Posted May 9, 2009
Mary P. Schatz, M.D. 6/25/2002
Yoga teaches us balance: balance of the body in relation to gravity; balance of the mind between action and observation; and balance of the neuroendocrine system between stress and relaxation. Through a regular yoga practice we learn which poses are effective in re-establishing balance in some aspect of our existence. In this ancient discipline as taught by B.K.S. Iyengar, there are poses that are particularly useful during the menstrual period. These poses ease menstrual cramps, heavy bleeding, pelvic discomfort and the low back pain associated with menses. They are also effective in smoothing out the emotional rough edges some women encounter at this time of their cycle.
Geeta S. Iyengar, Mr. Iyengar’s daughter and a yoga teacher at his Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Poona, India, has a particularly strong interest and great experience in yoga for women. Recommendations on the poses in this article are from Geeta’s basic principles.
Just as some poses are helpful at period-time, other poses should be avoided. Many women ask if these recommendations stem from a cultural tradition that is sexist, and yoga teachers are often reluctant to tell menstruating students not to participate in parts of the class, lest they feel singled out and ostracized. These guidelines are not sexist, however, they are based on sound physiologic knowledge and time-tested applications of yogic principles to women’s special needs. We are cyclic beings. Denying that we are does violence to the basic principles of self-understanding we seek through yoga.
The menstrual period should no longer be dreaded as “the curse.” Instead, in combination with a special menstrual yoga practice, it can be welcomed as a time for going within, for allowing ourselves to be in low energy. Use this time to experience different aspects of your nature and your yoga practice. So often we are drawn to the exhilaration of the standing poses, arm balances and backbends. These are great fun and immediately rewarding, as they suffuse us with energy. But a practice that is always high-energy needs to be balanced by the quiet and peace low-energy yoga can offer. The menstrual period is a perfect time to vary one’s practice and turn inward.