Yoga During Your Period

One of the most common & frequently asked questions by yoga practitioners is about the practice during their period. And I guess this very natural phenomenon has been studied quite deeply even in yogic science – of course, we know how it has been influential in other socio-cultural and religious rites.

Anyway, as far as a yoga goes, the opinion of whether or not to practice of yoga during one’s menstrual cycle depends upon a number of things – the philosophy and teachings of the particular style and lineage of yoga, the individual preferences of the practitioners, the menstrual flow, PMS variations, and so on.

For me, I haven’t experienced PMS symptoms for most of my menstruating years – no mood swings, bloating, period-related diarrhea, breast tenderness, cramping, pain, skin breakouts, etc. I did however, notice that around ovulation time (about 14 days before the next period) I would feel extremely hungry – this proved to be a better indicator to charging my cycles than many other calendars and also honed my skills on listening to my body and understanding changes.

In recent months, however, especially over the last year, I noticed significant temper outbursts around the ovulation week. I wouldn’t have mood swings, but I was definitely on edge and my patience would be at its lowest level (not a good mix with teen and pre-teen kids going hormonal at home either!). Incidentally, this would also be the time when telemarketers and banking goof-up apology calls would somehow manage to sneak through the Trucaller block list!

There was another odd symptom of physical discomfort that I noticed. A few days before my period, I would feel the misalignment in my SI joint (Sacro-Iliac joint). This would feel like a small joint twist and I wouldn’t feel agonizing like when it had dislocated a few years ago, but it would be like the joints had loosened overnight and they just slipped over each other. This would further settle down into a dull, buzzing very low intensity but highly annoying ache in my lower back and my hips that sometimes radiated upwards along the muscles around my lower spine.

Initially, I’d wonder if I had lifted something incorrectly or slept badly and would take time off to rest and take it easy, until it took a few months to realize this was clearly period related.

PMS

And I brought along my yoga to address this.

To clarify, I come from the Hatha lineage and school of thought and I believe that yoga can be practiced on every day of your period too. Of course, I also avoid inversions especially on heavy flow days (and if someone has menstrual disorders, then inversions are best avoided throughout the period days).

Here’s what I did:

On the mat, my asana was purely to de-congest and mobilize tight muscles especially in my lower back and stretch the abdominal muscles. Child’s pose (balasana) is soothing for some – for me, it is a very aggravating and uncomfortable posture, even a wide-knee child’s pose bothers me. Instead, I prefer a reclined bound angle (supta baddhakonasana) to be my better alternative. Supporting my back with a bolster makes this even more nurturing.

Supine twists are gorgeous… no, make that gorrrrrrjusssssss for a congested lower back. The slower you twist, especially incorporating mindful and simple breathing, the back responds with as much gratitude for your consideration.

The cat-cow (marjariasana) followed by cobra (bhujangasana) are others that not only relax the spine but also stretch the abdominal muscles to further massage the abdominal area and allow any uterine tightness to relax. I raise my legs against the wall in viparita karani and wow! that really helps to ease my legs after a long work day – with or without my period!

My all-time go-to ragdoll pose / standing forward fold (uttanasana) is something I don’t always find comfortable if I’m experiencing that SI joint symptom, so I skip it altogether. Instead, I lie down on my bed (supine – face up) and allow my upper back, neck and head to drop down the side of the bed. This creates a gentle traction with my head drawn towards the ground with gravity and helps to stretch my neck that may be sore as a result of a tight lower back. (Avoid this if you have cervical spine disorders)

Image result for neck stretches off the bed
Image Source: http://www.ba-bamail.com/

Then for my pranayama, I do simple, gentle 1:1 deep, mindful breathing… and I bring myself to meditate – especially when I’m having one of my ovulation-week crabbiness.

What else do I do?

Apart from yoga, I may snuggle up in bed with a good book, have some tea (I’m a tea person – so I’ll choose anything from chai to turmeric blends to herbal infusions or my yogi tea.. I’m also not a green tea person, just saying..), or a warm bath (throw in some bath salts or epsom salts – but avoid soaking for more than 10-15 mins), a self massage or abdominal gentle massage, or simply turning in with a hot water bag is quite soothing too! Of course, it always helps if the kids choose not to squabble right at that time, but well, you can’t always have it all 🙂

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This thing called ‘Consent’

As part of Teaching Methodology, I’ve been talking about ‘Consent’ in my recent YTTs (Yoga Teacher Trainings) over the past few weeks. As an Indian yoga teaching in India). All I can say is that as a concept the whole idea of consent in the Indian culture, is sadly, just raising its head. In my observation, there are 2 major things at play here:

  1. The realization that an individual (as well as a yoga practitioner) has agency. (considering the rampant patriarchal bias), and,
  2. The status of a teacher in Indian culture – very elevated (all the more for spiritual gurus and, well, yoga teachers.)

