Recently I became involved with writing some blog and forum posts and other things over at http://my.yoga-vidya.org . One of the topics getting a lot of comments right now is about whether women should practice yoga during menstruation. This question comes up a lot surprisingly. I thought about it a long time and decided to answer and so I am reposting my thoughts over here to share with you.
I feel a need to speak out about this issue as it is one that comes up regularly in yoga classes. I appreciate everyone’s comments here, and so it may seem like I am attacking you specifically here in my post, I’m not, because I’ve heard all these arguments before and I don’t agree with any of them. This post is to go on the record with why I believe there should be no restrictions placed on women who are menstruating and who want to do yoga.
1. Myth: you shouldn’t do inversions because it disturbs apana vayu.
I think the vayus know which way to go regardless of the orientation of the body. If you swallow while in headstand does the swallow not get to the stomach anyway? Does digestion stop depending on if you are laying down, upside down, upright, sideways? Does the heart stop beating depending which direction you orient the body? People confined to bed rest are still able to urinate and defecate.
If it was so easy to upset the vayus, then why is so hard to raise the apana and lower the prana to meet in the middle by using bhandas? We spend hours and sometimes years at this in pranayama to make this happen.
The argument that the apana vayu is disrupted when doing inversions seems at first glance like it makes sense because inversions can make the menses seem to stop for a few hours or a day before resuming. I suggest it is because of gravity, and not because of upsetting the vayu. It is not a big deal. The vayu knows where to be.
2. Myth: menstrual blood is impure.
I can’t fathom why anyone would think this except for misogynistic reasons. Menstrual tissue is first grown in the uterus to allow implantation of the fertilized egg and to provide nourishment for a newly fertilized egg. It is sacred in it’s life-sustaining ability. When an egg does not implant, it is no longer needed by the body, and is evacuated. At that point it comes biological waste, but I think calling it impure implies the connotation that women are impure and all the bodily discharges made by them are impure.
If you believe all biological waste is impure, then let’s have a discussion about the impurity of semen discharged for purely recreational activities. That never happens, because misogynistic thought does not allow male discharge to be considered impure.
(image: fertilized egg on uterine wall)
3. Myth: ovaries/uterus/perineum are too fragile.
The ovaries/uterus are well protected and very resilient. Anyone who has ever carried a baby to term can tell you that during the 8th and 9th month of pregnancy every single internal organ is squished and stressed beyond belief. This includes the uterus and ovaries. Not only that, but babies kick HARD and indiscriminately everything inside the mother’s body. After that, we have a very rigorous delivery, potentially the most difficult physical activity that a body can endure. And yet after all this, the uterus and ovaries work just fine and many women have more than one child.
Besides this, there are many professional female athletes who run, swim, dance, practice gymnastics, ski, etc. I doubt they take off four days from their sport to rest during menstruation and they have no ill side effects in the long run.
Yoga is potentially the most nurturing and healing of all disciplines. I don’t believe that a simple headstand or any other yoga posture can be more stressful on the internal organs than having a child. Do you know someone who has had their reproductive organs injured because of yoga? On the contrary, I think yoga can help sustain and improve the function of the reproductive organs no matter when it is practiced.
I think womens’ bodies are built strongly enough to do yoga whenever we want.
4. Myth: the rshis told us not to do it.
The rshis should be venerated for bringing us the science of yoga. They are to be held in high esteem.
The truth is, the rshis lived in forest ashrams surrounded by brahmachari boys and maybe a few other male monks. If he had a wife, he did not allow her to do yoga. When Swami Vishu-devananda brought yoga to the US in the 1960’s, he taught asanas to women for the first time ever. He placed no restrictions on what women could or could not do during menstruation. He also was a self-realized yogi and a hatha yoga master so I think he knows something about it too. All these objections have come up since his time.
Women were kept from doing yoga for millenia. It was misogynism. I don’t think the viewpoint of the rshis on this matter should be taken seriously.
In summary, I think each woman should decide for themselves what they want to do during menstruation. It seems with all these restrictions to be mainly men telling us what to do with our bodies. Only women know how it feels. Some months I feel great and I do all the asanas. Other months, not so much and then I prefer hip openers and seated postures. I do what feels right for me at the time. I think women should make their own judgments and assertions and then we can move forward to a more realistic view so that our daughters and grand-daughters don’t have to deal with the ever-present “you can’t” do this or that because you’re a girl.
Many oms to all of you and much success on your spiritual path.
(image: swami vishnu in headstand)