How to adapt your yoga practice during your cycle
In this guest blog post, Jana explains the influence the female cycle has on women’s energy levels and their yoga practice. You’ll learn how Ayurveda views the phases of the menstrual cycle and how you can support yourself during each phase with asana (yoga shapes), pranayama (breath and energy work) and meditation.
The 28-Day Cycle
Unlike men, who have a 24-hour hormonal cycle and whose energy levels are the same every day, us women are gifted with a slightly more complex approx. 28-day hormonal cycle. You may have noticed how your energy, motivation and productivity fluctuates throughout the weeks of your cycle. The reason for this is the individual phases of the cycle, which bring with them different qualities. The menstrual cycle is usually between 21 and 35 days long.
When we develop an awareness of our bodies, we can connect with these energetic fluctuations and our needs and learn to understand the uniqueness of our female cycle better. The beauty of cycle awareness is that it takes the pressure off you to always be equally good or strong. You will recognize when to intensify your physical exercise and yoga practice, and when powering through is draining your body rather than energizing it. With cycle adjustment, we ensure that we do not overload the body at a time when it would be counterproductive, and by doing so, PMS symptoms can be better managed and reduced.
Yoga practice during the individual cycle phases
Phase 1: Menstruation
The first day of bleeding marks the beginning of the menstrual phase. The duration of the period can vary from woman to woman, but on average it is about three to seven days. During this phase, the progesterone level decreases and the uterine lining detaches. Energy is lowest at this time, so you may feel tired, more emotional, or prefer to withdraw.
Ayurveda view on Menstruation
The air dosha Vata ensures that we are creative and more flexible – but also more prone to nervousness and lack of stability. In Ayurveda, Vata regulates all downward movements in the body as well as the nervous system. When Vata is out of balance, it can manifest as PMS, headaches, indigestion, constipation, fatigue, anxiety and insomnia. By calming our nervous system, we can regulate the influence of Vata on our system.
Asana during Menstruation
Menstruation is a phase of grounding and withdrawal. Especially at the beginning of menstruation, many women experience cramps and pain in the abdomen and lower back. If you feel that you have less energy available and you crave more relaxation, then you should also align your yoga practice with this. Now is the perfect time for a calming and restorative practice. Restorative yoga or yin yoga would be great to practice during menstruation. Yoga Nidra is also quite wonderful, which you can use to relax your whole system.
Strong backbends and inversions, such as headstand or shoulder stand, should be avoided during your bleeding, as they can disrupt the downward flowing energy.
Pranayama during Menstruation
Gentle practices such as Bhramari (buzzing bee breath) or Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) can help calm the mind immediately. The focus is on a long exhalation, activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This part of our nervous system lowers blood pressure and heart rate, among other things, making us feel more relaxed.
Meditation during Menstruation
If you assign the cycle phases to the seasons, this phase represents winter and therefore offers the best conditions for going within. It is believed that during this time we have particularly good access to our subconscious and it is easier for us to listen to our intuition. For this reason, meditating can provide a great deal of calm, insight and clarity during the bleeding period.
Phase 2: The Follicular Phase
The follicular phase begins after the end of menstruation. Hormone levels slowly rise, giving us a welcome boost of energy that makes us feel more alert and focused. On average, the phase lasts seven to ten days.
Ayurveda view on the Follicular Phase
The Kapha phase stands for activity, growth and energy. Many women feel powerful and feel their femininity and sensuality most intensely during this time. Kapha also stands for calmness, serenity and stability. When Kapha is out of balance, it can manifest in symptoms such as water retention, breast tenderness, weight gain, fatigue, back pain and a general feeling of heaviness.
Asana during the Follicular Phase
Gentle hatha poses help us ground the body to feel nourished for the rest of the cycle. But physical exercises that involve some kind of strength or resistance training are also good – let’s go for longer asanas that make us sweat. Inverted postures can also be gradually reintroduced. It’s also a good time to try new styles of yoga – how about Aerial Yoga, for example?
Pranayama the Follicular Phase
Alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana) would also work well here to balance the YIN and YANG energies in the body. The Bhastrika Pranayama makes you feel even more energetic.
Meditation during the Follicular Phase
The follicular phase is also called our springtime, the Yang energy becomes dominant. We can use this time of new beginnings and creativity as a strength for us to make new resolutions, go on dream journeys or visualize exciting goals.
Phase 3: Ovulation
Hormone levels peak and so does our energy. The egg leaves the ovaries and travels down the fallopian tube to the uterus. This phase is the shortest of the four cycle phases and lasts about only one to three days.
Ayurveda view on Ovulation
From the Ayurvedic point of view, Pitta is dominant in this cycle phase. Pitta stands for implementation and initiates an absolute power phase in your cycle. We feel energetic, very powerful and confident.
Asana during Ovulation
You can use your ovulation phase to support the intensity of your asana practice. Dynamic asana, such as vinyasa flow or power yoga, are great ways to step out of your comfort zone and redefine your limits. You can incorporate playful, creative elements into your yoga practice and challenge yourself in balance and strength. Ovulation is a good time to practice balance asanas and venture into new peak poses. Inverted poses can also be helpful at this time to keep your energy stable – how about an asana workshop for that?
Pranayama during Ovulation
The full yogic breathing can support you in balancing the Yang. At the same time, activating, energizing pranayama like Kapalabhati can help us perform at our best.
Meditation during Ovulation
Again, visualization exercises can help create clarity and harness our creative power for us. It is the time of creating. After all, you can create new life these days! By sending the powerful energy in the direction of your dreams, you can unleash your manifestation power to achieve your goals.
Phase 4: The Luteal Phase
The remnants of the follicle that remain in the ovary develop into the corpus luteum, which produces the luteal hormone progesterone. The luteal phase is the longest phase in our menstrual cycle and lasts on average ten to 14 days. Therefore, the long period can be divided into two qualities. In the first days after ovulation, the energy level is often relatively high and steadily decreases with time.
If you suffer from PMS symptoms at the end of the luteal phase, i.e. just before your period, this is a sign that your hormones are out of balance. In that case, I have created a step-by-step roadmap that not only gives you the knowledge you need, but also gets you started! Learn more about my 1:1 Hormone Coaching here.
Ayurveda view on the Luteal Phase
Until shortly after your ovulation, Pitta is still predominant. Yoga can be supported here with fire or pitta-balancing practice. Gentler asanas prepare the body for the upcoming menstruation and Vata phase. This is where many women begin to focus on the inner-self. If Pitta becomes imbalanced, mood swings and other side effects such as skin blemishes can occur.
Asana during the Luteal Phase
In the first days of the luteal phase, the energy level is often still quite high and therefore the yoga practice can continue to be dynamic. But as soon as the energy drops, this is the indication that we should scale back the intensity of our asana practice. The rule here is to listen to your body and pay attention to how you feel.
In the week leading up to the onset of our period, the ligaments in our bodies become a bit more sensitive and thus the risk of injury is increased. Aids such as blocks and yoga straps can support us to still hold longer, deep poses. Performing twists can relieve pent-up tension and have a harmonizing and grounding effect on your body. Especially in the days leading up to your bleeding, your body may crave restorative practice.
Pranayama during the Luteal Phase
This is the phase when our basal temperature rises, so a cooling pranayama like Sitkari (hissing breath) can be useful. Otherwise, any breathing exercise that helps balance the energies or that you feel intuitively called to do is suitable.
Meditation during the Luteal Phase
In our “inner autumn” we often notice inner triggers that are a loving reminder to confront old beliefs and work with affirmations. Maybe you feel like you want to withdraw from the outside world, use a meditation practice to get back in touch with your feelings and find out what is good for you and what is not.
Summary Yoga and Cycle Awareness
I hope that with this blog article I could inspire you to see your female cycle as a gift and to use the alternating cycle qualities for yourself to strengthen your holistic well-being. Cycle awareness can give so much ease, flow and intuition in everyday life. If you want to dive deeper into cycle strengths to put cyclical superpower to work for you, I’m happy to support you along the way – click here.