Today’s subject is very feminine! We are going to talk about the recommendations for practicing when menstruating.
This topic is quite controversial in the yoga world, I feel like it’s ont of those topics where the more you look for answers, the more different opinions you get! Personally, I think the best approach is to learn to know yourself and your cycle, and listen to your body! Do what feels good for you. That being said, here’s a little more information on the matter, based on research on the feminine cycle, the lunar energy and on my own experience since I’ve been on a natural cycle.
As you know, even though the period is the most visible part of the menstrual cycle, the tip of the iceberg, the rest of the cycle goes through many different phases. Here is a fun, simple video summing up the different phases of the menstrual cycle.
Put simply, the cycle can be broken down into 4 phases. If you’re on a natural cycle, that is, not taking any hormonal contraception, you may have noticed that your cycle is in sync with the moon’s. The period comes with the New Moon and the Full Moon matches the ovulation period. So we have 4 phases: the new moon (first days of the period), the crescent moon (pre-ovulation), the full moon (ovulation), the waning crescent moon (pre-menstrual phase). Let’s see how you can adapt you practice during the different phases of your cycle.
I’ve decided to replace the word ‘period’ which is quite cold and grim, by the expression ‘the moons’ (used by Girl Go Green in this awesome post!)
But first, let’s go back to why I’m writing all this!
Why is yoga good for us women ?
Generally speaking, yoga boosts our metabolism and improves the circulatory, digestive and hormone systems. Practicing yoga can improve bloodflow and regulate hormone production. And some postures activate digestive and hormone function by massaging organs. Throughout your practice, the endorphine production alleviates pains that appear during ovulation or the moons.
On the long term, we get to know ourselves and our own bodies better through yoga. We also learn to control the breath more, which allows us to adapt our practice and better manage the menstrual pain.
Phase 1: New Moon
This corresponds to the first days of the moons. We have low oestrogen levels and uterine contractions to evacuate the blood that thickened the endometrium at the time of ovulation. Therefore major fatigue, gut cramps and lower-back pain. That part is no fun! But let’s see the glass half full and remember that good and hard times are both part of our femininity, and the cycle of life.
Lunar energy: a new cycle kicks off, it’s a good time for new beginnings. It’s the perfect time to set new intentions.
The practice: we can transition to a gentler, more inward-looking practice. We steer clear of postures that engage the abdomen (or we do them gently) and we focus on hip and pelvis openings as well as lower back relaxation, thus relieving any pain that can occur. Ease up on inversions during the first days of the moons to avoid rushing blood upwards and running against what is happening in the body.
Phase 2: Crescent Moon
This phase goes on from day 3 of the moons until ovulation. The moons draw to a close and the level of oestrogen rises again until ovulation, where it’s at its peak. The energy levels go back up. We feel confident and beautiful, we’re more open and energized! Besides, at that time both our skin and our hair are gorgeous!
Lunar energy: after the new moon, a new energy slowly settles in the body. That’s when we take action by using the motivation and determination that are typical of this phase.
The practice: since we’re full of energy, we might as well practice dynamically and energetically, try new things, challenge ourselves and go further: balancing poses, inversions, quicker-paced practices… go with the flow! With a dynamic and tonic practice, we tone the stomach and the back and provide more muscular support for the next cycle.
Phase 3: Full Moon
It’s ovulation time! The midpoint of the cycle. Ovulation triggers a gradual production of progesterone. The hormone levels are high in the bloodstream. Pain can occur in the low abdomen: by thickening its walls, the womb is preparing to receive an egg in case of fertilization.
Lunar energy: that stage is intense. The emotions intensify (positive and negative) as well as our qualities and our flaws. It’s an opportunity to identify what’s truly meaningful and what is no longer useful: it’s introspection.
The practice: go for a toning but relaxing practice to fight off the hormonal storm and save your energy. We can also include a bit more meditation in our day-to-day life to refocus and get a bit of inner peace back.
Phase 4: waning Crescent Moon
This phase goes on from after the ovulation until the next moons. If the egg isn’t fertilised during this stage, a hormonal storm hits our bodies: the oestrogen level drops and the progesterone level, after reaching its peak, plummets. That’s when we can feel depressed, anxious, irritable… The good old PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome)!
Lunar energy: the energy is falling, it’s a time for introspection, low energy, motivation, ideal for resting and turning inward.
The practice: Meditation is of great help in this phase. We accept what each day brings and we show ourselves kindness. In the last days before the moons, we fight against PMS and we recharge with a dynamic practice without putting too much pressure on ourselves. We can also do twists and lower back strengthening to help the body ‘flush out’ toxins and prepare for the next cycle starting at the next Moons.
I hope this will help you in your practice. Do not hesitate to share your experience with me, or your thoughts on the subject.