Yoga and Your Period - Part 1: Hips/Low Back
Welcome to the first installment of my new Yoga + Period series! My personal experience to figure out what feels best for me during my time of the month has been a journey and I'm excited to share it with you.
Each of us experience our periods differently. For some of us, our period is an event with little fanfare and of no consequence. For others, it’s a week filled with lightning bolts of pain and a downpour of emotions. Some people appreciate periods as a week of spiritual awakening and connection. Other people barely give their period a second thought. Each installment of this series will focus on how all of us, no matter how we experience our periods, can continue to practice physical yoga postures in a way that feels good.
Today I’m going to use my personal experience with menstruation and yoga.
But before we begin, let's chat about Yoga, periods and what you may have heard. Believe it or not practicing Yoga postures during your period is still a controversial choice. I want to admit my own personal frustration with the way many traditions view periods and I believe it's best to run most rules through our own personal filter before taking them on as our own. It doesn't take much more than a Google search to find out that often physical practice is discouraged during menstruation, especially taking an inversion during a period (handstand, downward facing dog, legs up the wall, etc.) The suggestion of refraining from physical practice during a period was not rooted in strictly a medical basis as much as a philosophical one. Yoga is not alone here. Historically speaking many of the antiquated rules we still encounter (from many traditions) about what can and cannot be done during a period are rooted in stigma, not safety. I think it's ok to acknowledge when an idea many need an upgrade from time to time, especially when that rule is unnecessarily limiting.
So, despite annoyingly sanitized speech around our 'moon cycle' (seriously? It's menstruation, or a period... let's get used to using the words), periods aren't dirty. And people who menstruate are not dirty, unclean, or weak. Just because we are on our periods does not mean we have to hide away and not do the hobbies we love. It is a natural bodily function that happens to half the world’s population.
As far as safety and not doing inversions – we have sent women to space while on their period! Being upside down for a few moments is not going to disrupt the internal workings of your body. So if you are a person with a period and inversions don't feel good to you, don't do them. But if you feel find and want to invert, invert! As stated before, everyone experiences their periods differently and this blog is not intended to offer medical advice but rather simply connection!
So today I will focus on sharing what I do in my personal practice during this time and hopefully it will resonate with you too!
I am someone who gets incredibly sleepy on my period. I also experience low back cramps and tight hips. As such, my practice during this time is a blend of hip opening vinyasa movements and calming restorative yoga. Below are a few of my favorite poses. Practice each pose by itself or blend them in to your next practice. For the restorative poses I recommend using a timer so you can relax and not have to constantly look at your watch.
1. Seated Side Twist
Start seated. With your right leg bent, step your right foot to the outside of your left leg. As you exhale, hook your left elbow on the outside of your right leg. Sit a little taller as you inhale and twist deeper as you exhale. Stay on each side for 1-3 breaths.
Begin on in tabletop position with your wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Inhale to Cow pose by dropping your belly, pulling your shoulder blades together, and pointing your tailbone to the sky. Exhale to Cat pose by pressing the mat away, arching your back, and looking at your knees. Flow between these two poses 1-5 times. Tip: If one of these positions feels really good, stay! I love to hold cow for a few breaths as I like the stretch across the front of my body.
3. Moving Side Stretch
Breathe out and hug your right knee into your right armpit and right ribs. Breathe in as you sweep your right leg over to the left, tap your right toes on the outside of your left leg, and look at your right toes. Flow for 1-5 breaths on each side.
From a forward fold, walk your feet to the edge of your mat so your legs are wide. Grab your left elbow with your right hand and your right elbow with your left hand. Bend your knees deeply until your torso can rest on your thighs. Relax your neck and let your head be heavy. You should feel a lengthening in your spine and stretch in your low back. Stay for 1-3 breaths.
5. Revolved Crescent
Step your right foot forward into a high lunge. Ensure your left heel is stacked on top of the balls of your foot, you want to imagine that your foot is pressed up against a wall. Pull your thighs towards each other to bring your hips parallel to the front of your mat. As you exhale, reach your right arm back and your left arm forward. Twist only at the waist. Stay for 1-3 breaths on each side. Tip: On my period I like to take open twists. You can also take a closed twist by bringing your hands together at your chest and hooking your left help on the outside of your right thigh.
6. Figure Four
Ground and shift your weight onto your right foot. Cross your left ankle over your right thigh, just above your knee. Begin to bend your right knee slowly until you can feel the stretch in your glute and hip. Stay for 1-3 breaths on each side.
7. Yogi Squat
From standing, step your feet as wide as the mat and turn your toes out. Slowly begin to bend your knees and sink your hips down towards the floor in a low squat. Bring your hands to heart center and press your elbows and the back of your arms into your thighs. Stay for 1 -5 breaths. Tip: If you don’t make it all the way to the floor no problem! Simply sit as low as is comfortable or sit on a block to bring the floor closer.
8. Supported Child's Pose Twist
Grab a pillow or a bolster and bring your right hip up against the bottom of your prop. Frame the pillow/bolster with your hands and slowly lower your chest onto the pillow/bolster. Rest your right cheek on your prop. You can also do this with an incline for a little more comfort, by placing a block under the top of your pillow/bolster. Stay for 5-10 minutes on each side.
Lay on your belly, stack your hands, and rest your head on your hands. Stay for 5-10 minutes. Tip: I like to incorporate a heating pad into this pose by placing it under my belly or on my low back.
10. Legs up the wall
Bring your right hip (or left hip whichever you prefer) against a wall. Lay onto your back and send your legs long up the wall. Option to rest your hands on your belly for more grounding or open your arms out with your palms facing up for a little more energy and lightness. Stay for 5-10 minutes.
The most important thing to remember is to not judge yourself and to do what feels good in your body. Some people run marathons while bleeding others like to stay in bed, one is not better than the other. If you would like a little more guidance and you’re not sure how to incorporate this into a flow check out my Flow & Restore videos under the “Video OnDemand” tab. Each one is about 30 minutes long and is a great mix of light flow and calming restorative yoga.
Stay hydrated, eat dark leafy greens, grab your menstrual cup, pick up your tampon, or stick on that pad and I will see you on your mat!