According to Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old science of life, there are three primary doshas, or body types based around the elements: Vata (air and spirit), Pitta (fire and water), and Kapha (earth and water). Vata is the energy that oversees all the movement in the body-mind, and regulates all downward forces: think bowel movements, urination, ejaculation, flatulence, and most certainly menstruation.
We all have a little bit of all three doshas in us, with one usually predominating. Depending on the doshic imbalances in your mind and body, the experience of menstruation differs. Overly Vata periods look scanty and irregular, with erratic cramps and shorter cycles. Higher Pitta might manifest in heavy bleeding, an acidic/fleshy smell in the blood, and a bright red color. Kapha menstruation may be accompanied by longer cycles, discharge and clots, and overall sense of heaviness.
How Yoga for Menstruation Can Help
There are a lot of theories and controversies around periods and yoga asanas. I believe we need to change our understanding of yoga and alter our practice when on our periods, especially when experiencing intense cramps. Dysmenorrhea, the medical term for period cramping, is caused by contractions of the uterus—another function of the Vata dosha.
Depending on the individual, the intensity and length of period cramps differ. But, in general, pain is a sign of Vata imbalance. Specific yoga asanas for menstruation have been proven to help alleviate the pain associated with period cramps, and may also reduce other symptoms associated with PMS.
On the physical level, we can stimulate blood flow to the pelvic area by practicing pelvic movements and creating gentle compression around the uterine area. On the mind level, a yoga practice for menstruation can teach us how to relax when in pain. Breathing deeply can help stretch muscles that might be cramping, while also calming the nervous system.
Listen to Your Body During Menstruation
No matter your dosha or doshic imbalance, give dynamic yoga asanas a rest for the first few days of your cycle. Ayurveda recommends that during a time of intense internal movement—your period being one of these times—the best remedy is to use opposing forces to balance. One way to approach yoga for menstruation is to slow down and turn inward.
It’s okay to give yourself permission to rest during the first few days of your cycle. Instead of focusing on what happens on the mat, explore your yoga practice off the mat. How do you feel emotionally and mentally? During menstruation, the body is releasing what needs to go, which can be an invitation to shed unnecessary tension, anxieties, and stress, too.
Yoga and Menstruation From an Ayurvedic Lens
Menstruation is a time in which apana vayu, one of the sub-types of Vata dosha, is dominant. Apana promotes and stimulates release—physical, mental, and emotional. When practicing yoga, pranayama, or meditation, prana vayu (the upward-moving sub-type of Vata) becomes activated. An opposition of apana vayu and prana vayu (like when you practice intense yoga asana during your period) creates confusion and unease in the body.
Inversions in Yoga During Your Period
Turning your body upside down in any sort of inversion (headstand, handstand, dolphin pose, etc.) goes against your body’s natural downward energy during this time of the month. Vigorous yoga asanas in general should be avoided until the third or fourth day of the cycle or until when your flow becomes lighter. On these final days of menstruation, a gentle or restorative yoga practice can be performed. The slow, rhythmic, relaxing tone of this practice is a perfect balance to the discomfort of menstruation.
Recommended Yoga Postures for Periods
These postures don’t require too much active movement and either open the pelvic region to reduce constriction or help you turn inward and surrender. All of these poses offer great relief and remind you to use this time of the month to take good care of yourself.
Feel free to use plenty of props like blankets, straps, bolsters, cushions, and blocks. Remember: your period is completely unique to you. Listen to your body, and practice yoga asanas only in a way that feels right to you—no matter where you are in your cycle. These are a few key poses that may work for your yoga practice for menstruation: