Yoga and the menstrual cycle

yoga menstrual cycle

On International Women’s Day I was joined for an Instagram Live Q&A by menstruality coach Lisa de Jong. We chatted about Menstrual Cycle Awareness (MCA), which is the practice of paying attention to where you are in your cycle each day, noticing your experience, and caring for your changing cyclical needs. The term was coined by Red School, where Lisa did her training to support women on this journey. I have been fortunate to benefit from Lisa’s guidance on my own journey of cycle awareness, which has given me a new perspective on meeting my needs at various stages of my cycle.

My journey

For a long time, my relationship with my period was: a few days a month where I experienced pain, took painkillers, pushed through it, and then didn’t really think or talk about it again until the next one. Only in the last couple of years have I begun to realise that my menstrual cycle was more than just a few days a month. I started to see my cycle as a constant process happening within me, and realised I had so much more to learn from it. Slowly, I am learning to tune into where I am in my cycle, and adapt my schedule, boundaries and self-care activities to meet my needs. What I share here is a combination of my own experience as a yoga practitioner and teacher, and what I have learnt through my own journey with menstrual cycle awareness so far.

Yoga and the menstrual cycle

Yoga can be very supportive throughout the menstrual cycle, though the practice that works for you might look different depending on where you are in your cycle. The process of menstrual cycle awareness has helped me figure out that the yoga that supports me in one part of the cycle, might not be what I need at another.

This post shares some insight into the different stages of the menstrual cycle, and yoga practices that might support you during that time. I say might, because these stages are just archetypes offered as a general guide – we are all unique and have our own needs. What works for me might not be for you. Your experience is your own, and the more you track and get to know your cycle, the more aware you’ll become of what you need.

If tracking your cycle is new to you, there are numerous websites and books to get you started. Lisa’s website is a great place to start – she has an informative blog, courses, and has created a cycle tracking journal.

MCA breaks the menstrual cycle into the four seasons, which I find to be really helpful for understanding what phase I am in. It also helps to remind me that my cycle is like any natural cycle – it makes sense to live in harmony with where we are rather than resisting or trying to push against it. We wouldn’t expect daffodils to bloom in December or wrap up in hats and scarves in August, and our inner seasons are no different. This approach can work even if you don’t have a menstrual cycle. Tracking the moon cycle can be a great template.

So, what does each season represent, and what kind of practices might support you there?

Inner Winter

This is your menstruating time, and begins at the first day of your period. It generally lasts around 3-7 days. In this stage, we may feel like retreating inwards, slowing down and resting. You might also experience cramps and period pain. Slow, gentle practices like yin and restorative yoga can be great during this time for helping us connect to our inner world and soothe our whole system. Think lots of props, blankets and support. It can also help to include postures that focus physically and energetically on the hips, pelvis and lower back. Gentle poses like butterfly and reclined twists can help ease discomfort, bloating or cramps.

Inner Spring

This is the time after your period where energy levels start to climb back up and estrogen begins to rise again after your period. You might feel the urge to get moving and active again, but it’s also good to be mindful of not taking on too much, as that can lead to feeling a little depleted of energy reserves later in the cycle. Try some gentle, slow paced yoga and movement to begin to awaken the body and tune into your needs. Make this a time for doing more of whatever type of yoga or movement you love and enjoy, so you can really cherish yourself in this delicate transition phase.

Inner Summer

This is the time around ovulation where you might be feeling full of energy and vitality, and like you can take on the world! This can be a great time for energising yoga such as hatha or vinyasa flow, to help to harness some of that energy and help you feel good in body and mind. It can also be a good time to find a way to challenge yourself with new movements or try something new – we are typically feeling at our most resilient and open at this stage. You could also try warming and active pranayama or breathing exercises, such as like kapalbhati (breath of fire).

Inner Autumn

This is where the outer lights start to dim and the inner lights come on. It can be a calm and settled time thanks to the presence of progesterone. We begin to turn our attention inwards, and it can be a time of contemplation. If you find you experience PMS or get irritable during this time, that’s very normal. Try practices that help you to be aware of your inner experience and connect you your needs. Slow movement, yin yoga, meditation and journaling can really support you during this time of reflection.

From my schedule, Dynamic Flow is lovely for inner summer/inner spring – you can dial up or down the effort to meet your needs. Slow Flow is great for the transition phases of inner spring/autumn, and Yin is perfect for inner autumn/winter. Have a look here.