Practising yoga while menstruating
Yoga is so popular now with new yoga teachers popping up all over the place and I believe and hope such popularity is here to stay. Beginners Yoga Classes will be big with the onslaught of our New Years resolutions just around the corner, and it’s imperative you are in safe hands, especially when doing inversions in a beginners yoga class. I am passionate about yoga and its many benefits for both the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of enhancing our humanity. However, I wanted to share my story in the hope that women who practise yoga and more yoga teachers, especially those new to teaching Yoga, become aware of the possibility that there may be a correlation between practising inversions whilst menstruating and infertility.
As you may know, Yoga originated in India and was designed by men for men and so it didn’t seem important at that time as to what should or should not be done when a girl or woman has her period and wanted to practise Yoga and in particular inversions. Having years of experience practising and teaching yoga and what I see as common sense, I now believe it crazy to encourage females to do inversions (when the legs are higher than the head) like the shoulder stand and headstand, whilst they are menstruating.
Which Yoga Class is right for me?
There are different schools of thought regarding particular Yoga postures (Asana) for women who are menstruating. Despite all the scientific research out there on the many health benefits of Yoga, there are no clear guidelines on the subject internationally, regardless of your school of Yoga. As we are dealing with human beings and particularly those unborn beings with out a choice or voice on the matter, there will never be evidence-based Scientific research that states what should or should not be done in a yoga class regarding women, periods, pregnancy and inversions.
I started doing inversions at an early age encouraged by my mother who had been attending Yoga Classes in the mid 1970’s. I started my period aged 12 and didn’t even consider not doing a headstand or shoulder stand when I was “on”. I did and always have done inversions on and off throughout my life whether I was menstruating or not until the age of approximately 39 years when I applied reason and intuitively stopped practising inversions during menstruation. I was diagnosed with Endometriosis in 1999, why hadn’t I put one and one together sooner? The flow of blood from the lining of the uterus is designed by the pull of gravity to draw blood down and out through the vagina each month so surely going upside down would prevent this natural flow or at least delay it, possibly creating a build up upon return to the standing position.
I’d never heard of the disease endometriosis until 1999 and so started doing the research. Today 10% of women worldwide have the disease. It takes an average of 7 and half years from onset of symptoms to diagnosis. Endometriosis today costs the UK economy £8.2 billion a year in treatment, loss of work and healthcare costs. The prevalence of endometriosis in women with infertility is as high as 30-50%. Endometriosis affects 1.5 million women in the UK, a similar number of women affected by diabetes. I was devastated and more so after being rushed to hospital with chronic unknown pain and then told after a Laparoscopy that I was sub fertile and would never be able to conceive a child.
Endometriosis comes in different degrees of severity and basically means that rather than the menstrual blood making its way down the uterus and out of the vagina, for some reason it does the reverse and can cause clots which can attach themselves to internal organs and can be fatal. Endometriosis can be debilitating and there is no reason why it happens and why it should affect some women and not others and there is currently, no cure.
My Yoga Beginnings
From an early age I had always imagined myself to be a mother some day and so the news that it would be practically impossible for me to conceive was horrific at that time. Being a person of faith and optimistic outlook, I thought I would be able to defy the news and medical anomaly by adopting a super healthy lifestyle and positive attitude alongside lots of prayer. I completely changed my diet and eating habits, upped the anti on my exercise regime and got heavily into receiving alternative medicine such as Acupuncture, Bowen Technique, Aromatherapy, Massage, Floatation tanks, Homeopathy, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and Hypnotherapy and of course prayer and a regular Yoga practise.
My favourite choices of indulgence, at that stage in my life, were bread and wine which I stopped taking for up for 5 years and this did make a significant difference to my body shape, complexion and the debilitating pain experienced from Endometriosis. I also used this time to stop using tampons as I had read so much research about their toxicity upon insertion and so I can only recommend using sanitary towels, unless you absolutely have to use tampons for swimming and beach life but I certainly would not recommend using them whilst you are sleeping. Despite this, I didn’t conceive. I do have some friends who were also diagnosed with Endometriosis, more severe than mine (mine was moderate) and they did thankfully go on to conceive but they were not yogis and did not practise inversions.
My Yoga Babies
To put you in the picture I wasn’t actively trying for a baby at this time as I didn’t feel ready and hadn’t met ‘the man of my dreams’ but I was sexually active with my partner and wasn’t using contraception. Over the course of my life I did manage to get pregnant on 4 occasions but all pregnancies resulted in miscarriage, the last time was 8 years ago, I was 44 years of age and 8 weeks pregnant. Each time I went through morning sickness, massive swollen breasts and stomach and a feeling and appearance of being 4-6 months pregnant. I was superbly careful with regards to self-care during each early stage of pregnancy and especially so with my last pregnancy as I felt I was at the ‘last chance saloon’, 44 was pushing it for a first baby, with or with out endometriosis.
Im absolutely OK now with not having children and realise it was not meant to be for me. I have nephews and nieces and have spent many years working with young people so feel I got the opportunity to get my child ‘fix’. I now love the freedom being childless gives me, however I was pretty devastated and shocked approaching my 40’s and the biological clock ticking away and so I can empathise with other women wanting a child and being unable to despite adopting a healthy lifestyle and practising yoga.
A Yoga Teacher
I am a yoga teacher and I know what im doing when teaching but I am not a writer and so now need to apologise for my poor storytelling skills should you have managed to get this far. The reason for sharing this story is because I love yoga and what yoga has to offer but it is something to be respected, as is the human body and the differences between men and women. I did not stop doing inversions during each of my pregnancies. As I had always considered them as a good thing to do and a healthy contribution to my internal organs. There was no research to suggest that there was a negative correlation with inversions and pregnancy or periods and there may never be.
It’s a horrible situation for anyone to want something so much that is or should be a natural occurrence and a birthright and the pressure was immense between the ages of 35 and 45, but being a spiritual soul, I had my trust in God and knew that I was in good hands. As a Yoga Teacher I feel strongly that a woman should not do inversions when she is menstruating. I believe it OK to do inversions when pregnant if you have been doing them regularly prior to conception but I would not encourage anyone to take up inversions when they are pregnant.
My Yoga Promise
If you come to a Yoga 7 class I will always give alternatives for inversions for those menstruating and discourage it. It is important that students tell their teacher if they think that they are or may be pregnant. Of course you don’t have to take this on board and it may be that other variables be taken into consideration regarding my endometriosis and subsequent inability to go full term in a pregnancy but I feel I would be doing a disservice to my students if I did not state clearly my opinion based on my own experience. My promise to you is to be the vehicle for delivering traditional yoga alongside your safety and well being.
To go upside down or not-that is the question?
Please don’t let this discourage you from practising inversions as they really are amazing not only for the feel good factor but alleviating pressure on the heart and the list continues- just not whilst menstruating. Some schools of thought think it is OK to practise inversions whilst pregnant and I take the stand that if it feels right for you and you are used to inversions prior to pregnancy then continue right up until it no longer feels right for you. Just because it’s a debatable subject I do strongly suggest avoiding inversions during a period. Sadly a regulatory body does not currently govern Yoga and consequently there are many yoga teachers training without any lineage and using yoga as a tool for fitness rather than its eclectic and authentic original intention. During some of my continued professional development last year, I was informed at a Yoga conference that this would soon be a thing of the past and that a regulatory body would soon be mandatory. When this does happen, im sure that clear guidelines will come into play regarding women, menstruation and inversions but until then, be Yoga safe.