In the Indian context, somewhere along the line, women have been objectified and the basic sense of body boundaries seems to have been lost. This is not the general rule – but socio-culturally, this has been an after-effect of patriarchy. And we see this in varying shades across economic strata.

For women (and yoga practitioners) to become aware that they actually do have a say in who can touch them, where, when and how much, how often, etc, is a new thing. Almost all women who come into yoga studios have a history of abuse, eve-teasing, being groped, cat-called, molested, sexually assaulted or even raped. Sadly, many of them have usually normalized the injurious and traumatic touch with a ‘cant-do-anything-about-it’ attitude. So teaching them about consent and that they can refuse touch is a big thing – novel approach, but much needed.

Even if it means saying no to touch – with sexual connotations or not.

Secondly, the Indian culture, even in modern education systems, largely place teachers on a very high pedestal. This is true even, or more so, for yoga teachers, who are confusingly seen as highly evolved beings who can do no wrong. The irony, of course, they also see them are individuals who possibly do not need to be paid for their seva. (“Wait, isn’t yoga supposed to be free?”)

Anyway, this is important in a yoga class setting, especially in an Indian yoga class context because many practitioners come in with both these beliefs – that they can’t say, ‘No’ to touch and/or manual adjustments if they feel uncomfortable and definitely not say, “no” to a yoga teacher!!

So the western yoga community has come up with this innovative tool, a prospective accessory that yoga classes may choose to use – consent cards – offered to practitioners in studios with the intention of allowing them to let the teacher know if they welcome hands-on adjustments / touch or not.

Image result for consent cards yoga
Picture Credit: https://kindyoga.com.au/

I’ve raised the concept of consent cards with my YTT students and they seem to be confused in how to use them – the application of consent is tough. I wonder myself how convenient they would be for me to use, because I can be very clear with making my consent or dissent known, but consent cards / stones, might be a distraction. Plus, and this is more important to note that a card can only give so much consent – further experience in the adjustment is only when it happens – how much adjustment is too much? When does the practitioner refuse the adjustment? Is it Ok to refuse adjustment after agreeing to it earlier or even after turning the YES face up?

Well, like all things consensual, the practitioner has the right to refuse manual adjustment or any touch at any point in time

I cannot stress this enough.

Here’s what I suggest teachers do:

Seek consent at the beginning of the class, and definitely during class if you want to offer an adjustment. But my #1 philosophy to train them in is – to simply avoid manual adjustments altogether.

Also, I feel that a 200-hr (RYT200 / YTT200) certification is just not adequate to fully understand manual adjustments and how to offer them because bodies are so different and yoga teachers learn a lot from experience and deeper training. It helps to learn from classroom continuing education as well as self-study and experience, about trauma-sensitivity, mindful teaching and the fact that people are not just their bodies, they are a body with a mind, a spirit and deep and rich emotional history to consider.

So, with the Indian context, I believe we have to address two things here.

Firstly, to educate our practitioners about boundaries and agency (though this doesn’t always come under yoga teaching), but it is important to empower them that way… and secondly, more importantly, to be sensitive to the fact that our society in itself is looking at change – and changing a culture can only happen by engagement, education and walking the talk.

Day 15: Honoring My Yoga Roots

As we come to the end of the challenge, we were dared to commit to the cause of the Dare To Discuss Yoga Challenge, facilitated by Susanna Barkataki. And there’s as much commitment to the cause from my end as there is from those who participated from the other end of the spectrum.

I’m no different to the rest of us who participated in the challenge. We all introspected and reflected on what it meant to really shine light on cultural appropriation around us and to take the time to honor the roots, tradition and culture of yoga. This is as applicable to me, an Indian Yoga Teacher, as it is to those who are just now aware of the implication of decolonizing yoga.

There is a massive need for us to actually have teachers in India reclaim their understanding, sensitivity and appreciation of their yoga heritage. Not many people know. Yes, there is always that sensitivity to our culture, but somehow, even as a YTT program, the focus is on asana and then some philosophy and in some schools, the application of appropriate and well-rounded teaching methodology.

Educating our teachers about yoga culture is important.

And that is going to be a huge part of my teaching curriculum in addition to teaching body positivity, inclusion and, of course, yoga anatomy & physiology.

