During a recent trip to Fearrington Village, I signed up for a yoga class. I was in South Carolina, we were on a farm, there were cows mooing and birds chirping, so yoga seemed most appropriate. With each chaturanga and Vinyasa flow, I felt myself becoming one with nature—I was entirely at peace. That is until we geared up to do inversions, and the instructor warned anyone with their period against taking part. Not that I can successfully do an inversion, but my clear head was making me feel invincible, so when she mentioned that, considering I was on the third day of my cycle, I felt knocked down. However, the instructor said she had good reasoning; When you do a handstand on your period, the blood flow in your reproductive system becomes interrupted and messes with your cycle. Who knew flowing could affect my internal flow?
Considering I can't be the only person who's gone to yoga during their period, I wanted to investigate this some more, so I chatted with yoga instructors Laju Choudhury and Nathalia Basso, and Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron, MD, director of fertility preservation and reproductive endocrinologist with Fertility Centers of Illinois. The good news: Inversions aren't all that bad, and there are even other poses you can do that will improve your PMS symptoms.
Meet the Expert
- Nathalia Basso is a bodybuilder-turned yoga instructor who helps people regain balance in their wellness routines.
- Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron, MD, is a medical doctor and director of fertility preservation and reproductive endocrinologist with Fertility Centers of Illinois.
- Laju Choudhury is a yoga instructor who has been practicing since she was 3 years old.
When it comes to the safety of inversions or any other pose during your period, says Hirshfield-Cytron, "It is perfectly safe to do yoga during the menstrual cycle, regardless of position, and women should not worry about hurting their reproductive organs through this exercise." The issue instead mostly lies with being pregnant during yoga. "When a woman is pregnant, she should avoid heated yoga and some positions that involve inversions because pregnant women are more likely to get light-headed. As the pregnancy develops, the spine adjusts, such that performing all yoga if not done correctly or adjusting to the pregnant state can cause back pain or injury. For this reason, prenatal yoga classes are encouraged during pregnancy."
There's also cause for concern for women who are going through IVF treatments. "During infertility treatments when a woman's ovaries are stimulated, yoga positions that involve twists or inversions should be avoided. The ovaries swell during IVF stimulation, and these maneuvers could lead to a rare complication called ovarian torsion."
Yoga instructor Nathalia Basso agrees, adding, "inversions on your period are medically fine according to modern western medicine. Ayurveda, the ancient medicine of India, however, contradicts this. Ayurveda teaches that when you're menstruating, you should encourage the flow of blood out of the body and avoid inversions, which reverses the blood flow and doesn't let things 'flow' in the intended direction," she says.
"As a yoga teacher, I encourage my students to develop a connection to their bodies and to do what feels good. In my personal practice, sometimes I feel fantastic on my period and can do backflips," adds Basso. "Other times (most times), I'm fatigued, crampy, and seriously bloated, so in this case, I avoid inversions because they just don't feel good. My advice is to get in tune with your body and do what feels good. This might mean that you're upside down all day while on your period, or you avoid inversions completely."
Lastly, Yoga Instructor Laju Choudhury says people who are menstruating, regardless of whether or not they're pregnant, should avoid yoga poses that put pressure on their stomach because it can increase bleeding and pain in the lower abdomen.
Remember to always listen to your body. If you experience any pain or sensations that don't feel right, stop immediately.
We asked Basso what the potential benefits are of doing yoga on your period. "There are more benefits than not for doing yoga on your period," she says. Basso provided the following list of benefits:
- Yoga can help alleviate menstrual cramps
- It can be nice to find your mind in a calm place when you're feeling the period fog
- You can opt for slow and restorative yoga as a gentle way to keep your practice going and keep your body moving
- You release endorphins and can still experience a body high, which can be extra relieving during your period
Below, take a look at six poses Choudhury and Basso recommend for optimal health during your period.
Choudhury recommends practicing Pranayama breathing because it brings fresh oxygen to the bloodstream: "Bad old blood is going out, and fresh new blood is coming in. It's cyclical, and it's good for making healthy blood during your period."
- Start by standing with both feet together and clasp your hands straight up in the air.
- Slowly bend to one side at your obliques while keeping your legs straight to form a crescent shape with your body and hold for a few breaths.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
"Overall stretching of the arms and legs and all parts of your body brings relief to your spine, which helps with cramps in the lower back," says Choudhury.
- Stand with one foot on the ground, wrap the opposite leg around your standing knee, and place your foot behind your calf.
- Intertwine your arms out in front of you while keeping your elbows bent, and place one palm behind the other. Repeat on the opposite side.
If full eagle pose is too challenging, try crossing your legs and placing your toes of your top leg on your mat or a block instead. This modification will help you build strength and balance so you can eventually lift your foot off the floor for the full version.
"This pose provides relaxation for the body and mind, as well as overall relief of the tension held in the lower spine. Ease off the backward bending, and carefully go into forward stretching poses," says Basso.
- Start by sitting on your knees with your feet underneath your bottom. Then, raise both arms straight into the air, arching your back slightly, and bring your palms together, interlocking your thumbs.
- Keep your stomach tucked in and torso stretched.
- Next, lean forward and slowly bring your forehead down to the ground, holding the stretch while you breathe slow and controlled breaths.
- Finally, raise your head and hands and slowly return to the seated position.
"I love any pose that opens the front of the body and pelvis," says Basso. Camel pose does just this. "Remember that the backbend comes from an upper back bend, not a lower backbend."
- Stand on your knees.
- Tuck the toes.
- Carefully lean back and allow your arms to find your heels behind you.
- Once you've taken hold of your heels, push the pelvis out.
Another front body opening pose recommended by Basso is the bow pose. "The thing to remember to be gentle with yourself and only stretch as much as is comfortable," she says.
- While lying on your stomach, bring the heels of the feet towards your glutes.
- Reach the arms behind you and grab ahold of the backs of your feet.
- Push the feet into the hands to lift the chest off the mat.
- Allow a gentle rock with each inhalation and exhalation.
Legs Up The Wall
"Legs up the wall pose is a greater alternative to more intense inversions," says Basso.
- Find a wall and sit as close as possible facing the wall.
- Gently bring yourself to lay on your back. Scoot your tailbone to the wall while allowing the legs to rest straight against the wall.