"Well, I would trade having a penis any day over having to deal with "you know what" for the REST OF YOUR LIVES" (cue poignant and slightly disgusted look on his face for the PAUSE).
I think I actually said: "Do you mean menstruation? I'm sorry I didn't get the memo that we all die at menopause. Shitty"
So where does yoga come in on the topic of menstruation and asana practice?
Although you can find differing versions, they all come from similar themes: "A woman menstruating should restrict her yoga asana practice" in some way, shape or form. Why is that?
First we need to be honest and frank about the historical and cultural machinations at work here. For centuries female menstruation has been reviled, deemed dirty, evil, shameful and often women were segregated from public events during this time. Up until a few short decades ago, women didn't talk about their menstrual cycles and surprise surprise- medical science wasn't that concerned with understanding it until the 1990s (Angier, N; Woman an Intimate Geography 1999, p. 111).
Until and I would argue, to this day, menstruation is seen as visual evidence that our uterus is injured. It's an "other" non-natural event and should be treated as such- a time to recover.
So- that said- what are the two main reasons for "special yoga menstruation" treatment?
The first is obstructing or changing the flow of energy during inversions (or other asanas). The idea is that during menstruation our energy is "downward flowing" and that changing this direction could be harmful. I've often heard it explained that during this "difficult" time our female bodies require all the healing energy we can provide.
I would just like to point out that menstruation isn't an injury to be recovered. I'm also curious as to why other, more fragile and essential aspects of a woman's monthly cycle aren't addressed in nurturing energy flow. For example, when women ovulate. An essential part of life creation that is also characterized by a downward movement of the ovum through the fallopian tubes.
What about the energy, or chi, required to create sperm in the male testes? (Since we're chatting about procreation here). I'm just pointing out that it seems fairly convenient that what has been stigmatized for centuries in various cultures as being "other" and "injurious" is categorized as requiring special treatment during asana practice.
The second set of reasoning is more anatomical and physiological. Despite this article's dire warnings of "heavy bleeding" during menstruation, during the average period women cast off about six tablespoons (or three fluid ounces) of material, only half of which could be considered "blood" (although it's not exactly normal blood- since it doesn't coagulate).
Further, instead of being exhausting and draining, scientists have actually calculated that the uterine lining at it's richest is actually 7 times more energy costly than the act of menstruative destruction. From that logic, we should be tired and drained when we're most fertile (Strassman, B. as cited in Angier N 1999 p. 115).
It's argued that during inversions women are more at risk for tearing or increased blood flow.
(article: My Yoga Online)The thinness of the uterine veins makes them susceptible to collapse when excessive pressure is applied to them.During inversions, the uterus is drawn downwards by gravity resulting in a pulling motion on the broad ligaments containing the uterine arteries and veins. This pulling or stretching motion of these ligaments can also act on the uterine veins potentially leading to partial collapse or occlusions. Since the uterine arteries contain thick, muscular walls, they can resist collapse and continue to send blood flow into the uterus. Without a proper exit of blood out of the uterine veins, vascular pressure arises leading to an increase in menstrual bleeding.
Interestingly enough, this implies that during a woman's period her "uterine veins" and arteries simply continue to gush blood- causing menstruation.
Unfortunately, this is misleading. Each month the uterus may find itself with a non fertilized egg. As previously stated, instead of keeping up an endometrium lining rich with nutrients, it's much less costly to shed and move onward, start from scratch. Therefore, spiral arteries (named because they look like corkscrews and main function to supply the placenta) swell with blood and become tightly coiled. Circulation to the endometrium slows down and the cells are starved of oxygen. 24 hours before menstruation the spirals constrict sharply and circulation is completely stopped, causing the endometrium cells to die.
Then, just as abruptly, the spiral arteries open up, blood is supplied behind the endometrial lining with blood pooling in pockets temporarily- causing the cells to actively be removed. I say temporarily because shortly after the arteries close again (Angier, N 1999 p.110).
No constant blood flow to exit (that would be a lot more than six tablespoons!) but a squeeze, open, squeeze, open, stop sequence of temporary active blood flow.
I'm not a gynecologist, but it just appears strange that since these arteries only provide periodic blood flow in order to detach the endometrium lining from the uterus (from all sides I would point out, not just up and down), that the risk for engorged artery collapsing, tearing or occlusions seems fairly minimal. Especially since, for the most part, I don't spend more than a few seconds up in shoulderstand.
From the article description, it would appear that these arteries are fragile things that can tear or break at any moment. I'm almost inclined to stay seated or upright only during my periods, in case- ya know... tearing. I can't even imagine these poor arteries and how they survive providing blood to the placenta during the entire 9 months of pregnancy....(just a little bit of snark there).
I'm all for taking it easy during your moontime because you feel it's what is best for your body at that time. Or if you strongly feel that your energy doesn't enjoy inversions (I really don't enjoy shoulderstand in general as well!). However, I do feel that we can't honestly take a look at restrictions without taking into account cultural and physiological confusions and history.
Just a few thoughts :)
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