Cultivating Sensitivity: How to Approach Yoga Practice to Support the Phases of the Monthly Hormonal Cycle
by Linda Spackman
A healthy reproductive system is indicative of overall health. Yoga practice that honors the natural cyclic phases of a woman’s monthly cycle builds a foundation for vitality as well as ease with natural transitions. Not all women experience difficulty in relationship to the monthly cycle however, as Sutra 2.16 states future pains can be anticipated and avoided (Heyam duhkham anagatam). Through our practice and with experience, it is possible to hone our awareness and develop skills of observation that honor and support our femininity to the fullest potential.
Questions for Reflection:
What is your body saying and how are you listening? Does your practice honor and take into consideration the circulating hormones and their underlying effect on your individual energy, vitality and overall health?
The estrogen phase immediately following menstruation facilitates development of follicle into egg as well as growth of muscles tissue and bones. Once the menstrual flow has completely stopped, it is wise to support hormonal balance with inversion practice for a few days. Then, when the body feels energetic, with this hormonal stability, one can engage in an adventurous asana practice. It is a good time to learn new actions and more challenging poses, to hold poses for longer time to build strength and stamina. Try challenging yourself with strong standing poses, unsupported backbends and balancings. For example: Utthita Hasta Padangustasana, Virabhadrasana 3, Urdhva Dhaurasana, and Bakasana.
Hormones (LSH and FS) spike within short time period to release the developed egg. This is an appropriate time to reflect on what are you trying to bring forward in your life. It can be very helpful to practice inversions during this time to cultivate hormonal balance and internal steadiness. A balanced, ‘middle way’ asana practice encourages reflection and stillness and can support any symptoms that may arise.
With pranayama and meditation, we move towards inner clarity and are able to move forward in desired and deliberate directions.
Try the following sequence:
Seated Sukhasana to begin. Set your intention to move towards clarity.
Adho Mukha Virasana to Adho Mukha Svanasana
Tadasana with arm variations
Trikonasana to Ardha Chandrasana (can be supported at the wall)
Supta Baddha Konasana
Ujjayi pranayama with retentions (reclined or seated)
San Mukhi Mudra
The progesterone phase involves preparation of uterine lining to receive fertilized egg. If you have conceived or are actively trying to, then modifications that honor the possibility of pregnancy are appropriate and necessary. Avoid abdominal asanas, deep twists and unsupported backbends.
In general, asanas that emphasize circulation to pelvic organs and endocrine system are helpful during this time. Favor a balanced practice that includes all categories of poses in a single practice session to promote equanimity and calm that favors supporting anything you are trying to create in your life. Some women find balance can be a challenge immediately before the menses begin due to subtle changes inside the pelvis. Be cautious with new poses and unfamiliar actions, as ligaments may be tender and subject to inflammation.
Menstruation is a time to rest and renew. Most contemporary western cultures favor pushing women to continue to work, cook and over do. It is advisable to refrain from most asanas while the body is eliminating the blood and fluid from the uterine lining. However, gentle reclined ujjayi pranayama, supported backbends and forward bends that don’t compress the uterus can support this natural time of flow and elimination, and provide relief from many common complaints such as cramping, digestive disorder and depleted energy. Through proper practice and nutritional support, we can create potential for positive flow and creative energy in our lives.