Ugh, it's that time of the month, again.
Sound familiar? So many of us feel that our menstrual cycle (or at least its side effects) is a curse, and perhaps right now it is. Sometimes the negative side effects that come with your cycle can actuallly be messages to you that there are some hormonal imbalances going on. Professional yoga therapist Tina Nance recently led a hormone-balancing workshop in Bali’s cultural center of Ubud. She began the discussion by stating that our menstrual cycle is, in fact, a blessing; not a curse.
Yoga is a tool used to strengthen our body-mind connection. As women we are not meant to suffer every month. Our menstrual cycle is a sensitive feedback system. Negative side effects are a message telling us that something needs to change. Nance explained that “when our hormones are understood and consciously nurtured, it fosters a natural, highly charged state of intuition, insight, psychic skill, and creativity.”
There are many things we can do to naturally balance our hormones to minimize the moods and pains that come with our monthly cycle, and one way is through yoga. By practicing slowly and gently, in a Yin or restorative style of yoga, we nurture the body with relaxing, calming, and healing poses.
By concentrating our awareness, breath, focus, and energy on relaxing certain parts of the body, we minimize pain, stress, and irritation: all symptoms of hormonal imbalance. A yoga sequence used to support your hormones should focus on the kidneys, adrenals, liver, and ovaries, as well as the hypothalamus, pituitary, and pineal glands. The five therapeutic asanas mentioned below can be practiced throughout your menstrual cycle as well as throughout the month as a preventative practice of self-nourishment and self-care.
While practicing Cat and Cow poses, bring your attention to your adrenal glands, located just above the kidneys, on the lower part of the back below your ribs. Adrenals are the endocrine glands responsible for producing your hormones. In addition to stimulating your adrenals in this pose by the arching your back, you are compressing and extending your neck, stimulating the thyroid gland and the four parathyroid glands, all of which secrete different types of hormones into the body.
Practice this pose in a restorative way: Use three bolsters between your legs and your upper body. Keep your spine and neck open, not kinked. Relax your arms and allow the head to rotate to the right, resting gently on the bolsters. Inhale into the open arc of the lower back and feel the fresh prana, blood, and energy refreshing your kidneys. Practicing this pose in a restorative way with bolsters has a calming effect on the nervous system, which is exactly what we need during our menstrual cycle.
By placing a block (or two) on the floor and pressing the crown of your head into the block, you are stimulating three glands in the brain: the hypothalamus, pituitary, and pineal glands—all which have a lot to do with your hormones. The idea here is to keep the pelvis facing upright while at the same time allowing fresh blood to flow to the head by lowering the upper body towards the floor.
Bring the soles of your feet together. You can use a strap to enhance this pose by placing the middle of the strap on your sacrum, bringing the straps around to the pinky-toe side of your feet, and tightening it up. Then use a bolster (or a few) to lay back on. This will open your entire reproductive area and you will feel an amazing stretch and openness in your ovaries. The ovaries are responsible for producing estrogen; and, during the early part of the menstrual cycle, estrogen levels rise. This pose balances estrogen produced in the ovaries while giving relief from cramping at the same time. Breathe into the lower belly, the pelvis, and the ovaries while you feel this stretch.
Bring your focus to the adrenal glands. In Child’s Pose your adrenal glands—located in the lower back just below your ribs—are open and exposed. Breathe into this area and make a deep effort to relax on the exhale. In this pose the nervous system slows down, relaxing all of the physiological systems of the body at the same time.
Remember that your menstrual cycle is a time for rest and relaxation and a time for letting go, physically and emotionally. Hold these poses for longer amounts of time, perhaps even 20 minutes if you can. When you are in these poses, focus on bringing your breath to the organs mentioned. Nance’s mantra is: “Where attention goes, energy flows.” And most importantly: Do what feel good to you, and do it with kindness. You are your best guru: Listen to your body and react accordingly.