the floor, which wouldn't be considered an inversion. Handstands and headstands, not practiced at all in Kundalini yoga, should similarly be avoided.
(Additional note: I've been asked as a follow up in our meditations are as effective if we put in less "effort" during the moon time, as if by pumping our navels gently the meditation might not have as much effect. This is incorrect. In fact, women are so powerful during menstruation that the body is able to get the same benefits while backing off a little bit. So keep up with your meditations, adjust them to suit your delicate bodies, and rest peacefully knowing that your meditations are still having powerful effect.)
Yoga Poses That Can Help During the Menstrual Cycle
Camel Pose -- This pose can release pressure in the female reproductive organs.
Child's Pose -- Can relieve menstrual cramps and also relax the lower back.
Bow Pose -- Lengthens the abdominal muscles, easing cramps.
Herbal and Essential Oil Support for Women
Plants have long been used to support women during their menstrual cycle. The Yogi Elixir for Women is based on Yogi Bhajan's ayurvedic formulas to keep women's body's in balance. Women's Treasures is a formula from Yogi Bhajan to aid a woman during the menstrual cycle specifically. And the essential oil blend Ecstasy contains Clary Sage and Rose, two oils known to help a woman's hormones balance and body relax during her moon time.
About Yoga Clothes
Avoid yoga pants that are tight around your abdominal area during your period. Comfortable, loose pants with an elastic waist are nice during this time when bloating and cramps are present. Light colors can help you feel more energetic and natural fabrics support your body when your energy body is so sensitive.
Listen to Soothing Music
Deep relaxation can be very helpful during your menstrual cycle. Due to your expanded energy field, you may be sensitive to music and like different things during this time. Gentle, soothing music like Ashana's Jewels of Silence can relax your mind, body and spirit. The flowing tones of Mirabai Ceiba might also appeal to you.
More Resources About Yoga, Yoga Exercises and the Menstrual Cycle
These two books are perfect companions for a woman to understand more about herself, her body, and her journey with yoga. Yogi Bhajan's "I Am a Woman" Reader contains many of his lectures for women.
The Women's Yoga Book helps you find the perfect yoga exercises, posture, asana or pranayama to relax you during your menstrual cycle.
All About Yoga for Women on DVD
Explore this 3 DVD set on Kundalini Yoga just for women and wellness with Shakta Kaur.
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