Many comments about what I can’t do during my period have struck me as mildly sexist. From swimming to sex, there are a lot of myths about what you “can’t” do while menstruating that just aren’t backed up by science. And almost all of these period prohibitions limit women’s movement and pleasure in some way or another, turning a biological difference into a means of controlling women’s bodies.
I’ve practiced yoga for several years, and one such restriction often bounces around the studio. I’ve heard that either women shouldn’t do inversions or shouldn’t practice yoga at all while on their periods. The only explanation I ever received for this—which came from another student, not a yoga teacher—is that inversions “make your period flow backwards.” My fellow student didn't say why this was bad, so I ignored the advice.
Today on Slate, Lizzie Wade has the scientific take-down that I’ve been waiting for. It turns out that there may be a kernel of truth to the idea that back-flowing periods are bad: some researchers once theorized that menstrual blood can flow backwards into the fallopian tubes and lead to endometriosis. This is a painful condition where cells from the uterine lining start growing outside of the uterus.
However, this back flow of blood isn’t caused by downward dogs, headstands or handstands, but rather by uterine contractions. It’s also exceedingly common, way more common than occurrences of endometriosis. Read the full story here.
To be fair to the more spiritual yogis out there, the concept of apana is often a reason given for avoiding inversions during your period. Some yoga practices teach that this “outward flow of energy” during menstruation may be interrupted during inversions. However, not there’s little consensus in the yoga community on this front. As a secular yoga practitioner, I’d rather not skip yoga for this reason.
This is not to say that period-related pains, from back pain to cramps to general yucky-ness, are invalid reasons to not do inversions—or any other pose. Just know there’s no special health risk associated with practicing during your period.