Join me for Women's Essentials Class every Thursdays at 4pm at Adeline Yoga in Berkeley where we explore the themes and rhythms of women's lives in community.
One of the theories of why women live longer than men is because we have this natural sloughing off, cleansing process that occurs throughout a large portion of our lives. That said, we are bleeding without being injured or dying. Normally when someone is bleeding, you insist that they rest, that they take it easy, that they not do any heavy lifting or take on big responsibilities.....yet in our modern age, that is exactly what many women do. We plow through the first couple of days of our menstrual bleeding trying to ignore or overcome the “problem” vs. taking it as an opportunity to stop, rest, reflect, and find our center.
“It is right and proper that women eke out, liberate, take, make connive to get, assert their right to go home. Home is a sustained mood or sense that allows us to experience feelings not necessarily sustained in the mundane world: wonder, vision, peace, freedom from worry, freedom from demands, freedom from constant clacking. The vehicles through and by which women reach home are many: music, art, forest, ocean, sunrise, solitude. These take us home to a nutritive inner world that has ideas, order and sustenance all of it's own.” -Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes
I can already hear a cacophany of “yes, buts” being hurled at me for even suggesting that you take some time to do “nothing”! A friend of mine recently proudly related to me that she had given herself 10 minutes to just sit and read the newspaper.....I said, “you know I spend whole days just reading.” To which she replied, “Yes, but you don't have the responsibilities I have.”
Aw yes, the “responsibilities”. Modern women who have taken on the healer archetype to feel and fix everything in their wake at the expense of their own energy, spirit and sometimes even their health. Without the wisdom to know that a true healer cannot heal anyone else unless she has healed herself first, we become dried up, used up, burnt out shells. To heal ourselves in tandem with others we need to commit to self-care, self-reflection and a commitment to making time and space to simply be away from "responsibilities" from time to time.
In many cultures there is still a taboo around women when they are bleeding. They aren't allowed to cook or clean or even be around others in some cases. We can think of this as being patriarchial and controlling but the flip side is, they aren't allowed to do anything and are forced to be in solitude for a short time each month. Consider this.....
When Geeta Iyengar was asked about what women should do when they are bleeding, she first said, “nothing” and followed that with “if anything, the focus should be on seated forward extensions.” Geeta Iyengar is a revolutionary figure in the art of yoga. As the daughter of Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar, she had the opportunity to practice and study and the feet of a master. Yet, she added her wisdom to the practice, in particular, she addressed the specific needs of a woman and how to address those through the yoga asana and pranayama. General “rules” or recommendations are that women not invert or go upside-down while they are bleeding; and that they not do closed twists or abdominal work. Vigorous standing poses and back extensions are also contraindicated at this time. The general set of poses that are recommended soften the abdomen and “go with the flow” helping to remove the old blood and tissue from the uterus so that a new field for creation can be plowed.
The first day of menstruation, you might consider Geetaji's advice and simply do nothing. Rest in Savasana, breath, meditate in a prone position. Then for at least 2-3 more days, do some version of a menstrual sequence which includes both supported back extensions and supported forward extensions.
Below is a sequence inspired by “Geeta Iyengar's Guide to a Women's Yoga Practice” by Lois Steinberg and my own practice. Enjoy returning home......
- **Adho Mukha Virasana (child's pose): chest supported on a bolster
- **Supported Uttanasana: head or chest supported on a bolster on a chair
- Rope Adho Mukha Svanasana or hands to wall with head support: if you are gripping and overworking the abdomen then skip this pose
- *Parsva Supta Padangusthasana: extended leg supported on a bolster or on a wall; this is a great pose for menstrual cramps!
- Ardha Chandrasana with wall support and brick under hand
- Supta Baddha Konasana: support the outer thighs so the abdomen feels soft and deep
- Supta Virasana: use two bolsters stairstepped so abdomen has length without the usual grip of this pose
- *Matysasana or Supta Swastikasana: support the thighs if needed
- Upavista Konasana on support
- Urdhva Parsva Upavista Konasana: Lifted, open twist to transition from back extensions to forward extensions
- **Janu Sirasana: height under the hips with bent leg outer thigh supported and head support; keep outer upper chest area open
- **Triangmukhaikapada Paschimottanasana: as with Janu Sirsasana
- **Paschimottanasana: legs apart with adequate support for head; don't try to hard to “get into this pose”, instead use enough support that you can stay and settle in
- Bharadvajasana I: Open, lifted twist on height to transition to back extension; use chair if available
- **Setu Banda Sarvangasana: on a long bolster with the feet supported on a wide bolster at the wall so feet are a little wider than hip width and held by the wall so you can release the legs and abdomen
- Savasana: Flat with a bolster under the knees if lower back is bothering you; chest supported on a long bolster if you are feeling depressed or down; bolster and weights on the thighs if you are feeling anxious.
** Headache – use a headwrap and focus on the seated forward bends vs back extensions. (see last post below)
- Get enough rest. It's ok to take a nap in the afternoon from time to time. Really truly!
- Eat wholesome, warm, pacifying foods that are easy to digest. Avoid cold, raw foods.
- Avoid hot baths, stick to showers during your menses
- If you get cramps, try using pads vs. tampons at least the first couple of days. My cycles also shortened when I did this I think because the blood was allowed to come out more readily vs. coming out in smaller amounts over a longer time.
Special 4 class pass for the Women's Essentials Class in April: Only $45!