by Thalia Wynne, PT, DPT, AT, RYT
If you remember back to your first-ever yoga class, you may remember being told to avoid inversions if you were actively on your period. I can still recall the first time hearing those words when on my period and feeling so confused…yet I still followed the instructions because the instructor must be saying this for a reason and hey, I’m new at this. So I just listened to what she said and skipped my shoulderstand that day (back when I still did shoulderstands). After that first class, in rebellious fashion, I refused to follow that advice again – it didn’t make sense to me. After all, gymnasts were still allowed to compete when bleeding, so why did I have to listen to this rule in yoga? The next time I was on my period, I bravely went upside down to experiment. Was I going to get extra cramps? Was the blood going to leak into my guts and disturb my precious microbiome? I wasn’t sure but I had to find out. So upside down I went. And… Nothing. Happened. Ta-da! Myth busted!
Why then do yoga instructors continue to give the advice to avoid inversions while menstruating? Where did this idea come from and is there any truth to it?
Let’s look at some yoga history. Apana – the downward flowing energy that is responsible for elimination and menstruation was thought to be disrupted when inverting the body. So in several yogic and ayurvedic texts, it was suggested for women avoid going upside down during her period. However, the safety of a woman’s body was not the only reason for keeping women out of yoga classes. Throughout our history, culture has not been kind to menstruating women.
Women were viewed as impure and dirty and were excluded from participation in society during their time of bleeding. In fact, in ancient India during the Vedic time period, it was declared that “guilt, of killing a brahmana-murder, appears every month as menstrual flow as women had taken upon themselves a part of Indra’s guilt.”
The perpetuation of women being “unfit” while bleeding didn’t stop in ancient India. During the race to space there was much debate within NASA about whether to send a woman to space or not because of her mood instability during “that time of the month”. Researchers at NASA stated: “that putting a temperamental psychophysiologic human (i.e., a hormonal woman) together with a complicated machine was a bad idea.” They were also terrified of what would happen to a woman’s period in space without gravity to pull the menstrual blood down.
Just as yogis were concerned about disrupted apana, scientists were concerned about retrograde menstruation and its potential harm as it was believed that this event was linked with endometriosis. It has since been researched that over 90% of women experience retrograde menstruation and it is not the cause of endometriosis.
Back to NASA… a big thank you to Sally Ride, the first evidential proof that women can thrive in space – even when on their period. She proved that gravity was not necessary for menstruation to occur regularly – which totally makes sense seeing that one can still bleed even when lying down.
It turns out that menstrual bleeding can occur perfectly well whether one is lying flat, upside down, or floating in the absence of gravity altogether. So my friends, let it be known that women can indeed perform inversions on their period without repercussions. Do you, girl, and hit as many handstands as you want.
Happy upside-down menstruating ladies 😉
Thalia Wynne, PT, DPT, AT, RYT
IG: @thalialovee (https://www.instagram.com/thalialovee/)