v.23 | Rethinking menstruation mandates.
🎶 I’m returning to my roots and will be teaching several Rocket classes this week at Asta Yoga. If you’re in San Francisco (or thereabouts) you can join me live 🚀 And if you’re anywhere else, you can practice by livestream.
Tonight! 4 November at 16.30 PDT | Rocket 3
Monday 7 November at 16.30 PST | Rocket 1
Thursday 10 November at 16.30 PST | Rocket Mixed
In this most witchy of seasons, blood is on my brain.
Blood, much like breath, connects us to past, present, and future generations across time and space. Blood is vivacity, veracity, ancestry, and mortality. And it is, of course, fertility.
As a yogi that bleeds monthly, I’ve been told a lot about what to do with my body in all of its beautiful, bleeding messiness. Above all, I have been taught that when I am menstruating, I must not practice for the first three days of my period. Mostly (but not entirely) I’ve been told this by folks that don’t bleed.
I sense this mandate has quite a bit to do with menstruation taboos in India and around the globe, as well as the cauldron within which yoga was formed — by men, for men.
Sharanya Deepak writes that her aunt recalls being told to avoid menstruating women as if they were ‘untouchable’: “Avalakka dooram….Stay away from her.” Deepak notes that period taboos are commonly associated with Brahmanism, Hinduism’s upper caste, which has strong rituals, beliefs, and ideas about purity and sterility.
These beliefs sometimes translate to restrictions for menstruating people: they must not cook or eat with others, attend puja or visit temple, have sex or eat particular foods, and in some instances, they’re banished to seclusion huts.
Excluding menstruating folk from social life is based in history, tradition, and cultural precedent. And while this may have been relevant and appropriate for the context in which the practices were conceived, are they still relevant? Is there scientific data to support exclusion? Do we bleeding yogafolk need to take a full three days away from āsana or yoga practice?
I’ve been chatting a lot in recent years with friends, colleagues, students, mentors and peers about the seismic shifts happening in yoga culture, practice, and teaching. One of our principal thought practices has been to question authority and authenticity, while still honoring yoga’s roots. A quote my friends Peg and Meg shared recently speaks to the evolutionary nature of practice, whether that’s a yoga practice, or a knitting routine:
“Tradition is fluid. It has a point of origin, but often this point is unknown and we can only trace it back to one of the bends in the stream where it can be so different from where it first began.”
— Knit British
With these bends in the stream of knowledge in mind, we can keep our limbs and spirits attuned to tradition, acknowledge the patriarchal history of menstruation taboo, and arm ourselves with the agency within our own bodies to listen, learn, and adapt. Knowing that we have the capacity to forge new pathways, what might a period practice look like?
If you bleed: Remember that you are your own laboratory. Experiment with what works and what doesn’t.
For me, there is no doubt an energetically exhausting component to bleeding. But, studies have shown that physical activity can alleviate cramping, as well as symptoms associated with PMS like bloating. And of course, exercise causes a release of the happy-hormone, serotonin.
So instead of a full-force Ashtanga practice when I’m bleeding, I find that gentle āsana sequences, meditations, and breathwork soothe and ground me. Walks, long śavāsana practices, and legs-up-the-wall pose are great, too.
I also deeply appreciate my kinship with other bleeding folks. I learn so much from shared experiences and perspectives, or as Dori Midnight says, when I recognize the “invisible cloak of interdependence.” I’d love to know, what is your period practice?
I’ll be sharing a period practice video next week for subscribers, so be sure to sign up or send me a note if a subscription is financially out of reach.
If you don’t bleed: Listen. Listen to your students, friends, lovers, parents, siblings, and companions who do, or have bled, and learn from them.
Perhaps notice the rhythms and cycles within your body. What shifts occur throughout the month and the year? How does your own body change with moon phases, seasonal changes, or other rhythmic cycles? How does your experience of practice shift during these times?
As always, thanks for being here. Below, a few related links.
Until next time,
My friend and fellow bleeding yogi Ashley turned me on to Shadow Yoga teacher Emma Balnaves’ work. Emma advises that supported, seated and supine poses should be taken during menstruation. I appreciate, recommend and personally follow some (but not all) of her guidelines on yoga for women at various phases of life.
There are a LOT of opinions on female-bodied folk, but not a lot of data. Deborah Copaken is an author, photographer, and TV producer who shares “the unvarnished, naked truth about living, working, loving, moving, and surviving in a woman’s body, primarily, but also frequently a human body, too, whether male or nonbinary.” She publishes stories (like this one about preventing UTIs) that are shirked by major news publications. Deborah again: “FFS women exist. And our specific physiology, needs, and psychology deserve proper study and reporting, with a frequent dash of humor to keep us all sane.”
Was your period, um, off, after taking the Covid shot? I am in full support of vaccines, science, and public health policy. Which is why I think it’s important that we understand the implications of what we put in our bodies. Dr. Jen Gunter reports that the European Medicines Agency just recommended that heavy menstrual bleeding be listed as a side effect of two COVID-19 vaccines, Comirnaty (Pfizer-BioNTech) and Spikevax (Moderna).