Sunday, April 15, 2018

Inversions & Periods, Let's Talk About It

I’d like for us to all begin on the same page. In my perspective, not all people who menstruate are women and not all women
menstruate. Therefore, I will refer to folks who have a periods as… people who menstruate. I’ll be referencing that a lot, so let’s shorten it to PWM. Deal? For more info on what I’m talking about, click HERE.

Have you ever been in yoga class enjoying your teacher’s flow and then suddenly cued to avoid an inversion if you are currently on YOUR flow?

A few weeks ago, I asked for opinions about inverting while on your period via my IG. There were mixed feelings. Some of my followers said that they actively engage in inverted postures (such as headstand, handstand, shoulder stand, etc.) to help relieve pelvic pain or lighten their flow. Others said it depends on how their body is feeling- sometimes restorative practice feels best and sometimes the uterus just needs to be turned upside down for a while, you know? Finally, others recommend PWM completely avoid inversions while menstruating.

In the words of Oprah, so what is the truth?
My question came from my own mixed messages on inverting during “that time of the month.” I recall being told during my yoga teacher training to avoid certain asana (yoga postures) if I was on my period and to encourage future students to do the same. Full disclosure, I’m a cis-woman with endometriosis. For the first few days especially, you won’t get much more than sukhasana and savasana (+ a heating pad on level high) out of me anyways. But is avoiding a headstand necessary for everyone who’s visited by Auntie Flow?

I did some digging. Sounds like the internet is confused too.

Let’s start with the naysayers. It can be hard to present a differing opinion, but I am so glad folks from every point of view felt safe enough to chime in. Most of those who voted “nah” aligned with traditional yoga philosophy. B.K.S. Iyengar was frequently mentioned while I searched for answers. According to “The Bible of Modern Yoga,” Light on Yoga, PWM are forbidden to engage in postures in which the uterus is inverted. This is because of an understanding of prana, our energy, and its natural descent during this time. During menstruation, the body’s energy is apana, or flowing downward. Pranic energy is connected to our bowels, urination, and menses. You know, processes which move things down and out. Asana, which are as much spiritual as they are physical, that turn the uterus upside down therefore disrupt the body’s energetic flow.

Iyengar isn’t the only teacher who felt this way. Advisory warnings also come from Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, a central figure to the expansion of ashtanga yoga. The guru suggests a “ladies’ holiday” for practitioners. For the first 3 days of a menstruating person’s period it is recommended that asana as a whole be avoided! This is echoed in traditional hatha yoga (my training!), which warns against engaging in mula bandha so as not to “lock in” the body’s energy.

I know, I know, Team NO is getting a lot of playtime here, but stick with me. The medical industry has chimed in on this too! It has been rumored that inverting while on your period could result in a heavier flow or even retrograde menstruation. Retrograde menstruation sounds just about as bad as Mercury in retrograde, amiright? This is the term for when the menses flows back into the abdomen. To be fair, it is reported 90% of PWM experience retrograde menstruation. Surprise! You have probably experienced this yourself (if you get a period) a time or two and didn’t even know! So what’s the big deal? Endometriosis would be that big deal.

As someone who has had endometriosis since I began menstruating (age 12) and long before I began a yoga practice, I found this horrifying. Do you mean to tell me the practice I love so deeply could also be a pathway to one of my most painful lifelong disorders? Let me end the suspense for you, research has shown that this isn’t the case for a whole host of reasons. Welcome to Team IT DEPENDS (ON YOU).

The school of  “Do You Boo” can be summarized as: “your body, your choice.” Again, full disclosure, as a die hard Black queer feminist this was familiar (and comfortable) music to my anti-patriarchal ears. The voices which have traditionally discouraged inverting are… well… men. Cis-men to be exact (or leave a comment below if anyone has different information!) who have never experienced a period in their life. Is this reason enough to question their wisdom?

Many sources encouraged PWM to adjust their practice based on their symptoms. If your period is heavy, makes you lethargic (#TamasVibes), or lightheaded, a headstand may not be the safest choice energetically or physically. For other menstruators out there, a shoulderstand may be the perfect way to balance out your energetic funk. An important question you may want to ask yourself is,
“How do I feel when I am on my period?”

This question places the wisdom back into your hands and allows PWM to discern for themselves what feels best for their bodies. Everybody and every body is unique- is a blanket “avoid at all costs”
protective or oppressive? And why are technical inversions like downward dog and forward fold (both invert the uterus) less discussed than shoulderstand?

Also, consider if you ARE that student in class on your period. The teacher cues an alternative option for those on the rag- and now everyone in class knows who and who is not on their period! This can be an incredibly shameful experience. It strips agency from the student. It can make genderqueer bodies vulnerable to scrutiny (because if a “man” goes into child’s pose instead of headstand, it’s inevitable a person or two may question why). The point here to consider safety (body, mind, and spirit) as well as choice for PWM.

Do we get a say? Or does tradition know best? There is very little discussion about this topic despite the thousands of PWM who practice. This fuels mysticism and ignorance around the uterus, its wonders, and how to keep it healthy and safe (I’m holding myself back from launching into a rant on reproductive rights and gender-based violence here...). Mixed messages act as a potential barrier for PWM to build an informed relationship with their bodies. Medically, it would appear your reasonable 10-30 second inversion won’t cause any harm. In fact, many menstruators swear on its efficacy in reducing period symptoms. Spiritually, some of the founding OG’s say it’s a no-go, but many other respected teachers say otherwise. What’s a PWM to do?
I’m not here to provide answers.

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What I do know is that yoga has taught me
the power of turning inward and seeking
the answers I need within my higher self.
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The practice encourages me to be present in the experiences of my body, mind, and spirit in the space of “Right Now.” So, what if you feel capable to go for that handstand? Or what if you just don’t want the whole room knowing you're battling period cramps? Or what if you have chosen to follow yogic tradition and don’t mind a break from your practice?

My best answer is... you have the answer.

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Kala Lacy is a community healer, wellness warrior, activist, raging water sign, and teacher of holistic health who works within underserved communities across the nation to provide education of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellness.
She is a trained therapist, certified yoga teacher, and Lead Curator and Administrator of BlackGirlYoga. In all spaces she connects her extensive knowledge of body, spirit, and mind with a critical analysis of structural violence, considering them inseparable.

To contact and find out more about Kala, check out

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