Menstruation cycle and Yoga
Should we practice Yoga during menstruation ? Almost all Indian women in my class ask this question. My answer mostly is, please do what your body tells you ( I know , its a very lame answer.. they wouldn’t have asked me ,if they knew what their body was telling them).I am writing this as inquiry for all the questions I get asked and also another conversation on instagram . This is my understanding with what I know about my culture and the practices of my ancestors. Menstruation period is sacred in all cultures. This determined the procreation and survival of their race, so I am guessing every culture in the world had practices to care of their women. When a women bleeds for 3 to 5 days every month, I would like to think my ancestors were compassionate and empathetic enough to make space for rest and healing.I can only speak about India and my observations growing up around that culture.
First , to give context ,pretty much all traditional daily rituals and practices were spiritual in India. What time you wake up, what you eat ,how you dress and work was all intentional and aimed to be on the path of spirituality. So, during this special period of time , every Indian women rested atleast 3 days every month. Even women who could not afford to stay home
(for economical reasons) were treated with care. I remember my Mother in law making a good warm breakfast for the girl who came to help her in the yard everyday. She would always help her more and encouraged to go home early on those days. If you were wealthy enough, there were special rooms built for resting. I had a friend who said their family had a rest room in the garden ( think She shed) so women can rest and heal. They were fed nutritious food ( was so very important, there is whole list of things we should eat and not eat) and encouraged to read, pray and do what appeals to them. Spiritually , these practices were meant to align our bodies with energies of moon, what better time than a women’s monthly cycle. Most Hindu families continue to practice this even now. But did these spiritual practices became superstitions as a way to keep women out of certain places as patriarchy evolved ? off course they did. They chose to remember that women were encouraged not go temple as their bodies were sensitive but conveniently forgot that women were suppose use this time to rest and develop a spiritual practice. It did not help that British colonization systematically uneducated our traditions and practices ( thats for another day, I am really trying to stay on topic.. my friends would know that is a real struggle for me ).
So, teachers like Pattabhi Jois and Iyengar came from a generation where they saw their mothers , aunts and wives rested during these days. .
It only made sense for them to advice their female students to rest, heal and do less intense physical work. These are the teachers most of us in the west follow. We learned from them or their students who follow this tradition. As the intension of Hatha Yoga practice is to align the energies of our body to that of the energies of sun and moon, it made sense to choose this time to observe. They were not doctors or anatomy experts, they were practitioners who dedicated their lives for this practice. So, we can choose to assume they might know a thing or 2 about this practice. But we can also assume , they did not personally know much about female body. They were not trying to oppress women, they were just teaching what Indian tradition taught them about women. So, its entirely upto us whether we choose to follow these rules/traditions. Should athletic women who do not follow other traditional Hindu practices follow them ? Should we do inversions during this period ? is it harmful ? Will we mess up our system ? I do not know all the answers on all female bodies but can only answer from my experience.
Do I personally follow this rule? to some extent. If my body feels sensitive, I skip intense practice and do restorative practices. Some months , I am lethargic which can only be shrugged off by a brisk walk or a long strong practice. Then thats what I do. Do I think , there is value to these practices and traditions in this current day and age ? My answer is yes. But do I treat my body like a temple the way my ancestors advised me ? probably not. Whenever we pick and choose according to convince , lots of practices get lost in translation and interpretation. Acknowledging that will be a first step. I try not to answer these questions in certitude, as humility of what I do not know is greater than what I know.
edited : Post by Srivatsa Ramaswamy's , a senior yoga teacher a student of Krishnamacharya