How to Align Your Yoga Practice with Your Feminine Monthly Cycle
A lot of us ladies take on a yoga and/or movement practice with the expectation that it will exactly look the same everyday for months to come.
I remember when I started to practice regularly that I would push myself through 30 days-challenges, crazy inversions, and intense vinyasa sessions almost everyday. If I became exhausted (which almost always happened eventually), I would beat myself up for not being able to keep the pace of the class or badly needing to stay in child's pose for 10 minutes.
This is a perfect example of a mindset that disconnects you from your body's shifting needs throughout the month.
Among other factors, hormonal shifts, from ovulation to menstruation, have a varying, yet profound impact on women's moods, energy levels, needs to socialize and so forth.
Although I'm far from being an expert in science of hormones, here a few tip from a yoga teacher to you on how you can better still honor your time on the mat, while respecting "that time of the month".
1. Menstruation (around Day 1-5 of the cycle) : sit with your emotions
As the uterus starts to shed its superfluous lining, our period instills a general need of stillness and quiet. It's a great time to experiment with extra blankets and cushions to try out restorative poses because it's a time when our tolerance to pain is at its lowest. As your body is focusing on eliminating excess blood, you can facilite the process by preferring grounding postures such as forward folds or postures done while lying down, to inversions. If periods are especially painful or draining for you, you can of course skip asana practice altogether to focus on relaxation and meditation instead.
Examples of poses:
Badha Konasana | Cobbler's pose
Yogi Squat (you can also use a block under your buttocks for more support)
Speaking of which, women are most prone to meditative rituals and introspection while on their period. This is an ideal time to lengthen the duration of your usual practice, to journal and generally dive deeper in self-reflection. In terms of breathwork, I recommend pranayama and meditation focused on directing the breath towards the ground. Hatha yoga lore describes 5 directions of prana (our vital force), one of which is apana, a downward-flowing energy. For example, take your usual meditation posture and visualize your breath flowing upward from your belly button to your head when you inhale, and going down from your head to your belly button when you exhale. Witness this motion for at least 5-10 breaths to appreciate the grounding and calming effect.
2. Follicular phase + ovulation (around Day 5-14) : get busy...on the mat!
Most of you may know that women feel the most alive and sexiest as they come closer to their ovulation: the release of a new egg from the ovary. This is time when we are most likely to socialize a lot, perform high-intensity workouts, and launch new projects. In other words, it's time to get shit done! Take advantage of this burst of enthusiasm and confidence to practice Ashtanga Yoga or Power Yoga, and sprinkle your routine with challenging poses like arm balances and handstands. Sweat it out!
I recommend a healthy dose of kapalabhati ("shining skull breath"), a pranayama exercise to sustain an inner fire in your belly, tone the abdominal muscles and massage the internal organs. Here's how it goes:
1. Exhale all the air from your lungs
2. Inhale completely
3. Exhale in a sharp and rapid way, as if you are coughing or laughing (video) 12 to 24 times. Gradually increase the number and pace as you get used to the exercice.
4. For even more energy, place your hands above your head and close your palms each time you exhale.
3. Luteal phase (around Day 15-28): slow down and welcome rest
If pregnancy does not occur during ovulation, then egg withers and becomes a structure called corpus luteum, which starts releasing progesterone and some estrogen. Such hormonal changes are associated with the (not so) beloved PMS symptoms, such as mood changes, headaches, acne, bloating, and breast tenderness. You might especially dread coming to your mat at that time, and as progesterone breaks down muscle, you may take longer to recover from asana practice.
Yoga can help shift a natural tendency to be more pessimistic. Try spending more time alone by practicing at home, and incorporate slower transitions, seated or lying down postures, as well as yin yoga to your movement routine.
Pascimottanasana | Seated Forward Bend (with plenty of props - yon can use a strap around your feet instead of your hands to give more space to your lower belly)
So there you have it: no need to nurture the same practice over and over, each day, everyday. Yoga is an amazing habit to undertake, but to sustain a lifelong routine, consistency through different styles and postures will be your best friend. Be kind to what you're able to achieve as each phase contains its weaknesses and strengths.
All that being said, every woman lives her cycle differently so feel free to adjust those indications to the way you usually feel during each phase.
Do you already adjust your practice to your menstrual cycle ? If so, which rituals work best for you?
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