Sexism in Yoga: No flow during Aunt Flo?

I don't like it when someone tells me women shouldn't do something because I grew up in a sexist country where women are told all the time that they are inferior to men. In Portuguese, my native tongue, words are usually either feminine or masculine in nature. Some words have both female and male versions, but the word president, for example, is a masculine noun only. This probably means that whoever invented the word, or the group of people that did, thought that a woman could not be president. After all, why even bother having a unisex word - or a female counterpart for the word? When a woman president finally came into power, Dilma Rousseff, all hell broke loose when she decided to create the word "Presidenta" (meaning the word president as a feminine noun). People in Brazil, including close friends of mine, relentlessly complained, even my woman friends, judging the presidenta, going as far as saying that the most powerful woman in Brazil was uneducated. So, I grew up in a country where women judge other women trying to fight sexism. Wow. 

For that reason, when I was told I couldn't practice yoga during my menstrual cycle, my sexism alarm went off.... Despite what other people told me, I continued to practice like nothing happened. I rebelled. In fact, when I went to Mysore, I got my menstrual period and I made sure I practiced every single day. I practiced with a snarky grin on my face (Sorry there Saraswasthi). But, just to be fair, I am not a woman that is much affected by her menstrual period. I don't suffer any type of cramping and I remain pretty even keeled (even though my husband might tell you a very different story...). However, as a yoga teacher, I felt an obligation to do more research and get to the bottom of this. So why are we told not to practice during our periods? Is there a legitimate scientific reason behind the madness?

Here is what I found:

1) In the Ashtanga world, we are told not to practice during the first three days of our period or even longer if the menstruation is heavy. The reason being that the bandhas are activated during practice creating an upward energy while our menstruation creates apana (or downward flowing energy). In an interview given to Ashtanga Yoga Shala New York City, Saraswasthi (Guruji's daughter) said: " [...] Here in India, according to the Brahman tradition the woman rests on these days, she does not cook and does not even go into the kitchen. Other women cook for her and she eats and sleeps a lot." Although the energy flow is a good reason not to practice if you feel drained, I don't really feel any different during those days. So, rather than going by the Brahmanic traditions, I needed a more scientific reason as to why we should not practice.

2) When I asked around, I was told that any inversions during that period would create a reversal of my menstrual period. Meaning, inversions could reverse the flow of menstrual blood. This made me start wondering if there was a legitimate medical reason behind the whole "don't practice/ invert, when menstruating" advice. So I googled "menstrual period flow backward" and found out this back flow of menstrual period was a potential cause of endometriosis. Of course this got my attention, so I devoted more time to research about endometriosis and the whole "retrograde menstruation" phenomenon. It turns out that the actual causes of Endometriosis are unknown and "retrograde menstruation" is one of the many theories scientists have developed to try to explain why women develop the disease. Also the retrograde menstruation phenomenon seems to be caused by uterine contractions, rather than by inversions. However, based on this finding, I would err on the side of caution. I am no medical professional, but if you have history of endometriosis in your family or you feel like you shouldn't be practicing, I suggest you listen to your body and take it easy during that time of the month. It turns out the advice may not be sexist after all....

As for myself, I will continue my rebellious ant flo day practices that are just as sweaty and hard as any other day... After all, there are no cases of endometriosis in my family and I feel completely fine during my period. If unlike me, you would like a more restorative and calming practice focused on diminishing anxiety, take a look at the video below which balances your energy during that time of the month!

Enjoy and Namaste!




Posted on October 14, 2015 and filed under Yoga Flows, Articles about Yoga.