I see my path slowly clarifying, emerging & settling around…

So, I make my commitment..

#Dareyouryoga

 


 

This blog is a part of a very unique yoga challenge led by my dear friend and fellow yogi, Susanna Barkataki – the Dare to Discuss Yoga Challenge. Both of us feel quite deeply about cultural appropriation and bring an authentic purpose to shine through constructive discussion, dialogue and education to make people (yogis & non-yogis) aware – to ‘lessen the appropriation and up the honor’, in Susanna’s words. In support of the challenge and the work, I shall be blogging my introspection and reflection here to share the conversation and build the cumulative effect.

Day 14: Decolonizing Yoga?

Today was a dare for everyone to decolonize yoga and give a platform to lift yoga teachers of Indian or Asian heritage and also POC teachers… teachers true to the heritage and culture of yoga. I worry sometimes if teachers really know the essence and relevance of the politicized history of yoga – the colonized pain, and the significance of how and why yoga exists today. A part of me felt like as an Indian, I owned a deeper share of the history as compared to other teachers – and then immediately I remembered that yoga didn’t belong to anyone – it was a practice that was available to everyone – but still, that sense of belonging and the worry if non-Indians / Asians merely saw yoga as a practice or a tool for political leverage? I was curious, even, to wonder why POC teachers were expected to know the essence of yoga? Was it only in response to white supremacy? Because even in that respect, there could be a loss of essential philosophy.

It was too much thinking… It was bringing up all sorts of thoughts… because I know for a fact that many teachers – Indian, Asian, teachers of color, white, etc… many of them who were true to the practice but not necessarily aware of the origin & heritage of yoga (so yes, there was scope to build awareness and educate them), but many others who only used yoga to promote body positivity or political agenda without paying attention to the philosophy…

I wonder if I was concerned about white supremacy or honoring yoga – at one point they seemed very close, yet largely separate purposes.

So as an Indian teacher, there was a part of me which said, “Ok, this dare isn’t for me –doesn’t apply to me. Or does it??”

I pondered deeper about how it takes two to tango, right? And I thought, if everyone was set to decolonize yoga, then I should be doing my part too to support them and help them decolonize yoga.

So here’s what I chose to do…

I’ll remain committed to teaching contemporary yoga steeped in the values and philosophy of it’s tradition… remembering to honor my own history,  our collective history and engage the philosophy with the practice.

But… wow…I’ll be honest…. I don’t think I’ve ever been spoken for in my entire yoga journey. While on the Yoga Alliance Inclusion work group, I recall feeling this profound sense of overwhelm to be one voice representing a whole nation of teachers. It was a huge responsibility (and I hope I did it justice), but reading Susanna Barkataki’s prompt for today , moved me tremendously. It’s also moved me to look closer into what our teachers are doing here in India… to even remind them of their rich heritage and not succumb to the trend and forget it… Gosh! This is big! And I think I’m going to cry…. ‘Dharma’ is all I can say… and I love how she even reminded me of Swadharma… Very touched, very moved and feeling very heard, acknowledged and in-solidarity with.


 

This blog is a part of a very unique yoga challenge led by my dear friend and fellow yogi, Susanna Barkataki – the Dare to Discuss Yoga Challenge. Both of us feel quite deeply about cultural appropriation and bring an authentic purpose to shine through constructive discussion, dialogue and education to make people (yogis & non-yogis) aware – to ‘lessen the appropriation and up the honor’, in Susanna’s words. In support of the challenge and the work, I shall be blogging my introspection and reflection here to share the conversation and build the cumulative effect.

Day 13: Healing the Wounds of Supremacy

How many of us have felt we didn’t belong in a studio space?
How many of us have felt that our practice wasn’t “good enough” because we weren’t flexible enough or we couldn’t “land a pose”
How many of us critique our own bodies or others bodies for not fitting into a norm?
How many of us dim or put out our light because we don’t feel like we should shine it?
How many of us compete or compare and despair with the next yogi on the mat over?…. These are all elements of white supremacy culture in yoga. 
Healing our white supremacy culture problem in yoga takes all of us. 
What do I mean by healing white supremacy culture in yoga?
I mean examining the way we present ourselves as well as how we idolize others. I mean what we post and who we platform. I mean who we buy from and listen to.

Today’s prompt confused me a little bit.

Yoga practitioners in India also fret about an ideal pose, awesome ‘alignment’ & super ‘flexibility’ – comparing themselves with the next-mat yogi, but by and large our classrooms have an Indian audience. The comparison here is probably more ‘belief’ & conditioning than comparing immediately to white yogis on the internet.

