So is period yoga safe or what? And, more specifically, are inversions cool to do when you’re menstruating? We’re all adults here. We know how periods work, but in case you need a refresher, every month(ish) the uterus sheds its lining and women deal with bleeding, possible cramping, mood changes and cumbersome hygiene products because of it. Some women have stronger, heavier, more painful periods rendering them curled up on the couch, while other women hardly notice a difference in their regular routines. It all depends.
One of the things experts recommend to manage the effect of menses is exercise – it brings blood flow to the nether regions, it boosts endorphins and it is ultimately a good distraction. Yoga is known to be helpful because it’s not incredibly high-impact and, falling into the exercise category, on top of stretching out sore muscles and incorporating a meditative practice, it might actually be soothing to the body during those few days of bloody hell.
So why do so many yoga teachers tell us not to do inversions during our period? People are still freaking out about it because the answers are sort of vague. So far there’s no hard-nosed evidence proving that going upside down during menstruation is truly harmful, or that it will cause retrograde menstruation (when the blood flows up and into your fallopian tubes) or endometriosis (when the cells from your uterus don’t get shed during your period but instead grow in other areas of your undercarriage and can become really painful).
No one knows what causes endometriosis – let me repeat: no one knows what causes endometriosis – but one theory is retrograde menstruation, which some yogis, especially the Iyengarians, believe can be caused by flipping upside down for long periods of time, which is why they say don’t do inversions when you’re menstruating. Fair enough. Maybe it’s better to be safe than sorry.
But the truth is, many women have this backward flow and not all of them end up with endometriosis. Why? Scientists say it depends on each of our immune systems — some of us are able to sweep away and get rid of the rogue cells before they embed and cause trouble, and some of us aren’t. And there are many other factors for being more likely to get endometriosis in the first place, like your mom or sister has it, you got your period at a young age, you never had children, you have frequent periods or they last more than 7 days at a time. Sounds like at least half the female population, right? Endometriosis is a pretty common issue.
Bottom line, the ancient reasons for not inverting during your period are fairly outdated (and possibly stuck in the male-brained structure of patriarchy). Don’t freak yourself out because you did a handstand on the second day of your period and now your endometri-doomed.
But could there be other reasons for not doing inversions during your period?
Besides blood flow, apana (the flow of your energy going down – the opposite of prana) is said to get confused during the “women’s holiday” when inversions come into play. Also, this might be just me, but I notice I can’t engage my abdominals as well as I can on other days during my cycle. On top of that I’m usually feeling a little more fatigued because my body is trying to flush out what is no longer needed and it physically feels like there are droves of Italian women stomping out grapes in my womb a la the classic I Love Lucy episode. These are usually days when I’m feeling like I want to shut the door, close the blinds and snuggle up with a good book or rom-com marathon on TBS. Forget inversions, I don’t feel like doing an overly challenging practice in general. Do I really need to push myself into a side crow-into-eka-pada-galavasana situation? Eff NO.
There was a post about this very issue a couple of years ago on YD which addressed retrograde menstruation and yoga practice in general during your period, with a wise quote from Dr. Timothy McCall, which I’ll share with you again here:
“To me the bigger question is whether you are listening to your body,” McCall told us. “If you are tired and crampy, then not only shouldn’t you be doing strong inversions like headstands in the early days of your period, but you probably should also be refraining from multiple sun salutations, arm balances and other strong poses, in favor of a gentler practice. I believe, however, that if it’s later on in your period, your flow is light, and you otherwise feel good, that going upside down for a minute or two is unlikely to cause problems.”
Yeah, I know, another dude talking about women’s bodies. But I’m a woman and I’m talking about my own body and my own yoga practice. Here are my reasons for not inverting during your period:
1. You’re too damn tired.
2. You can’t engage your abdominals so well because you have muscle fatigue and there’s a jackhammer in your uterus.
3. You’d rather lay in a restorative pose or do a 15 minute 3-pose practice and call it a day.
4. You push yourself so hard on a regular basis and need a dang break which, thank the goddess of fertility, having your period allows you to do every so often. Sheesh.
5. You don’t feel like it.
What are you thoughts about inverting and doing yoga during your period? Do you modify your practice?
For more info on endometriosis head over to endometriosis.org and watch the helpful video:
For more info about balancing your hormones and managing your monthly periods better I encourage you to check out Nicole Jardim’s Fix Your Period program.
Another highly recommended resource: The Woman’s Yoga Book: Asana and Pranayama for All Phases of the Menstrual Cycle by Bobby Clennell. There’s also Yoga for a Healthy Menstrual Cycle by Linda Sparrowe.
This is *exactly* how I feel about the whole issue. The period yoga rules I’ve heard always smacked of patriarchy and things that male gurus said a long time ago who didn’t work with women or know anything about how periods work. All the same, on those days when my uterus seems to be trying to claw its way out of my belly, I am in no mood for a very active practice anyway.
I agree with Abby. I would add that perhaps the true issue is over sharing. Our yoga teachers and fellow students of either gender don’t need to know why we aren’t at our best on a particular day. Did you get a poor night’s sleep? Having your period? Got kicked by a mule? Does it matter? We can take child’s pose whenever we feel like it, for any reason, it’s our practice.
As women, I think we’re socially conditioned to seek consensus and provide a socially acceptable excuse. Sometimes that approach fails us. It’s actually empowering to own a decision (especially one that affects mainly you) and make no excuse or explanation for it.
Wow. excellent point. That it’s really about our practice our choice without explanation. Over sharing has become an epidemic.
I am a sufferer of Endometrosis and a Yoga teacher. I also am in the ‘better safe than sorry’ side of the argument but also I agree, many women just don’t exercise during the first couple of days, and I find that if I do I don’t want to do a heavy practice, and I find that my menstration tends to come out heavier when I exercise anyway so taking it easier always seems like a good idea. I hope one day we will find a cure or at least a full understanding of endo, but that’s one of the great things about Yoga, it is so versatile, that whether it’s mood, physical problems or just that time of the month, you can still do yoga in some form or fashion, even if it’s just meditation.
If you consider the ayurvedic principle that one should facilitate the natural flow of any body fluid and not disrupt that flow by going against gravity “patriarchy,” than that is your issue. Sounds like some are more into man bashing than doing correct yoga practice.
Good article, I have always been sceptical about the reasons given. In many Iyengar classes menstruating women are treated like invalids. If the practice does create difficulty or drains your energy then of course adapt what you do to suit and restore balance.
There is no medical reason to not do inversions during menstruation. Women lie down to sleep when having their periods, which disrupts gravity flow, but no one is telling women to not lie down to sleep or nap while menstruating.
I agree with the article. Also down dog and standing forward fold are inversions too, and no one warns against doing those poses during that time of the month…..so do what you feel like!
As a Registered Nurse, Yoga Teacher and previous skier I have some insight into this. After 2 torn ACL’s as the result of skiing and seeing many girls on my daughters basketball team get ACL tears I did some research. Here is just one article. Be sure to read down to the bottom of the ‘The Association Between Menstrual Cycle Phase and The Risk of An Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury”, section. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2547857/
While this article addresses specifically ACL injury in upright sports (where alignment is compromised); there is documentation supporting menus and laxation of ligaments/tendons and decreased flexibility of muscles in general throughout the body. When posed with the practice of yoga this could lead to increase risk of ligament/tendon injury throughout the body. I’ll leave additional research on these concepts to the reader. Personally I would continue to practice being mindful of alignment and not going too deep into the poses during this time. Inversions? Personally I’d pass. Anatomy and physiology would point to risk of disease. Basically, as always, practice mindfully.