Is it safe to do a headstand or shoulderstand during your period? What about other inverted poses or downward dog? What about strong twists and back bends?
Admittedly, there’s mixed messages out there for women about the do’s and dont’s of inversions during a period. Some say that any inversions during your period should be strictly avoided and that you should use those few days a month to only do gentle yoga and not invert yourself to avoid ‘reversing the natural flow,’ while others say that not only are inversions okay but they’re actually good for problem periods or heavy flow. So what’s the deal here?
Flipping The Issue On Its Head
First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by an inversion. For the purposes of this article I’m saying that any pose where the uterus is completely turned upside is an inversion: this includes Headstand, Shoulderstand, Plough Pose and other variations. As for the poses that don’t fully invert the uterus, such as Downward Dog, Cat Pose, Standing Forward Bend and their variations, we’ll call them partial inversions.
Firstly, all women’s menstrual cycles behave differently. For some ladies their period is scant, slightly inconvenient and short lived, for others it’s a time of great physical discomfort, loss of energy and hormonal roller coasters. For one person it’s a Russian Roulette game of All or Nothing, and for another it could be as changeable as the weather by the hour.
With so much variation, change and flux going on from month to month and from woman to woman, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to periods during yoga is simply not going to work. Add into the mix that periods and hormones change with age and there really can’t be clearly defined rules to follow.
Perhaps this is why most teachers and writers discourage practitioners from performing full inversions during a period — after all it doesn’t really matter if you don’t stand on your head a few days of the month, right?
On the other hand, B.K.S. Iyengar states that inverting yourself during heavy periods can actually be beneficial and when you’re suffering with a nasty one. Could it be worth a try despite the warnings? What if you’re having a normal period or toward the end of your period and you want to invert yourself anyway, is it safe to do so?
Why We Are Steered Away from Inversions
The womb is suspended in the abdominal cavity by tendons and it is feared that by inverting yourself when the womb is heavy could cause too much strain on internal tendons and blood vessels. Although we can be inverted, the body is not designed to spend lots of time upside down, it’s just not structurally suited.
For similar reasons of pressure on the internal pelvic cavity, inversions are usually discouraged during pregnancy but there are plenty of seasoned yoga practitioners and teachers who merrily inverted themselves right through their pregnancy and had no problems whatever.
For years, yoga studios around the world have been whispering of an increased risk of endometriosis caused by practicing inversions during a period. This has largely corrected these days, but a lack of definitive medical studies on the effects of inversions during a period have led the yoga community to be cautious about inversions at this time of the month. And of course, safety always comes first.
Ghosts of Periods Past
My mother’s generation referred to this monthly visitor as “the curse”, never to be discussed even with your best friend and considered as something dirty and shameful. Period blood was a waste product of the body and the menstrual cycle was just the female side of procreation.
The menstrual cycle has its own rhythm and (dare I say it) flow. These days a period is seen more broadly in the full spectrum and wonder that is the marvellous human body. Society no longer recoils like it used to at the mention of a sanitary towel or tampon. Ladies are opening up more about their relationship with their monthly cycle and there are even workshops dedicated to understanding and working with rather than fighting against or ignoring the body’s response to the monthly hormonal changes. Surely we can all agree that working in harmony with our body is better than working against it?
Since yoga means union, what better place to get to know your monthly cycle than on the yoga mat? You may have already noticed some days are more yoga-friendly than others. You may have found yourself groaning when the teacher calls out for the class to perform an advanced pose because you’re lacking in energy that day. Now yesterday, you could have held that pose all day but today… not so much. Aunt Flo has come to visit.
So Where Do I Stand, And Can It Be On My Head?
If there was one thing that all yoga teachers wish they could bottle and dispense to their students it would be the ability to listen to one’s own body. We can all do it, we do it all the time. That’s how we know we’re cold, hungry, tense, too hot or need to shift in our seats. We hear the body talking to us and we take action. It’s instinctual and perfectly in tune with what our body needs right then and there.
On the mat, however, it gets more complicated. We worry about which way is left and right and what others may be doing. We concentrate on balance and coordination, our minds fixed on getting the pose right. There’s no room for listening to the over-strained hamstring or the extra-heavy bloated tummy. After all, yoga is good for balancing the hormones, right? So if I can just hold this pose as long as the teacher can…
Admittedly, it’s difficult to listen to the body when learning the basics of the poses, so it make sense that for a beginner or even an intermediate practitioner of yoga to lay off full inversions completely during a period. Master the poses first and then see how you feel. Let me say that again: see how you feel. Adopt a familiar partial inversion like Downward Dog Pose during your period and tune in to your abdomen. Get a feel for what is going on. What does it feel like to you? What messages are you receiving from your body? Do you think it wise to move into a headstand? To be honest, most women will say ‘probably not’ in answer to that last one.
Make An Informed Decision
My personal experience can attest that there are some days I wouldn’t stand on my head or shoulders for anything. I can feel that inverting myself would be going against what my body wants me to do. On heavy days I want to practice seated forward bends, lots of twists and gentle lower back releasers, not inversions or full Upward Bow. In fact, I won’t even hold a partial inversion for very long on those days. I know it’s not right for me because I have spent years learning how to listen to my body.
There are lots of others — perhaps they’ll be kind enough to post below — who find inversions during their period beneficial to their menstrual health. There’s one thing I’m sure we will all agree on though: until you know your body well enough and you’ve developed a yogi’s ear for listening during poses, heed the old advice and lay off the inversions.
Yoga is a path of union; union with your inner ear and yes, even union with your menstrual cycle.