Important note: this article in no way should act as a one-stop solution for menstrual cycle imbalances or medical conditions associated with the menstrual cycle. If you have or suspect that you have complications associated with your menstrual cycle, please contact a healthcare professional for support.
Oh yes, that “time of the month” referred to so lovingly as our “period”. Ball of fun, isn’t it?
But really, that’s one part of the picture. From day one of our cycles, when bleeding begins, to ovulation and back again, our bodies go through changes every day. These hormonal changes create varying responses in all of us.
It’s probable most of us were taught our menstrual cycles are a nuisance so that’s the attitude we have towards the changes we experience. However, if you take a moment to think, it’s quite miraculous how our bodies do their thing! The kicker is that we have the opportunity to work with it instead of against it. Instead of spending energy complaining, frustrated and feeling over-powered by it all, we can use it to our advantage - working towards what could be a better sense of self-care.
Out there in greater internet land, you will find a wealth of information (note: use discernment) regarding how to work with your menstrual cycle in terms of diet, exercise and more. However, my purpose here is to share some tried-and-tested tips on how you can better ‘go with the flow’ (pun intended) and how yoga can be your sidekick in the process:
1. Listen to your body – no-brainer, right? Not quite. Our bodies have a lot to tell us and it’s not always so straight forward. One way to do this is to track your menstrual cycle:
There are online and mobile apps for this – some are listed here. I personally prefer the old school method of pencil + paper. Every day, document where you’re at in your menstrual cycle and any corresponding notes (date, day of cycle, notes). Some typical notes could include energy level, appetite and other relating topics you find useful. Depending on what point you’re at in your cycle, these notes might be more detailed or very brief. Overtime, you will be able to plot changes and note reoccurrences. This can reveal repetitive side effects at certain times. For example, if I know on certain days I’m going to be battling serious fatigue or emotional difficulties, I can in advance carve out extra quiet time for rest and reflection. It can also reveal greater imbalances that you’ll want to pay attention to.
After a few years of practicing this, I’ve gained a better sense of what it means to go with the flow and it has created a more positive relationship with my cycle. Don’t get me wrong, I still have ups-and-downs and surprise mishaps of course. My side effects haven’t magically disappeared (sorry, ladies!). But I can look back and see how useful and empowering this process can be. One, it builds a greater sense of intimacy with the body. Two, hello practicality!
So really, two minutes a day is all it takes. Try it out. You might be surprised at what you’ll find.
*If you’re looking to get pregnant or avoid pregnancy, there are specific instructions you can follow as part of the tracking. Do some legitimate research and talk to a healthcare professional.
2. Practicing yoga “on your period” – I get this question a lot. The answer always starts with number one above. There’s a wide range of opinions on this topic from don’t practice at all to only avoiding inversions to other stranger suggestions. Seriously, Google it and see what you find (again, discernment). One theme I’ve found to be almost unanimous across the board, from friends to fellow practitioners, is the need for rest. The period is a releasing process, so it seems natural we follow that.
For Ashtanga practitioners, we’re told to take three days off at the beginning of our period. But personally speaking, this can differ. Sometimes I feel the need for a full practice on the first day, where other times I’m totally wiped out for four. Each month is different so my vote goes to responding accordingly and not being too strict with your regular routine.
Here enters restorative yoga. Our saving grace when we feel like curling up in a fetal position and not moving until it’s over. It’s the cherry on top of the cake when you’ve had a long day and crashing on the couch just won’t do it for you. When we’re bleeding, restorative yoga and seated meditation can be wonderful tools for reflection and remedy for discomfort. Find a clean place at home and make it comfortable whether that means using pillows and blankets or lighting a candle. You don’t have to worry about “sequencing here”. You really just want to sit or lie down on the mat (or bed) and take it slow. Gentle hip openers, forward folds and ‘legs-up-the-wall’ are some go-to favorites. If you have the energy, hop on over to your closest studio and take a gentle class as opposed to your normal practice of choice.
Ahimsa, non-violence, is the obvious theme here and now more than any other time of the month, we owe it to ourselves. Let the critical voice in your head subside and make some time to honor yourself and your body’s needs.
Let’s find ways to support each other in this aspect of self-care and in removing the shame of it all.
If anyone has any other tips, tricks, reflections or ideas, please share in the comments section!