Written by my Fall 2020 Apprenticeship Participant, April Tesson. Interested in joining my next Apprenticeship? Sign up for the waitlist here.
How To Adapt Your Yoga Practice To Support The Phases Of Your Menstrual Cycle
I remember when I first discovered yoga. I was searching for help with fatigue, stress, and anxiety, and yoga offered me life-changing relief from these debilitating symptoms. I was immediately hooked!
Except, I noticed that some days I would get on the yoga mat, and my practice was fluid and effortless. I would power up into gravity-defying arm balances, inversions came easy, and my body just seemed to flow with ease.
On other days, just getting on my mat was a painful chore. My body felt heavy and rigid, my motivation was lacking, and a pose that was easy one day was nearly impossible a week later. My body craved Savasana, but often I would override those feelings and push myself to perform at the previous week’s level.
I was determined to find answers to why my body could feel so differently from day to day.
I discovered that as women, we have another layer to take into consideration; the ever-fluctuating hormones in our menstrual cycle.
Emerging research suggests that women can optimize their workouts based on where they are at in their monthly cycle.
Let’s talk a little more about how this idea gained traction and where the research currently stands.
I’ll also share a few recommended yoga practices to support where you are at in each phase of your cycle.
The Research on Cycle-Syncing Your Workouts
First of all, remember that women are historically left out of scientific research. (1). Males are usually the research subjects, which is problematic since many biological differences exist between women and men.
Fortunately, more recent research (2) calls for the inclusion of women in studies regarding exercise science and points out that special considerations need to be made for various hormonal changes that women undergo throughout their lives.
Adapting your workouts to the phases of your cycle involves modifying the intensity and type of exercise depending on where you’re at in your menstruation cycle. For example, choose a higher intensity practice (think, vinyasa flow) when energy levels are naturally higher and a slower workout (like yin or restorative yoga) when energy is lower, like during menstruation.
Some proponents suggest that adjusting your movement practices in this way can improve performance.
The first time this idea hit the mainstream was after the Women’s US soccer team won the 2019 World Cup and shared that they used cycle tracking as part of their training (3). The team modified training for the cycle phases, but also nutrition, recovery, and sleep strategies.
All this research leads one to believe that different approaches to physical activity throughout the month would be beneficial.
Recommendations for the Phases of Your Cycle
The idea of tracking your cycle and adjusting your movement practices to meet your body where it is hormonally each day makes a lot of sense. Your hormones are changing every day and can have a massive impact on how you feel emotionally and physically, leading to shifts in energy, motivation, and recovery.
If you are interested in adapting your yoga and movement practices for the different phases of your cycle, here are some recommendations for every phase based on the hormonal changes.
Remember that every body is different, and the best recommendation is always to listen to yours and do what feels right for you!
During menstruation, low levels of estrogen and progesterone can have you feeling a little sluggish and unmotivated. In this phase, rest is essential.
You may choose to forgo physical activity altogether or enjoy restorative styles of yoga, breathwork, or gentle walks. The most important piece of advice for this phase of your cycle is to listen to your intuition when it tells you what your body needs.
Estrogen rising! This phase can bring increased energy, motivation, and positivity, making it an ideal time to challenge yourself physically! But it’s equally important to balance this burst of energy with more soothing and nourishing practices to help ground and propel you through the duration of your cycle.
Warming Sun Salutations can be a great way to manage your energy output and create gentle circulation, followed by cooling yin, restorative poses, and breathing techniques. Longer hikes or runs followed by some cool-down stretches support this phase well too.
Estrogen peaking, LH (luteinizing hormone), and testosterone blowing in like a gale! Thanks to this sharp rise in hormones, you’ll likely be feeling at your most energetic. Use this spike in hormones to support higher intensity workouts and raise your game.
Heat promoting yoga flows, strength training, walking, running, and biking all support this phase, and you may even find yourself wanting to push a little more in whatever you are doing. You’ll also likely be feeling extra social during this time, so group exercise can be a great addition to your workout routine.
So this phase is a long one (10-16 days), and you could experience quite a range of physical and emotional shifts. During the beginning of this phase, you may have more energy to burn and can focus on strength training or moderately-paced yoga practices.
As your energy levels lower later in your luteal phase, it may feel better to practice some slow yoga flows with longer holds that will create gentle, gradual warming in the body. As always, honor what your body needs during this time and every other phase of your cycle.
Women are hormonally more complex than men. Let’s honor our bodies’ cyclical ebbs and flows and enjoy our yoga and movement practices in a way that supports our cycles and facilitates whole, optimized health. If you’re interested in learning more about using yoga to support your body during different times of the month, visit my website www.theperiodyogi.com for more information.
(1) Liu, Katherine A. et al. “Women’s involvement in clinical trials: historical perspective and future implications.” Pharmacy Practice. 2016.
(2) Elliott-Sale et al. “Methodological Considerations for Studies in Sport and Exercise Science with Women as Participants: A Working Guide for Standards of Practice for Research on Women.” Sports Medicine. 2021.
(3) Kindelan, Katie. “USWNT used innovative period tracking to help player performance at World Cup.” GMA. 2021.
April is the founder of The Period Yogi, an online membership that teaches women how to use yoga to support hormonal balance, adjust their practice for different phases of the cycle, and experience power and ease throughout their cycles. She’s also the owner of Centered Pilates + Yoga, a boutique fitness studio. You can connect with April here, or on her Instagram @theperiodyogi.