Thursday, October 22, 2009

Spiral Arteries and Ashtanga Moon Time Restrictions

This is my "moon time" and I am having some difficulty keeping my happy smile up. Since I've shed my estrogen-pee habits these times have become more trying. At least I can say it's natural.

Why am I sharing this? Because I am on my period and I still practice yoga. Gasp. It would seem that we talk a lot about menstruation here, with my copious praises to the Diva Cup... however I do firmly believe that menstruation is something that isn't talked about enough in our society. We hide it, continue to view our periods as dirty and *gross* when 50% of the human population (between 11-55yrs) has this week-long phenomenon monthly. So why are we still ashamed? Perhaps the thousands of years of cultural negativity has some blame. Just maybe.

I remember when I first started my period, I thought my life would END for the entire week. I shouldn't go hang out with friends, couldn't swim, couldn't do too many physical activities... What if I didn't get to a bathroom in time? Being a teenager sucks, especially a monthly bleeding one. Now, although I had grown considerably (many many feminist readings, classes and empowering friendships later), when I started to practice yoga this period-stop your life- theory applied. I had SUCH difficulties with those ridiculous tampons. They weren't comfortable, they leaked, they caught... I hated them. I hated practicing yoga during my moon time, it gave me pause to seriously consider punking out each month.

The Diva Cup completely changed that. Now, moon times mean no rush to the store, no leaks, no worries for the entire day (12 hours!), as much physical movement as I would like! Oh the freedom! Now my yoga is not dependent on my menstruation.

A recent comment has reminded me why I have resisted reading specific texts in detail... It was asked whether I was aware that Ayurveda recommends never placing plastic in the vagina, including tampons. Actually, no I wasn't aware. But now that I am... my answer is: The Diva Cup is silicone.

I agree, plastic (with it's petrochemicals and leaching BPA properties), especially chemically bleached cotton, should never have graced my beautiful vaginal walls. Just like that new chemically dyed pink breast cancer toilet paper won't come within ten meters of my bum. I am so happy that I have found a safe and chemical leaching-free alternative.

Now, if the theoretical reason behind this "no plastic in the nether regions" has to do with some sort of no-obstruction rule... than I have to say that I disagree. And this is where the ancient texts study "block" comes into the picture. For practical reasons I cannot see why I would want to use a diaper-styled apparatus to "catch" my flow. I find them uncomfortable and restricting. I don't want to be restricted by the fact that I menstruate. Further, as far as I have read there has been no overall scientific data stating that catching the flow with a silicone cup is damaging in any way to the vaginal walls or overall health of a woman.

These thoughts started me thinking about how in certain practices, women are either restricted completely, discouraged strongly or told to practice a modified sequence while on their period. The theory (and please clarify if I've interpreted too loosely as I haven't read actual theoretical Ashtanga texts) is that it should be a time for rest.

Like my body stops functioning properly when I'm on my period. Right. Menstruation has actually been found to be a time of heightened activity, intellectual clarity, feelings of well-being and general happiness. (Woman: An Intimate Geography p.107). The theory that shedding our endometrium lining is calorically expensive (i.e. that bleeding decreases energy levels) has been refuted by several scientists in recent decades. Keeping UP our rich caloric-eating uterine wall would in fact be MORE costly than shedding and regrowing once a month
(Strassmann, B; Human Nature 1992). From this we can infer that women should in fact be MORE tired pre-post menstruation than during.

Furthermore, I'm always cautious when interpreting medical texts. The Western medical system has been fraught with misogyny and patriarchal roots. Modern medicine has always been a "man's" world and subsequently the study of female anatomy and physiology was either minimal, or biased. It has only been in the past two or *maybe* three decades that science has taken a more feminine spin. Also, we need to remember that most traditional texts were written by men, from a culture with a history of hundreds (if not a thousand) years of patriarchy. Blood was viewed as a reason for concern, and instead of being celebrated was often thought of as some sort of injury, malaise or "wrongness" (to name some nicer terms).

Now I may be more clumsy, I may have a bit less balance (personally trying to practice Tree pose during my moon time is wobbly!) and I may choose to practice more soothing postures... but the key word is "choose". As there is no anatomical nor physiological reason why practice a sweaty vinyasa practice should somehow "damage" my uterus, should I feel inclined I will.

The theory that inversions during menstruation could be harmful has also been poorly supported empirically. Kinda like the theory that a tampon could get "lost" up there. Up where? It's not like the menstrual stuff is going to tip up and leak back in. The cervix takes care of that.

Menstruation is most definitely NOT a passive process. We don't passively leak out from gravity's influence. Menstruation is dynamic. Our spiral arteries (three) feed two superficial layers of the endometrium. Pre-period these arteries grow longer and tightly corkscrewed and circulation to the endometrium slows down. 24 hours prior to the flow, they constrict tightly and blood flow ceases completely. As a result, the endometrium tissue starts to die, followed by a release of the arteries and blood flows again, pooling beneath the lining and forcing it to separate. A few more start and stops and essentially we have menstruation.

