Camping and cycling while menstruating. 


It’s packing day for the PWA Friends for Life Bike Rally. Wahoooooooooo!

And. Well. I’m expecting my period any moment. I find the logistics of managing the fluids a bit tricky cycling. If I’m riding hard and it’s a heavy day I need to stop frequently to deal with my Diva Cup. I also need to go to the bathroom frequently as the fluid I’ve retained earlier in the week works its way out of my system. 

I’m more tired, achy and grumpy from the cramps. While exercise is supposed to help I find the pain taps out my resilience. I was super bummed out last month to realize I’d be camping and cycling on my period. It’s just a little more planning but the big thing is I have a harder time being comfortable in the saddle of my bike. My groin is more sensitive. It’s a nuisance more than anything. My back and hip ache so I’m glad I sprung for a thermarest cot for comfort’s sake. 

I’m hoping all the excitement and exercise will distract me. I’m packing lots of ibuprofen and wipes. Here’s to successfully managing the mischief!

I’m also SUPER WEEPY. I’m pleasantly taken aback by the ongoing flow of support from friends and family as I embark on this 600 km challenge. I had some serious doubts about raising the money and cycling the distance. I’m feeling pretty confident if a little nervous. 

Our team is looking for your support so please consider making a donation. I’m hoping we’ll hit $50,000!

I’m sure we’ll have updates as we go along. Talk to you all next Saturday!

Perimenopausal Period Tracking

I read this really great article about youth feeling empowered by period tracker apps, can I find it right now, nope!

What struck me about the article was the claim that period tracking apps normalize menstruation and empower youth to talk about their periods.

It’s a very different perspective than my own feelings around tracking my period. One of the main reasons I asked for a tubal ligation after my second son’s birth was being fed up with tracking and worrying about unexpected pregnancy. My partner got a vasectomy as we had agreed we were each in charge of own bodies and baby making capacity. 

Years later at a colposcopy clinic I was getting a follow-up to an abnormal pap. The nurse asked me when my last period was. I didn’t know. She then asked what birth control I was using. In the moment it didn’t occur to me that a one time surgery constitutes “using birth control” so I said I didn’t. I was then chastised for not being careful, that I should know better and how could they take a biopsie if I was pregnant?

That always bothers me, that I am, at all costs, to always take care of any potential child, to always be on guard about being pregnant. Seriously?

I then explained the surgeries my partner and I had. The nurse again pointed out I could be pregnant and not know. I replied that in the improbable scenario that I had become pregnant I’d probably clue in after a couple months. 

That was some time ago and I hadn’t really tracked my period as it was fairly predictable and had a gentle onset. 

Not so any more! After being surprised a few times by the sudden and furious onslaught while wearing beige pants (I only own one pair! How? How is it always the beige ones?) I started wearing Luna panties every day. Yup. Always ready. 

One day my partner offered that I might find it helpful to track to see if my period really was as erratic as it seemed. 

I downloaded iperiod in August and started tracking. The cutesie design instantly annoyed me. The euphemism for sex is, get this, a Love Connection with a little heart. Oh ya. No fucking here, it’s all about the love. 

I wondered about the design and the assumptions about what is esthetic ally pleasing. If you are interested here’s an article looking at the “girlie” designs of these apps:
http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/08/period-apps-where-big-data-meets-girly-graphics.html

So after four months I’ve discovered a few things. First, my cycle does fluctuate between 21 and 30 days. It is more wonky than it used to be. 

Second, I regularly get hot flashes, pimples and lower back pain and these are related to my cycle. 

I don’t feel empowered with this information, it just is. The tracking has helped me keep it all in perspective but I’m not sure how long I’ll do it for.

  

I’d be curious to hear about your thoughts on period tracking whether you are a menstruating human or not!

Tired of Losing Sleep over Menopause? HRT Could Be the Answer

insomniaxOriginally I was going to write a post about whether to try or not to try Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for relief of some of my menopausal symptoms. Most notably, the symptom that was doing me in was disturbed sleep due to hot flashes and night sweats. I used to be a great sleeper, but for the past few years my sleep has gotten worse and worse with no end in sight.

