Why do we take rest from yoga during menstruation, aka the “lady’s holiday”?
On the mat, like in life, some of us may be drawn to yoga practice not just because we want to relax, but actually because we want to Go Go Go and see how far we can go. We may knowingly or unknowingly be competitive with ourselves and others, and we may seek an ever ungraspable sense of perfection. We discover that yoga practice, particularly Mysore Ashtanga Yoga, can help us Go into an experience of our bodies and minds that no other physical discipline seems to map.
Mysore Ashtanga, compared to other forms of yoga, offers a distinct and gradual path through a range of asanas which are quite amazing. The practice requires that we start from the “bottom” and work our way “up” through the asanas, and the progress and learning we experience by doing so is thrilling. Maybe sometimes it’s so thrilling and compelling that we even like to practice to the point of ignoring our bodies, which is actually contrary to the practice. That’s a signal that we need to re-synch with our bodies, and ultimately, with Nature.
One of the amazing aspects of yoga practice is how well it can work for males and females alike. In a Mysore Ashtanga room, you will find male practitioners and female practitioners cultivating physical and mental transformation through their practice. Both males and females can make the practice look masculine or feminine, or even beyond gender.
So this is not about gender so much as physiology. Between the physiology of the male and female body, we do have differences that can ask us to make different choices at different times.
One of the big differences is the menstrual cycle. As we know: the female body sheds blood regularly, just about every three to five weeks from puberty to menopause, with the exception of during pregnancy.
“Having regular menstrual cycles is a sign that important parts of your body are working normally. The menstrual cycle provides important body chemicals, called hormones, to keep you healthy. It also prepares your body for pregnancy each month. A cycle is counted from the first day of 1 period to the first day of the next period. The average menstrual cycle is 28 days long… In the first half of the cycle, levels of estrogen (the “female hormone”) start to rise. Estrogen plays an important role in keeping you healthy, especially by helping you to build strong bones and to help keep them strong as you get older. Estrogen also makes the lining of the uterus (womb) grow and thicken. This lining of the womb is a place that will nourish the embryo if a pregnancy occurs. At the same time the lining of the womb is growing, an egg, or ovum, in one of the ovaries starts to mature. At about day 14 of an average 28-day cycle, the egg leaves the ovary. This is called ovulation. After the egg has left the ovary, it travels through the Fallopian tube to the uterus. Hormone levels rise and help prepare the uterine lining for pregnancy. A woman is most likely to get pregnant during the 3 days before or on the day of ovulation. Keep in mind, women with cycles that are shorter or longer than average may ovulate before or after day 14. A woman becomes pregnant if the egg is fertilized by a man’s sperm cell and attaches to the uterine wall. If the egg is not fertilized, it will break apart. Then, hormone levels drop, and the thickened lining of the uterus is shed during the menstrual period.” ~ https://www.medicinenet.com
Menstruation is Nature’s way of cleaning the womb we carry within us. For the female, this can be a very physical but also a mental and emotional experience.
During the time of the month when the body is focused on cleaning the womb, the asanas we practice should support that process. Asanas are meant to help clean the body (and the mind) from the inside out, not to infringe upon its natural cleaning process.
For this reason, it is recommend to alter our practice during menstruation. Often this means refraining from at least the following: Inversions, Deep Twists, Deep Bends, Lower Body Bandhas, Over-Exertion of Any Kind.
Dr. Geeta S. Iyengar and the Iyengar tradition offer a wonderful guide and sequence of more restorative asanas that can be practiced during menstruation (posted at the top of this page). For further in-depth reading, check out Dr. Iyengar’s paper on The Practice Of Women.