Is it safe to do yoga during your period?
The short answer: Yes. Close the computer and get on your mat.
The long answer: The yoga community (or rather its sub-communities) has promulgated various theories about why yoga is or isn’t appropriate for menstruating women. You may have heard some of the following:
1. Women should not do yoga during their periods because menstruation is a time of purification, and yoga may interfere with this natural process.
2. Women should avoid yoga during their periods because yoga should be practiced with a clean body, and menstruation is dirty. (Please tell me I don’t have to explain why this one is wrong on so many levels!)
3. Women can do certain yoga positions but must avoid inversions to avoid the risk of retrograde menstruation.
4. Women practicing yoga should be wary of vascular congestion.
5. Women should do yoga (including inversions) during their period to improve circulation and relax muscles (i.e. alleviate cramps).
6. Your period will attract bears to the yoga studio.
Some of these are clearly not true—but others certainly had me raising an eyebrow when I first came across them. Retrograde menstruation? Please tell me this is the name of an all-female punk rock band and not a scary science thing!
Let’s go through each one and explore its level of myth-ness.
1. This is a traditional Ayurvedic view. At least part of it makes sense—your period is the process of shedding something you no longer need. Emotionally, it can feel like a fresh start—or an ending to something. For me, starting my period feels like a figurative detox, and oddly, I look forward to it. But my weirdness is beside the point. The notion that yoga can interfere with your body’s natural detoxification is simply too vague. Besides, we’re well aware of how exercise actually enhances detox.
2. Just, nope.
Yoga has a, um, raunchy past, so don’t let anyone tell you to “get clean” before downward dogging.
3. Eek—retrograde menstruation is a real thing! It occurs when blood flows in the opposite direction, towards the fallopian tubes. It has been associated with endometriosis, irregular bleeding, and fertility issues. Fear of retrograde menstruation has prompted some yogis to avoid inversion for obvious reasons. If you think about it, however, we invert our bodies all the time, outside of yoga. Maybe we don’t go full-on headstand, but we bend down to pick something up without a second thought. Our bodies are more than capable of handling a little aerobics. In fact, at least 90% of women experience retrograde menstruation. Given this figure, it’s unlikely that retrograde menstruation is the cause of anything serious.
4. Mary Pullig Schatz, M.D explains that yoga inversions may cause vascular congestion, a phenomenon that occurs when “the uterine veins, which are thin, can stretch and partially collapse, while uterine arteries continue to pump more menstrual blood into the uterus.” In other words, inversions can potentially make your flow heavier. This may not pose much of a problem for yogis who only go upside down for a few seconds. If inversions make you feel lightheaded or seem to increase your flow, just skip them. Besides, who really feels like engaging their full shoulder and core strength when they’d rather curl up on the couch as they desperately clutch the Advil bottle, anyway?
5. Since every woman has a unique experience with her period, yoga may or may not sound like the best option during menstruation. A little movement can increase blood flow and ease cramping, but if the idea of panty liner + yoga pants makes you shudder, opt for a light walk around the neighborhood. Or a cuddle session with your heating pad. Listen to your body and do what feels right for you.
6. Periods do not attract bears.
Have you heard any crazy yoga myths? Do tell.
More in Peaceful Practice: Do Yoga Twists Really Detoxify?
Related: What You May Not Know about PMS
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Photo: Mary Hood Luttrell