Did you know that every month when you have your period and your uterus sheds its lining you are going through a kind of ‘mini-birth’?
Your cervix (entrance to your womb) opens to allow your body to release the blood; your hard-working uterus, which is one of the strongest muscles in your body (it’s designed to push a baby out after all!), contracts and releases for at least several days, and, interestingly, the same hormones that cause period cramps—prostaglandins—are also involved in early labour!
So, would you run a marathon, stand on your head, work a long day in the office, or otherwise push yourself when you’re giving birth? Well, of course not!
Just like in childbirth, menstruation is a time to get out of the way and let your body do its thing. Here are my 4 top tips for more comfortable, and even enjoyable, periods. Yes, it is possible!
1. Take a rest! I mean it!
Take some time out to rest during your period. This is when your energy is generally on a low anyway, and resting is like putting money in your ‘energetic bank’—it’ll pay back later in the month, giving you more energy and vitality. Plus, if you suffer heavy periods, period pain or any menstrual imbalance, resting when you bleed is the first step to helping you redress your hormonal balance.
In an ideal world you’d take the whole day off on day one of your period. While some companies are instituting menstrual-leave for their employees, generally we live in a man’s world and it’s not possible to ring in sick every month. At the very least, try to schedule easier and less demanding work tasks for when you’re on your period—especially on your heaviest days. Your nervous system is more susceptible to stress and overdoing it at this time of your month. And, at the end of your day give any social or extra-curricular sporting events a miss and stay home in your own menstrual-cocoon. The time to get out there, work out and socialise is for later in your cycle.
On the home-front, ask your partner to cook, or plan ahead and make sure you have a frozen meal in the freezer to support your little ‘menstrual holiday’. Get plenty of sleep and enjoy a nap or two if you can!
2. Nourish yourself
Eat nourishing, warming foods. Your system is at its most sensitive each month when you bleed, so this is the time to skip the junk food and eat foods that will support your energy and leave you feeling loved-up on the inside!
From an Ayurvedic (the sister-science to yoga) and Chinese Medicine point of view, it’s best to avoid raw foods and instead eat cooked foods like soups and stews that include grounding root-vegetables.
You may want to top up your magnesium levels to help with excessive cramping, and there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of low/no-sugar dark chocolate—a yummy way to boost your magnesium levels and good for the soul too!
3. Journal and reflect
Women are cyclical and this is a gift! It means that every month when we bleed it’s like a kind of ‘re-birth’ (as well as the ‘mini-birth’ I mentioned before). According to Miranda Gray, author of The Optimised Woman, your period is your ‘Reflective Phase’ in your cycle. This is because it’s the time in the month when, while we’re resting and taking it easier, we have the opportunity to reflect on the month that’s been and to set some intentions for the month to come.
In traditional cultures, before the advent of artificial lights and urban, industrialised societies, women would often quite naturally bleed in sync with the new moon, which is very fitting when you consider the new moon represents the time in the lunar month to set new intentions, planting the seeds for our hopes and desires. The new or dark moon is also a time that aligns with a more internal, introverted focus, which is usually how we naturally feel when we bleed.
Therefore, this is the perfect time to reflect in your journal or meditate on your purpose and where you’re at in your life’s journey—chances are, you’ll gain some valuable insights and experience some ‘aha!’ moments.
4. Practise ‘menstrual-friendly’ yoga
If you like to do yoga, skip class, and instead embrace a gentle, restorative ‘Dark Moon’ yoga practice. This will rejuvenate your energy and nourish your nervous system, helping to balance your hormonal system and boost your menstrual health and your overall vitality.
Here are my top three ‘menstrual yoga poses’. These postures are all gently supportive, restful and can ease menstrual cramps, tiredness and heaviness.
Menstrual Posture #1: The Constructive Rest Pose—simply delicious!
I often like to begin my Dark Moon practice with the Constructive Rest Position (CRP). This deceptively simple posture is beneficial for relieving menstrual backache and cramping, and is profoundly rejuvenating. Donna Farhi, an internationally renowned yoga teacher, says Constructive Rest Position is ‘an alternative to a nap, cup of coffee or piece of chocolate!’
To practise CRP lie on your back with the feet hip width apart and a comfortable distance away from the buttocks so that the pelvis is in neutral. When you have correctly positioned the feet in relation to the buttocks, there should be a feeling of the thigh bones and shin bones resting lightly against each other like two playing cards positioned in a delicately balanced triangular formation. This allows for a feeling of the head of the femur (thigh bone) to ground into the hip socket, which relaxes the hip flexors, quadriceps and abdominal muscles, and ultimately releases any holding in the psoas muscle.
Psoas expert and somatic therapist, Liz Koch, says that resting on the floor in this position enables us to unravel patterns of tension from deep within our core outward, and it ‘frees the central nervous system from much of the stimuli that evokes habitual response patterns to gravity.’
The Constructive Rest Position is a wonderful posture in which to practise ‘Soft Belly Breaths’ (deep abdominal breaths) to allow to soften and relax any tension in the abdominal and uterine area.
Menstrual Posture #2: Supta Baddha Konasana – the mother of all postures
Baddha Konasana in its Restorative variation—Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Posture—resting on a bolster)—is the quintessential menstrual-therapy posture. Patricia Walden, a senior Iyengar-trained yoga teacher from the USA, describes this Restorative posture as the ‘mother of all asanas’.
This blissful pose softens and creates space in the belly and pelvic area, and, can ease menstrual cramps and heaviness and congestion in the belly and pelvic floor. It is also particularly rewarding when your energy is quite low, as it opens the chest and lungs, facilitating deeper breathing and rebuilding your energy.
According to pioneering Restorative Yoga Teacher, Judith Hanson Lasater, Supta Baddha Konasana supports the menstrual flow to move down and out and ‘harmonizes the apana, or feminine, energy in the abdomen by creating a receptive vessel in the belly and pelvis.’ She also says that psychologically, this posture creates a ‘deep opening with safety and support’.
If you are practising this posture for any length of time, it’s important that you support the knees to facilitate maximum softening and release in the belly and pelvic area. Do this by placing a block, folded blanket or bolster under each knee, or wrap a long blanket roll around the front of the shins and ankles, and tuck it under the outer shins, near the knees.
Menstrual Posture #3: The Supported Child Pose – the ‘menstrual teddy bear’ posture
Supported Forward Bending postures are very soothing during menstruation, and my all-time favourite Dark Moon (menstrual) posture is the Supported Child Pose.
If I had to choose one posture for menstruation this would be it! Resting your torso along a yoga bolster feels as comforting as cuddling a big teddy bear, and offers many benefits including relief from menstrual pain, fatigue, and an aching, tight back. It’s also an ideal position to place a hot-water bottle or heat pack on the sacrum, while you rest and breathe through the pain of period cramps.
Stay in this restful supported Forward Bend for as long as you like—up to 10 minutes. Just make sure you turn the head to the other side half way through your timing so that you stretch your neck evenly.
For more information on yoga postures and practices to support healthy menstruation, as well as the other three phases of your menstrual cycle, delve into Ana Davis’s book, ‘Moving with the Moon: Yoga, Movement and Meditation for Every Phase of your Menstrual Cycle and Beyond’ – www.movingwiththemoon.com