Yoga During Your Period

Have you ever wondered, can you do yoga on your period, or should you change your practice? Maybe you do continue with your practice when on your period, but find that you are all over the place or have more emotional releases.

There are a number of things you can consider for yoga on your period, however, take what resonates for you and leave what doesn’t.  It’s your body and your practice, so figuring out what works for you is the most important thing.

Hormones & Energy Levels

When you have a menstrual cycle, your body changes throughout that cycle and the way you practice often needs to change too.  Here are some pointers:

When you are on your period (and this applies to true periods, not bleeds from hormonal medications), their oestrogen and progesterone has just decreased releasing the endometrial lining. This can result in a lack of energy, and, if your hormones are working well for you, a slightly more quieter/sombre and reflective mood. If you have other underlying issues such as hormonal problems, inflammation, structural issues or stress, then there can be pain, moodswings, and other symptoms. 

For some people the transition from the high of ovulation to the low of the period, this is a steep but gentle decline and transition from the luteal phase and others this is a very fast decline, so they can literally “crash”.

During this phase, we are more risk averse, introverted, want to isolate more, want to sleep/relax/rest/nest more, and our ability to see things without the rosey optimism goggles of the follicular and ovulatory phase, or the sometimes overly risk averse googles from the follicular phase and really evaluate situations, really connect with our bodies and/or higher self/consciousness/divinities if you belief in any.

In general we are better at pushing and increasing our abilities and limits during the follicular and ovulatory phase and maintaining and recovering during the luteal and bleeding phase. There is also some thoughts around joints being less stable in the second half of the cycle, which is something to keep an eye on, especially if doing a style that has a lot of focus on joints such as yin yoga.

Menstruation is the time to nourish and recover, not push our performance and you may notice in other physical activities or sports that you don’t perform to your max at this time either.  This is fine and normal. Even Olympic athletes will admit to this.

Activities that work well are slow, gentle, “cozy” think nesting, isolated or have lots of space, reflective, or spiritual. So restorative and yin yoga styles are great.  You may also find pranayama (or breath work) can be beneficial in this time. 

yoga breathwork pranayama

Turning Inwards & Spirituality

This is also a great time for practicing nidra, meditation or any kind, body scanning or mindfulness activities. It’s also a great time for chanting, journalling, art therapy for yourself, reading cards and evaluating big matters of importance in your life.

Some people feel particularly connected to the moon or other spiritual practices around this time and as such may want to integrate this into their practice. This phase of the cycle corresponds to winter, the wise woman, night time and the new moon.

Energetically, there is also a component of letting go and some people practice squatting and bleeding into the earth to 1, nourish the earth and 2, release what they no longer need. (Btw, if you use cups or reusable pads, plants love period water, which is period blood plus water).

Socially

During this time, you are more likely to want to do personal practice, practice at home or have a one to one.  However, if you want to go to a physical class, that’s great too, you need to do what feels right for you.

yoga class beach

On Hormones, Menopaused Or Have Had A Hysterectomy?

If someone is on hormonal birth control or no longer has a physical womb (I strongly believe the energetic womb remains and can be worked with), then their hormones are mostly flat. If they have a bleed week, the bleed is caused by and oestrogen withdrawal. They may find they want to honour the bleed as if it were a period anyway, or if they hardly bleed, follow the moon or sun cycle.

This could look like doing more energetic practices and pushing your self more in the morning and midday or Spring and Summer or Waxing (the right side is visible only) Moon or Full Moon.  This would also be the best time to do group classes or try new or different styles as you will be more open to changes during this time.

Then to mirror the luteal and menstrual phases, move into slower or weight bearing classes, work on maintenance and not pushing and finally more restful styles in the afternoon and evening, during the Autumn (or fall for my friends across the pond) or Winter, or Waning Moon or New Moon.  During this time you may want to do more solo practice, practice from home and stick to what you know rather than pushing or experimenting.

If you want to get to know more about these cycles, their features, and “flavours” take a look at this blog post.

Menstrual Cycle Charting

To Invert Or Not To Invert, That Is The Question

There are some concerns with certain positions during the bleed. First of all inversions: these are generally seen as a no-no in yoga and as far as I can tell it is for two reasons;

Firstly, energetically you want things to flow down and out and going against that means energy that is about to leave, returning and creating stagnation. 

