Cultivating the feminine in your yoga practice

A Woman’s Wild Power

Letting it Flow

 

There’s been a lot of discussion in the yoga community regarding “ladies holiday” and yoga practice. I know my thoughts have certainly evolved when it comes to a woman’s practice while her period.  And so when one day, I was scrolling through my IG feed one day, and came across this post from Sophie Cleere, an Authorized Ashtanga teacher in the U.K., I asked if she would help me have this conversation.

Ironically, I was already seeing red that day after a remark made by our illustrious president towards Mika Brzezinski … so I took it all as a sign. The red writing on the wall, so to speak. And I needed to know more. So I wrote Sophie and asked if we could chat … one wild woman to another. And we did.

Sophie, did I just read that you’re doing a workshop for women – attuning to their menstrual cycle?

Yes! That’s right. I run workshops that focus on embracing the softer side of our yoga practice, taking rest, exploring our menstrual cycle and the inner seasons. Getting to know our own energetic, and emotional shifts during the menstrual month – our ups, downs, twists and turns. And getting to know ourselves on this level more by tracking our cycle daily. 

You mentioned The Red School in your post – what exactly is that? Or who is that?  

The Red School is run by Alexandra Pope and Sjane Hugo Werlitzer. Alexandra has been educating women on the power of their menstrual cycle for 30 years! They met each other in 2009 when Sjane went to one of Alexandra’s talks in London. Together, they formed The Red School and co-facilitate The Women’s Quest Apprenticeship Training – which I’m lucky enough to be doing at the moment. It’s a course where women get to dive deep into the magic of our menstrual cycle. They have also just released a wonderful book called Wild Power which I think every woman whether they have a cycle or not should read. Interested men too! I’ve given it for lots of my friends.

How in the world did you find them? And please don’t tell me you Googled it … 

I discovered their work a few years ago and wanted to help women to reconnect with their bodies and inner intelligence. Through my own journey, I had noticed that we can be very critical, self-depreciating and even self-abusive. I know I was for many years. Through my own journey of coming to love and appreciate myself more, I began to explore this inquiry.

I held my first women circle in Mysore, India actually – although I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time! Anu kindly hosted us in her café and we were lucky enough to have a lovely spread of ages from 19 years old to around mid 50s. Our discussion was around our relationship with our bodies, the good and the not so good, it was quite beautiful. I guess this inspired me to keep going and when I got home I went to a ‘Womb Yoga’ training with Uma Dinsmore Tuli. She had a whole section on cycle awareness and the inner seasons. My mind was blown away by the concept!

I’d been practicing yoga daily for over 10 years and cycling for over 20 but I literally had no relationship to my cycle, the length, my hormonal fluctuations, the shifts in my energy over the month. Nothing!

I took my enforced day or two off practice a month, pushed on through in my day to day life and got back on the mat ASAP. The concept of resting during menstruation and general cycle awareness was pretty radical.


Radical indeed. Though currently we have a president who is not only aware of, but actually obsessed with women and blood. Of course, his obsession is completely disturbing – but maybe no less disturbing is the fact that most of the world NEVER talks about it. Like menstruation is a total taboo subject. Why do you think that is?

Well the message we hear in society and in the media, is that our period is an inconvenience. It stops us from doing what we want to do and in a society, that celebrates productivity, constant ‘doing’ and success. To stop, rest and do what our body is asking of us is going against the flow isn’t it? We are shown adverts that tell us we can ‘beat’ our period and get the better of Mother Nature with this or that hygiene product and then we can still jump out of a plane or sky dive period or no period.

Not much is said about our bodies natural desire to rest and recharge at this time.


Though there are some very cool women in the public eye who are putting periods into the mainstream media though.In 2015, Kiran Gandhi got her period before the London Marathon, she decided she would run the 26 miles ‘free bleeding’ to highlight ‘period shame,’ the plight of women around the world who had no access to sanitary care and have to hide their periods.



GAH! She goes by the name Madame Gandhi now and was just playing and speaking at the Wanderlust Festival in Squaw this past weekend where I was teaching also. I didn’t get the chance to see her and now I’m kicking myself!

Oh no! She’s not the only one either. Remember the 2016 Rio Olympics?  Fu Yuanhui was interviewed after coming 4th in the 4×100 meter relay, whilst doubled over and clearly in pain – and she said, “Actually, my period started last night, so I’m feeling pretty weak and really tired.” Fu was praised by sports fans for actually mentioning the truth!

Still, in some societies, periods are not mentioned by name and menstruation is seen as something that disrupts balance and menstrual blood is seen as dirty and polluting. Our Menstrual Cycle has been swept under the carpet but I think women have an opportunity now to reclaim them. If we can do this, then our daughters, granddaughters, sisters, nieces can come into a powerful and empowered relationship with their menstrual cycle instead of feeling embarrassed or even ashamed as some of us have been. 

