It's the one part of being a woman that no woman wants to embrace: Her period. It barges in on every aspect of life, inflicting discomfort, fatigue, and cramps. But don't let it get you down! Yoga can help you out. If you're new to the ancient practice of yoga and not sure how to incorporate your cycle into your practice, keep these basic do's and don'ts in mind:
Do Go to Class
It may feel weird, but there is no rule against going to class when you're on your period: many women practice yoga at this time of the month, so chances are you won't be alone. If you have concerns about your practice during this time, try talking about it with your instructor or a fellow student you feel comfortable with. They may be able to answer some specific questions and relate their own personal experiences.
Don't Force It
On the other hand, don't feel as though you have to go to yoga class. If you face difficult cramps or have a hard time during your menstruation cycle, you may want to sit it out for those few days.
Don't feel guilty about needing to take a little time off when you're not feeling well. Forcing yourself to go to class will not do you any good, as you'll be unable to focus and enjoy the full benefits of all the poses.
Not sure if you'll be up to class? Try going through some poses at home that you would normally do in the studio. This will gauge both physically and mentally how you can cope.
Do Embrace Restorative Poses
If you decide to go to yoga class, embrace some of the more restorative and relaxing poses. Asanas like Revolved Triangle and Child's Pose (twist) can not only help you relax, but also reduce the pain of cramps. Garland Pose is actually recommended for women during menstruation, as it improves circulation in the reproductive organs, lessening cramps. Backbends like Bow Pose lengthen abdominal muscles while opening the respiratory system, combining improved lower body circulation with increased oxygen intake, both of which can ease the nasty pain of cramps.
These and other restorative asanas can reduce the mood swings and depression that can often occur during menstruation (and PMS), leaving you refreshed and revived.
Don't Over Invert
There has always been debate around whether or not it's appropriate for a menstruating woman to practice inversion poses like shoulder stands and headstands. But the decision is yours and should be made according to what's best for you and comfortable on your body. If you feel like a short shoulder stand will make you feel a bit better, then go for it.
Keep in mind that channeling blood flow upward may increase cramps for some women, so don't do your full practice and range of inversions if you already feel discomfort. Additionally, the energy it takes for your body to perform the process of menstruation can leave you easily tired; by dividing that energy between your menstruation and an intense inversion you risk becoming even more fatigued. Poses like Legs on the Wall and Supported Bridge pose can give you the benefits of more intense inversions without over channeling the blood flow and energy away from your reproductive area.
Do Dress Comfortably
Even if you're typically a fashion-forward yogi, don't be afraid to take things down a notch when you're menstruating. The important thing is that you are comfortable; don't worry about how you look or what other people are wearing (they probably won't even notice). If you're more comfortable wearing old, ripped sweats to class during that time of the month, go for it. No one should or could judge you for wanting to be comfortable at a challenging time!
Don't Be Afraid to Take R&R
If you're one of the many women who suffer from severe cramps during menstruation, try massaging the area gently in circular motions with your hands after class. By exercising, you're already increasing blood circulation that will help ease cramps, and massaging will further stimulate blood flow in the area.
It's entirely normal to feel exceptionally fatigued and overwhelmed during yoga when you're menstruating, and you may not be able to perform at your usual level. Don't be afraid to take time to sit out when you need it—especially at the most intense points.
Instead of pushing yourself and forcing your body to compete at its optimum level, let it rest! When the class begins moving through push-ups between Dolphin and Downward Dog, you can always just recline in Goddess Pose or Child's Pose. Do what you need when you feel you need it, and always remember to listen to your body!
Find Your Best Coping Mechanism
It's not pleasant, it's never fun, but it's going to keep happening till you hit menopause. Every woman has a different experience with her cycle and, consequently, the role yoga should play during that time. For some, yoga is easy to practice during menstruation, and can even reduce the severity of certain menstruation symptoms; for others, cramps and poor moods make yoga an uncomfortable experience. Do what you need to do to make yourself feel better.