While a regular routine is great for building discipline, it’s important to adapt your yoga routine according to your menstrual cycle. Enter: yoga for menstrual health and the practice of seasonality.
Just like how you might adapt your practice according to the four seasons, yoga for menstrual health evolves with your cycle through the practice of seasonality, or practicing certain types of movement based on the season (winter, spring, summer, and fall) or based on which phase of your menstrual cycle you are on.
What is Seasonality? What Are the Benefits of Practicing Seasonality?
The fluctuation of hormones during your menstrual cycle impacts your body’s energy levels and how your body responds to exercise, rest, and recovery.
Significant physical and emotional changes unfold throughout your menstrual cycle, which could last anywhere from 25 to 35 days.*
Seasonality is practicing certain types of movement based on which phase of your menstrual cycle you are on.
By practicing seasonality and observing how and what you’re feeling, adjusting and aligning your physical activities based on the four seasons of your cycle, you navigate your way more confidently through your cycle, maximizing energy while minimizing possible period cramps, fatigue, and frustration.
How Do I Know My Seasonality? How Do I Feel or Notice My Seasons?
Like the four seasons of nature (winter, spring, summer, and fall), there are also four seasons in your menstrual cycle:
You can use a period tracking app like Flo, a Cycle chart, or your own journal. Note the dates of your last period and symptoms, which may include your energy level, food cravings, and physiological symptoms like breast tenderness and cervical fluid.
Based on this, the app or chart can suggest which seasonality phase you’re in. It is best to track for at least two complete cycles so that the predictions become more accurate.
Here’s How to Practice Yoga for Menstrual Health During Each Phase of Seasonality:
There are two ways to use the following information: the first is to read each season to see the ideal practice for that part of the year. The second way is to approach each section based on which phase of your menstrual cycle you are on.
1. Menstrual Yoga: Rest and Retreat in Winter
Your period is the beginning of a new cycle (i.e. Day 1 is the first day of your cycle). On average menstruation lasts between 3 to 7 days.*
During the days of your menstruation, your uterine lining sheds as progesterone and estrogen drop to their lowest levels. You may feel low in energy, especially if you have a heavy period.
Your uterus is in a vulnerable state at this time, so it’s crucial to rest, retreat, and nourish your body and do what feels good. Gentle forms of yoga including Restorative Yoga and Yin Yoga where poses are held for a few minutes with the support of bolsters, blankets, and blocks are ideal.
For relieving period cramps, try Child’s Pose with your knees wide and a bolster between them under your chest, or Restorative Savasana with your feet elevated and a bolster under your knees to release your lower back.
To soothe anxiety and irritability and replenish your energy, try Legs Up the Wall or Supported Fish Pose with Butterfly legs with Ujjayi Breathing.
Dysmenorrhea, painful periods, irritability, bloating, and frustration can arise from stagnation issues. To improve circulation and support the natural and smooth flow of blood downward to shed and clear the uterus lining, you may want to avoid deep twists, or inversions such as Headstand or Handstand in this season.
Instead, opt for seated or supine pelvic tilts (Cat-Cow lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-distance apart).
Support the downward flow of blood and energy with grounding poses like Garland Pose or Squats.
You can also try gentle Qigong forms such as Cloud Hands, coupled with long, slow, deep breathing to promote the rest-and-digest response of your parasympathetic nervous system.
2. Follicular Yoga: Play and Experiment in Spring
After menstruation ends the follicular phase comes, signifying springtime. This is when maturing follicles produce oestradiol, a particular type of estrogen, in increasing amounts.
The follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) helps support the release of an egg, while estrogen levels rise to thicken your uterine lining in preparation for the egg. Like the arrival of spring after a long winter, you may experience this as a refreshed, renewed feeling as your energy picks up.
In the first three days after your period ends, go easy as you practice yoga for menstrual health, then gradually intensify your practice as you feel your energy steadily rising, but continue to keep nourishment in mind.
You may enjoy Sun Salutations, or creative, playful Vinyasa flow sequences that incorporate inversions like Downward Facing Dog and heart openers like Wild Thing, Bridge, or Wheel Pose.
This is a great time to experiment, play, and try something new – try mixing up your yoga routine with other movement modalities like Pilates, Qigong, cycling, jogging, trekking, cardio, or weights.
It’s helpful to conclude the day with something nourishing, like a short Restorative practice in the evening, or meditation to ground your mind and body.
3. Ovulatory Yoga: Challenge and Perform in Summer
Summer, which marks the 5 to 7 days* around your ovulation is when your estrogen peaks and testosterone spikes. During your ovulation, which typically lasts only a day, the levels of your luteinizing hormone peak, supporting the release of the egg.
You may feel more energetic, sociable, and more performance-driven during this time.
This season is the time to intensify your yoga practice for menstrual health. This might mean different things for the individual.
You could practice up-regulating breath exercises like Breath of Fire, enhance your yoga practice by picking up the speed, or make your practice more dynamic and vigorous with strength-building poses like Plank and Boat Pose or arm balances.
You might also mix up your yoga practice with sweat-inducing activities like HIIT, sprints, or calisthenics.
4. Luteal Yoga: Refine and Release in Fall
Fall, or your luteal/premenstrual phase lasts typically 12 to 14 days, but can range from 11 to 17 days.* In this time, progesterone produced by the corpus luteum (the empty follicle left in the ovary after an egg has been released) helps thicken your uterus lining in anticipation of a fertilized egg.
If a fertilized egg is not implanted, the lining then begins to shed, cueing the beginning of your next menses. Toward the middle and end of fall, you may feel low in energy or experience symptoms like mood swings, food cravings, swollen breasts, water retention, or disrupted sleep.
If you still feel full of energy during the first days of fall, continue your Ovulatory Yoga and physical routine. Once you start to experience PMS symptoms, tone down your routine, continuing at moderate intensity, or focus on strength training, weights, or low-impact cardio.
To release pent-up anger or frustration, try five to 10 minutes of Standing Qigong shaking, standing meditation, or a forward fold followed by Garland Pose and Child’s Pose to soothe and ground your energy.
To combat moodiness, bloating, or water retention, try a Yin Yoga pose like Legs Up the Wall with a bolster under your pelvis for three to five minutes before going to bed.
For healthy compression to enhance blood circulation in the pelvic area, try Sleeping Pigeon Pose with a rolled up blanket wedged between your front thigh and pelvis for a minute, followed by any rebound pose of choice, before repeating on the other side.
What If I’m on Birth Control? Will That Affect My Seasonality?
If you take hormonal birth control, your experience of the cycle will be suppressed. The pill does not regulate hormones; it switches them off entirely.
You may wish to, if possible, stop taking the pill to observe and align with your cycles, or choose to remain on birth control and track your energy levels and see if seasonality is beneficial for you.
The Golden Rule of Seasonality and Yoga for Menstrual Health
The golden rule when practicing seasonality is to listen and align with your body’s changing needs according to the cycle. Just as there is variation in the duration and experience of every woman’s menstrual cycle, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
If adapting your routine based on the cycle feels overwhelming, pick one small action to start with – that could be tracking your cycle and allowing yourself more rest and restoration before and around the time of your period.
Continue to listen and work with your body, and as your comfort level grows, you can layer in more changes so you can flow with your seasons. Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun!
*Note: The days given here are averages that give a general idea. This may not be representative of your own experience – it is crucial to map out your own cycle for better accuracy.
All included information is not intended to treat or diagnose. The views expressed are those of the author and should be attributed solely to the author. For medical questions, please consult your healthcare provider.