Updated: Sep 28, 2022
When I was working through my initial 200 hour yoga teacher training, one of my assignments was to offer the benefits and risks of a multitude of yoga poses, or #asanas. We had required readings that offered lists of reasons to utilize various poses and reasons they may be contraindicated, of which explosive diarrhea was always a contraindication which always made me laugh. However, how do we know the waterfall is good for blood pressure? How do we know bumblebee breath is good for restful sleep? My doctoral brain cringed at these claims wondering how many were theoretical and how many were supported by the evidence. I vowed to not get caught up in these claims and to dig into the science so my teachings honored my education, while still engaging in the art of yoga.
One of the claims that really irritated me though was that women shouldn't do #headstands, or any inversions, while on their menses. Why? From a physiologic perspective, this makes no sense and I suspected represented the gross ignorance most hold regarding female anatomy. Further, I found it sexist and enabling. Women are always given limitations, particularly during their moon. We do this to women during pregnancy too, and most always these are not founded in the literature, or they are completely contrary to what we know to be true but because our society is so tolerant to oppressing women, this goes unchecked.
As a Women's Health specialist, I am often asked by yoga teachers if this contraindication is valid. While I certainly don't have all the answers, my response has always been that I know no physiologic reason that women should be told to avoid inversions during their menses. I have always leaned into the advice to have women trust their bodies. If this doesn't feel right to them, then don't do it, but if it feels empowering, go full strength ahead.
The female anatomy is one though that is not entirely enclosed. While the menses does flow from the uterus, as it is the lining within the uterus, down through the cervix and then into and out the vagina, the top of the uterus which extends out into fallopian tubes has finger-like structures at their ends to swoop the eggs in from the ovaries, which are not attached. The lining from the uterus therefore, can move up and out these fallopian tubes into our bodies attaching to any organs it desires. More often we find this on the outer side of the uterus or fallopian tubes, but also the bladder and intestines. There have even been cases of endometrium found on the lungs. This phenomenon is called endometriosis and can lead to infertility.
Endometriosis though is less about gravity and more about inflammation, so avoiding inversions is less my concern and identifying the underlying cause of inflammation would be more my focus as a clinician. Having said that, it certainly wouldn't be out of line for a woman to want choose to keep her pelvis down and her crown high while on her moon to support the downward flow of flow and not encourage passage through the fallopian tubes. This should be an empowered decision though, not one that further causes her to doubt her body.
Introducing the Bandhas
Here's where things get a little more fun. When we talk about energy in physics, this understanding is clear and understood to be quite scientific. When we talk about it from a metaphysical perspective, ears start to deafen because we're getting a little outside the comfort zone. The truth is though, we are energetic beings. We do know this to be true, whether we try to talk ourselves out of it or not. Our bodies resonate with various people and places, because of their #energy.
The bandhas control where the internal energy moves or stays while practicing asanas, or our various yoga poses. If you have some understanding of #chakras, you know these are the energy centers from the pelvis to the crown of the head, and these are scientifically measurable. This is not a subjective presence; we have evidence of their existence. The bandhas are an extension of these chakras.
Depending on the asanas we practice, one or all of the bandhas may be activated. Just as specific muscles are activated to provide core strength or stability, the bandhas act as metaphysical or core-energy stabilizers. The energy is essentially locked within the body through the bandha by contracting certain muscles. These are often applied during the asanas because it enables greater energy and stamina to work within a person on both a physical and energetic levels because the energy is retained within the body.
Understanding the bandhas more deeply caused me to rethink my position on not doing headstands while on your menses. It actually caused me to rethink many of the benefits and contraindications found in various yoga texts, as I had previously been evaluating these based on the science stemming from conventional medicine, but had not explored energy science.
For example, this recommendation for women to avoid doing handstands while on their menses, while I've been somewhat irritated by this advice, maybe even a bit insulted as I felt it was disempowering, if we consider how the energetic anatomy is intertwined with physical, mental, and emotional effects, then we can better understand how the energy is moving in a downward flow (apana) during the menses, which is supportive to her optimal health and wellbeing. If we reverse this flow during the menses by moving into handstand positions, then this inverts the energetic flow which would no longer be supportive. This recommendation then is not at all about the physiologic nature of her physical anatomy or her menstrual flow, but rather, her energetic body. Do you see this recommendation then can now be empowering when we see it through this new lens of understanding?
Empower through Education - very much a motto of mine and always the approach I've taken with my clients. This week, I learned something new and couldn't wait to share it with you. Whether you choose to move into a headstand during your menses or not, may you do either as you feel most empowered. #Namaste.