My yin yoga journey started during my period. The time each month, when I get teary, fearful, anxious, indecisive; all topped off with some physical pain. Needless to say I can get a little cranky with all this going on. About 6 years ago, I had a regular Mysore style practice (not Ashtanga), and each month at menstruation time, all female practitioners would practice a different sequence on the first three days of their period. The teacher might prescribe this practice for all the days of their period if they were experiencing strong pain.
Initially I loathed this sequence. It took me away from my drive to ‘master’ poses and felt that I was being held back each month and had to start again. In addition each pose had to be held for 20 breaths of an inhale count of five and an exhale count of five, about 5 minutes per pose. Now I’m a bit action oriented and was even way more so back then so for the first four months or so, I found this sequence torturous. But what do you know, the more I practiced, the closer I got to 20 breaths without losing concentration and the more I looked forward to this sequence each month. I felt less pain, less anxious, less indecisive and was all round more pleasant to be in my sphere!
This practice has all the hallmarks of what we now call Yin yoga, but yin yoga was unknown in Melbourne at this time, but I had heard about it in my travels in Thailand so began to research a little more about and found the similarities – floor based postures, long holds and a strong focus on sense withdrawal (Pratyahara) concentration (Dharana) and a meditative state (Dhyana) Thus began my long love affair with Yin yoga. Out of pain, grew love.
YEAH BUT WHY is it so good I hear you ask? Well when we menstruate, most of us cramp up a little, so there is contraction in the pelvic bowl, abdominal area and also for many of us into the lower back. The long held poses, stress (in a very good way) the ligaments, tendons and fascia in these areas, encouraging relaxation of muscular contractions. Blood and lymph flow is fostered to assist in keeping the detoxifying systems of the body moving; the vagus nerve is activated to by the slow and steady breath, switching on the parasympathetic nervous system and chi/prana is able to more freely within the canals of the fascial network.
Here’s the sequence for you to use at your time, or at any time. You don’t need to be female to benefit from loosening through the pelvic area. Don’t have a bolster, no problem – use a rolled up towel/blanket. If 20 breaths feels too long for you, then try 10 breaths per posture and shorten you inhale/exhale counts to four. You can increase over time.