In ancient times moon cycles or lunar cycles were believed to affect the growth of plants and many of the ebbs and flows of animal and human life. Even the female menstrual cycle has been linked to its lunar equivalent – some see it as no coincidence that the length of the average menstrual cycle coincides with the phases of our moon.
Whether you believe this to be true or not there’s no denying that as we move through the 4 stages of our menstrual cycle our mood and physical body changes. We might experience heightened sexual desire, intense mood swings, cramps, a sense of motivation, the impulse to nest, or a yearning to rest and sleep.
Despite our mind and body changing as our hormone levels fluctuate and our body prepares to bleed, we typically don’t change a thing in our day to day life. We continue to keep busy, to rush from place to place, to be social butterflies, to work hard and to stick to our strict fitness regimes. Now, I’m not saying we should all take a week off work when we start our cycle, but there are practices we can adopt to acknowledge and support the change our body is experiencing. Think acceptance rather than denial. In this article I’ll step through each moon stage, or week, of our cycle and explore the types of yogic practices you can adopt to keep your flow more mindful.
New moon or bleeding phase:
I’ll spend the most time here, particularly as there has been much discussion on whether yoga is a good or bad idea during this phase.
This time generally is a period of reflection, rest, restoration and it’s a wonderful opportunity to set intentions for the month to come. It’s a time to let go – literally our body is dispelling old blood out of our body – with this you can release stuck emotions, stress or anger (perhaps what you’ve been holding in during the PMS time of your cycle).
In yoga this is a time to slow down, to focus on yin rather than yang. Look for gentle practices and postures that promote relaxation in your hips, legs, back and belly. Poses that keep you upright and grounded can also help with the cleansing outwards, downward energy of menstruation. It is advised not to go upside down or spend time in inversions which might counteract the natural downward flow process.
Some great postures to try include:
- Forward folds
- Yogic squat
- Reclined butterfly
- Sleeping swan
Postures to avoid include strong backbends, twists, arm balances and any standing positions that put a lot of stress on the abdominal and pelvic region. These poses generally require more physical strength which can be lacking during this time and you might deplete your energy stores further by practicing in this way.
Some teachers say that it’s better to practice at home during menstruation instead of attending a studio class. This is because you’ll be less likely to feel like you have to follow every pose the teacher instructs, you might not want to feel like the odd one out if you choose to adapt or avoid a pose or the teacher might not offer more gentle alternatives. Plus, at this time you naturally want to stay home and hibernate, so a gentle yoga practice in the comfort of your home with your hot water bottle, tea, blankets and pillows nearby might be just what’s needed.
However, if rolling out your yoga mat doesn’t feel right then listen to your body. There are other practices you can harness that will help alleviate any period-related symptoms and keep you rested. Pranayam or breathing techniques are useful during this time to balance emotions and calm the mind, these techniques can also help to relieve physical pain. Avoid fast breathing or any strained breathing, instead aim for deep, slow breaths. Meditation is another great tool to utilise at this time, you can meditate with your intention or with your breath to promote feelings of calm.
Finally, slowing down your lifestyle in this phase is also beneficial. Learning to let go of being on-the-go and accepting this time as one of rest can be the best medicine. Curling up with a cup of tea, a good book and a fluffy blanket is by no means a bad thing.
First quarter moon or pre-ovulation
The next phase of our cycle is pre-ovulation. Typically at this time you might feel like you have a renewed sense of energy, you might want to take action, make decisions, work positively towards your intention and start to dial up your yoga practice again.
During this time you can re-introduce strength-building postures and work to generate heat on your mat. A vibrant vinyasa class is just the ticket during this period.
Some valuable postures include:
- Warrior postures
- Sun salutations
- Chair pose
- Goddess pose
It’s also a great time to meditate on your intention as it starts to manifest into a reality and perhaps to try some heat building, faster paced Pranayam or breathing techniques that will fill you with gorgeous Prana or energy.
Full moon or ovulation
Things are only getting better! You’ll likely feel full of beans, positive and joyful. This is the time to one hundred percent celebrate you. Going out, being social and having fun should all be on your to-do list.
There’s no reason why you can’t take this onto your yoga mat with you. Use this happy energy to express yourself during your flow. Be daring and try that balancing pose or upside down pose you’ve never tried before, add in some juicy backbends and have a play. In order to stay grounded amongst all of this fizzing energy it can be good to sprinkle some balancing postures into the flow.
Some beneficial postures include:
- Tree pose
- Crow pose
- Bridge or wheel
- Camel pose
This time is also a good opportunity to release any negative thoughts that might travel with you into the next phase. Try meditating on these, letting go of them with big exhalations out of your mouth or writing them in your journal.
Third quarter or pre-menstrual
This is the perfect time to release, share and reflect. In yoga you can adopt postures like twists, side bends and restorative inversions that will help to rinse and cleanse. Your energy supplies might be starting to deplete so make sure that you don’t push yourself too much as you prepare again for your bleeding phase.
Some beneficial postures include:
- Seated twist
- Restorative bridge (using a block)
- Triangle pose
- Plow pose
Despite all of these notes and nuggets of guidance I want to end by pointing out that all women are different. Some of us may not have any menstrual side effects whereas others get them to the extreme. Some women will have irregular cycles and some might have longer cycles than others. Because we are all unique, there are no set rules regarding what to practice during your cycle what is most important is that we listen closely to our bodies at every stage and adapt our practice based on what our body is telling us.
To try and connect more with your cycle aim to jot down your mood, your food cravings, your energy levels, your yoga practice and anything else of note every day. You might notice a pattern and you’ll certainly become more familiar with your body’s rhythms allowing you to find a more mindful flow.