But I am also not ignorant of the generic trend in India to assume that anything imported, even if it was originally Indian, but is now decimated, repackaged and sent back to us, is probably better since it is shinier and glossier, at the very least, than the original desi version. I am concerned that perhaps the Indian version of ‘body image’ perhaps is worsening with the idea of yogis on the internet demonstrating asanas in bodies that are clearly not Indian or desi or of POC – so bone structure, fat distribution and even mindsets are very different.

Yes, we do have supremacy issues even within Indian culture, but with an already fragile sense of self-identity, perhaps it makes it shakier to hold on to resolve when we constantly see yoga being portrayed the way it is every time we open a social media app – white, able-bodied, super-toned, super athletic, lean, tight, lycra clad in teenie tiny sizes… yes, I can see the mismatch and the need to succumb to that sheen… or at least lean towards that because it seems to ‘in‘ and ‘right‘.

So the next part of today’s prompt was ‘How to heal these wounds?’

How to heal this?

I’ll admit I get frustrated at times at the sheer enormity of the task. Educating an entire sub-continent – I get it, it isn’t necessarily a one-person task, but it starts somewhere!

So, I persevere – every drop makes an ocean and all that. From this side of the fence, the best that I can do is speak up, create awareness, aim to walk the talk as best as I can. I’m looking at more speaking and being engagements and also raising other Indian teachers to add their voices to the global conversation.

Hopefully the movement in itself is a good starting point to create more ethical and wholesome spaces for more honorable yoga.


 

This blog is a part of a very unique yoga challenge led by my dear friend and fellow yogi, Susanna Barkataki – the Dare to Discuss Yoga Challenge. Both of us feel quite deeply about cultural appropriation and bring an authentic purpose to shine through constructive discussion, dialogue and education to make people (yogis & non-yogis) aware – to ‘lessen the appropriation and up the honor’, in Susanna’s words. In support of the challenge and the work, I shall be blogging my introspection and reflection here to share the conversation and build the cumulative effect.

Day 12: White Supremacy in Yoga

white supremacy yoga માટે છબી પરિણામ

As a yogi based in India, it is easy to assume that white supremacy in yoga does not affect us, right?

Wrong!

A few months ago I was teaching a private student. During our zero session, she was demonstrating the asanas that she knew and confessed that she was a self-taught yogi – self-taught from YouTube and other online free videos. Needless to say, she was a huge fan of some of the Internet’s Superstar yoga teachers and was pleased with a lot of the things she had learnt, but was missing out the human touch.

All that aside, I was busy self-managing my internal conflict. Here was an Indian student, who had never stepped out of India, looking to fine-tune & improve her practice – asanas that she had learnt from a teacher on the internet, asanas that she only knew the English names of. I’m not one to shame a student for not knowing the Sanskrit names – but I was offended… deeply offended.

Awhile later, when I was discussing teaching curriculum with another senior teacher in the yoga community, she happened to mention another popular online teacher who was ‘brilliant’! I’ll be very honest, I didn’t know who she was at the time. I had to come home and do a Google search to find a hot-pants or bikini clad, able-bodied, toned abs, blonde yogi teaching asanas all in good form…

And I thought to myself, ‘Hmmmm… These are the teachers we are studying from. What does this mean for us?’

I couldn’t quite tell what exactly I was feeling… I know brilliant teachers right here in India in various cities in India, who teach awesome classes, and I  know they teach is regular tracks or yoga tights. Some keep their classes highly engaging and help their students pick up on the philosophy of yoga while others, strictly focus on asana – regardless, these were ‘homegrown’ yogis.

Now, I’m not actually being offended at the choice of yoga wear. What I am concerned about it the repackaged version of yoga that India is importing…. and in the process losing out our own heritage of traditional wisdom.

Many years ago, when I was learning a mantra for a part of my studies in the US, I had offered them feedback that one of the words on their recording was incorrectly pronounced and should be corrected. I  had read the mantra is Sanskrit and knew that the recording was obviously incorrect. The response didn’t acknowledge my concern, instead, I was given an explanation that pronunciations in various parts of India differed! Which, by the way, is true for local dialects, but not true for Sanskrit and the sounding of an ending consonant. Anyway, it that wasn’t bad enough, I was told to learn it for the exam the way it was recorded and later on I could chant it however I wanted!

Back then, I knew I felt offended and dismissed when it was a part of my culture that was being dismissed. At another event, there was this couple selling mandala art that was being sold for hundreds of dollars – and I noticed that the art just had a bunch of Hindi / Sanskrit / Devnagari script letters and vowel matras just randomly thrown together. When I pointed it out to the vendor quietly, needless to say, I was rewarded with a hostile look and a clear indication to keep away from his potential customers.