  • Avoiding retrograde menstruation.  This is thought to be a possible cause of endometriosis (along with many other things). No one really knows the true cause of endometriosis and hormones and auto-immunity are some of the factors in the mix. Retrograde menstruation is where it is thought that the blood comes out of the fallopian tubes and attaches to various tissues around the pelvis creating adhesions. This has neither been proven nor disproven at the time of writing but it’s worth thinking about.
  • Fainting;  some people actually prefer to invert at this time, but in my experience it’s been because they are anaemic and faint a lot. The underlying anaemia needs to be diagnosed and addressed if this is the case for them. A great alternative can be legs up the wall.
  • If you get nausea during your period (this is a problem, and you can fix it or get it checked out), inversions can make you feel worse.  Even downward facing dog can be problematic.
  • Some people actually dislike inverting at this time, it feels uncomfortable.  Stick to what feels comfortable in your body.
Downward dog
Downward Dog

Twist & Shout, (Or Scream & Cry)

Twists are another area to be considered. If someone has adhesions or congestion in the pelvic area, the womb is unable to pump effectively and has to do some abnormal movements in order to remove blood too, this can be experienced as cramping. 

Adding in a twist could further force the womb in to a position and keep it stuck there for the duration of the twist, so could cause more cramps. Also, if someone has an IUD, mesh, cube or copper beads, and they have moved, this could be painful for them.

We also want to encourage blood flow to this area especially during this time and any severe or long held twists will deprive the area of some of the blood flow. That being said, one of the concepts of yin yoga is to restrict fluid in one area of a joint and experience a bounce back as a release. For some people a gentle twist may work in yoga, as the compression and release, can help the uterine contractions to empty out the endometrium, leaving a fresh space for new lining the next cycle.

Cramps can also be caused by inflammation, pelvic congestion (you can feel the womb stuck over to one side and it’s congested on palpation and then the ligaments holding her in place on the other side are all tight and will twinge if palpated), and poor blood flow resulting in mild hypoxia (eg less than optimal oxygen in these tissues due to slightly restricted circulation).

If you are going to do twists and you get period pain or cramps, keep them gentle and flowing, don’t hold for a long time. One type of gentle twist that can help encourage some flow into the area at this time include a lying spinal twist when done slowly but without resting on either side.

yoga twist
Side Lying Twist

Once you reach the end of your period, you may find you want to do more twists to help encourage clearance of lymphatic fluid from the area but bring these in gently and gradually increase pace and duration, and pay attention to your body.

Another note on inflammation. Don’t forget there are other inflammation reducing practices such as meditation, breathwork, nidra and the like can be very helpful. As can any movement that opens and allows more space into the abdomen and pelvic area. The better the blood flow the less pain.

Heat Or Movement

Some people with period pain respond well to heat.  You can modify a lot of restorative poses to included a hot water bottle or heat pad. A favourite of mine is is a supported child’s pose with a pillow between my legs for my upper body and head to rest on and a hot water bottle.

Embryo pose childs pose
Embryo Pose/Childs Pose Variant

Also, if you are doing restorative or nidra styles, wrap your self up warm and use a blanket to keep yourself warm and snug.

If movement helps with your period pain, then keeping a gentle movement going is great.  Doing a gentle flow, cat cow and any other slow and gentle style can help greatly.

If you are stuck in an office job where you are static, you can actually do cat cow sat upright on a chair.  Even standing up every hour and doing wide hip circles can be very helpful and if you are in an office, you can sneak off to the toilet and do this in a cubicle if you are worried about what your workers will think.

Period IBS

Period IBS, where you get constipation followed by the runs, then yeah….this is for you and check out this post.

Some poses that can be helpful, are pigeon/swan pose, reverse pigeon and squats.  Also, spending some time on relaxation such as nidra or breathwork can help to calm down and of the need to run to the loo.

pigeon pose/swan pose
Pigeon Pose/Swan Pose

Increased Urination or Dragging Sensation

Some people with an anteverted or ante flexed womb, or with a lot of lymphatic fluid build up may feel an increased need to urinate or a dragging sensation.  Cat/cow is a great way to get some movement into the area and very gentle inversions such as legs up the wall or a supported bridge with the support under your sacrum and tail bone can help to relieve the pressure, but pay attention to your body if you do these poses to feel whether it feels ok for you and keep the support relatively low.

legs up the wall
Legs Up The Wall – I recommend not crossing the legs

Leg Cramps

Stretching out the legs is the key with these cramps and so downward facing dog, if that feels ok, puppy pose and lizard poses and lunges can be helpful here. Also half frog/lying quad stretch can be helpful for the front of the legs too.

Finding What Works For You

One of the beautiful things about our wonderfully diverse bodies is that what works for one person may not work for another.  This means that you need to find out what works for you and make notes of what worked and what didn’t so that you have a starting point for your next bleed.

If you are experiencing period problems, such as pain, long periods, heavy periods, light periods, irregular periods or PMS, then take the quiz to find out what is going on.

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