The female bodily experience is unique and women have so many special capabilities to be embraced. At the same time, some may still find themselves grappling with PMS or searching for a remedy for period pains every month. Why not use yoga to reframe the female mind/body experience and take the opportunity each month to adapt your practice to suit your needs.
In the words of global yogi Mark Whitwell, author of Yoga of Heart: The Healing Power of Intimate Connection: “Anyone who wants to can do yoga, but not just any yoga. It must be the yoga that is right for you. Every person has the ability to move and breathe in a way that results in authentic yoga and helps a person feel better and be well.”
To that end, here is a sequence for women to experiment with, enlivened by comments from Whitwell, together with LA-based yoga teacher Lucy Bivins and Berkeley-based yoga teacher Chris Hoskins.
Tadasana – Mountain pose. (This is great especially if you have your period to start with this pose)
With eyes closed and hold your hands in Anjali mudra. Visualize breath circulating throughout your body, including the reproductive organs. Maintain for one minute if you are a beginner or longer if you wish. “You can enjoy deep strength and peace in this pose while becoming more spatially aware,” says Hoskins.
Sirsasana 1 – Headstand. (Outside of menstruation, start your practice with Sirsasana)
Never do a headstand if you have your period, back pain, chronic back problems or migraines. Beginners may also need to build up to this pose. Hoskins provides this safety tip: “If you feel pain in your lower back, this means you must create more lift in the legs. More experienced practitioners will put more weight on the head as opposed to the forearms.”
Ardha Chandrasana – Half Moon pose (With a block and your back to a wall)
“This pose opens the chest and pelvis and stretches the body in profound ways,” says Hoskins. It helps regulate bleeding during your period and quells cramps.
Next is an extended triangle pose, starting with the left side. Bend the left knee, and place the fingertips of the left hand on a block at the wall, about one foot in front of your left leg. Rise up on the toes of the left foot. Exhale while straightening the left leg; raise the right leg upwards until it is parallel to the floor.
Meanwhile, the back of the right leg, hips, shoulders, and head gently touch the wall. Turn the pelvis and chest toward the ceiling. Stretch right arm up in a line with the shoulders; slide the shoulder blades down the back. Gaze upward at the right hand, and hold for 4-5 deep breaths. Repeat on the right side.
Supta Baddha Konasana, – Goddess pose (Use a bolster and strap)
This restorative pose energizes the body; it may also help alleviate cramps and regulate bleeding during menstruation while relieving pressure in the pelvic area.
Place a bolster vertically behind you. Sit in front of it with your knees bent; sacrum touching the bolster’s edge. Place a folded blanket on the other end of the bolster to support the neck; adjust the blanket for optimal neck comfort. Position a strap behind the back at the sacrum. Bring it forward over the hips, across the shins, and under the feet. Press the soles together; let the knees and thighs relax to the sides. Fasten the strap securely under the feet. Lie back on the bolster, with your head on the folded blanket. Hold this posture for 10-15 minutes.
“There are profound backbend/heart-opening qualities to this pose because the chest is lifted with the bolster’s support,” says Bivins.
Upavistha konasana 1 – Wide-angle seated pose.
This promotes blood circulation throughout the reproductive organs and pelvis and energizes the whole body. Get started by sitting up against the wall. Spread the legs wide apart and flex your feet, including the toes. Adjust the buttocks by drawing one cheek at a time behind you and out to the side. Put your hands on the floor behind the back, drawing the abdomen and ribs up towards the chest. Move the shoulder blades into the middle of the back. Sit up tall; press down through the legs for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Upavistha konasana 2 – Wide-angle seated pose 2
Do the same pose as described directly above, but with blankets or a vertical bolster in front of you for resting on. Inhale and raise up from the base of your pelvis. Exhale and extend arms in front of you as you stretch the torso forward over the blankets or bolster. Fold your arms over the blankets or bolster to support your head. “Stay here for 2-3 minutes,” says Bivins.
Janu Sirsasana – Head-on-knee pose.
This helps tone reproductive organs and support muscles as well as minimizing PMS and stress.
Sit on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you. Bend the right knee to the side at a 45-degree angle to your left leg. The right heel is near the right side of the groin. Push the right knee as far back as is comfortable. Keep the left leg straight. Place a folded blanket or bolster on the extended leg. Turn the abdomen and chest so that the sternum aligns with the center of the left leg. Breathe in slowly, raising up from the base of the pelvis. While exhaling, stretch your arms out in front of you, while leaning your body forward. Fold the arms on a bolster or blanket to support your head on your arms. Hold for 1-2 minutes.
Adho Mukha Virasana – Child’s pose (with a bolster)
This posture helps to relax tense stomach muscles and relieve cramps. Hold this pose for at least five minutes, or longer if desired.
Spread your knees and straddle the bolster, bringing the toes together. Stretch forward, draping the arms and trunk on and around the bolster, hugging it into your abdomen. Rest the head on the bolster and close your eyes.
Shavasana – Corpse pose
Lay down on the mat, legs and arms spread out. Hold for at least five to ten minutes. Support the neck, legs and back as needed.
Regardless of the time of the month, let this sequence inspire your practice and feel free to adapt it in any way to enhance your well-being.