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How Your Yoga Practice Can Support You Through The Phases of Your Menstrual Cycle

Updated: Mar 31, 2023


Menstrual cycles affect us all, whether we have a one or not and honestly, I think they are truly amazing things. Throughout the course of our cycles, be it 21 days or 40, our bodies go through vast changes which effect everything from our energy levels, mood, strength, cognitive function and much more. The better we understand our cycles, and the more we adapt and sync our activities and lives to be in tune with them, the happier, healthier, and more productive we can be.


Yet, so many people know very little about the menstrual cycle. This is something that baffles me. Over the years, I've developed a keen interest in understanding this cycle and how it affects me, and how I can adapt my lifestyle accordingly.


When I first learned about my cycle, I was fascinated and hooked on integrating this knowledge into my life. But, I was also annoyed, how is it that I’d been menstruating for nearly two decades and was only just learning this stuff?! Now, I'm passionate about sharing this knowledge with others so that we can all live more in harmony with our bodies and reap the benefits of cycle syncing.


There are countless ways to sync your life with your cycle. Here, I want to focus on how this applies to our yoga practice. By adjusting our practice throughout the month, we can get the most benefit from both our yoga practice and our menstrual cycle.


It’s worth saying that everyone’s experience of their cycle will be different and there is no one size fits all approach. However, there are some generalisations that can be made which will be true for many people.


The Four Seasons


The menstrual cycle can be split into four different phases, menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase. These four phases are often compared to the four seasons spring, summer, autumn and winter. This analogy fits so perfectly with what the experience of the different phases of the cycle are like and personally I find it a much easier way to remember and describe the different stages.


Winter

The first day of your cycle is the first day of your bleed, this phase is menstruation, also know as your inner winter. During this time your hormone levels are low, in particular progesterone plummets signally to your body to break down and shed your womb’s lining. This is what is known as your period. As well as bleeding you may have cramps, bloating, headaches, muscle aches, tiredness and a number of other physical symptoms. Emotionally people’s experience varies. Some may feel worn out and a bit meh while others feel a sense of relief as the stress of PMS lifts.


This is a time to care for yourself. Slow down as much as possible and, just like nature does in winter, take some time to rest. There are many ways you can support yourself through this winter phase, eating plenty or iron and vitamin C rich foods is good, and of course your yoga practice is there for you too. During this time slow, gentle flows and restorative practices are your friend. Now is the time to head to your favourite Yin class.


It’s not just that it feels good physically to let your body rest and stretch out some tension but if you give yourself this time to pause you will find you have more energy later in your cycle as your hormones rise. When we overexert ourselves during this winter phase we are depleting stores that aren’t there and so we head into the rest of our cycle on the back foot. It’s like trying to run your car and never filling up the tank. Your winter is your time to recharge, to do activities that nourish you. Postures that are on the ground and supported by a bolster or other props are great because they don’t require as much physical exertion and you can max out on the opportunity to stretch out those aches or pains. Meditation is great at this time as you are likely to be more introspective, winter is a time to turn inwards. Journalling or other contemplative activities are fab for helping you to take stock of where you are and maybe decipher where you want to be going once you move in to spring.

Some postures you may enjoy in this phase include a supine twist (Supta Matsyendrasana), a supported back bend over a bolster such as fish (Matsyasana) or bridge (Setu Bandhasana), or a moon salutation (Chandra Namaskar).


Of course this is a cycle and the transitions between phases are gradual rather than completely clear cut. You may find that as you progress through this phase and your bleed starts to ease of you gradually feel like doing more. This is fine and of course listen to your body but do avoid the temptation to dive in head first and do too much too soon.


Spring


The next phase of your cycle is the follicular phase also known as your inner spring. This is the time between your period and ovulation. Oestrogen is on the rise and just like nature in spring starts to burst into life, you may feel more springy and full of fresh creative energy. This is a great time for planning and brainstorming new ideas.

You may want to start increasing the intensity of your asana practice but bear in mind that your body might be depleted after you bleed. Be kind to yourself, don’t rush into a hardcore vinyasa straight off the bat. You’re likely to be feeling more creative in this phase and this might mean your practice gets a bit of a shake up and you try new things.As we move into the spring and summer of our cycle we are generally more outgoing and practices that open the body can feel good. A few examples of postures that you might enjoy are downward facing dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana), dancer pose (Natarajasana) and cobra pose (Bhujangasana).


Summer

After spring comes summer and ovulation. This is the time when you may feel your best, your hormones are at their peak and you feel like you can take on anything. Now is a great time to action plans and get things done.


In this phase your asana practice might be stronger and more intense than at other times. With all that extra energy this is a great time to practice sun salutations and vinyasa flows, stronger holds and inversions can be good too if that’s your thing. It’s important not to over doing it though, it’s very easy to go all in hard and fast and then burn out quickly so check in that you are staying present with yourself and compassionate to your needs. We can still take rests in summer! Some nadi shodhana can be great here to keep you feeling balanced and level while keeping the prana flowing. Some postures and flows you may enjoy here include sun salutations (Surya Namaskar), warrior I pose (Virabhadrasana I ) and half moon pose (Ardha Chandrasana).


Autumn


Next comes your luteal phase or autumn. This is the time between ovulation and menstruation, oestrogen takes a back seat here and progesterone is on the rise. There can be a very different feel to this half of our cycle, we move from the outgoing spring and summer into the more introspective autumn and then eventually winter. You may find you start to feel less social, you may have PMS symptoms, anxiety and low mood and changes in your appetite. Just as the weather in autumn can be changeable so can we!


This is a time for discernment, checking in with yourself whether you really want to do all those things you said yes to while you were ovulating! If you are working on a project, now can be a great time to do some editing and refinement. Journalling is a brilliant way to get thoughts and ideas out of your head and get clearer on what you want and need. We are also gradually winding things down in preparation for winter. Like the trees shedding their leaves, we can get jobs finished and tie up loose ends so that, as best as life will allow, we can rest when winter comes. We want to be winding down our yoga practice here too.



Slowing down the intensity of asana and moving away from strong vinyasa to slower flows, longer holds and more static postures is a good idea. If we continue to push ourselves hard into our luteal phase we can end up doing more harm than good. Overexerting ourselves with intense cardio during the latter half of our cycles (strong, fast vinyasa, ashtanga or maybe HIIT style workouts if you are into that) can cause cortisol spikes, muscle loss, blood sugar imbalance, progesterone deficiency and weight gain. That being said if you’re feeling full of PMS rage then getting moving can help so a more active asana practice could be for you here. The important thing is to listen into your body and not over do it and adjust the way you practice to suit your needs.


We all have lives that can be busy at times and it’s not always possible to adjust your whole life to fit with where you are at in your cycle. However, your yoga practice is one thing that is in your control and you may find that by changing the way you practice throughout the month you feel stronger, more full of energy and better connected to yourself and your body. If you need help creating a plan for syncing your yoga practice with your cycle or if you have specific menstrual health issues and you would like to know how yoga could help support you then a yoga therapist can help. Get in touch to arrange a free phone call to discuss your situation or to book an appointment.

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