Menstruation and Yoga

There are many differing opinions about practicing yoga during menstruation. Menstruation is a bodily function, not a sickness, yet women experience menstruation in a large variety of ways and it is almost impossible to make generalisations about what practice is appropriate at this time.

There are also many myths about menstruation but there are some facts:

  • One cause of pain is cause is high levels of prostaglandin hormones. Other effects of hormonal changes are clumsiness and dizziness. Feeling like this can make practice unpleasant for some but regular exercise, even while menstruating, often reduces these effects for many women.
  • Another side-effect of hormonal changes while menstruating is increased laxity of joints and tendons – similar to the effects of pregnancy, although not to the same extent. Many menstruating women feel more flexible and they probably are, but the possibility of injuring joints is also higher. For example, there is a documented link between Anterior Cruciate Ligament tears in the knee and menstruation in female athletes. For this reason extreme backbending and asanas that stress the pelvis should be avoided. Women who have Sacroiliac dysfunctions are more likely to experience problems with their pelvic joints if they practice asanas like Virabhadrasana, Hanumanasana, etc. at this time. Strong twisting can also affect the spinal joints and hips will be more easily misaligned.
  • The blood pH does not change to become acidic during menstruation.
  • It is taught that inversions cause retrograde blood flow; meaning that blood in the uterus flows into the fallopian tubes and outwards from there, into the abdominal cavity. This is true, but it is a normal occurrence- retrograde flow occurs when lying down in bed sleeping, and will occur during yoga practise in Savasana, Adho Mukha Svanasana, Prasarita Padottanasana and any form of side-lying.

Retrograde menstrual flow is considered by some to cause Endometriosis. There is a link to a Wikipedia article below, for those who don’t know what Endometriosis is.
Bear in mind that the theory about retrograde flow and Endometriosis was formulated in 1921, medical science has learned a lot in the meantime – but still don’t know what causes it. However, that particular theory looks more and more unlikely as time goes by. Retrograde flow is a natural occurrence and women’s bodies are designed to cope with it.

Telling women that they are damaging their wombs, bodies and fertility by performing inversions is not repeating a medically proven fact. Inversions can be problematic for women if they feel dizzy or lightheaded and if this is the case, inversions should be avoided.

It is possible that some women may experience increased blood flow, but this is impossible to verify internally and those who can verify it externally should act accordingly.

All women experience menstruation differently and each woman should modify her yoga practise according to her own experience and sense of physical capability.

Wikipedia link: Endometriosis

Reading Sources:
De Franca, 1996, Pelvic Locomotor Dysfunction
Boyle, 2004, Functional Training for Sports
Evans, 2005, Endometriosis and Other Pelvic Pain

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One thought on “Menstruation and Yoga

  1. In the leading book on yoga for women, Yoga: A Gem for Women (1995), Geeta Iyengar reiterates her father’s admonition against doing yoga during menstruation, as follows: “During the monthly period (48–72 hours) complete rest is advisable. Asanas should not be practiced.… Normal practice may be resumed from the fourth or fifth day.” She goes on to say that a few forward bends may be done during menstruation to reduce tension.

    More recently, in The Women’s Book of Yoga: Asana and Pranayama for All Phases of the Menstrual Cycle (2007), Bobby Clennell allows certain practices during the menstrual cycle while following the teachings on B. K. S. Iyengar, Geeta Iyengar, and other leading teachers in making this questionable assertion regarding the relationship between inversion and menstruation: “If the body is turned upside down, this process [of menstrual discharge] is disturbed and may force the menstrual flow back up into the menstrual cavity and up through the fallopian tubes, causing the uterus to perform an adapted function instead of its normal function.… Since the menstrual process is one of discharge, it is a commonsense precaution to avoid these poses. Do not practice any inversions until the menstrual flow has completely stopped.”

    This is now a “commonsense” notion in the yoga community if only because it has been repeated mutatis mutandis, ad nauseam for the past two generations. Yet menstrual discharge is no more affected by one’s relationship to gravity than the passage of food or water through the body. Try swallowing a mouthful of water when in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) or Sirsasana (Headstand); does the water stay in your mouth, flood your sinuses, or move through your throat and into your stomach? As the NASA Medical Division has confirmed through studies of women in zero-gravity environments, medical science in general has established that menstrual egress is caused by intrauterine and intravaginal pressure along with the peristaltic action of muscles, which are not measurably influenced by gravity. This is also why four-legged females have no problem with healthy menstrual flow despite not having a vertical orientation to gravity, and why a menstruating woman will flow just as normally whether sleeping on her belly or back despite her uterus and vagina being turned in opposite relation to gravity.

    This is one example of misinformation becoming urban yoga myth and then parading as fact in informing yoga sequences for women and others. Whether, how, or to what degree this and other fallacies are rooted in patriarchal or sexist assumptions would make for an interesting study that is far beyond the scope and purpose of this book. Rather, for our purposes, it points to the value of always asking “why” or “why not” when told that something must not be done or must be done only in a certain way or at a certain time. Whether the various admonitions about women in yoga (indeed, about everyone in yoga) are valid deserves to be studied, discussed, and ultimately considered through one’s personal yoga experience. It is with these sensibilities—evidence combined with shared understanding and experience— that women (and men) ideally make decisions for what to do or not do in their personal yoga practice throughout the larger cycle of life. In advising students on the question of menstruation and inversion, longtime yoga teacher Barbara Benagh says that since “no studies or research make a compelling argument to avoid inversions during menstruation, and since menstruation affects each woman differently and can vary from cycle to cycle, I am of the opinion that each woman is responsible for her own decision.”

    Just as each student comes to the practice in a unique way, women experience their menstrual cycle in different ways. For some women, menstruation is simple and easy, while for others it can be painful and distressing. Most of the literature on yoga for women advises a highly modified practice emphasizing basic restorative poses, no inversions, or no practice at all. Yet many active yoga students maintain their regular practice while menstruating—including doing inversions—across the span of decades with no signs of ill effects. This suggests that the best guide to practice when menstruating is each student’s personal experience and intuition. The basic question to ask is, “How do I feel?” It is entirely possible that cramps, bloating, fatigue, or other discomfort will be present, indicating a relaxing practice that helps to reduce pressure in the uterus and abdomen, as described in the following sequence.

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