A question that comes up a lot both on the Redefining Yoga Q & A Podcast and in our LYT Yoga Teacher Training is should a person practice yoga during their period? There are those who would say a woman should never practice during menstruation. Eye roll. Then there are those who say you shouldn’t do inversions during menstruation. They claim that inverted poses (such as handstand or forearm balance) reverse the prana, or energy flow, which is normally from the naval down to the pelvic floor. They claim this reversal of energy flow can disturb the menstrual process and lead to reproductive issues later on. This is simply not true. Neither the position of the body nor the gravitational pull of the earth has any effect on menstrual flow. Female astronauts spending months in space report having completely normal menses despite being in zero gravity the entire time. People may also claim that inversions place undue strain on the broad ligaments of the uterus and cause a partial collapse of the veins, allowing the arteries to pump blood into the abdomen. These claims have been also shown to be baseless, with no scientific proof behind them.
What the science has shown is that exercise is an optimal treatment method for pain during your period. More than 50% of women have painful periods and 10% of them are so severe that they disrupt 1-3 days of their lives each month. Cramps, medically known as primary dysmenorrhea, occur when the uterus contracts due to reduced blood supply. It’s believed to be caused by the release of prostaglandins and other inflammatory proteins in the uterus, which is mediated by the sympathetic nervous system. Exercise has been shown to decrease stress, which decreases the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, thereby decreasing menstrual pain. Physical activity also decreases vasoconstriction and increases estrogen and progesterone, which can decrease symptoms. Exercise during menstrual pain can also lead to faster transfer of wastes and prostaglandins from the uterus.
The research is unclear regarding what type of exercise is best for managing menstrual symptoms. Most studies agree that the type of exercise should be of moderate intensity and aerobic, to encourage the release of endorphins for pain and stress relief. Studies have also shown a greater decrease in pain from longer periods of exercise (8-weeks as compared to 4-weeks). From a personal perspective, I know that during the first two days of my period, my pelvic joints are a little less stable and are more prone to pain with prolonged standing or high impact activities. So I modify my LYT Yoga® practice accordingly. I may choose to do an intermediate level class with less plyometrics or modify a higher level class to minimize pressure through the joints. I may opt for a run-walk as opposed to a run, or in some cases, I’ll choose yoga over running on those days. It’s important to listen to your body. But know with confidence that science has shown exercise to be beneficial in treating menstrual symptoms. There is no evidence behind inversions affecting menstrual flow or reproduction. We have heard countless stories from LYT Yoga® practitioners that connecting to the core with this method of yoga has vastly improved their menstrual pain. How great is that?! On that note, you know where you can always find me, any time of the month…on the mat!