When I went to Kincardine for the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon I shared a room with a lifelong friend. At night, she just put her head down and slept, then woke up in the morning. What? When I asked her about her enviable sleeping ability, she attributed it to HRT.  She just slaps on a bit of estrogen gel in the morning, pops a progestin pill at night (to counterbalance the influx of estrogen so that there is no build up in the lining of the uterus, thereby minimizing the risk of uterine cancer), and away she goes.

Bam! No more hot flashes. No more night sweats.

Besides taking care of the hot flashes, HRT has a few other benefits. According to this article, the benefits of HRT include:

 

  • less vaginal dryness, bladder leaks and recurrent urinary tract infections
  • better sex drive
  • reduced risk of bone fractures associated with osteoporosis
  • reduced risk of bowel cancer

I’ve not had all of the issues they point to, but I have lost a bit of mojo. And who wouldn’t want to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and its associated bone fractures and of bowel cancer?

But there are also some risks associated with HRT.

 

I’ve had the conversation about HRT with my doctor in the past. She did her due diligence and explained that the current state of knowledge indicates some slight increase in certain health risks. The research shows that it slightly increases your risk of the following conditions: breast cancer, ovarian cancer, blood clots (embolisms), deep vein thrombosis, and stroke. That’s not great.

In the past, I decided that rather than take on any risk for symptoms that seemed, at the time, more like inconveniences than serious health issues, I would tough it out. But the fact of the matter is that over time, poor sleep quality has become more than a minor inconvenience.

So this time when I spoke to my doctor I asked her to candidly review the risks with me again.  Given my medical history and family medical history–no breast cancer that I know of in the family–the increase in risk is akin to the health risks associated with drinking two alcoholic beverages per day. My reasoning (specious, I’m sure) was that I don’t drink at all, so there’s room to take on a bit of risk.

When the research first came out, my mother had been on HRT for 15 years. Back then, it was thought to be a magic solution that women could stay on for the rest of their lives. But when news of risk came, many women, including my mum, abandoned HRT.

The latest studies suggest that there is a safe period of time–5 years–that a woman can be on HRT for menopause and have the benefits outweigh the risks. My doctor explained all of this to me and I decided I wanted to give it a shot. So she prescribed the same thing my friend was using: estrogel in the morning and progestin at night.

I started the very same day I got the prescription, not waiting until the morning. The gel dose is measured out in pumps. The recommended amount on the package is two pumps. My doctor recommended starting with one pump a day for a week. If that did nothing, then go to two pumps.

After a week, I was experiencing no change at all, so I increased the dose. Every morning after my shower I rub two pumps of estrogen gel over a large-ish area of my body, moving to different parts on different days on my doctor’s recommendation. Sometimes it’s both arms, or my abdomen, or my inner thighs.

Two weeks went by, and still it seemed not a lot better. Then, just this past week, I’ve been seeing a change. I haven’t had a hot flash during the day in over a week. And remarkably, I haven’t had my sleep disturbed by night sweats in a few days. And despite the flood that destroyed my condo on the weekend, I’ve been sleeping peacefully, not tossing and turning nearly as much as I have been for the past couple of years.

One thing I want to make clear is this: menopause is not on its own what I would call a health issue. It’s not an illness or anything like that. It’s a change that brings with it some inconveniences. I could have put up with the occasional hot flash and for a long time that’s exactly what I intended to do. But consistently poor sleep is, as far as I’m concerned, a health issue. Things came to head for me this spring and summer when I hit a wall. If I didn’t find a solution to my disrupted sleep, I could not continue with the training I was doing. And so for the summer, I’ve really backed off on my training in favour of sleeping longer to make up for sleeping poorly.

Now that I’ve had a few days of better sleep, I’m kind of excited at the prospect that the HRT will continue to help me in that area.  I’m really glad that I roomed with my friend in Kincardine or I may never have considered revisiting the conversation about HRT with my doctor. I’m also glad to have a doctor who is willing to take the time to explain to me the pros and cons of HRT. And what a gift to be able to live the next five years with good quality sleep!

If you’ve entered menopause and are suffering because you’re not sleeping, it’s worth having the conversation with your doctor. Not every woman is a good candidate for HRT — it depends on a lot on your and your family’s medical history. But those of us who can benefit from it with only a slight increased health risk may decide, as did I, that the benefits are worth the risk.

For more about HRT, read this primer on the Mayo Clinic website.

 

Bleeding while running and ending menstrual stigma

An awful lot of people have sent us the story about the woman who ran a marathon while menstruating and asked us to say something about it. Since I’m still menstruating despite my age (see an upcoming post called “Menopause: Seems I’m Late to the Party”) I thought I’d chime in.

Here’s the People Magazine version: Woman Runs London Marathon Without a Tampon, Bleeds Freely to Raise Awareness. That should give you a sense of how much attention this story is getting.

Kiran Gandhi, who has played drums for singer M.I.A. and Thievery Corporation, decided to run the London Marathon without a tampon. Gandhi let her blood flow freely to raise awareness about women who have no access to feminine products and to encourage women to not be embarrassed about their periods.

“I ran the whole marathon with my period blood running down my legs,” the 26-year-old wrote of the April race on her website.

Oh, and for God’s sake, whatever you do, DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS!

 

Here’s what Kiran has to say, in her own words, from her blog:

I RAN THE WHOLE MARATHON WITH MY PERIOD BLOOD RUNNING DOWN MY LEGS. I got my flow the night before and it was a total disaster but I didn’t want to clean it up. It would have been way too uncomfortable to worry about a tampon for 26.2 miles. I thought, if there’s one person society won’t fuck with, it’s a marathon runner. If there’s one way to transcend oppression, it’s to run a marathon in whatever way you want. On the marathon course, sexism can be beaten. Where the stigma of a woman’s period is irrelevant, and we can re-write the rules as we choose. Where a woman’s comfort supersedes that of the observer. I ran with blood dripping down my legs for sisters who don’t have access to tampons and sisters who, despite cramping and pain, hide it away and pretend like it doesn’t exist. I ran to say, it does exist, and we overcome it every day. The marathon was radical and absurd and bloody in ways I couldn’t have imagined until the day of the race.

I think there’s lots and lots to love about this in a society in which women’s menstruation is hidden and stigmatized. Think about all the BLUE BLOOD spilled on television commercials advertising “sanitary”(what the heck does that even mean?) products.

I’m not sure how effective this is a measure to raise awareness about women who have no access to “feminine” products but I take her point about stigma and embarrassment. Indeed, this was confirmed for me reading the comments on our Facebook page when I shared her story. There were more than a few people who thought it was disgusting and unsanitary. Exclamation marks were used.

They ought to read  IT’S NOT “UNSANITARY.” PERIOD.

Here’s an excerpt:

And then there’s the term “sanitary products” or “feminine hygiene products” to describe pads and tampons. That is so cold and distancing. We don’t call a band-aid a “sanitary napkin,” do we? No, we don’t. We call it a band-aid. When somebody gets shot in the arm and blood seeps through his shirt, he doesn’t blush and hurry to cover it up or run from the room full of shame and embarrassment. He worries about taking care of himself! And in turn, we don’t wrinkle our noses in disgust or revulsion and whisper scandalously to our neighbors. We worry about taking care of him! The message is clear: regular blood is a normal part of life and the experience of the person bleeding is most important. Menstrual blood, on the other hand, is dirty and shameful and the experience of the person bleeding, rather than being important, is something to cover up.

Women learn to be disgusted and angry with their periods, because they “get in the way” of “normal” life (i.e. the way a man lives). We distance ourselves from our blood and feel disgusted by it, even though it is, for all intents and purposes, a clean and nutrient-filled substance. For God’s sake, babies are swaddled in this stuff for the first 9 months of life—it is clearly healthy and safe!

Here’s Everyday Health on this topic, ” Menstruating Women Are Not “Dirty”: No way! There are many ancient menstrual myths about women being “unclean” when they menstruate. Some cultures and religions separate menstruating women from others during their time of the month. Menstrual blood is not dirty or dangerous. Although the thickness and color of the blood might change depending on the day of your cycle and your hormone levels, it’s not dirty or gross and you should not allow old beliefs about it to make you feel unclean.”

The belief that women are unclean when menstruating leads to nothing good. It’s led to the segregation of girls and women during menstruation. It’s a barrier to girls’ schooling in many parts of the world. See What Life is Like When Getting Your Period Means You are Shunned.