Where in that active process is there any indication that blood flow is controlled willy-nilly and could be redirected elsewhere (by say, an inversion?). I'd say that if you hold an inversion for long periods of time and start to feel wonky... perhaps it's because you'd held the inversion for a long period of time... and not because you have a uterus that sheds.

For all of that, I have no problem with other women choosing to: wear pads or not practice during their moon times. My wish is that we can make these decisions based on solid non-biased information as opposed to traditions that imply something lesser or restricting.

Many Blessings!

article copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. Yeah, science and patriarcy have a nice long history together. My favorite is the still widely held belief that the act of fertilization is achieved pretty much completely by the sperm while the ovum just hangs out and waits passively. Wow, sounds suspiciously like Victorian era stereotypes! Coincidence? It's been awhile, but I think it was in the 1800s when scientists actually discovered that the zygote was formed when the ovum grabbed hold of a sperm cell with microvilli and pulled it in. Just one of the many ways our preconceived notions of sex roles has influenced how we preform science!

  2. There's nothing wrong with practicing yoga on your period as long as you feel okay. That's always been my teacher's take on the subject.

    However, I don't know that all of the ideas around women not practicing as strenuously come from the patriarchy.

    During menstruation, Apana Vayu Prana is working downwards to exhale or eliminate bodily fluids. Its quite amazing what the female body goes through at this time when you stop to think about it!

    Essentially we are losing blood and for some women that can be draining and tiring, at least for the first 1-3 days of their cycle. And so, in Ayurveda, and I'd say many women would agree too, its better to take things a little easier.

    That's a generalisation I guess. But its also a nice time to get in touch with how your body feels at this time and if you're racing around like normal, you'll miss it. I love being able to feel the "drawing down" of the energies. It means I almost always know a day or two in advance, which day to expect my period.

    And actually the reason we we want to avoid inversions (again, mostly the first few days of the cycle) is because of the action of Apana Vayu (downward). Not because of any concerns with the physical blood, but because they work against the natural flow of this prana.

    I wouldn't say doing inversions are harmful, and its certainly up to the individual... but personally, I avoid inversions during my period because I literally feel it aids the flow of Apana Vayu as it does its work.

    Re: plastic in the vagina, I'd say its because plastic is known to leech psuedo-hormones, which can be harmful to the body. I don't know anything about sillicon though!

  3. Great post. I've been pleased that fewer and fewer of the teachers I study with encourage women to "rest" during their menstrual periods. As there is no sound medical reason to stop practicing, I don't think instructors should discourage it. Like you say, it's a personal choice. Just like some people may choose a rest day when they have a migraine or a toothache.

  4. Svasti: yep I do believe it's a small subgroup (ortho-ashtangis) whom I'm speaking to here...
    however, that being said- the inversions blood flow wasn't actually something I interpreted, but something I read:

    Although yoga journal isn't my best "source", the yogi here states 2/3 theories being linked to more physiological reasons (which I addressed here) as opposed to spiritual/traditional theories. I do believe that when speaking of "energies" vs "physiology" we need to keep them separate. Not one is more than another, just that they are two different aspects of our bodies as we currently know them. (key word- currently :) )

    Also- what is interesting is that the YJ author quotes Iyengar as recommending inversions for menstrual cramps....

    so i'd say the jury is definitely still out on the energy theory as well.

    as you've stated- it all comes down to personal choice. Which is why I like the word "choice".:)

  5. My take on menstruation and yoga has always been "see how you feel". Personally I'm not happy doing inversions during my period. Not because of any strange "going back up" non-theory, but for me it just doesn't feel right. Other women find that it helps with their period pain. All my students know that they can and can't do inversions any time they want!

    Unfortunately for me my body does stop functioning properly during menstruation which is a pain! I have a sensitivity to my own oestrogen plus endometriosis and therefore suffer with crippling migraines and cramps. Not conducive to a physical yoga practice really although, pranayama and meditation help tremendously.

    Still at least it's naturaland only lasts a few days!!!

  6. A well written and informative piece. There are signs that menstruation was once considered rather differently. Menstrual blood was once considered pretty sacred and used to bless fields for fertility for the following year. I do feel it is the choice factor that has been taken from us. I don't necessarily want to go and do a nine to five at that time. Taking time out to be with myself is just a little too tricky...

    I love the whole science thing. It has taken science a long time to admit that the women's genes are more important in reproduction than the mans. I had no idea that the ovum grabs the sperm though. I am a scientist, although not a medical one, and I had no idea of this. Just another thing not much talked about...

  7. "[P]lastic...should never have graced my beautiful vaginal walls."

    "It's not like the menstrual stuff is going to tip up and leak back in. The cervix takes care of that."

    You are FUNNY! I love this. Thanks for making me smile during my own moon time (during which I have not practiced yoga because I have been busy/lazy, not because of any menstruation-induced malaise).

