The purpose of the menstrual cycle is to prepare the body for pregnancy. When conception does not occur, the uterus sheds its thickened lining through menstrual blood. It is recommended that women take three days of complete rest from the ashtanga practice, often referred to as ‘ladies’ holiday’ during menstruation for a few reasons.
Firstly, resting will permit the downward, apanic, eliminating flow to occur without impediment. Practising during this period, especially doing inverted postures such as salambha savangasana and sirsasana, will counteract this natural fluid movement.
Secondly, and perhaps more subtly, it becomes much more challenging to access the deep core muscles and engage uddiyana bandha at this time, due to the swelling and bloating of the lower abdomen. Being able to effectively activate the core is imperative to support the lower back, prevent injury and permit safe healthful movement in asana and vinyasa. Engaging mulabandha can also be more problematic at this time and, without bandha recruitment, active practice can become physically unsafe.
Thirdly, excessive activity can negatively impact the reproductive system, leading to irregularities or cessation of the menstrual cycle (amenorrhea).
Resting from the physical ashtanga asana practice for the first three days of menstruation, before avoiding inversions until the end of each menstrual cycle, is thus highly recommended. This not only honours the rhythms of nature, but our own personal unique moon cycle and endocrine system. It serves as a beautiful reminder that yoga is vastly more than just the third limb of asana. And, as a teacher once said to me ‘sometimes growth happens when we rest.’ As female practitioners it is important to remember we are women practising as women, not women trying to be men. As women we are blessed with the divine feminine: sacred, flowing, cyclical, shakti-filled, creative, sensual, and beautiful.