I also think Kiran got something just right when she picked a marathon to do this. Marathons aren’t for the squeamish. Don’t believe me? Here’s the five most disgusting marathon photos of all time. Click through. I dare you.

You can see from those photos that she wasn’t the first women to finish a marathon covered in blood.

In 1996, Uta Pippig became the first woman to win the Boston Marathon three times in a row. This historic accomplishment seems even more remarkable when you consider that she reportedly crossed the finish line with menstrual blood and diarrhea dripping down her legs — and live television cameras rolling.

As Pippig recalls, “I started having stomach cramps about 5 miles into the race, and shortly after I had diarrhea. I was self-conscious [about it] not only for me — but in a caring way for our sport.”

She considered dropping out 7 or 8 miles in and even walked a little. Although uncomfortable, her focus shifted from winning the race to staying in it and running as well as she could in this situation.

Later in the marathon, she admits “I was frightened when I felt blood flowing down my legs.” That red trickle was widely attributed to menstrual problems, which Pippig says was a misconception. After winning the race, she was diagnosed with “ischemic colitis,” or inflammatory bowel disease.

What’s my experience with this? I haven’t ever run while menstruating and gone without tampons but I have chosen to ride that way.

Why? It’s not that I can’t afford menstrual products now though I remember being a student and that being an issue. (I’m still shocked when I see places giving them away. Our business school has free tampons and pads in the washrooms, for women who presumably could afford their own. And when I’m there the student in me is still tempted to take a stash for later.)

Here’s why: I don’t find tampons that comfortable for long rides. It’s hard to find a place to change them anyway without bathrooms and making do with roadside pee breaks. I’m cerainly not going to stick a maxi pad on to a bike short chamois. Bike shorts have their own built in padding and they’re black so there’s no visibility issue. And I have quite a few pairs of old bike shorts I’m not worried about staining. I don’t think I’d run that way, not because menstrual blood freaks me out–it doesn’t, but because I don’t think I’d like the squishy wet soggy feeling of running with bloody clothes. But that’s me.

How about you? What do you think of Kiran’s choice as a move towards ending the stigma around menstruation? Would you do it? Why/why not?

Natalie has blogged about menstruation in her posts Period Panties and Have Diva Cup, will travel?and Tracy has  written about menstruation and women’s sports, see The Taboo of Menstruation in Sports.

Period Panties

So there I was, feeling crampy and ornery, when Sam sends me this link:
People Are Finally Talking About The Thing Nobody Wants To Talk About.

They were talking about blood, specifically menstrual blood, and how not having ways to effectively capture that blood is important to gender equality and the eradication of global poverty. A quick search and you can find a lot of articles about global women’s health and access to sanitary supplies.

Here in Canada on July 1st the luxury sales tax is being removed from menstruation supplies. That always irked me, that tampons and pads were considered luxuries instead of necessities. I certainly don’t feel like my period is a luxury.

So I was thinking about writing this post, while I’m on my period walking to work last week when a woman approached  me downtown asking to borrow a pad. I could see her pants were wadded with paper. I didn’t explain that I was wearing a diva cup and luna panties:

size2divalunapanties

 

I didn’t tell her that next month pads will cost slightly less. I simply said I didn’t have a pad and kept walking. I remembered wadding paper towel many a time in my underwear, it chafes, leaks, stains your underwear and pants. In one morning I had heard about some of the great ways women are employing strategies to keep their periods from interfering with their lives and I ran into a woman in London, Ontario that knew exactly why this is so important.

When I was a teen I learned that you didn’t wear your best panties when you were on your period, you picked the ratty ones with the holes, stains and slack elastic. GAH. Period panties. Now my period panties are the nicest underwear I own, comfy, great cut and any colour I want. I’m excited to hear that women around the world are redefining period panties to be ones that work for them, that are affordable, accessible and use local materials. I won’t say “have a happy period” but I will wish you, if you menstruate, perfect period panties that are nice to your private parts and that you feel good about wearing. Talk about periods with people, make it a public conversation because these things matter. Let’s get over the ick factor and change the conversation.

