Guidance for practising during menstruation in Iyengar yoga
In Iyengar yoga, it is important to inform your teacher that you are menstruating and what day you are on; if the menses is normal, heavy, or light; and of any changes in the mental and emotional state your menses has brought on. Depending on your condition, you may be advised to follow a specific practice. Due to the change in hormone levels as your menses is expelled, your physical and mental energy could be lower. This causes many to feel physically uncomfortable, suffering abdominal cramping, backache, breast swelling and tenderness and generally feeling fatigued and depleted. The brain may feel as though it is vibrating or throbbing, and you may feel irritable and emotional.
As Geeta Iyengar says “From the day menstruation begins until the day it ends … one should stick to the practice of those asanas that do not obstruct the menstrual flow and help a woman keep herself healthy. Only the asanas have to be done which do not make her run out of energy or bring any hormonal disturbance.” (See Yoga A Gem for Women by Geeta Iyengar)
Poses which should not be performed during menstruation:
All inversions are contraindicated during menstruation – meaning, they should not be done until menstruation is over. This is because the lining of the uterus is meant to come out of the body as waste material and not retained. According to B.K.S. Iyengar, in Ayurveda, “Whatever has to be thrown out should be thrown out and not retained or held in. You cannot hold urine, faeces, phlegm, mucus etc. inside, as they are substances that have to be thrown out. These are called as mala - the waste, which need to be excreted. They invite diseases if they are retained.”
Inversions will check or slow down the flow of this waste material from the body. If inversions are done regularly during menstruation, particularly over the longer term, it could compromise menstruation and reproductive health possibly leading to conditions such as fibroids, cysts, endometriosis or even cancer.
2. Abdominal asanas, closed twists, and hand balancing poses which can cause the uterus to contract and harden:
Poses that tighten or constrict the abdomen should not be done during menstruation. This group of poses includes abdominal asanas, closed twists, unsupported backbends and hand balancing poses. These poses will only harden the abdomen and the reproductive organs and bring heat into the body. The effect is to increase or worsen the symptoms such as cramping, aggravate the nervous system creating irritability and increase the duration of the menses.
Inform your teacher if you have irregular menses not related to menopause or are beginning menopause. It is necessary to follow a practice sequence specific to each person and which may improve your menstruation and reproductive health. This practice needs to consider the non- menstruating days as well as the days of menses. It needs to be done until more of a regular menses or menopause is observed. (See Geeta S. Iyengar’s Guide to a Woman’s Yoga Practice by Lois Steinberg, PhD)
Sequences for Menstruation
Days 1 – 2 of the Cycle
The practice sequence for these days should be restful, starting with supported supine postures, followed by supported forward bends, then transitioning to supported back bends (Utthita Upavistha Konasana and Baddha Konasana with support for a lifted chest; chair Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana with legs at hip height and head supported; Setu Bhanda Sarvangasana over bolsters), ending with Savasana and supine Ujjayi Pranayama. The groins and lower abdomen need to remain soft to reduce cramping. Resting the legs quietens the brain and reduces backache. Lifting the chest and opening the armpit chest improves energy and mood. It also soothes the nervous system.
Days 3 – 5 of the Cycle
As the menstruation flow lightens, reintroduce supported standing poses against the wall, kitchen counter or trestle to ensure the chest is open, abdomen long and steadiness is brought back to the legs. Using support removes the gripping in the abdomen which occurs when students try to balance in the middle of the room or try too hard. (See Yoga A Gem for Women by Geeta Iyengar)
Once the menses flow has stopped and is dried up, then inversions such as Salamba Sirsasana against the wall and Salamba Sarvangasana, Halasana and Viparita Karani need to be done. This will reenergize the nervous system and support the endocrine system.
Prepared by Jocelyn Hollmann, Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher (Level 3); 2022
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