—Why are women not supposed to do inverted poses during their menstrual cycle? —Kathleen Heitler, California
Barbara Benagh's reply:
First of all, there is no consensus on whether to avoid inversions
during a woman's menstrual cycle. The two opinions are basically divided
between those who think that no women should practice inversions during
menstruation and those who feel the choice varies from woman to woman.
Those who encourage a ban on inversions cite fears that certain
physical problems may arise. Until recently, increased risk of
endometriosis was considered the most common risk. But since more is
known now about that disease, the idea has been debunked. There is also
a theory that inversions may cause "vascular congestion" in the uterus
resulting in excessive menstrual flow. (For more info, click here.) If
true, this risk is probably most relevant for women who hold inversions
a long time. Some teachers say that since a woman's energy is low during
menstruation, high-energy poses such as inversions should be avoided.
This makes sense, yet not all women experience low energy during
menstruation; indeed, many feel quite energized.
Philosophically speaking, menstruation is considered to be apana,
meaning that energetically, its vitality is downward-flowing. The
argument against inversions during menstruation maintains that
inversions will disturb this natural energetic flow. However, inversions
are recommended in some systems of yoga as therapy to improve
elimination of excess apana. In Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, B.K.S. Iyengar recommends practicing inversions to alleviate menstrual problems such as heavy flow and irregular periods.
The contradictions don't stop there. Some teachers recommend
avoidance of inversions such as Sirsasana (Headstand) and Sarvangasana
(Shoulderstand) while suggesting no such caution with other poses that
invert the uterus, such as Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) and
Since I know of no studies or research that makes a compelling
argument to avoid inversions during menstruation, and since
menstruation affects each woman differently and can vary from cycle to
cycle, I am of the opinion that each woman is responsible for making her
own decision. Pay attention to how you respond to inversions (indeed,
ALL asanas) during your period. A short Headstand may be fine while a
longer one isn't; maybe you will find that backbends or twists adversely
affect your period. If your energy is very low, restorative poses may be
just the ticket, though you may find a more active sequence of standing
poses alleviates cramps and the blues. You really won't know what works
and what doesn't until you feel it in your own body.
The bottom line is that hatha yoga is full of contradictions and
varied opinions, leaving each of us ultimately responsible for our own
choices. Pay attention to your body and discover what works and what
doesn't—not just during your period but every day.
Barbara Benagh, YJ's 2001 Asana columnist, founded the Yoga Studio in Boston in 1981 and teaches seminars nationwide. Currently, Barbara is writing a yoga workbook for asthmatics and can be reached at www.yogastudio.org.