As women, every month our bodies go through cycles of preparation, power, release and renewal. It is important to honour those steps, as they are designed on purpose to give to our bodies what they need in order to function properly.
The most sensitive time of the cycle, and the one we are focusing on in this article, is the time just before and during the bleeding. In this phase the body releases a hormone called relaxin which loosens the ligaments and makes our joints softer and more flexible. This means that our body is more vulnerable to injuries. No aggressive physical exercise should be undertaken during this time as our body is not prepared for it. Also, this is the time when our flow of energy is directed outward through the blood leaving our body. It is important to counterbalance this by nourishing ourselves more than usual. This should be done emotionally by being aware of our feelings, treating ourselves with kindness, and physically, by eating healthy and nourishing food as well as having soft and gentle exercise.
A gentle and restorative yoga sequence for the menstrual cycle can support us during this time. Among the benefits of the practice that is explained below, there is menstrual pain relief, relaxation, gentle stretching, tension release, general state of renewal and more balance in our life. Particularly in this time of the month I recommend using props such as cushions and blankets to create a cuddling, nourishing and supportive experience. There is no need to have special yoga props- simply look around your home and be creative with what you have. Just make sure they are soft, warm and comfortable!
A couple of tips
The pelvis should always be lower than the heart during this time so as not to disrupt the natural outgoing flow of the blood; when practicing the below poses make sure you feel comfortable and warm in each of them. When in the poses, practice simple breathing exercises to keep you in the present moment, such as one deep long breath followed by few rounds of normal breaths for few times, or consciously breathing by simply noticing the air coming in and out.
Supta baddha konasana – Supine butterfly
Lying on the back with the spine supported by a thick cushion that increases in height at the head level (you could place an extra cushion or folded blanket under the skull). The hips are on the floor giving your trunk a diagonal position that allows your pelvic area to gently open and relax. The arms are wide, palms facing up and are also supported (you could use folded blankets or cushions to rest them on). The soles of the feet are touching and the knees are open wide, both resting on soft supports so that the groin area is not strained. Stay there for a minimum of 5 minutes up to as much as you like. Roll on one side to come up gently to a seated position.
Baddha konasana – Butterfly
With the feet and knees in the same position as in the previous pose, place enough cushions/folded blankets of the length of your upper body on top of your feet so that you can fold forward and rest your belly, chest and head on them. Bring your arms on the sides of the props as if you wanted to hug them. Use as many props as you need so that you can relax and let go. Stay there a minimum of 3 minutes.
Upavista konasana – Seated wide leg forward bend
From a seated position the legs go wide (not to the maximum extension- make it comfortable!) and toes pointing upward. Place cushions/folded blankets of the length of your upper body in between the legs so that you can rest your belly, chest and head on them. Relax your arms on the sides of the cushions. If the cushions are not high enough you can use a chair in front of you and resting your forearms on it, with your forehead on your forearms. Stay there at least 3 minutes.
Balasana – Child
From a kneeling position bring your knees apart and place cushions/folded blankets the length of your upper body in between your legs so that you can rest your belly, chest and cheek (turn your head to the other side after a while to make sure both sides of the neck open up) on them. Bring your arms on the sides of the supports and relax them. Stay there for at least 3 minutes.
Lie on the back with a folded blanket or a not too thick cushion under your feet and another one under your head. The arms are open, 45 degrees from the sides, palms facing up. Allow your body to let go and relax fully. Use the exhalation to feel your body becoming heavier and heavier. Stay there for at least 5 minutes.
References: Judith Lasater, Relax and Renew, Berkeley: Rodmell Press, 1995; B. K. S Iyengar, Light on Yoga, London: Thorson, 2001
Yoga pose model: Charee Balm from ThatHippieMom.com