Strength Training “Tips” for Women Perpetuate Stereotypes that Contribute to the Gym as Boys’ Club

weight-lifting-for-women-2The 120 tips on strength training for women first came across my FB newsfeed yesterday morning. It looked like it might be useful post for me, a women interested in strength training. In fact, his intended audience is other trainers who are training women. That, I must say, is a scary thought, considering how consistently the list fails to take seriously the idea of women and strength training.

I started to read the post, written by “The Glute Guy,” Bret Contreras (whose blog and post I am of two minds about bringing further attention to, but it has to be seen to be believed).  My hackles went up immediately, before I even got to the list, because it started with a disclaimer.  Many of the things in the lists aren’t actually “tips,” he said, more like “observations.” And then comes the old “please understand that I intend no disrespect or offense, I’m not trying to be controversial” disclaimer.

I’m sorry but when I read that kind of thing, I just hunker down and prepare to be offended.

The first 1-13 are “exercise considerations,” like that “proper push-up form is more difficult to attain for women than it is for men” (okay, I think we all know this, but where’s my “tip”?) and “some women have ‘coregasms’ when training, and the hanging leg raise is the primary culprit (these orgasms usually aren’t welcomed as they’re inconvenient).” Wowza! That’s the closest thing to a tip in the first section — do some hanging leg raises if you can catch some private time at the gym.

I really started to shift in my seat when I got to the part that generalized about women’s “fortitude and dedication.”  He says, “many women lack the fortitude and dedication to ever see incredible results from lifting due to ‘being a lifter’ rather than ‘being a student of weight lifting'”.  As the fabulous Jezebel post (author: Laura Beck) today commented on this point, “what?”

There are lots of “tips” about what women need to be taught, what they will insist on doing “if you let them,” and what sorts of second rate measures they will “resort to” if they are not adequately coached by their trainer.  I can just imagine the mansplaining that must go on in this dude’s sessions with his female clients.

In the comments, one commentator (Samantha — not sure if it’s the Sam B), notes that many women are newbies to weight training. She points out that men are often exposed to weight training earlier, by friends or family or in school.  A newbie is a newbie —  man or woman, you will need some instruction to be able to strength train safely and effectively.

After a while, it just gets ridiculous, as in this sequence from number 26-40:

  • Women differ psychologically compared to men (for example they’re motivated to train uniquely, and what revs up a man to max out doesn’t necessarily rev up a woman to max out)
  • It is common for women to miss periods (menstrual cycles) upon embarking on an intensive training regimen (not to be confused with amenorrhea which happens when body fat drops too low)
  • Menstrual cycles usually have a huge influence on factors such as training motivation, irritability/mood, water retention, and self-esteem during exercise
  • The size of women’s breasts and also butts can fluctuate markedly throughout the month, which can lead to frustration
  • Some women experience urinary incontinence when exercising, and the likelihood increases after giving birth
  • Woman are better than men at fostering camaraderie but not quite as good as men at holding training partners accountable for showing up
  • Many women don’t activate their pelvic floor muscles properly
  • Women tend to prefer different training music than men
  • More women than men like to offer up the phrase “they say” as proof of evidence (who exactly is “they”?)
  • Most women don’t like getting weighed on scales, and many prefer to see how clothes fit as measures of progress (I don’t agree with this practice as I like to utilize all measures of progress)
  • Women like wearing pink workout apparel and take their training attire much more seriously than men (for example they tend to match their shoes with their shorts or shirts, etc.)
  • Women love putting chalk on their hands and then clapping hard – thereby getting chalk everywhere rather than keeping it solely on the hands (they probably do this because they saw gymnasts do it)
  • Women are not as natural as men at adjusting machines and apparatuses
  • Women love compliments – it fuels their fire to train even harder

We have a couple of things in feminist analysis that we tend to come down fairly hard on:  gender stereotyping and gender essentialism.

Stereotypes of women paint a particular kind of generalized picture of them that often makes them seem less serious than men. The suggestion that women wear lots of pink (not sure how this “tip” will help me or my trainer) or that they have bad chalk etiquette (from emulating those darn gymnasts!) or that they are “not as natural as men at adjusting machines and apparatuses” (you know how women are with anything technical and mechanical) perpetuate stereotypes about women that insinuate that they have no place in the gym.

And if women would stay out of the gym, then there would be no conflicts about what training music to play over the speakers.

