Ayurveda Life: 5 Yoga Practices to Avoid During Your Cycle
Ayurveda Life: 5 Yoga Practices to Avoid During Your Cycle (and what to do instead)
Not all times of the month are created equal for a woman. We cannot expect our bodies to perform with the same degree of energy output (strength, flexibility and movement) every single day of the month. It’s just not how women’s bodies were built.
Women’s bodies were built in tune with the rhythms of nature.
According to Ayurveda, a woman’s hormonal cycle is governed by the lunar cycle. Inherent in the lunar cycle is a waxing and waning of strength, energy and various hormones in the body.
The sun rises and sets everyday. You are generally awake and alert during the daylight and you like to rest and sleep during the nighttime, right?
Well, a woman goes through a monthly cycle where her energy is big and full during the full moon, or ovulatory time. This is a time when her energy is really enhanced, robust and resilient. This alternates with the dark moon, or new moon, which is similar to nighttime and associated with the menstrual phase. It’s a time of rest and release.
It’s during this phase of rest and release when you really want to embrace the downward moving flow.
This is essential because it carries out any toxicity (physical, mental or emotional) that has built up during the month and takes it away from the body. In order to do that, all of the channels in the pelvic region need to be dilated, open, relaxed and flowing.
These 5 yoga practices are wonderful any other day of the month, outside of the bleeding phase, because they keep the channels clear and flowing. However, during those 3-7 days of your cycle when you’re actually bleeding, you’ll want to avoid these practices because they can counteract what nature is trying to do.
So, here are the 5 yoga practices to avoid during the monthly phase and some things you can do instead.
1. Intense Vinyasa-Type Practices
Vinyasa, ashtanga, and more vigorous asana practices are great for building strength, muscle endurance and flexibility, but they require a lot of strong muscle contractions and oftentimes jumping/bouncing. The extra energy it takes to perform the strong muscle contractions counteract the way nature is trying to flow. And because the uterus likes to stay still while releasing, jarring actions, like bouncing and jumping, are counterproductive.
2. Static Strength Postures
Deep abdominal work, balancing poses, twists that are held for a long time and intense back bending require strong muscle contractions. These poses tighten the muscles around the pelvic region, preventing the channels from being open and relaxed enough to release.
Examples here are headstand, handstand, shoulder stand, plough and yes, even downward dog. You’ve probably heard this before and maybe you’re confused as to why. There are 5 directions that energy flows in the body. These 5 directions are responsible for all aspects of a woman’s health. Nutrient absorption, clear thinking, elimination of toxicity that builds up from the environment, creativity and all of life’s processes as we know them. The one direction that needs concentrated energy during this time is called apana vayu, the downward moving energy. When a woman is bleeding the energy needs to move down and out and not be reversed by gravity by being flipped upside down. Not only are inversions counterproductive for blood flow because of gravity, but they are also strenuous on the muscles, potentially constricting the pelvic region.
The only pranayama that is helpful during menses is gentle alternate nostril breathing or deep belly breathing. Any of the more intense forms of pranayama should be avoided for the same reasons as outlined above.
Same goes for bandhas. Holding locks tighten the pelvic region and causes constriction therefore counteracting healthy blood flow.
The next natural question you might have is, “well just how important are these guidelines for me?”
My answer to you is if you have any signs of stagnation in your flow, then observing these monthly practices are a high priority.
You may have stagnation if:
• you get irritable
• have water retention
• break out in acne before or during your cycle
• have menstrual cramps
• low back pain
• experience extreme fatigue
• or notice brown or dark red blood or clots
What you should experience during your cycle is a deep sense of inner reflection and highly tuned intuition. It’s normal to feel a little less energy because your energy at that time is drawn inward. You might even crave less sensory stimuli. This is natural, it’s a quiet time.
Here’s what to do instead:
Gentle Yoga or Hatha
Take part in gentle yoga or an easy hatha yoga class that you can modify to your needs. Refrain from doing poses that don’t feel right. If the rest of the class is doing an inversion or strenuous posture, stick to child’s pose or a more relaxed, restorative pose. A good teacher will encourage you to listen to your body and to receive his/her instruction as a guideline for you to interpret, not as a militaristic rule that must be followed.
This basic gentle flow does not put your body in a hips-over-head position, but still offers a gentle stretch that warms up the body and releases muscle tension.
Yin Yoga and Restorative Practices
Prop yourself up with blocks, blankets, belts and bolsters and hold positions for an extended amount of time (usually 1-5 minutes) to help release into the deep fascia around the muscles and encourage your energy and focus inward.
Lay On The Couch
Let’s be honest ladies. Sometimes this is just the perfect medicine. Especially if you are an active, ambitious woman who is always on the go. That’s my story too. It’s okay to give yourself permission to soak up some couch medicine. Your body will thank you.
It’s up to you to intuitively know and honor your body and know what practices work best for you at different times of your life.
Alicia Diaz, MA, AHP, is an Ayurvedic Practitioner and Clinical Exercise Physiologist who helps women be at home in their bodies, regulate their cycles naturally and free themselves of pain. She is an active yogini, rock climber, urban homesteader, permaculture and nature-enthusiast. Visit her at aliciadiaz.com to receive free holistic health tools for the modern woman and free recipes from her Eating for Energy Cookbook.