Try Your Hardest to Relax

I hit the mat today with a restless mind, and the distinct need to sweat out some nagging tension, so I turned on the humidifiers and cranked up the heat. Meditation was brief. My body itched to get into the asanas, so I responded with a powerful standing sequence that lasted over an hour in itself. A twinge in my right hamstring melted away, and the crick in my neck that I woke up with today loosened. My lower back was, not tight, but tired from the backbendy class I took yesterday (or, technically, Sunday, but as a nocturnal being, Sunday is still yesterday to me. I'll be going to bed when I finish this post, officially ending what I consider to be Monday). I didn't notice this until well into my practice, when I came out of a flow consisting of crescent warrior, warrior III, half moon, revolved half moon, and urdhva prasarita ekapadasana. I love practicing this particular flow. It requires steadfast focus and breath control as the heart rate rises, not to mention strong legs and a solid core. And the five breaths in downward dog afterwards are always revealing, asking everything I have to let go, soften the breath, and quiet the mind. The effort of relaxation: the paradox of yoga (or perhaps just one of many). I rounded out the standing sequence coming down into eka pada rajakapotasana with a forward fold, opening the hips and releasing the lower back after all that work.

I kept things heated during the seated sequence with arms balances, lift ups and jump throughs. I also worked into my core with side plank (with tree legs), marichyasana D, compass pose to stretch the sides, then astavakrasana. Bridge pose felt good again today. My first urdhva dhanursana started off a little strange. There was some tension in my armpits to work through, but the second felt great. I walked my feet in and went up on the toes, opening the chest. I was tempted to try lifting one leg in UD again. The first and only time I tried it, I was so utterly denied that I haven't even thought about trying it again until today. Maybe I'll experiment with that tomorrow.

I'm still off of inversions. Hormonal birth control is real drag (I once tried to get the hormone-free copper IUD, unsuccessfully, but that's another story for another day). I should be back at the headstand and handstand in the next day or two. Here's a question: Why exactly am I not supposed to practice inversions while menstruating? I know that I am, without question, not to practice inversions during this time, and some traditionalists would say that I should not be practicing at all, but I have not read any specific reasons for this. I generally feel fine during my "lady's holiday," which seems to be the preferred term among blogging yoginis. In fact, sometimes I feel especially focused and powerful, so why are the inversions such a no-no?


  1. Personally I wouldn't say you categorically couldn't practice inversions during your period. Some do some don't . There are strange theories about "turning the flow the wrong way" but medically this can't happen! :)

    Personally I am so uncomfortable during my period upside down so I don't do it. But I know some women who find inversions help their cramps so it really is experimentation. To be honest I don't practice much during my period because I get hormonal migraines but that's another story!

    I've always felt the "do not practice if you are menstruating" a little patriarchal. I genuinely believe it is up to the individual yogini.

  2. Thanks, Rachel. That's good to hear. I have thought about the "turning the flow the wrong way" theory before, and always knew it didn't make any sense. I thought there must be a legit reason, but it is just patriarchal nonsense, isn't it.

    Yikes, on the hormonal migraines. I used to get stress-induced migraines all the time. Migraine headaches are a scary beast. I wish you strength.

  3. I don't think it's patriarchal nonsense at all! The advice not to invert while menstruating is grounded in the way yogis look at the energetic anatomy of the body. In Yoga philosophy, there are 5 energy currents in the body called Vayus. The Prana Vayu, which we cultivate during an active asana practice, moves energy upwards along the spine. The Apana Vayu is a downward flow from the base of the torso through the pelvic floor, and is responsible for elimination of what is no longer needed.

    Philosophically, menstruation is a time of Apana Vayu, so when you lift the pelvis above the abdomen, you are temporarily reversing or blocking the flow of the Apana - basically creating an energetic traffic jam. :) This is also why many teachers will tell you not to practice a vigorous asana sequence during your menstruation - because asana cultivates Prana and during menstruation the body needs to devote energy to Apana. For this reason in Ashtanga we don't practice the primary series for the 3 heaviest days of our flow. [This is also why most people recommend that Asana be done on an empty stomach and after moving the bowels, because digestion and eliminationa are Apana energies.]

    There's a (very) brief YJ article about the physical perspective here: http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/243


  4. PS - that is the theoretical framework! What you choose to do with it is, of course, the choice of every individual yogini. ;) I personally have found that as I move deeper into my yoga practice and become more sensitive to the energetic undercurrents of my body, the theory makes absolute sense to me. I now so vividly experience the apana that the idea of turning upside down makes me nauseous. Ok, actually, my period pretty much always makes me nauseous... LOL

  5. I have to agree with Rachel- as it does decry a bit of patriarchy when I hear about the theories. Of course this makes sense, as our entire society is patriarchical, and the history of yoga (and written philosophies and theories) are imbedded and were written from a male-patriarchal perspective.

    However- like La Gitane said: if you follow yogic energy philosophy- it would make sense to go a little easy on the inversions.

    Personally, since I do not follow yogic energy philosophies strictly (as I have a different viewpoint and spiritual faith than a yogic perspective), medically it doesn't make sense.

    In my humble opinion, YOU will know what will work best for your body and your energy levels each day. If inversions make you feel good, and you are practicing them safely and mindfully, then do them :)

  6. Thanks for the yogic run down, La Gitane. At this point in my practice, I consider the yoga philosophies of energy currents, prana, apana, and the chakras, to be excellent metaphors for expanding awareness within the body, but haven't thought of them literally. Though, I admit that I have not done my homework regarding yogic philosophy and spirituality, so my understanding is limited.

    I do view yogic philosophies with a wary eye, understanding that their origins lie in a heavily patriarchal society, purposefully limiting women. As Eco Yogini pointed out, most all societies are built on patriarchal structures which have yielded the prevailing philosophies of today. This fact burdens women with the extra step of reinterpreting male-centered philosophies for our own purposes, filtering out the misogyny to arrive at the core of their meaning.

    So, regarding inversions, the consensus seems to be that one should, first and foremost, listen to one's own body. And if I feel so inclined, I can throw in a headstand or handstand whenever I like. Sounds good to me.

  7. I guess something that has often bothered me is the way that we, as women, even educated and feminist as many of us are today, still view our own bodies within a patriarchal framework.

    At best, we view our monthly blood as an "inconvenience", something to "get over", something that hinders us from our daily life in the material and physical world. At worst, we view it with shame, as a secret that is to be covered up like the pubescent girls in the tampon ads: "nobody will know!". Either way it seems that continuing a PHYSICAL life as normal is an important part of this patriarchal mythology about menstruation.

    In many tribal cultures however, you find the opposite. Menstruation among many first nations tribes was viewed as a time of sacred spirituality and holiness. During menstruation, a woman channeled spiritual and healing energy from beyond the physical plane. In many tribal cultures, menstruation was (and still is) a time where women retreated from the physical world, joining other women in days of spiritual rites - often in a location from which men were banned. It was a time to retreat from the material world and open yourself to the energy of the natural world, a time when regular chores and duties no longer applied, when your energies were devoted to cultivating feminine power and learning from other women the secrets of the universe.

    Menstruation in this sense was a time of spiritual power and incredibly important to a woman - each moon cycle celebrated as a mini death and rebirth, an echo of the great cycle of nature. It was something to be rejoiced, not hidden. When a girl received her first period, the entire tribe would celebrate with her. It's a far cry from hiding a tampon in your purse, or the girls today who cry when they start to bleed because they think they are ill.

    I sometimes feel that our determination to continue a regular physical routine during menstruation is another reflection of the patriarchal way in which we view our bodies as women. Pop a pill, plug the flow, get on with it. We treat menstruation like we would a headache. For me, this just reinforces the patriarchal notion, it doesn't free us from it! A rejection of a principle still validates the principle.

    Back to Yoga, I guess what I like about the yogic perspective is that I find it liberating, not constraining. I acknowledge that as a woman, my body moves to a monthly cycle. I find now that when I get my period I breathe a sigh of relief and I even look forward to spending 3 days doing a restorative practice, meditating, and turning inwards. I no longer pressure myself to perform the same way in my asana practice as I would near the full moon, the peak of my cycle. I listen to my body and follow its energy fluctuations as I go through the cycle.

    So yes, listen to your body. Certainly don't refrain from asana because you view it as a rule or a restriction! But you never know - next month, willingly embrace a different kind of practice, and see how your body likes it!