To practice or not to practice: Kundalini yoga during menstruation

While there is no shortage of women in contemporary yoga classes, when we look back in time in India to the roots of this practice, yoga was practiced predominantly by men. The instructions were tailored to the male body, and there were no allowances in the ancient texts for women, let alone those of us who are practicing yoga during menstruation, during pregnancy, during perimenopause. Subsequently, we must discover and adapt our own ways to hold our beautiful female body in a safe space for our practice. In this post, I hope to offer some guidance on how to adapt your kundalini yoga practice during menstruation.

Of course, rules regarding yoga practice during our period have been established in the various yoga traditions over the centuries. For example, in many hatha yoga traditions, such as Iyengar yoga, we adapt our practice to honour and preserve the integrity of the apana vayu (energy of elimination) that dominates during these days. This means that inversions – headstand, shoulder stand, even downward dog – are to be completely avoided during our period. For some yoga traditions, activating mulbandh (tightening the anus and sex organs) must be avoided during menstruation. In some traditions, such as ashtanga yoga, we are advised to avoid yoga completely during our period, taking off two to four days to accommodate our heaviest moon days.

No yoga while on our period?

Depending on how your body processes your moon cycle, taking a few days off our yoga practice is certainly kinder than pushing through intense pain and discomfort that plenty of us women experience. However, in kundalini yoga, many of us observe 40-day, 90-day, 120-day and 1000-day practices. These must be consecutive practice days, forming a steady rhythm that seals the energy of the kriya or meditation. So how do we commit to a 40-day practice when there is an inevitable menstruation mid-way through – sometimes two, depending on the timing of those six weeks?

In yoga, your body’s wisdom always comes first. If your menstruation symptoms are too intense to allow for your practice, of course take a break from the physical practice. However, you can still show up for yourself and your commitment. Come to your mat, tune in, and do as little or as much of the kriya as is possible. If nothing is possible, lie back on the mat, perhaps in reclined lotus (soles of feet together, knees bent out to the sides) or legs up the wall, eyes closed, healing hands placed on your abdomen, and breathe through the kundalini yoga kriya as you visualise yourself doing it. This holds the space for your steady 40-day rhythm. While you may not physically be able to practice, you are still showing up for yourself, for your practice. Intention is everything.

Precautions for kundalini yoga during menstruation

Again, it is so important to reiterate the importance of our own body’s wisdom. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t, so steer clear of it. Let’s use our yoga as a tool to develop a deep, trusting relationship with our body, in which we listen and honour its messages and knowings. That said, there are a few precautions around practicing kundalini yoga during menstruation that can guide us. Observe these as you feel, as feels right for you.

Breath of fire during menstruation: You may want to keep breath of fire light during the first few days of your period. If breath of fire feels too much, avoid it completely and substitute it for a long, slow deep breath. If breath of fire during your period doesn’t bother you, doesn’t overstimulate you, and it feels happy and fine in your body, then keep it in your practice.

Mulbandh during menstruation: Some of us physically cannot activate mulbandh during menstruation, while others have no issue and carry on as usual. Some traditions caution against activating mulbandh during our period, while others take no such caution. Again, let’s take our cue from our body. It depends entirely on your body and what feels right to you. In technical terms, when we activate mulbandh, we are joining the forces of prana and apana to press down and direct the flow of energy up the spine. In my experience, it does not affect the apana-vayu as inversions do. There is no right or wrong way, there is only your way.

Leg lifts during menstruation: Some of us may want to avoid leg lifts during the first few days of period – and indeed any posture that pressurises the abdomen such as bow. It might feel uncomfortable, it might be overstimulating, and it’s totally fine to lie on your back or belly and breathe as you visualise yourself doing the movement.

Inversions during menstruation: As mentioned above, inversions such as shoulder stand and downward dog reverse the flow of apana-vayu – the energy of elimination, which tends to move downwards in the body and is strong during the first few days of our moon cycle to help us release the uterine lining. Steer clear of inversions during your period, substituting shoulder stand with legs up the wall, and switch downward dog with table-top position.

I hope this is helpful. I cannot reiterate how important it is to listen, kindly, to our body’s wisdom. No matter what any yoga text or teacher tells us, it is fundamentally us who make the rules for our own body.

2 months ago