Back then, I hadn’t even heard of cultural appropriation, but as I recall these incidents today, I realize that yoga has been traded off in some places where the colonization still is rampant…. and us desi teachers are either tokenized or marginalised – both in and out of our own country.

I see that I am bringing a very different conversation to India, but I am probably also at a very good position to engage in a very unique conversation outside of India too. Here are some of the ways that I can be a part of changing the narrative and this culture:

  • Active engage with the larger yoga community, globally, in bringing a homegrown desi flavour and Indian yoga heritage to the conversation.
  • Include Cultural Appropriation as part of the YTT curriculum discussions in India.
  • Consider cultural exchange  – online as well as in person – for yoga.
  • Really study the roots of yoga & culture deeper.
  • Encourage other yoga teachers in India to tap into their potential to be a stronger voice and face of yoga.
  • Make myself available for more international engagements – offer to teach, speak, share.

 


 

This blog is a part of a very unique yoga challenge led by my dear friend and fellow yogi, Susanna Barkataki – the Dare to Discuss Yoga Challenge. Both of us feel quite deeply about cultural appropriation and bring an authentic purpose to shine through constructive discussion, dialogue and education to make people (yogis & non-yogis) aware – to ‘lessen the appropriation and up the honor’, in Susanna’s words. In support of the challenge and the work, I shall be blogging my introspection and reflection here to share the conversation and build the cumulative effect.

Yoga Mom – The Ethical Quandary

Image result for yoga mom

The past few days all I have been speaking about at my lectures has been on Teaching Methodology and Ethics and what it takes to be a good teacher. Today was supposed to be my last class of this teaching program and I was going to close it with a heartfelt interactive, deep-dive into values and teaching with integrity and on purpose.

The Ethics classes are my favorite. I actually surprised myself when I started enjoying them as much or even more than my Yoga Anatomy classes! But that’s another story… So, I was really looking forward to teach this class today.

Then, last night happened. My youngest had a bad tummy – and woke up this morning with a pale, sallow face – unaffected with my enthusiastic, ‘Happy Childrens Day!‘ and not caring for any breakfast.

I knew he was unwell, because he had taken the effort to shower and get ready for school but was still complaining about his tummy.

I also knew that I had to get to class in a couple of hours – which meant one of two things: either Avi accompanied me to class (and struggles with being unwell and car sick) or Avi stayed back at home – alone. Or I could reschedule my class…. (while my brain shouted, ‘but it is the last class today!! and another part of my brain retorted, ‘No! There is another class next week!!‘)

Not to forget, that a sneaky voice in my head was also gloating, “Teaching ‘Ethics’, are you?”

It was getting late, I was multi-tasking – dressing up, desperating refreshing the cab app that only showed, ‘No cabs available at this moment. Try again‘, feeling Avi’s forehead for a fever, planting guilty kisses on his soft cheek as he slept.

I felt torn – torn between the ethic and integrity of being a teacher readying for class and being mom.

My cab was finally booked and 17 minutes and I still wasn’t comfortable with what I was about to do. And realized that there was, after all, one more thing I still could do.

I called the yoga school.

It took all of 3 minutes and 2 calls – 1 that I made and 1 that was returned.

And it was sorted.

I sit here at home watching my baby rest, his forehead warm, his cheeks slightly flushed, but both our hearts happy and comforted that we are next to each other. The class was managed, my lecture was rescheduled, my team-mates assured me to be with Avi – it was clearly my priority.

Values play a huge part of who we are and who we choose to become. Our values help us resonate with the kind of people who support us in shining those values, that become our ethics – both for work and for life. They become our code of conduct and truly shine light on the integrity of what we stand for – what we believe in.

I am today because of my children. Everything I do, every choice I make, every ordeal I am faced with has them as my centerpiece. It isn’t being where I am today –  but I love it. Even though there are times when it feels like I’m rowing a full boat with a single oar – possibly broken even – I recognize that there others in the boat who are helping it move ahead by paddling with their hands – supporting me. Friends, family, near and far.

Today, it was my yoga community – who supported me – not once making me feel any pressure or guilt – helping me act in accordance with what my inner compass was guiding me to do. My core that wanted to stay with my child – that ethical code of conduct, that yama and niyama – that was nudging me to stay true to my dharma and not pushed into karma.

The quandary is real, so is integrity… but the support system around us that helps us stay afloat living that life of integrity runs deeper still.