Some women are pleased by the arrival of their menstrual period each month—or so we hear. Most of us are a little miffed. "This again?" we think. "Why do I have to go through this every month!" Do you really want to know?
Technically speaking, menstruation is part of your body's fertility cycle. About every month, from puberty to menopause, your womb first builds up nourishment for a potential embryo and, after ovulation, if pregnancy has not occurred, sheds this tissue in a self-cleansing process before beginning to prepare anew for next month's cycle. All of this happens due to the work of your hormones, which fluctuate throughout the month but seem to cause the most trouble in terms of discomfort during the premenstrual period.
PMS can literally be a big pain, and eating certain foods just before you expect PMS symptoms can make it worse. Even if you crave them, try to avoid chocolate, anything with caffeine, alcohol, excess salt, red meat, sugar, and overly processed foods, which seem to aggravate PMS symptoms in some women. Focus on calcium and fiber instead. A fresh apple and a glass of milk, anyone?
But that's not really what you mean when you wonder why you have to go through menstruation—we know that. We're just trying to remind you what it's all about. Your menstrual cycle sets you apart as a woman. (Well, it isn't the only clue, but it's certainly an unmistakable clue!) Menstruation is a monthly marker of your fertility and one of the few biologically imposed rituals we have.
Women have often been compared to the moon, probably because both operate in cycles. Study the moon for a few months, watching it nightly as its lighted section swells, then shrinks each month. Feel a kinship with the moon. See if you can notice its effect on you. Do you feel different during a full moon than during a new moon? How does your menstrual cycle synchronize with the moon's cycle? Pay attention to the beautiful regularity of the moon's waxing and waning, then carry that reverence over to your own body. Your cycle is similarly splendid—even if it doesn't always feel that way.
Wise Yogi Tells Us
Rather than fighting gravity, yoga makes a friend of gravity. So during those times when we want to encourage movement out of the body, such as during menstruation, it's counterproductive to work against gravity by practicing inversions like the headstand or the plough (Chapter 15). Thank gravity for helping your body with its monthly "out with the old, in with the new" process and stay right-side up during menstruation.
Incorporating yoga into your menstrual ritual is a nice way to make the experience even more positive. You can do any yoga posture you normally do (except for inversions—skip the headstand and shoulderstand during this week), but you might enjoy creating a special yoga routine for the week of your menstrual period. Try the following variations of poses for your menstrual cycle sessions.
An extra-long shavasana (Chapter 19) is the perfect way to end your yoga practice during your menstrual cycle.
You may also want to experiment with the triangle (Chapter 13), the cobra (Chapter 14), the bow (great for cramps if you're up to it, Chapter 14), the wheel (also great for cramps, Chapter 14), the bridge (Chapter 15), the butterfly, the lotus (both in Chapter 17, "Are You Sitting Down?"), and the moon salutation (Chapter 16, "A Continuous Flow") poses. These are all just suggestions to help make this cycle a comfortable one.
1. Sit in the hero pose, butterfly pose, or lotus pose (all in Chapter 17). Place a few pillows stacked on top of each other directly behind you. Lie back on top of the pillows. Extend your arms over your head. This position opens the Venus chakra and is also a good variation to perform during pregnancy.
2. Sit with your feet in front of you, widely separated. Place a few pillows stacked on top of each other in front of your navel. Bend forward, bringing your hands toward your feet.
Pregnancy yoga is slightly different than regular yoga, and perhaps even more wonderful. Yoga helps you develop a greater awareness of your body so you can respond better to your body's subtle signals (such as, "You're doing too much today" or "You need to get up and move today" or "You could really use a hearty serving of broccoli today").
A modified child's pose to ease menstruation or bring comfort during pregnancy.
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