Amen sister! I’ve even read that in some tribal communities, the women are sent away when they are menstruating because they are said to be so highly intuitive, that it’s a time they can really tune in. Like they have visions! And when they return, all the village gathers to hear what they’ve learned.

Yes! When we take time to rest properly at Menstruation we can experience insight and visioning. We can sometimes find resolution for problems we may have in our life at that time.

But we need to have the time and space to rest to access this wisdom and this can be challenging when society and life does not support us to do this. Life responsibilities, mothering, work etc. can make this feel impossible. Alexandra and Sjane of The Red School speak of the 1% rule. So basically, whatever you would love to do when you menstruate … say that’s going to a cabin in the woods and being waited on hand a foot for 3 days or laying on a tropical beach….can we do 1% of that? 1% is normally within reach. Maybe it’s a bath with lovely oils, or a massage or even just 5 minutes alone time. If the 1% can happen then maybe next month it could go up to 5%.

I like that rule and wish I would’ve been introduced to the idea earlier. For  a very long time, before I realized I was peri-menopausal, I was bleeding super heavy. So much so that I couldn’t leave the house on the first day. But before this, I never acknowledged my cycle – or tried not to anyway. It was more an inconvenience but also, an embarrassment. Rest was not something I did well – but as it turned out, I needed a break. Because Menopause hit me like a ton of bricks.

Do you think if I’d paid more attention to my monthly cycles early on, perhaps I would not have to have felt so crippled in this life transition?

As I’m still fully cycling, I can’t give my personal experience here. In terms of practice, I believe Patthabhi Jois advised 3 days rest as the heat of the practice and the heating of the body during menstruation do not mix well. He also said if women did not rest this could cause problems at menopause. Personally, I do feel that spending time practicing cycle awareness now is going to support me as I approach Menopause and beyond. This is such an important topic to speak on though. I see friends and peers struggling with this very issue – Perhaps you can initiate the conversation Peg?

Oh, for sure! In fact, just a few years ago, I sat down with Christine Hoar – and later, with Cathy Louise Broda to discuss. In fact, we even talked about it in the latest issue of The Ashtanga Dispatch Magazine! So yeah, I’m on it (even if I’m now past it!) 

Because now, we have a whole generation of Ashtanga women in their thirties who are really struggling with their menstrual cycles. Many stop menstruating altogether while others bleed for weeks. Some resist adamantly taking time off practice feeling this is just another patriarchal intrusion in a patriarchal practice. In other words, another man telling a women what to do with their body. Feels like it’s time to change the conversation, right? 

Yes! And it probably needs to come from a woman.

I feel like in order for the Ashtanga practice to be sustainable throughout our life and beyond Menopause, we must to listen to our bodies.

It’s an overused expression I know but in this case its true. That means going with the energy flow that we actually have and not imposing a set daily structure upon ourselves which may not suit us on that day. I can only speak for my experience but if I don’t do this I deplete my energy and then the practice is not supportive, quite the opposite. I’m consistently exploring this in my own practice, witnessing my students experience and the shifts they make when they start embracing their cycle more. Things like restorative yoga practice when we are bleeding, Yoga Nidra or just simple rest. I love my practice but listening to my body’s rhythms must come first for me.

Well you are just singing to the choir for my 24 year-old daughter! She was thrilled when I told her about your workshop. To her, it’s about time. She doesn’t understand why the world won’t talk about a woman’s menstrual cycle or why it’s such a big deal for other women her age to rest a few days.

I wish you could be in our practice room when Meghan has her period – all the bolsters and blocks and pillows. It’s perfectly indulgent how she treats herself every month. I won’t lie, I get a little envious … I wish I knew then when she seems to know now. Do you think this is a generational thing?

Meghan’s “period practice” – even the pups want in!

I love that! I would totally join her if I were there as I think many of us in our generation missed the memo as it were. It’s really only just coming into the public arena and 2015 was cited in various publications as ‘The year the period went public.’ So things really are changing now.

And yet, we still don’t feel it’s ok to rest. There is very little value placed on it.

We have been told and taught to push on through, to ‘be strong’ and resting when we have our period is just not in line with this belief.

This is why it’s so important to change things now, get out there, speak of it. Be proud of it … for the next generation women

There are really incredible young women who are being a voice for their generation. I watched an amazing 16-year-old vlogger the other day giving great advice about how to choose your own mooncup. The different sizes, shapes, firmness’. How to fit them, how to find your cervix. I mean imagine if that information were there for us! And how incredible that its beginning to be shared now. I really think the tide is turning and the ‘Taboo’ is beginning to lift.

And yet, I can’t help but feel like I’m going to get some push-back on this – maybe even a snarky comment or two. 

Sure, this may really resonate with some women and not with others. Some women may just not see the point in Menstrual Cycle Awareness, they are perhaps not affected by their cycle every month. I can only share from my experience and voice that this work has changed my life in a huge way. It may seem self-indulgent or weak to rest and honor our cycle. Life is fast-paced and does not allow space for women to be cyclic beings. But for those to whom this sparks interest I encourage you to explore and go deeper. Track your cycle and get to know yourself. Listen to your body and take rest when you need it.

Also, thank you Peg for giving me this chance to share a little of what I know and shine a light on Menstruality.

Oh, it’s truly been my pleasure. 

And if your readers have any questions, please do tell them to get in touch.

I sure will! Thanks Sophie!

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If you’d like to contact Sophie, visit her website. And if you’d like to know more about The Red School, please visit their website at www.theredschool.org.

Comments

  1. Hey, I like this post, but I think the resting during the period is a bit narrow. If one is going to be aware of one’s cycle and practice accordingly, it shouldn’t be so programmatic that one has to take the days one is actually bleeding off. I always feel exhausted *before* my period – so much so, that when the period finally starts, it’s a huge relief. My Ashtanga teacher has told me she feels the same way. But to take rest before the period and during the period is way too much rest for me, so I can never make up my mind about how to deal with periods and rest – even after the three days of the standard period-rest I crave practice. Yet, I struggle with practice in the days before it comes, and then I don’t feel like practicing at least the first two days of the period. Such a dilemma! But the bottom line is that if one feels drained before the period starts but feels like practicing during all of or parts of the period, perhaps one should listen to one’s body to the extent of stepping outside the “official” guidelines too?

    1. Author

      I hear that a lot Cecilie – about the days before. And I think just the fact that you are aware and trying to respond to your body in a way that meets your needs (not expectations!) – you are, indeed, practicing accordingly! xo

  2. Whenever we hit upon a deep truth, we’re bound to get a snarky comment! This is wonderful and so important. To deny our power as women has been reinforced in our culture. We have the privilege to work and speak up in order to turn this around.

    When my daughter was going through puberty, my larger circle of friends and I came up with all kinds of ways of celebrating the first menses with our daughters. For some it was more public, such as inviting the girl and her friends to our women’s moon circle. For others it was more private, just between the mother and daughter. I believe this joyful, supportive perspective around the monthly cycle planted a seed in our girls to be proud of the strength and power of their bodies. The girls learned how to count the days of their cycles and an awareness of the rhythm of their cycle with that of the lunar cycle emerged also. This is an acquired skill of deep listening that serves us so much in all aspects of our lives, and is something that continues to develop throughout our lifetimes. We are intrinsically tied to nature though the monthly rhythm of our bodies, and possessing that knowledge can be very comforting and help foster a sense of wholeness when we are going through difficult times in our lives.

    I’ve always taken days off of practice for my cycle and tried to pamper myself in some small way. I need to shift my focus now to honoring the subtle changes that I’m sensing as I grow older. There is a very palpable difference in my energy level and stamina. I’m trying to honor it and not be sad about it, frankly.

    Thank you so much for this article! It’s very helpful to me to have this dialogue and these resources. I will spread the word about The Red School!

  3. More like this please! One thing I feel is certainly lacking in the Ashtanga community is awareness of the phases of the mentraul cycle. How the ebb and flow of our hormones throughout the month influence our mood and stamina. Awareness and respect of this natural rhythm is key. This practice is for life, it’s not going to hurt to take 3 days of rest (or even more if necessary) from the practice each month. Thanks for the article!

  4. Great topic. I am a newbie at 40 and I can definitely say that Ashtanga has helped me tune into my body and become more aware of my cycle. I also feel exhausted the week before my period and I can trace back almost all my injuries to those days. I now have a very light practice and no adjustments rule for the week before my period. Interestingly right after my period I feel very light and energized. Those days are the best days for progress in my practice.

  5. More like this, please! Peg, you do a community great service by sharing your process of meeting your feminine in this practice, as well as by being a ‘carrier’ for voices of Cathy Louise, Christine and now Sophie. Thanks, this is such an important topic, I feel.

  6. Thank you for this! I was wondering how HBC is believed to effect the practice. After having my kids and deciding to prevent further pregnancy, going back on HBC seemed very strange. I decided to learn fertility awareness method of pregnancy prevention and only then did I begin to feel like natural menstruation was something important, even in avoiding pregnancy. I was surprised to find that it actually made me feel greater female empowerment and control than I ever had on my years with the pill. I’m curious your thoughts on this in regards our energy during our cycles. Thanks!

  7. This article is so needed in the yoga community in general. I would add that the Red School’s only rule is that your own experience trumps everything. So if like Cecilie you feel you need to rest in the pre-menstrum, that when you do it. I’d thoroughly recommend the Red School’s new book Wild Power, but also Uma Dinsmore-Tuli’s book Yoni Shakti. When I read that I felt like I had been waiting for it my whole life, and it changed the way I teach – especially for women’s bodies.

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