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The Moon Practices : What To Do With Your Calendar

YogaCity NYC

Article by Jessica Mahler

April 2011 

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Science class taught us that the ocean’s tides are affected by the moon and at some point most women learned that so were our menstrual cycles. Some even got those calendars to show exactly when the moon waxed and waned. But then what?

“We have a natural, monthly seasonal experience that is constantly at odds with our daily hectic lives, which are depleting us,” says Leigh Evans, who is leading a Shakti Prana Series on yoga and women’s health with Summer Quashie and FonLin Nyeu at Greenhouse Holistic.

In the moon cycle/menstruation cycle connection, the Moon governs a woman’s cooling energy. When it is full, estrogen levels rise and sexual impulses heighten, so it makes sense that this is the time of the month when ovulation is at its peak. “As the moon comes into its fullness, so should we,” says Evans. “We should be fully vibrant, sensual, full of energy and creativity in the estrogen dominant full Moon phase.”

So as the Moon decreases in size until it (seems) to disappear, the New Moon phase of the lunar cycle marks the time when feminine energy is low. “As the Moon begins to wane, the progesterone dominant aspect of our cycle kicks in and we naturally become more reflective, internal and in touch with our dreams and our emotions,” says Evans.

Before evolving into a species prone to instant gratification, there was a time when we were deeply attuned to our natural surroundings. “Research from ancient cultures suggests that each aspect of the lunar cycle was celebrated by the community of women,” says Evans. Sensing a drop in energy levels, the New Moon was, in effect, a signal for women to gather and rest together apart from their tribes at the onset of menstruation. “They fully embraced the need to take a break from their normal duties and allow their energy to be replenished.”

Fast forward to 2011 and we barely bat an eyelash when the cramps come on. Many women pop a pill and pray the pain subsides. “When our bodies are strongly telling us that they need to deeply rest, we just medicate and push on. Or perhaps we feel bothered, irritated to have to slow down once a month and lose our productivity,” says Evans.

A woman’s cycle is deeply associated with her shakti–divine feminine power–the primary means through which her prana (life force) is revitalized, cleansed, and restored. “This practice of not listening to our bodies has a cost,” she adds. “Reproductive issues are extremely common in our society. Many women suffer from PMS, chronic fibroids, cysts, irregular menses, heavy menses, infertility, endometriosis, and vaginal infections, just to name a few.”

So what is a 21st-century girl to do when she’s feeling moody and clutching her abdomen in pain? A mini vacation from the world may not be in the cards, but women can look to yoga and ayurvedic medicinal practices as a means to cope, just like our ancestors. “Tracking the moon cycle along with diet and reduction of stress through regular practice can bring balance and health to the menstrual cycle as well as one’s life,” says Quashie. (So that’s what to do with your moon calendar…)

Yoga teachers keep this in mind while teaching, which is why many advise against inversions when you’re menstruating. Why? During menstruation, a woman’s apana vayu, the body’s downward flowing wind/energy responsible for expelling wastes, is tasked with removing the uterine lining. “When we invert, we are asking the downward flowing wind to reverse its pattern or come to a temporary halt,” says Quashie.

Another reason has to do with the thinning walls of the uterus. “The pressure of inverting can cause blood and waste material that would normally be leaving the body to put pressure and seep through the walls of the uterus into the abdominal cavity.

“So many women practice yoga and grapple with resisting to invert in class because they feel like they’re missing out,” says Quashie. “I try to invite them to understand and encourage them to take some time for themselves.”

Which isn’t to say that inversions are bad. Quite the opposite. Evans advises that the best time to invert is a few days after the blood has stopped flowing–especially for those experiencing reproductive issues, infrequent periods, or scanty blood flow–as they revitalize the circulatory system and create balance and stability throughout the other internal systems.

Developing a personal menstrual practice extends beyond knowing when to avoid head- or handstand, though. There are plenty of poses you can do that have wondrously healing, soothing qualities. Supta Baddha Konasana (Goddess Pose) is a go-to when experiencing discomfort and pain in the abdomen commonly associated with our periods: It opens the pelvic area and lengthens the muscles in the uterus, which helps to ease cramps. “This deeply restorative posture gives us the opportunity to embrace the idea that a period means to stop,” says Quashie. “It is the time during the month where the body is asking for this self-acknowledgement and time to rest.” Upavistha Konasana (seated straddle) is also a beneficial pose at this time of month as it not only lengthens the uterine muscles but also relieves low back tension.

“The New Moon practice is a beautiful opportunity to connect to the intuitive, emotional, and internal aspects of oneself,” says Evans.

If you can’t make it to the rest of this Sunday series on April 17 or 24 from 4:00 to 6:00pm, be sure to keep checking the Greenhouse Holisticwebsite as plans to make this a recurring series is in the works.

–By Jessica Mahler

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