By Kirstin Hofkens
There is a controversial discussion over what kind of yoga to practice during your menstruation. Some say that you can practice just the same way as you are practicing the rest of the month. The others say that a more restorative sequence without any inversions is beneficial. As all women feel different during their bleeding, there is no single solution. If you are one of the women that rather have the known side effects of menstruation like abdominal cramps, low energy level, irritability, mood swings, fatigue, bloating, and back pain, than the following yoga practice is for you!
I used to be one of the women that ignored her menstruation as much as possible. Later I found out that this attitude is often rooted in our education. We have learned that it was beneficial to be always on the same energy level as a man. But we are women, and our body is changing with the moon. Now I have learned what my body and mind need in this particular time: self-observation, letting go, reflection, acceptance of my changing body, a bit more rest than usual, and not having to meet anyone if I don’t feel like it.
What postures to avoid during your menstruation
If you want to attend a regular hatha yoga class – or any other physically demanding style – during your menstruation, please inform your yoga teacher about your state. She can help you and offer alternative postures. Otherwise, the chances are high that you overpower or overstretch yourself. In this time, you should avoid strains in the abdominal and pelvic area as they occur in strong backband, twists, standing poses, and arm balances. Your body simply focuses on letting go, it is softer, and you are not as strong as usual.
In my eyes, you should avoid inversions during the entire time of your menstruation. While a downward-facing dog, which is a mild inversion, might still be ok, I would not advise any headstands or shoulder stand. The reason is quite evident, and I can explain it in simple words. While bleeding, the natural flow of energy in our body is mainly downwards (Apana). If we invert Apana, this can stop or disturb our menstruation. On top of this – and if you are an experienced yogi, you know what I am talking about – you should avoid bandhas or Kapalabhati for the same reason.
Recommended yoga practice
Particularly important is that you listen to your body. If you feel exhausted, especially during the first two days of heavy bleeding or pain, you do not need to practice any physical postures. Instead of this, you could practice yoga Nidra (https://yoga-copenhagen.com/yoga-nidra/) or meditate, and send light, warmth, and love over your hands in the painful body parts. You should not doubt the healing energy of your hands! You just need an open heart and the right intention. Another option is the practice a calming breath like alternate nostril breathing (Nadhi Shodana) or the humming breath (Bhramari). In general, you can practice everything that does not strain you. Focus on relaxing and stretching poses. Forward bends, light twists, and everything that relaxes your womb more are beneficial. Find a good Yin yoga class, as this style is a good alternative during menstruation.
20 minutes yoga practice
If you feel capable – not in a hard male but a soft, loving, female manner – I would be happy if you try out the following short yoga sequence. You can as well download the cheat sheet.
Coming into the pose: Come to all four (table pose), hands, and knees on the floor. Your knees are hip-wide under the hips, tuck your toes under your feet. Spread the fingers and put the hands under the shoulders. Press with the root of the big and small toe and with both palms into the earth.
Coming into the pose:
- get aware of your breath; move in its rhythm without Ujjayi. INHALE: release your stomach, let it hang, pull the sitting bones apart while uplifting the heart area, slightly lookup. EXHALE: press into the hands and knees, and round your back in the direction of the heaven. Do this for around 5-8 breaths.
- Put the hands a bit further away from the knees, than move freely with your pelvis in circles, or from right till left. You could as well look with the head under your armpits to the sides, or wave with the hip. Everything is allowed if the hands and knees stay in the same position.
Benefits: Cat-cow warms up the spine and allows you to center your awareness with each breath in your inside.
2. Childs pose (Balasana)
Coming into the pose: Put your knees as wide as your mat. Your big toes are touching each other and push your sitting bones in the direction of your heals. Place your hands under your forehead. If this does not feel good, put a block or a folded blanket under your forehead.
Practice: Stay in this position for 3 minutes and try to relax your belly with each inhalation a bit more. Feel the movement of the stomach with each inhale pressing against your thighs. And how the pressure releases with each exhalation. The challenge in such a relaxing position is to stay aware of the present moment and not to allow your thoughts to drift away. Benefits: Stretch of the back of your body. The first opening of the hips and releasing tension here.
3. Pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) preparation
Coming into the pose: From the table pose,pull your left knee to your right hand and bring the lower leg to the earth. The left foot is under your right hip. Stretch your right leg and expand it behind yourself. When lowering the upper body over the thighs, stretch out with your arms forward so that the sides of your upper body get long. Stretch with the arms forward and with the right leg back. You should feel the tension in your left hip or upper left thigh. If you want to intensify this stretch, then bring the left foot more to the front (increasing the angle between lower leg and thigh).
Practice: As soon as you have found your pose with a stretch of around 70% of what would be maximum possible, bring your hands under your forehead and place your head on your hands. You might use a block instead of your hands. Send deep breaths into the stretched area, imagining bringing wideness with every inhalation into here and soften your complete body with the exhalation even more. Do not hold on to upcoming thoughts, bring the awareness back to the breath. Hold for 2 minutes, then switch sides.Benefits: Wonderful if you are suffering from lower back pain. This pose might bring old traumas to the surface and supports your inside journey.
