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.