My Thoughts on Yoga and Your Moon Cycle.

Be forewarned! Lots of girl talk below.

The topic of the “Ladies Holiday” (to use Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ parlance) can be a bit provocative and controversial for yoga practitioners. Most people don’t like being told what to do, or more accurately, what not to do.

Some woman are offended by the thought that they aren’t “allowed” to practice because of their natural cycles, that this is some way that the Brahmin patriarchy is trying to “control” or “punish” them. But I firmly believe the the traditional teachers of yoga gave specific instructions for women on how to restrain the practice during their moon-time in order to best serve women and protect their health.

At most Vinyasa yoga classes these days, there is never a single mention of modifying the practice for your cycle. This might be because the classes are busy and full and the teachers don’t want certain students to feel singled out. Or maybe they themselves don’t think of it as a necessary inclusion in their instruction. Most Vinyasa (and all the multitudes of hybrid) classes out there are more about having fun or doing what “feels good” than actual instruction, in my opinion.

But me? Well, I’m a bit of a traditionalist. On my “moon” (as many yoga-folk call the menstrual cycle), I sleep in  – happily!  I go for walks, I roll around on the floor and stretch, I meditate, but I do not practice Ashtanga. I do not do any inversions or anything that squeezes on my belly like ab work, navasana, crunches or Pilates or any strong breathing practices like Breath of Fire.

In my classes, on the rare occasions that I teach inversions such as headstand and shoulderstand, I always present the alternative of legs-up-the-wall as the appropriate pose for menstruating women.

Following the rules works for me. In so much of my life I am a spontaneous, freewheelin’ gypsy who hates to be put in a box (or at a desk!) but when it comes to certain things (yoga, sobriety and diet in particular), I do best when I follow the rules – and quite strictly too. That’s one of the reasons Ashtanga fits me so well. There are a lot of rules!

Guruji instructed that women to rest for the first 3 days of her moon. B.K.S. Iyengar has made similar recommendations. Geeta Iyengar, who has spent her life studying yoga for women in particular, says to avoid all seated pranayama, bandhas, strong backbends and all inversions especially. 

Why? Well, basically, the practice of yoga – the use of bandhas, strong deep breathing and tapas-creating asanas – directs prana upwards. This cleanses the nadis, balances the nervous system and elevates your consciousness. Prana flows upwards, towards the heavens. Apana is the downward energy that is prana’s counterpart.

When you are on your moon, you are in a naturally apanic state – everything energetically is being drawn down towards the earth. Engaging bandhas and practicing the strong asanas when you are in this state is really working against yourself. It’s like trying to swim upstream, and your body – in particular your energy body – doesn’t like it.

I fully understand that correlation does not equal causation, but I want to share with you a few examples about female Ashtanga practitioners that I know/know of.

A female Certified Ashtanga teacher died of Ovarian Cancer recently. She struggled with her cancer for a long time and stayed alive for a number of years using a strict macrobiotic diet and yoga practice as her medicines. She had practiced Ashtanga at a very advanced level for many years and for most of these years she continued with her full practice (inversions and all) despite menstruation. She claimed with conviction that her cancer was directly related to practicing on her cycle.

Another woman I know who has been practicing Ashtanga now for 30 years hit menopause when she was 40 years old. She too always practiced on her cycle and never took a ladies holiday. She is one of many intense Ashtangi women I have heard of who had early onset menopause. And to be perfectly honest, despite her lean limbs and bendy body, she does not look like the most nourished or vibrant woman (no judgement here, just a statement) and I can’t help but wonder if there is a connection there.

In my personal experience, practicing strong asana and inversions on your cycle is a bad idea. Some gentle asana can feel very nice and help you find balance and comfort during your cycle. I personally enjoy spending a good 20 or 30 minutes on my sheepskin or mat, moving slowly in a way that feels soft and lubricating to my joints. I do long passive supine twists, supported supta baddha konasana, supported supta virasana, upavistha konasana, spinal flexes, ankle/wrist/neck/shoulder rolls, and always a long time in viparita karani and savasana. If they are available, I adore the weight of sandbags on my feet with my legs up the wall, or on my hips in supta baddha konasana – so grounding and restorative!

But, occasionally I get a bit antsy and so I practice hard anyways (minus headstand and shoulder stand). When I’ve done this, I’ve always gotten bad cramps. The cramps come immediately – during practice and then they last for hours afterwards. It’s virtually impossible to do any bandhas and so you really aren’t even doing Ashtanga anyways! But, it’s hard not to at least try to hold bandhas because that’s what your body has been trained to do in that setting.

I also find it really distracting to be in a vigorous yoga class when I’m bleeding. I find that my attention is too drawn in by my moon, by the sensations, and so it’s harder for me to feel engaged and comfortable in the class. It’s not worth it.

Taking time off from asana to rest and restore actually benefits your practice. Even if it feels crazy-making not to exercise for a few days, let that judgement (or fear of laziness or whatever it might be) go! Sometimes taking a few days off is just what your body needs.

When I return from my ladies holiday, I feel reinvigorated to work harder and go deeper in my practice.

Our lives in the modern world are very hectic. We as women juggle a lot of activity and responsibility  – in our families, relationships, careers, our homes. If we never-ever stop to just chill and rest, our bodies (our adrenal glands in particular) get too worn down and we become less productive, peaceful and literally and figuratively, less fertile!

Taking time to compassionately and gently care for yourself helps you be a stronger, healthier and happier person in the long run.

So next time your moon rolls around, shrug off any feelings of guilt, and let yourself be lazy!

Your body, and your practice, will thank you!

 

Alright – floor is open – tell me what you think? Do you take your ladies holiday off? Or do you think I’m old-fashioned and silly?

 

♥  Love Frances  ♥

 

 

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16 thoughts on “My Thoughts on Yoga and Your Moon Cycle.

  1. And one again, we are on the exact same page:) I asked a friend of mine who is a Certified Teacher in NYC what to do if one is entering peri-menopause and have very intermittent periods, she said pick the time you would normally start your moon cycle and take 1-2 days and rest:) Thought this might be helpful as well…….ah, the joys of being a woman:) FOR REAL!
    Love ya girl:)

  2. The more we can be open about what is very natural the better we are able to feel and care for each other. Something that is so needed among young women today. The first I ever hear of taking it easy on you moon cycle was last year when I started practicing Kundalini yoga. It majorly changed things for me. I had always struggled to keep up when everything in my body (and mind) was going totally wacky sometimes for up to two weeks at a time!
    My attitudes towards my menstruation began to shift in college when I began to use a moon cup, which was recommended to me by my Finnish friend. I found it to be so much more comfortable and hygienic than tampons or pads. I felt this forgiveness beginning to happen between my legs. The pains I had felt began to lessen. I now use only 100% cotton reusable pads (which I thought would be so gross but are actually incredibly comfortable and easy to clean) I am also totally vegan which creates challenges of its own. I find my energy to be so low on the first few days that not only can I not practice, I find it difficult to do anything other than relax and take it easy. I can usually only work a half day at most! (I dream of a world where no woman is forced to work during her moon!) But don’t worry I take my iron supplements! I feel its my body’s way of letting me know its not joking around. It demands rest. Our world is increasingly demanding our our attention and action, but our biology is much slower to adapt so it is increasingly important that we find time to be “off”!
    When I started practicing Kundalini. I was, of course, skeptical, “What do you mean I cant do Breath of Fire on my moon?” and so I tested the boundaries. I did So Darshan Chakra Kriya during a Tantric course and I actually stopped my menstruation! I have found for me that I can’t do any serious pranayam, bhandas, or navel pumping for the entire duration my my cycle. Currently, I am doing a 120 day meditation to help correct the imbalance I still experience in my cycle. My fiance calls it the “Crazy Bird meditation” its to heal the systems of the body. It was given to a friend by Guru Dev Singh for her irregularities, and she passed it along to me. 11 mins of backward circles with extended arms hands in fists.
    Thanks for starting the convo Frannie!
    Love and blessings,
    APK

    • Sat Nam my dear
      Thanks so much for contributing to the discussion. I’ve never heard of that meditation you are doing, but I will definitely look it up – sounds cool. My cycle has been wonky for awhile now (ever since I stopped taking hormonal birth control in 2009). It’s only now starting to regulate with consistently resting during my moontime and also drinking a special tea as often as I can which has red rasberry leaf, milky oats and nettles in it. I met a wonderful KY teacher Sikh woman at Bhakti Fest this year who makes very high quality essential oils. I bought a blend from her for hormonal balance that included vitex. I took it for 2 months everyday orally and I think it’s kind of magical. Since then, my cycle is less painful and exhausting and not quite as heavy. You might want to look into a vitex oil.
      I use a moon cup as well and have been since college. I used to love it and thought it was perfect, but I bought a new one awhile ago and it doesn’t seem to stay in place as securely as my old one did, which sucks. But it’s still better than tampons by a long shot!
      anyways, have you tried Yogi Bhajan’s suggestion of frying 9 almond in ghee with honey and eating them for breakfast for the first few days of your period? It’s supposed to lighten the flow and even shorten it by a few days if you tend towards extended bleeding and spotting. I do it occasionally and haven’t noticed a huge difference but it’s so tasty that I like to do it anyways 🙂
      In terms of your energy and being a vegan etc., one thing that has helped me and was given as a suggestion by an acupuncturist to me a few years ago when I was anemic is to eat a spoonful of blackstrap mollasses everyday. It’s really good in oatmeal and is very fortifying for kidney chi. Give it a try especially around your moontime when energy is low.
      Love F.

  3. Two women I knew were diagnosed with oral cancer and one was diagnosed with cancer of the throat. All three were avid lifetime bird watchers. Like you, I cant help but wonder if there is a connection there.

  4. An interesting discussion, Frances… I’ve done lots of trial and error with practicing on my cycle, but for me I’ve found that if I do take 3 days off from Ashtanga, I get very bad cramps, headaches, moodiness, etc. But if I just cut back to primary and no drop backs, no final inversions (just legs up the wall), I feel great. I think I just need to sweat out those cramps! But I know that everybody has a different response to what works best on their cycle.

    • Hi Lilah.
      Thanks for your comment. I understand what you’re saying for sure. I find that it’s really nice to rest completely one day but I rarely, despite my best intentions, rest 100% for all 3 days. I need the movement of brisk walks and stretching to keep me feeling balanced during my cycle. I personally hate getting up early for mysore so I kind of love the 3 days of sleeping-in and that is reason enough for me to take the break….haha…I’m such a lazy Ashtangi!
      What do you do about mula bandha and poses like navasana during your moon? Do you still try to do pick-ups etc? Do you a notice a difference? My abs always feel really weak when I’m on my cycle.
      Blessings.

      • It *is* nice to sleep in!! (Yay, Saturday!) I end up doing a sort of mula bandha-lite during my cycle and I don’t expect to get my pick-ups too high, but it does feel really helpful to engage and tune in to my abs and and bandhas… and then to take a nice, long savasana!

  5. For anyone prone to low back injury, like me, resting during ladies holiday is essential. In my personal experience, on my cycle my low back is very unstable and feels “loose”. This makes it almost impossible, and quite painful, for me to attempt any bandha work. I’ve always believed, if your prone to low back injury, rest on your cycle!
    Xo
    Waverly

    • good advice waverly. i totally agree. a lot of women find that their hips and low backs feel especially vulnerable during their cycle and so doing intense asana like ashtanga can be too much and even could cause injury.
      thanks for your comment!
      blessings

  6. This is interesting. I always either replace my ashtanga with a delicious hatha practice or yin the first three days and then a very forgiving primary after the 3 days until my period ends. In that period, I do not hate myself for skipping the jump back and jump through, or easing on the navasana, in fact, I severely modify a lot of the poses. This allows me to keep the discipline of ashtanga without compromising my low energy.

    • Hi Nadia.
      Thanks for your comment. I like your solution…I can see how that would feel good. I guess it’s not that different from me since my 3 days of rest do include some gentle hatha/stretching. Good on you for being easy on yourself about not being “perfect” on jumps and boats – I can’t say I’m always the best at that. Sometimes I get in this silly mindset of “everything or nothing at all”.
      Blessings and thank you for reading Lila
      Frances

  7. Pingback: Top 12 Posts of 2012. | Lila

  8. When I first started Asthanga, in ’97, I used to practice Primary on “Ladies Holiday” (sans inversions) because I was a full-time mother of three young kids, and getting to a class every day was impossible; I’d go whenever I could, even if I had my period. Ditto moon days – I would practice on Moon Days too, because I needed practice whenever I could get it – and hadn’t developed a home practice yet.

    Then I met Nancy Gilgoff, and she convinced me of two things in that first training: the importance of daily practice and the importance of taking Ladies’ holiday. So, I developed a home practice and became a daily practitioner, and I stopped practicing on menses and moon days. It was very sage advice, from a woman who knows. Now, I take off the three heaviest days of my period, and just do meditation, chanting, or Sutra Study on those days. I sometimes do a few gentle seated postures like baddhakonasana and malasana, since they help with the whole “apanic” flow of energy and relieve cramping for me.

    I’m 47 now and am still “regular” with my menses – it falls around the new moon every month. My Mom began perimenopause in her mid 40s’, so I feel that the Ashtanga practice has held off that start of my “change,” really. Phew! When I teach, I tell all my students to skip inversions if they are practicing while menstruating, and also encourage the daily practitioners to skip those days completely.

  9. I know there is a recent scientific study that challenges the yogic understanding to avoid inversions during period. OF COURSE typical for science, they did not look at long term implications. AND THAT’S CRUCIAL. I”m pretty sure it was like oh it didn’t stop anyone’s period so it’s fine! As we practitioners know there is subtle energy and over time…something can be harmful. It just makes sense, and as most women here mentioned usually our energy is a bit lower- now if someone has certain conditions they may, may be helped by practice to help stimulate a period- that’s an individual case. But if a women has heavy bleeding she may find that asana will make it heavier- and how is that helpful for our overall health?
    So as women we need to listen to our bodies and I truly believe these teachers who has decades of expereince.

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