Gender essentialism with respect to women suggests that there are some essential biological features of women that identify them as women. The comments about menstruation and the fluctuation of breasts size and butt (?? really ??) size, suggests, among other things, that women are inevitable victims of their essential biology.

Apparently, according to Bret’s observations, women aren’t into science and research. No, women are satisfied with anecdotes (like Bret’s 120 anecdotal observations about strength training for women), maybe anecdotes based on what “they say” (see tip #34 in the grouping, “Anatomical, Physiological, Psychological, and Random Considerations.”

He gets a few things right. For example, “Women usually don’t want to be bothered in the gym – unsolicited advice from meatheads and cheesy pick-up lines get old quickly, yet men will nevertheless remain persistent.” Hallelujah!  It’s sad that this is buried among  crazy generalizations about the way women dress sexy and then get upset when men show an interest, undervalue their training partners, and make sexual sounding grunts (whereas, says Bret, men’s grunting isn’t sexual-sounding.  Um, okay. Maybe that’s what they say, but I have heard differently, if you know what I mean).

This list is disturbing on many levels. Gender stereotyping and essentialism are both pernicious social forces that help keep patriarchal power structures in place.  The list is full of them, thus reinforcing the notion that women don’t really belong in the testosterone-heavy space that is the weight room.  What’s more disturbing is that the list has been compiled by a trainer who trains women yet fails to take them very seriously in their aspirations.

He is more busy observing how much pink they wear (might be useful to do some analysis on how many non-pink options are even available to women) or how fickle women can be: “Some women seem impossible with their complaints; for example one day they’re worried about getting too bulky and the next day they’re upset that they lost muscle size somewhere.”  Silly women, can’t make up their minds what they want. Maybe they’re on their period and still reeling from the fluctuation in the size of their butt that month.

It’s more disturbing still that his intended audience is other trainers. Some have even confirmed his “findings” in the comments.  But this all goes to the stereotypes.  With this list of stereotypes out there, this could become the default frame through which women in the gym are viewed by unreflective trainers (who just listen to what “they” say). Women are portrayed as giggling, incontinent, know-nothings who “during casual conversation, when most women imitate weight lifting form to friends, family members, or peers, all of a sudden they get the form all wrong (for example they’ll imitate a deadlift like an upright row).”

It’s astonishing how a dude can do something that looks at first to be woman-friendly, namely, post a list of tips for strength training women, and have it go so horribly sideways by perpetuating stereotypes that actually secure his view that the gym is and ought to be a male domain.  He had an opportunity to empower women and celebrate the fact that more and more women are owning their strength and working out with heavy weights. But he didn’t take it.

Lots of women are informed and educated about what they do in the weight room.  They have a right to be taken seriously by their trainers and by others working out along side them. This tipsheet does more damage than good to the women who have claimed and are yet to claim their place at the gym.

End of rant.

More feminist reactions to Bret’s list:

Caitlin at Fit and Feminist’s If You’re Going to ‘Explain’ Women It Helps to Talk to Us First

Breaking the Mold’s Rant of An Angry Pink Lady

Yoga’s ‘Red Tent’: Iyengar yoga and the menstrual practice

redtent I remember back in high school gym class when girls sometimes sat out of virgorous activity, and definitely out of swimming, because it was “that time of the month.”  I can already feel the feminist sense of affront rising as I think back on it. The very idea of relegating girls to the side lines because they were menstruating. Please.

Through my teens and twenties, taking a time-out because of my period made absolutely no sense to me.  Though I did suffer from body ache, tiredness, and unpredictable moods prior to my period each month (yes, I believe in PMS and you can’t convince me otherwise), the minute I started to menstruate I enjoyed a surge of energy (and optimism) that stayed with me through the duration of my period and on into the better part of the month!

So I experienced much resistance, annoyance, and feminist skepticism when, upon attending my first class of Iyengar yoga in January 2000, the instructor said that women should let her know if ever we were menstruating because there was a “special practice” we should follow.  The practice involves mostly restorative poses and completely avoids inversions (such as headstand, shoulder stand, elbow balance, or full- arm balance) and vigorous standing poses.  I’ve also been told that twists are to be avoided.

