The Yin and Yang of the Menstrual Cycle
When it comes to asian medicine, everything has a balance, a yin and a yang. Yang is bright, active, hot and loud, while Yin is dark, still, cool and quiet. From this perspective, everything can be viewed in opposing terms and it is this opposition that creates balance. One cannot exist without the other and each is constantly changing and transforming into the other, fluidly. For example, day (yang) cannot exist without night (yin) and day slowly transforms into night as the sun sets, while night slowly transforms into day while the sun rises
The menstrual cycle is another example of balance and flow that can be looked at in terms of yin and yang. Seeing the different phases of the menstrual cycle and how the different energies relate to the movement and flux of hormones gives us the opportunity to support these stages through diet, lifestyle, and activities like yoga. Yoga poses can be nourishing and calming, or energetic and stimulating. When people want to promote fertility, I will often advise them to change their yoga practices, especially if something like hot yoga is involved, to correlate with the energies of their cycle. Though the cycle will never be just yang or just yin, since they are always together forming balance, the first and second half of the menstrual cycle, pre and post ovulation, do have different energies.
|Image From SBI- 4U Website|
Studies show that women affected by painful menstruation can reduce symptoms and discomfort by having a regular energizing yoga routine. Several randomized trials report that having a 60 minute active yoga or exercise routine can decrease uncomfortable premenstrual symptoms such as abdominal cramping, abdominal swelling, and breast tenderness.
During this phase of the cycle it is best to stick to strength building and more active forms of yoga. This would include hot yoga, flow or power classes, as well as Hatha yoga. All of these yoga styles, which are very adaptable to the flexibility and strength of the practitioner, will help to build yang energy as they build endurance, muscle, and help support the cardiovascular system.
Generally, the second half of the cycle occurs from ovulation to menses. This is a time of movement and energy- an egg is released and moved down the fallopian tube into the uterus. During this time, yang energy is at its peak. If pregnancy occurs, energy and movement continue to be high for cell division and embryo growth. If there is no implantation, yin begins to build and yang slowly drops again. This is a time where warming foods will help to support falling yang energy- think proteins again, vegetables (especially root veggies) and brown rice; avoid dairy as this is a very damp, cooling food. This is also a time where vigorous exercise should decrease and move into more nourishing forms such as yin yoga.
The yin aspect of the second phase is a great time to allow the body to restore and renew. This is a time to reduce the physical demands of the body.
In yoga there is always great debate on what forms of yoga, if any, are appropriate during menses. Yoga practices should reduce the yang energy and strain on the body. Some schools of yoga will recommend abstaining from inversion practices and higher intensity classes while others recommend a full abstinence from an asana practice. Like all things, we must find a balance. This is a time of moving away from high intensity practices and inviting more yin energy. During this part of the cycle, yin classes (which address not muscle tissue but instead connective tissue and joints) as well as restorative practices (which support a balancing of the nervous system and hormones) will help to promote yin energy. If a practitioner wishes to continue with a typical yang building class, it is strongly suggested that they shift the intention of their practice toward relaxation. In this case instead of pursuing the class with a typical 100% yang effort, focus should shift to promote the restorative and nourishing aspects of the practice, and physical effort should reduce drastically.Pranayama or breathing practices during this phase are of particular importance to support gentle yin energy. Meditation and breathing practices support the grey matter of the brain where the neural connections occur as well as help to combat symptoms of anxiety and depression. A regular pranayama practice can help to balance stress signals on the body resulting in better hormonal regulation as well as increased relaxation.
Studies show that practicing pranayama can cause a reduction of pain symptoms in women suffering from painful menstruation. For an example of a simple but effective yin supporting pranayama technique view our post on Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing.
Examples of Restorative Yoga:
|Supported childs pose|
- Be sure to support yourself with bolsters and blankets so you are fully supported.
|Supported back bend|
- Hold each pose for 5-10 minutes.
- Focus on belly breathing and relaxing the muscles.
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