Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Honouring your cycle

by guest writer Sallie Richards

As a woman, yoga practitioner and teacher I have always adapted my practice and life as much as possible around my menses, to suit my energy levels, my emotional and physical state and use the time for inward reflection. But it has dawned on me recently, especially after attending a weekend workshop at Yoga Spirit by Ana Davis, that I may not always make it clear in class that students too can adapt their practice to suit where they are in their cycle. I know that I always encourage people to work in a way that is respectful of their whole self, but this also applies to menstruation. For example, there are some poses that we recommend not to do whilst menstruating so as not to work against the natural flow of Apana (downward flowing energy). Some people may be avoiding class altogether at this time, when some gentle practice may actually be the best thing for them, helping to alleviate cramps and lower back tension, restore energy, tune awareness inward and nurture and support oneself with loving kindness both on and off the mat, in readiness to begin their cycle again.

Acknowledging and honouring your menses may lead you to appreciate how your cycle connects you to the world and nature around you. Or as Judith Lasater so beautifully phrases it “Like our foremothers we can turn to our bodies to experience our connection to nature. We have our monthly menstrual cycle to show us the way. Far from being a “curse”, menstruation can be a quiet reflective period – a time for each woman to honour the miracle of her body’s potential for renewal.” “Relax and Renew”, Judith Lasater.

Below I have outlined why a practice at this time may be of benefit to you, also some poses to avoid and poses to embrace and some images of some classic poses that may help to relax you and restore your energy. Yoga and simple breathing techniques (pranayama) can bring a sense of stability to your emotions. Always remembering if you are practicing yoga in the first three days of your menstrual period, it is important to rest as much as needed. If you feel comfortable to, please let the teacher know before the class as they will be able to recommend poses to help relieve cramps and fatigue.

Forward virasana
A women’s menstrual cycle is governed by hormones. The hormonal changes that occur during menstruation can affect the way we feel in many different ways, a few examples are changes of energy levels, bloating, cramping and a general heightened sensitivity. These changes may affect the way we would want to practice our yoga. Hormonal changes can also affect the way we feel mentally and emotionally which may also lead us to alter our approach to practice.

Aside from adapting your practice to accommodate these changes, you may choose to adapt your yoga practice to harmonise with these cyclic changes, to support your natural rhythms and nurture your body, mind and spirit. Using a regular consistent practice to support improved health and wellbeing.

Baddha konasana
Therefore, in following what we always recommend here at the studio “to listen to your own body", practicing yoga whilst menstruating could be just what you need to feel better and release some cramping. If you are attending an ongoing class however, there are a few things that you should keep in mind so that you work with the natural flow of energy in the body and support yourself at this more inward and reflective time.

If you have any questions please feel free to approach any of the teachers at Yoga Spirit Studios. For more information and detailed sequences to practice with we have some copies of a book by Ana Davis called The Dark Moon – Nurturing yoga for healthy menstruation for sale in the ‘yoga shop’ in our foyer. 

Essentials for practicing during menstruation

Practice movements that create softness and space in the belly. It is a suggestion to avoid poses that will put pressure on any area that is already feeling tender. Instead of a strong physical practice, focus on conserving energy, giving space to the abdomen region and nurturing not only the body but mind and spirit too. If any practice is done at all, restorative postures may be the preferred choice for the first few days of flow, slowly building back to a regular practice as the energy returns and the flow stops.

Benefits of a gentle practice whilst menstruating.
  • Calms the mind.
  • Opens the abdomen.
  • Can ease cramps.
  • Can assist in releasing the menstrual flow.
  • Can help balance hormonal shifts.
  • Soothes the nervous system.
  • Restores energy levels/ reduces fatigue.
  • Supta Baddha konasana
  • Helps with the process of surrendering to your body’s needs.
Practices to embrace:
  • Supta Baddha Konasana, Baddha Konasana, Upavista Konasana are all wonderful poses for opening the abdomen region.
  • Restorative poses gently replenishing energy levels
  • Gentle/Nurturing forward bends
  • Cat/cow pose for easing lower back pain, cramps and congestion.
  • Forward Virasana, both supported and unsupported, releases lower
    back tension and very nurturing.
  • Deep relaxation. 
Practices to Avoid whilst menstruating:
  • Compressing or putting pressure on the abdomen and breasts. E.g.  Closed twists and prone poses
  • Abdominal strengthening work or Uddiyana Bandha (strong abdominal contraction)
  • Strong/unsupported back bends.
  • Inversion are not recommended at all as it disrupts the natural flow of the menses. A pose is considered inverted if the uterus, or lower abdominal region, is higher than the heart.
  • Demanding standing poses which will deplete already low energy levels.
Recommended Reading:

‘Relax and Renew’, Judith Lasater.
‘The Woman's Book of Yoga & Health’, Linda Sparrowe and Patricia Walden 
‘Ayurveda for Women’, Dr Robert E. Svoboda.
‘Yoga Mind Body & Spirit – A return to wholeness’ Donna Farhi.
"Yoga a gem for Women", Geeta S. Iyengar

Images sourced from pocketyoga.com