Inversions and Menstruation by Alanna Swor
In yogic tradition, performing inversions (upside-down poses) during menstruation is oftentimes advised-against, and in more strict instruction, completely forbidden. Why is this? Is it actually dangerous to a woman’s health, energetically incorrect, or just some silly sexist exclusion? As a headstrong woman who is always questioning authority and reality… I had to delve deeper. (Well, actually it was a make-up assignment given to me by my Yoga Teacher Training instructor, her inspiration being the fact I am the daughter of a gynecologist.) No matter the reason, I have been serendipitously pondering this ‘rule’ myself. What I found in my research was quite interesting and enlightening. There are several answers, both physical and metaphysical. Let us begin with the logic and reason of ‘tangible’ science. Here is a paraphrased excerpt from a physician-run website: TheYogaDr.
Can headstands cause endometriosis?
In the late 1920s, Dr. John Albert Sampson presented a theory that said retrograde menstruation was the prevailing scientific hypothesis for what causes endometriosis, a disease that can cause infertility. His theory came out of a study he conducted that determined migrated stem cells within the pelvic cavity developed into endometrial tissue.
These days, scientists believe that migrated stem cells likely come from the endometrial layer of the uterus due to retrograde (backward) flow. That said it is also known that most women typically have some retrograde flow, yet not all women develop the disease because of it. Yet the more backward flow in menstruation, the more likely one is to develop disease.
There are obviously other factors involved, i.e. genetics, epigenetic, immune function, environmental toxins, etc. Women who have more frequent periods, those who bleed heavier, and those with a blockage to normal flow have a higher risk in developing endometriosis. This information indicates that the quantity of blood in backward flow may be the most potent variable in creating or preventing this disease.
Stay upright during menstruation
So there we have it with scientific explanation. Medically speaking, being upside-down for an extended period of time while bleeding holds a possibility of being physically harmful. Gravity works! Even if this theory isn’t completely solid or somehow becomes disproved in later study, there are other reasons (beyond the physical) implying that this type of action may not be optimal for the bleeding yogini’s experience. Here are a few essential explanations with quotes from a popular yoga product website Spirit Voyage:
Metaphysically speaking here, during a woman’s menses her “energy body” expands. According to Yogi Bhajan, renowned master of Kundalini yoga, a woman’s aura (energy field that emanates from/around the physical body) is 16 times bigger and more powerful than a man’s. Due to this expansion of this prana, or life energy, women become more “amplified” during menses.
I have always wondered why bleeding women are not allowed in the Native American sweat lodge. I’ve learned that they are excluded from ceremony because it is an ancient belief that a woman’s prayers are exponentially more powerful during her moon cycle, and can “drown out all other prayers and vibrations being offered”. So instead, during ancient times, women would be sent elsewhere to circle together in honor of resting and nurturing themselves, allowing the collective prayers of the group to be heard fully. Sweat lodges are also physically demanding events, and women in many ancient traditions, including yoga, are encouraged to take it easy and reflect during this time of powerful release.
Women and the power of menstruation
This sweat lodge wisdom is analogous to the practice of yoga asana in the similarity of meditative and bodily energetic flow and the inherent power of such in cycles of the human female. During menses, a bleeding woman’s energy body begins to flow downward. All the energy within her is moving in a sacred way to release life from her body, metaphorically a subtler version of labor and delivery.
Related, apana is one of the five Pranas of Yoga, which are collectively five different types of energetic movements specified by their direction and function. Apana literally translates as “air that moves away” and is the prana that moves downward and outward, governing all forms of elimination as well as functions of reproduction. A woman in the shedding expression of her moon cycle is experiencing a time of constant apana. During an inversion, there is a circumvention of prana to make the body move energy upward. This type of energetic action is completely counter-productive to apana.
In conclusion to all of the information received during my research, I have discovered that performing inverted poses while menstruating is not conducive to the physical and metaphysical experience of yoga. It is an energetic faux pas and works against the sacred outward flow of apana. It is also a possible health hazard that in theory could cause endometriosis and even infertility. With all due respect to every woman’s relations to her body and spiritual practices, I say to all yoginis: To each her own! Always stay true to yourself and go with (your) flow. And remember… safety first… for yoga is truly the art of awareness.