Menstruation and Yoga
That Time of the Month
Let’s talk about menstruation and yoga! Although I have never experienced it myself, I have friends who have been asked to put their hands up at the beginning of a yoga class if they are menstruating, and sometimes with no explanation. Some teachers believe that practicing inversions around your time of the month is both unhealthy and unsafe. In fact, B.K.S Iyengar’s school of yoga forbids inversions during menstruation. I’ll be honest and say this is a school of thought that has never held much sway over me. If you happen to be menstruating and you want to practice yoga and you want to rock out a hand stand or two, crack on! That is until recently when I was fascinated by an item on Breakfast News regarding the impact of menstruation on the training schedules of professional female athletes.
The Impact of Menstruation on Physical Exercise
Professional athletes are now talking about the effect that periods, in particular heavy bleeding and cramps, can have on their professional careers. In some instances women have pulled out of races or felt that their menstruation affected their performance negatively. Much of the research into optimum training for female athletes has been based on optimum training for men. But there’s an obvious difference – men don’t menstruate! One could therefore assume that men and women will adapt to training differently… I know that may seem like a bit of a ‘duh’ point but sometimes it needs spelling out.
Our bodies are affected by a cocktail of hormones all with a role to play throughout our monthly cycle. These are; luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. Our cycles are broken down into three phases; Follicular (before release of the egg), Ovulatory (egg release), and Luteal (after egg release). Menstrual bleeding marks the first day of the follicular phase and it is during this time that our levels of oestrogen and progesterone are low. Oestrogen is also responsible for strengthening the muscles so when these levels drop it leaves us open to muscle weakness. Another hormone that comes into play is relaxin which increases, allowing the cervix to open so that menstruation can occur but this also softens the ligaments which can leave us vulnerable to over stretching and injury.
Firstly it is important to note that yoga is not 100% safe 100% of the time. No two yoga bodies share the same musculoskeletal history. It is therefore vital that your adapt your yoga practice for your body as incorrect alignment can cause injury.
“ACL Research has suggested that anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries – the most serious kind of knee damage – are more prevalent in female athletes than men, and they may be more prone to injury and illness at certain times.”
Hamstring injuries, neck injuries and wrist injuries are also fairly common in yoga. How safe you are in your practice may depend on your experience as a yoga practitioner in addition to other factors such as muscular fatigue and ageing.
I shared a post recently on Instagram that the most common cause of yoga injuries is the ego. However, if you are unaware of the changes taking place in your body every month then what might seem easily within reach and fine for your body on one day could cause injury on another day.
Listen to your body
Over 70% of women don’t understand their menstrual cycle and the changes in their bodies. We think of them as something to be got through and an inconvenience. But our bodies are wonderful things and adapt to situations as they need to without us telling them what to do. During pregnancy women are told to sleep on the left side to avoid compression of the iliac vein which carries blood from the heart to the lower body, including the uterus. The thing is our bodies know how to adapt to pregnancy and in most cases pregnant women will tend to sleep on their left side without necessarily knowing why. So too your body protects itself during menstruation. If you feel like you don’t want to exercise there may be a very good reason for that; your body is naturally doing what is best for you.
Guilt Free Time Out
Recognising that you haven’t fallen off the exercise band wagon just because you need some R&R can psychologically be hugely beneficial. You are simply taking scheduled time out to protect yourself from injury. Our yoga practice is likely to change significantly over the course our lifetime. What I did in my twenties is different to how I practice yoga now. I know that based on this information, as someone who has a propensity for hyperextension, a reduced and gentler yoga practice will form part of my monthly cycle. I shall also avoid hot yoga for a couple weeks every month as my ligaments are already stretchy enough without the effects of relaxin.