I know lots of people with Opinions on yoga and menstruation. Some believe that a gentle, restorative practice — like this one, for example — is generally the way to go. There are folks who see no reason why periods should cause people to deviate from their normal practices. (There’s a substantial overlap here with those who say things like “just cramps” and “excuse,” which of course render me prone to fits of ragecaps.) Then again, others — including most of the real life menstruating yogis I know — are pretty solidly in the “it’s complicated” camp.
But even in that camp, opinions can shift again on the specific topic of inversions. Again, some think inversions should be entirely avoided while others differentiate: types of inversions, length held, overall effect of the menstrual cycle on the yogi. I’m probably giving myself away, but I’m definitely in the latter category.
When I can manage it, I like a fairly vigorous asana practice on my period, for a lot of reasons. Because that’s the kind of practice I prefer generally. Because there are days when I can’t manage it. Because there are certain quantities and qualities of work that are engaging enough that they help shift my focus away from certain quantities and qualities of pain. Because keeping some semblance of normal can be therapeutic.
Keeping with that, hellacious though my periods may be, I don’t view them as an inherent reason to keep my pelvis right side up. On the other hand, I don’t do a whole lot of inversions in my home practice generally. So “not avoiding” inversions on my period doesn’t automatically mean I am spending seven to fourteen days of my life constantly upside down. By and large, blood gushing and not, the inversions I encounter are the ones an instructor offers during a class.
And then? I judge on a case by case basis.
If my mat is not pooled in sweat and I am not in accidental kicking distance of my neighbor, I usually choose to take the inversion. The ones in my regular practice are not super strenuous for me, so if I’ve had enough energy to go through a physically active practice, I probably have enough energy to safely and appropriately take an inversion — with or without menstruation.
Headstand in particular is a pose for me that can be extremely therapeutic and focusing. It isn’t always, but when it’s right, it’s right — and I think I could do worse that to trust that intuition.
For people who are concerned about retrograde menstruation and pelvic congestion as it applies to me: I’ve had endometriosis pain and ridiculously heavy periods since menarche, five years before I started practicing yoga — and maybe about seven since I started going upside down. I’d estimate that I practice inversions during menstruation for approximately one to three minutes every two to three months. While it is possible that this is contributing to the endo, it’s also true that endo is a progressive disease in itself. Even if I allow for a causal relationship — which is an “if” — I am pretty darn skeptical about the magnitude of the effect.
Still, every once in a while, I get a glimpse as to the reason for the other perspective. Last MenstroMonster was more or less typical for me, except for one issue: The mere idea of going upside down seemed like the most evil, vile, disgusting thing one could ask of me. To the extent that when my instructor, in a small class, asked a general, “What do you want to do?” I spoke right up.
She laughed. “Is it that time?”
[By Kennguru (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons]