Menstruation is hardly ever mentioned in American yoga classes, except when women are cautioned to avoid inversions during their periods. It used to be that at B.K.S. Iyengar's institute in Pune, India, menstruating women were sent to the back of the room to work with his daughter Geeta, while Mr. Iyengar taught the rest of the class. Author of the classic guide Yoga: A Gem for Women, Geeta specializes in employing yoga to help balance and regulate the female reproductive cycle and teaches women how to synchronize their practice with ovulation, menstruation, and the pre- and postmenstrual phases.
Two American yoga teachers who study with the Iyengars were so impressed with Geeta's teachings that they have compiled her wisdom into two books—both with forewords written by the woman affectionately called Geetaji. Geeta S. Iyengar's Guide to a Woman's Yoga Practice, Vol. 1, is a more scholarly work by Lois Steinberg, director of the B.K.S. Iyengar Institute of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, who had fibroid and thyroid problems when she arrived in Pune in 1993. She was taken under Geeta's wing, and "within weeks the fibroids became quiescent, and my thyroid started functioning on its own again," writes Steinberg. "Most importantly, my spirit soared."
In her comprehensive 244-page volume, which includes more than 500 black-and-white photographs illustrating helpful asanas, Lois Steinberg, Ph.D., meticulously details the practices, as taught to her by Geeta, for all phases of the menstrual cycle, as well as for irregular menses and menstrual headaches. "These contents are not meant for novices," writes Steinberg, who says her book is designed for students of Iyengar Yoga, and teachers.
Bobby Clennell's The Woman's Yoga Book is more accessible to beginners—while remaining informative to seasoned practitioners—with attractive illustrations and separate chapters on specific concerns such as irritability, mood swings, bloating, breast tenderness, insomnia, migraines, and abdominal cramps.
A core faculty member of the Iyengar Yoga Institute of New York, Clennell writes that a yoga ritual—including seated forward bends, bolster-supported twists, and restorative poses—that she learned from Geeta helped her overcome menstrual discomfort as well as "broaden my perspective on my place in the world beyond my day-to-day concerns." Clennell says that during her more than 30 years of teaching yoga, "I have observed how women's lives have been transformed as a result of practicing yoga with attention to their cycles."
In a world where women are encouraged to ignore—and often dread—their monthly changes, these important books offer empowering information and practical strategies for relieving pain and enhancing reproductive health.