4. Supported reclining bound angle (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Coming into the pose: Take a big bolster or two yoga blocks that you put in a T shape and cover them with a blanket. Sit in front of the bolster around 15 cm away from it. Come to lying with your back and head on the bolster (your lower back is not on the bolster). Maybe you want to put another blanket under your head so that it does not fall into your neck. Bring the soles of your feet in front of your pelvis together and slowly let the knees sink to the floor. Support your thighs with blocks or blankets or what you have around. This support allows you to relax more in your hips, loins, and stomach. The palms are facing towards heaven.
Practice: Close your eyes and focus your awareness on your lower belly. Intensive your breath into the stomach, then the chest until under the collar bones. Imagine bringing light and love with every inhalation into that area. With every exhalation, relax your hips, loins, and stomach more.
Benefits: This is a soft way to open your heart without straining yourself. The pose will nourish you, and bring back a lot of energy, which you will surely feel. It can alleviate back pain and pelvic discomfort.
5. Seated spinal twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
Coming into the pose: Come to a seated position with long legs sitting on a folded blanket under your sitting bones (which helps to elongate your spines). Bend the right leg and place the foot next to the left knee (advanced practitioners can place it over the knee, and maybe on top bent the left knee bringing the left foot next to the right hip). With an inhalation, pull the right shoulder to the ear to lengthen your right side and transfer the right hand on high fingers behind your hip. With your left hand hold on your left leg. The twist should come mainly from the heart. The head can move at the end as well to the right side.
Practice: Close your eyes and focus your awareness on your spine. The inhalation expands the spine, and the expiration rotates you a bit more. Always think length before the twist. Take it easy and stay in a convenient twist. Maximum 1 minute, then change the sides.
Benefits: The soft twist brings the spine after the backbend again into a neutral position. It releases cramping and congestion.
6. Head-to-knee forward bend (Janu Sirsasana)
Coming into the pose: Come back to seated long-legged position on your blanket. Grab your right sitting bone and pull it back and more to the right side. Do the same with the left sitting bone. Bring the right foot to touch your inner left thigh and let the right knee sink to the earth. If the knee does not reach the floor, support it with a block or a blanket. Place the fingers right and left of your hip and get long in your spine by pressing the fingertips into the earth. Slightly uplift your heart. Look to your navel, which will round your backbone a bit. Then come with a long and evenly rounded back into the forward bend. Come only so far as it feels good. Support your head with a bolster, or your hands fisted and stapled over each other.
Practice: Direct your breath into your back, widening your kidney area. Relax your jaws. There is nothing to do, just relaxing, and breathing, and staying in the now. Stay here for 1 minute and then change the sides.Benefits: Forward bends are giving a light massage to the abdominal and pelvic area. This helps to relieve congestion, cramping, and heavy bleeding.
7. Knee-to-chest pose (Pavana Muktasana) wide legged variation
Coming into the pose: Roll to lie on you back and then pull your knees to your chest. Hold each knee with one hand and bring the knees slightly apart, so that the stomach has enough space to move up and down with the breath. If you wear a ponytail, open it now up so that your scalp can relax too.
Practice: Do not swift away with your awareness. Relax as much as possible. Hold for 1 minute. In the end, you might give yourself a small massage by moving right and left over the spine.Benefits: The benefits are countless. The pose relaxes the whole body, especially our intestines. In this pose, we spend almost nine months in the womb of our mother. It has as well the name wind-releasing pose, guess why?
8. End relaxation (Shavasana)
Coming into the pose: Stretch the whole body lying on your back. Put a rolled blanket or bolster under your knees and maybe a small pillow under your head. Your feet are mat width apart and falling to the right and left. Palms are facing up. Close your eyes. Open your mouth and move your jaw from right to left. When closing the mouth, keep the lips slightly open, so that the jaw stays relaxed.
Practice: Now, there is nothing more to do. You can enjoy your endless being. To come into this state, relax one body part after the other, let it sink heavy to the earth. Gradually relax, especially the muscles in your face and your neck. Tell yourself that you will not move the slightest bit and that you will stay awake. Enjoy as long as you want. Come out of Shavasana by deepening the breath and slowly moving your body with gentle attention.
Benefits: By centering the awareness more and more on your inside, you will dive into your divine being. And the magic of yoga will get reveal itself.
This article was written by Kirstin Hofkens, the founder of Yoga Copenhagen. Kirstin holds over 1.000 hours of yoga teacher training. She is truly knowledgeable and loves to go into the details of the alignment of the yoga postures. Teaching a safe and healing Hatha yoga is her passion. Currently she is in the process of finalizing her Yin yoga training.
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