Geeta Iyengar, daughter BKS Iyengar (founder of the Iyengar method), writes: “During menstruation, if one does inversions the blood flow will be arrested.  Those who tried to do it out of enthusiasm or callousness will have noticed that the flow stops abruptly.  This is certainly not good for health since it may lead to fibroids, cysts, endemetriosis, and cancer, damaging the system.” 

Apparently, it’s not clear that these medical risks of “arresting the blood flow” are borne out by the research.  Dr. Timothy McCall, writing for The Yoga Journal, says that “One study, however, found that retrograde menstruation naturally occurs in 90 percent of women, most of whom never develop endemetriosis. So we do not know for sure if inversions increase retrograde flow or whether the backward flow increases the risk of endemetriosis.”

And of course, yoga comes out of a tradition that pre-dates the modern medical model.  It is not surprising, therefore, that some detractors of any special practices around menstruation believe they are more linked to beliefs about women’s impurity at that time of their cycle. Many religious traditions hold to the view that women ought to be segregated while menstruating–e.g. the red tent.  Assuming most feminists reject the view that menstruating women are impure, this reason for practicing alone instead of with the class won’t go over particularly well with them.

In addition to giving medical explanations, Geeta appeals to the ayurvedic medical model, maintaining that menstrual blood is like any bodily waste–urine, feces, phlegm, mucus–and that all wastes ought to be excreted. The process ought not be hindered because these forms of waste, if retained, “invite diseases.”

Iyengar yoga has special practices for all sorts of things from stress and depression to head aches, back pain, and respiratory issues. Circulation issues?  There are multiple sequences of asanas for that. Lower backache?  They’ve got it covered. Stress, depression, headaches, mental fatigue, insomnia? That is one of the things I really admire and respect about this form of yoga.  The teachers are well-trained enough to be able to modify poses to respond to the special needs of students.

Of course, the ayurvedic tradition is not the same as the Western medical model. The medical explanations for some of the recommendations might seem foreign to those of us raised in the Western medical tradition. But the sequences of asanas do offer some relief for acute issues and, practiced over time, can alleviate (if not cure) some more chronic conditions.

But back to the monthly.  For every one of us who breeze through it, there’s another who suffers with major cramps and heavy flow, headaches, back aches, what have you.

And it doesn’t always stay the same from that first shocking experience to menopause.  From my easy time of it for the first twenty-some years, things started to change for the worse in my mid-thirties.  I felt more tired. On occasion, I might experience cramps.  And just generally, life can get stressful. And that’s around the time I first began to practice yoga.

While I remain skeptical about the medical explanation for refraining from inversions, I have actually come to enjoy the sequence of poses contained in the menstrual practice.  The practice is inward and restful yet energizing at the same time. Some of the poses do wonders for the particular kind of lower back pain I get with my period. And I kind of like that at the studio we are comfortable enough with ourselves and our bodies to say when we need the special practice.

In our class, lots of us opt for this “red tent” when we have our period. I also know that on occasion some of the men, feeling especially tired or exhausted sometimes, have expressed the wish that they could do “the menstrual practice.”  I agree that they should have the option of doing it or something like it.

We all have energy cycles. Not everyone is always up for a vigorous class of standing poses and 5-minutes each of headstand and shoulder stand. Sometimes a quieter, supported sequence is the right choice.

And it’s not the right choice for everyone. My younger self, with her increased energy and light flow, would have balked at the idea of taking a time-out for something as inconsequential as menstruation.  And regardless of what Geeta says, I do think she should be permitted to make that choice without risk of being called “callous.”

As an experienced student, I could stay home those days and do the practice there.  But I usually will attend class anyway for a few reasons. First, the energy of the rest of the class, even if I’m not doing what they are doing, feels good. Second, depending on what’s being taught, sometimes it’s possible to do what the rest of the class is doing, with minor modifications (such as substituting other postures for the inversions). Third, the studio has more equipment, making it easier because all the props are on hand. And finally, if I do have a question about one of the asanas in the sequence, my instructor can help me out. I have learned a lot from my teacher over years of doing the special practice in class from time to time.

In my case, I no longer feel offended at practicing off to the side when I am menstruating. It’s not the same as being side-lined from gym class and forced to do homework. We are given a full alternative practice to do instead. It feels good. It’s a good option and I take it. But it does need to be optional, not mandatory.