What is period yoga?
If you are a person who has a menstrual cycle, it’s likely that you will also experience some sort of fluctuation of energy throughout the duration of the cycle too.
This change in our energy doesn’t just show up in our bodies and physical health, but throughout all areas of our lives – our diets, social life, work, and our mental health.
In this article we will cover:
- What cycle syncing is
- 3 benefits of cycle syncing
- How to adapt your practice to the 4 phases of your cycle
What is Cycle Syncing?
Cycle syncing is varying our life according to the four phases of our menstrual cycle. These four phases are menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase; we will explore this in more depth later.
Due to the huge impact that varying hormone levels can have on us, it can be a very powerful practice to sync our cycles with our yoga practice. This is something that you may have heard referred to as cycle syncing, and it’s not just unique to a movement practice. We can also apply it to our approach to work, the food we eat and the way we interact with the world in general.
Honouring your body in this way can be a genuinely life-changing practice; you can start the transformation simply by listening to your body’s natural rhythms on the mat.
3 Benefits to cycle syncing your yoga practice
#1: Reconnecting with your body
You might feel that you are already fairly in touch with your body and the way it works, but there is also a good chance you might not be! Particularly for people with menstrual cycles, it can be hard operating in a world that is specifically designed to accommodate testosterone levels.
In comparison to a 28-day menstrual cycle (although most menstrual cycles are longer than 28 days), men have a 24-hour hormone cycle that starts with a spike of testosterone and cortisol as they wake up.
This causes an increase in energy, focus, motivation and productivity just in time for the working day to start (conveniently!). These levels dip in the evening when estrogen begins to become more prominent, causing an inclination to wind down and rest.
If you have a menstrual cycle, you will know that our hormones aren’t quite as straight forward as this! It’s common to go through phases of feeling angry, indecisive, frustrated, sad and pretty much any other emotion you can think of.
When you track your cycle and sync your practice in relation to this, you start to become aware of the subtleties (and sometimes not-so-subtleties) of the way your body is responding to these various hormones. It helps us to both reconnect and honor these fluctuations.
#2: Pushing your asana practice
If you are someone who likes to challenge yourself on the mat, then cycle syncing is a great way to take note of when is the best time to do this.
You’ll know when you are going through a phase in which you have lots of energy and can push your body physically, as well as knowing not to be too hard on yourself if you are struggling with certain asanas. We have all experienced those days when it feels like showing up on the mat is a chore, and it turns out this might also be down to our hormones!
This practice removes the pressure of feeling like you constantly have to show up just as ‘good’ or ‘strong’ as you were yesterday. In fact, it helps us to realize that ‘powering through’ on those days we don’t necessarily want to, may actually mean we are depleting our body rather than energizing it.
Interestingly, winners of the women’s 2019 football world cup used cycle tracking to optimize their training.
#3: Managing PMS symptoms
Every cycle is extremely individual, but it is argued that syncing any sort of movement practice with your hormonal phases can actually reduce symptoms of PMS.
This is because we aren’t over-stressing the body at a time during which it would be counter-productive to do so, so we don’t need to worry about creating inflammation that may turn into PMS symptoms.
This is why recent research is calling for society to take into account considerations of the ‘diversity and complexities associated with’ our ‘reproductive endocrinology’.
Changing your practice throughout the phases
Phase 1: Menstruation
The first day of your bleed marks the beginning of your menstruation phase. Your cycle may be longer or shorter, but it generally lasts for around 7 days.
This is the phase during which progesterone levels decline and your uterine lining sheds (this is your period).
It’s when energy is lowest so you might feel fatigued, anti-social, emotional, or withdrawn. A restorative, period yoga practice is perfect during this phase.
Phase 1: Asana
Restorative or yin yoga would be a great form of period yoga here to account for the drop in energy, but you might even choose to forgo an asana practice altogether.
If you do practice, avoid asanas like shoulder stands that put excess stress on your pelvic area.
