Should You Avoid Yoga Inversions During Menstruation?

Why it's OK to go upside down when you're on your period

Woman doing inverted yoga pose outside
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You've probably been there. The teacher announces that it's time for an inversion, then casually mentions that you should sit it out if you have your period. Wait, how did she know? And do you want everyone in this class to know? What if you do headstand? Will you suffer some dreadful consequence?

These are all valid responses to a situation in which you feel vulnerable, singled out, and not sure what is the most responsible thing to do. There is a range of opinions within the yoga world about whether you should do inverted poses such as shoulder stand, headstand, and handstand while menstruating.

On one end of the spectrum are people who say you do not need to change your yoga practice at all during menstruation. On the other end are people who say you should not do anything but the most gentle restorative yoga poses while on your period.

In Light on Yoga (aka the Yoga Bible), B.K.S. Iyengar writes "Avoid asanas during the menstrual period. On no account stand on your head during the menstrual period." In Ashtanga yoga, there's even a term for this: ladies' holiday. But where did this idea come from?

The prohibition likely stems from the tradition in some branches of Hinduism of segregating menstruating women from the rest of the household. In modern times, some claim that inverting during your period can result in retrograde menstruation, which has been theorized to cause endometriosis. However, Yoga Journal's medical editor Dr. Timothy McCall has written that inversions of a minute or less are unlikely to be problematic.

Only You Know How You Feel

Yoga is always teaching us that the most important thing is to listen to your body. We all have a different experience with our periods, so no blanket rule will make sense to everyone. If doing a vigorous practice with no modifications makes you feel great when you are menstruating, then, by all means, do that.

On the other hand, give yourself permission to take it easy when you have your period if that makes sense in your body. If you want to skip inversions during heavy flow days but do them on light days, that works too. 

There is a tendency to want to react against being told you can't do something because you're a woman or because you menstruate. To prove a point, we want to do exactly what we were told we can't do and do it as big and strong as possible.

Try to avoid this gut reaction in favor of asking yourself how you really feel when you're menstruating. If the answer is "I feel amazing, I feel strong, I'm ready for anything," then do anything and everything. But if the answer is "I feel tired, I just want to lie down, my lower half feels like a lead balloon and the last thing in the world I want to do is go upside down," then the best response is to respect this feeling.

The honest action is to let your body tell you what it wants and not feel bad about it either way. This goes for any day, not just the ones when you are menstruating. Your hormonal cycle take can affect your mood and energy level at any time in the month.

What to Do Instead

If you don't want to call attention to yourself by calling out "I have my period!" when the teacher instructs the class to do an inversion, take supta baddha konasana, in which you lie on your back with the soles of your feet together and your knees falling out to either side.

Or if you still want the benefits of the inversion, try legs up the wall, in which you lie on your back with your butt right at a wall and your legs going up the wall. If there is no wall nearby, you can place a block underneath your sacrum and lift your legs towards the ceiling, keeping your back and head on the mat with arms by your side.

By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.