Here at the Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre we practise inversions… lots of inversions. Many of us are pretty addicted to them and so missing out on shoulder stand, Halasana and of course - everybody’s favourite – hanging Sirshasana – for four to six days when you have your period can feel very inconvenient. Most of us who love our daily hanging have been in the situation of thinking ‘oh, it’s not so heavy this month’ or ‘I think it’s almost finished’ so that we can get our inversion fix and we hang anyway. Some women, sadly, are even embarrassed to be seen to be missing out on the inversions – particularly ones done in class like shoulder stand – and some of us just resent and are resistant to the idea that we are somehow less capable for a few days each month. And yet, there are some good reasons that we at the HIYC do NOT recommend any inversions during menstruation.
Firstly, let’s clarify what constitutes an inversion in yoga practice. Hanging Sirshasana, Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) and Halasana (the plough pose), elbow balances and handstands are all inversions because the trunk and legs are inverted. Supported downward facing dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana is not an inversion because, although the trunk is inverted, the legs are not. In fact, at HIYC we recommend supported dog pose as a great alternative to hanging in the early morning self-practice during menstruation; it has similar health benefits in terms of its positive effects on the spine and organs, and it has similar relaxing meditative qualities, all of which is immensely beneficial to you at any time of the month and especially when you’ve got your period.
There is a lot of misinformation out there about yoga practice and about women’s bodies including the idea that we are somehow unclean or unfit for practice during that time, a myth that is clearly untrue. And yet, busting that myth should not mean pushing our bodies into things that are detrimental to us. There are good reasons not invert whilst on your period. These fall into two categories: 1 the energetic reasons and 2 the physical ones.
1. Energetic reasons: in Ayurveda menstruation is part of apana: the eliminative functions. This is an energetic, as well as physical, downwards movement and therefore should not be inverted. In addition to the literal elimination of waste, apana helps to support the immune system and works on elimination of unnecessary mental and emotional energy. Menstruation is a natural and powerful monthly cleanse and we can use our yoga practice to support our bodies in this and to optimise the cleansing benefits. If this doesn’t sound valid to you think about how you wouldn’t try to go to the toilet upside-down, this is also apana. In fact, inverting when we need the toilet or are suffering constipation is also not a good idea. Nor would you do inversions when eating or digesting. Inversions invert our bodies and one of the benefits is their counteraction of gravity. Therefore, anything that works with gravity should not be done in inversion where the power is in the anti-gravity.
2. Physical reasons: if the energetic reasons sound too alternative for you, then there are physical reasons to make practising inversions when you have your period undesirable. ‘Vascular congestion’ is a medical term for what can result from the practice of inversions during menstruation. It is a temporary halt of the blood flow followed by excessive heavy bleeding, often suddenly restarting at an unexpected moment. This is especially likely, given that in our Iyengar practice, we hold our inversions for a long time, up to 30 minutesor even longer in hanging and the shoulder stand variations. Some of our students here at the HIYC have reported inverting on day three or four of their period, when the bleeding has become lighter and having the bleeding stop only to have it start again as if from the beginning. However much you love your period, having a double length is not ideal.
All bodies are different and it is important to listen to yours. Yoga practice brings us in tune with our bodies and our menstrual cycles and we become more sensitive to both. Experiment and see what feels good for you in your period. Having your period can be the most amazing and empowering experience and is the perfect time to go within and become finely attuned to the subtlest rhythms of your body. Deep relaxation practice can be immensely beneficial at this time but you know your body and if you find you want full power energy yoga practice then go for it! Just remember that whatever the situation, we do NOT recommend any inversions whilst you have any signs of period, even if the bleeding appears to have almost finished.
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre