A feminine approach to yoga advocates that women adapt their yoga practice according to the phases of their menstrual cycle in order to promote maximum health and vitality.
The most delicate phase of the menstrual cycle is the ‘Dark Moon’ or bleeding-phase. This is when a woman’s body goes through its monthly ‘mini-birth’ as the uterus (one of the most powerful muscles in the body) works hard to expel the menstrual blood.
At this point in your cycle, women often feel tired and ‘wiped out’. Your hormones have plummeted as well as your immune system, which is at it’s most vulnerable—this is why many women report feeling fragile and even a little ‘flu-ey’ when they have their period. Your abdominal muscles soften and your lower back can become a little achy due to the hormone relaxin. This means that your normal, more dynamic yoga practice can be counterproductive as it could end up making you feel more tired and low in energy than when you started.
Instead, I recommend embracing a gentle, restorative ‘Dark Moon’ yoga practice that will rejuvenate your energy and nourish your nervous system, helping to balance your hormonal system and boost your menstrual health and your overall vitality.
Here are my top three ‘menstrual yoga poses’. These postures are all gently supportive and restful and can ease menstrual cramps, tiredness and heaviness.
Menstrual Posture #1: The Constructive Rest Pose—simply delicious!
I often like to begin my Dark Moon practice with the Constructive Rest Position (CRP). This deceptively simple posture is beneficial for relieving menstrual backache and cramping, and is profoundly rejuvenating. Donna Farhi, an internationally renowned yoga teacher, says Constructive Rest Position is ‘an alternative to a nap, cup of coffee or piece of chocolate!’
To practise CRP lie on your back with the feet hip width apart and a comfortable distance away from the buttocks so that the pelvis is in neutral. When you have correctly positioned the feet in relation to the buttocks, there should be a feeling of the thigh bones and shin bones resting lightly against each other like two playing cards positioned in a delicately balanced triangular formation. This allows for a feeling of the head of the femur (thigh bone) to ground into the hip socket, which relaxes the hip flexors, quadriceps and abdominal muscles, and ultimately releases any holding in the psoas muscle.
Psoas expert and somatic therapist, Liz Koch, says that resting on the floor in this position enables us to unravel patterns of tension from deep within our core outward, and it ‘frees the central nervous system from much of the stimuli that evokes habitual response patterns to gravity.’
The iliopsoas complex of muscles are deep core muscles that connect the trunk to the legs, and run from the lower back through the core of the body, passing through the pelvis and finishing at the groin, inside each thigh bone. Branching off the psoas-major muscle at the pelvis is the iliacus, a fan-shaped muscle that lines the inside of the pelvic basin. Because the psoas runs through the pelvis, the nerves of the reproductive organs embed in this muscle. According to Liz Koch, if these psoas muscles are tight and constricted, this can cause or exacerbate menstrual cramping because the muscles can spasm around the nerves that innervate the reproductive organs. Therefore, Koch claims that by gently releasing the psoas in CRP, you can have a positive impact on your menstrual health.
The Constructive Rest Position is a wonderful posture in which to practise ‘Soft Belly Breaths’ (deep abdominal breaths) to allow to soften and relax any tension in the abdominal and uterine area.
This posture can also help foster the apana-energy that is especially beneficial for the Dark Moon (menstrual) phase of your menstrual cycle. This is the downward moving energy that facilitates the physical and energetic menstrual flow and supports healthy menstruation.
With the soles of the feet resting on the floor, CRP lends itself well to the practice of the grounding ‘Apana Breath’. As you exhale, focus on sending any feelings of heaviness, tiredness and tension from your pelvis through your legs, into your feet, and into the earth.
During your Dark Moon (menstrual) phase, it’s so therapeutic to spend some time here in this restful, reclining posture, and really tune in, getting a sense of the yielding of the feet into the earth that then rebounds and sends energy (prana) from the feet, back up through the legs, into the pelvic bowl, and into your womb-space.
Menstrual Posture #2: Supta Baddha Konasana—the mother of all postures
Baddha Konasana in its Restorative variation—Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Posture—resting on a bolster)—is the quintessential menstrual-therapy posture. Patricia Walden, a senior Iyengar-trained yoga teacher from the USA, describes this Restorative posture as the ‘mother of all asanas’.
This blissful pose softens and creates space in the belly and pelvic area, and, can ease menstrual cramps and heaviness and congestion in the belly and pelvic floor. It is also particularly rewarding when your energy is quite low, as it opens the chest and lungs, facilitating deeper breathing and rebuilding your energy.
According to pioneering Restorative Yoga Teacher, Judith Hanson Lasater, Supta Baddha Konasana supports the menstrual flow to move down and out and ‘harmonizes the apana, or feminine, energy in the abdomen by creating a receptive vessel in the belly and pelvis.’ She also says that psychologically, this posture creates a ‘deep opening with safety and support’.
If you are practising this posture for any length of time, it’s important that you support the knees to facilitate maximum softening and release in the belly and pelvic area. Do this by placing a block, folded blanket or bolster under each knee, or wrap a long blanket roll around the front of the shins and ankles, and tuck it under the outer shins, near the knees.
Menstrual Posture #3: The Supported Child Pose—the ‘menstrual teddy bear’ posture
Supported Forward Bending postures are very soothing during menstruation, and my all-time favourite Dark Moon (menstrual) posture is the Supported Child Pose.
If I had to choose one posture for menstruation this would be it! Resting your torso along a yoga bolster feels as comforting as cuddling a big teddy bear, and offers many benefits including relief from menstrual pain, fatigue, and an aching, tight back. It’s also an ideal position to place a hot-water bottle or heat pack on the sacrum, while you rest and breathe through the pain of period cramps.
Stay in this restful supported Forward Bend for as long as you like—up to 10 minutes. Just make sure you turn the head to the other side half way through your timing so that you stretch your neck evenly.
For more information on yoga postures and practices to support healthy menstruation, as well as the other three phases of your menstrual cycle, delve into Ana Davis’s book, ‘Moving with the Moon: Yoga, Movement and Meditation for Every Phase of your Menstrual Cycle and Beyond’— www.movingwiththemoon.com