Phase 1: Meditation
Seasonally, this is the phase that represents winter and so it is the best time to go inwards. You may want to meditate and follow it up with a reflective journal practice.
It is often thought that ‘veil’ between the conscious and subconscious is much thinner at this time, meaning you may notice you are getting more intuitive hits
Phase 1: Pranayama
Gentle practices such as bhramari (humming bee breath) or anulom vilom (alternate nostril breath) can help to immediately calm the mind, supporting you through this phase.
Phase 2: The Follicular Phase
The phase after menstruation in which estrogen and testosterone start. It will probably give us a welcomed boost of energy and makes us feel more alert and focused. On average, it lasts to around the 14th day of your cycle.
Phase 2: Asana
A physical practice that incorporates some type of strength or resistance training here is great, maybe longer holds of asanas like utkatasana. You can gradually start to add back in the inversion poses that you skipped during the menstruation phase.
It’s also important here to ground ourselves and ensure we feel nourished going through the rest of the cycle, so add stronger postures if you wish but balance them with some cooling yin or gentle hatha
Phase 2: Meditation
You may want to start your practice with meditation so you can really tune into the body and see what it needs.
This is our spring season so the energy is expansive as the yang starts to become dominant. As a time full of creativity, you may want to focus on setting new intentions or calling in exciting goals or aspirations.
Phase 2: Pranayama
Alternative nostril breathing would work well here too, or you can heat it up and feel more energized with some bhastrika pranayama.
Phase 3: Ovulation
The body is preparing to release an egg and estrogen and testosterone are peaking. This is a shorter phase and lasts for around 1-3 days. This is the point in your cycle at which your energy will be the highest.
Phase 3: Asana
You can use this phase to support a higher intensity asana practice. Think power yoga, a vinyasa flow, or even a full 108 sun salutations.
You might find inversions helpful during this time to keep your energy steady and balanced.
Thanks to this increase in hormones, we are also at our most confident. This might be a great time to try a new class – aerial yoga anyone?
Phase 3: Meditation
Here we can move forward with clear intention, so a visualization practice might help accelerate your desired outcomes.
It’s a great time to connect with both others and yourself. You could try something more social, like a meditation or kirtan group.
Phase 3: Pranayama
You may just want to focus on the classic yogic breath to balance out the yang or udgeeth pranayama (chanting Om) to maintain mental clarity.
Phase 4: Luteal Phase
Estrogen and testosterone will start to decline as your body produces progesterone.
This is a long phase and is partly why people can have such varying experiences during it. You are most likely to experience PMS symptoms towards the end of the luteal phase as you are making your way back around to menstruation.
Phase 4: Asana
During the beginning phase of this phase, you may still feel like you have a lot of energy, however it is likely in the second half of the phase that the energy will begin to dip again. This is when we will want to start scaling the intensity of our asana practice back. Listen to the body and honor how you are feeling.
Particularly in the latter phase, use props like blocks and straps to create long, deep holds to nourish the body or twists to melt away any tension that has been building. This is when your body might begin to crave a restorative practice as you come closer to starting your period.
It’s also worth noting that your ligaments may be a bit more tender here, so go careful if you are trying any new or more challenging asanas where there is a possibility of injury.
Phase 4: Meditation
This is our autumn season, so our energy begins to become more intuitive and inward facing again. You may feel like you naturally start to retreat from the outside world.
Use a meditation practice to get back in touch with how you’re feeling and figure out what is/isn’t serving you. Make an effort to trust what comes up during these practices and follow gut reactions.
Phase 4: Pranayama
This is the phase in which our basal body temperature rises, so using a cooling pranayama such as sit cari (hissing breath) might be useful. Other than this, any pranayama that helps to balance the energies or that you feel intuitively called to practice.
I have found this practice to be an amazing addition to my wellness routines, allowing me to move through life with more fluidity and intuition. I hope that it will give you a far greater understanding of how to approach your body and mind as a holistic whole for your overall well-being!