    BTW, have you seen The Beautiful Cervix Project? It's wicked cool! I had no idea how interesting my cervix was.

  8. Yay to embracing your natural cycle and Yay to the Divacup! I have a Mooncup (uk equivalant?) and never a month goes by when I don't stop and give thanks for it's existence!

    This is a great post. As a Yoga newbie I'm realising that the more I learn the more I realise I don't know. I had no idea that practising Yoga during menstruation or using a Mooncup could be so controversial!

    My experience is this; when I got my last period I started practising just as my cramps kicked in for about half an hour. Within a few minutes of beginning the sequence the pain was already subsiding and by the time I'd finished it was virtually gone. But the best thing was that the pain stayed away!
    I wrote a post about it on my blog.

  9. Just read your comment on my Bohemian Mama blog. Sorry, should have left you a link to the post I mentioned before! It's on my other blog;

  10. Thanks for the open and informative post. One thing I would like to add is about hormones which cause more flexibility in our bodies.

    I have learned that when a woman is pregnant the hormone "relaxin" is produced which allows the connective tissue (tendons, joints, and ligaments) to stretch more than they would normally. If a woman overdoes her practice while she is pregnant, and to a lesser degree while she has her period, she can stretch her connective tissue too far which can cause a lot of discomfort and instability.

    I've been working with and learning about the deep inner core and developing core stability. I notice that my SI joint is much more likely to get out of whack right before my period. So to me, that says I need to take it easy and/or work more towards stability vs. having a vigorous practice.

    See this link for more info: - or do a google search on "relaxin hormone".

  11. What a fabulous post! I'm bookmarking this as a 'favourite'. I practice yoga daily, including during menstruation. I find that the benefits of the practice far outweigh any traditional prohibition against doing yoga during my 'moon.'

    I recently won a copy of Bobby Clennell's book about yoga and menstruation, written from the perspective of Iyengar yoga. I'm very interested to read it, especially the part about using yoga to avoid monthly cramps. I'll keep you posted!

  12. I wish women would talk about this more often and just like this. Think of how many of us still don't know exactly how our bodies work, and how few of us are comfortable talking about it in public. Why should we be uncomfortable?!

    Thanks so much for this well-researched post!

    For my yoga practice, I stopped doing inversions during moon time but only because I just feel my energy moving downward and I feel uncomfortable flipping that around. But as you said, it is important that women do what feel right to them.

    And as Rachel said, I have a similar problem of my body not functioning so well during my period due to debilitating cramps. I am often in bed 1-2 days per month because of it. Still looking for solutions on that one - a combo of herbs and yoga has been helping...but not entirely. :/

  13. I do practise Yoga during menstruation, but only at home during the first two days. I suffer low energy levels and some pain at this time, so I prefer to do my own slow, gentle practice with plenty of forward bends. An energetic 90-minute class? No thanks!

    I guess Yoga as a philosophy shouldn't be dogmatic on this, as every woman is different.

    Great post!

  14. You get a 'little clumsey'? I get seriously clumsy some months - like really bad! I do like to do yoga, but I find (sometimes) inverted poses make me nearly pass out during my period. Other times I am just fine - as you say only you can make that choice!


  15. First of all, isn't that pink TP insane? It seriously blows my a bad way.

    I personally enjoy getting my period! The week leading up to it is a bit crap, but I like to focus on all the good things about getting my youth, my connection with the moon, and all the great detoxifying effects that happen as a result of getting our monthly (by the way, this doesn't happen when we're on the pill). Since taking this positive attitude, I find that my skin is less prone to breakouts during this time, and I have less cramps.

    As for inversions, I'm gonna have to personally disagree with you. It just makes sense to me not to be upside down during my flow. I try to resist nature as much as possible and this feels like resistance...but it's a personal opinion. If inversions feel good, why not?

    Ps. I also have my period right now! Think menstrual synchronicity can happen over the blogosphere? Haha!

  16. Greenspell, have you looked into shatavari at all? I went off of synthetic hormones (any birth control at all, really) a couple of years ago, and have found that shatavari has really helped a lot with cycle irregularity (when I first went off of the pill) and the bad cramping I am prone to getting. :)

  17. Great post.
    Something else to confirm your musings - from an Ayurvedic perspective the menses contains pitta ama (toxins). This is confirmed allopathically - the menses is higher in antibodies, showing an immune response removal of specific molecules.

    So, for a woman who practices yoga and whose nadis are clear, the menses brings an even greater experience of levity, calm, intuition, clarity.

    As far as the tampons go - they differ energetically from the diva cup or sponges. Tampons have the gunas (qualities) of dry, rough, hard. Vata has the same characteristics and is rooted in the regions physiologically - so it's not the best mix. The cups or sponges have different attributes which don't dry out the vaginal tissue as much. So - if you have more Kapha in your prakruti (constitution) - tampons are no big deal. If you're a vata.... think twice, especially if you suffer from cramps.


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