There is a sublime source of power and divinity alive within you this very breath. We call it the womb. Regardless of your relationship with your womb, She is the source of living elemental forces moving through you in a rhythmic, divine dance: the menstrual cycle. As people with wombs, the very ground of our being and source of our vitality can be very simply revealed with the practice of menstrual cycle awareness. That is, steady awareness and honouring of the cyclically evolving states of consciousness, mood & energy following the waxing and waning inner moon, the womb.
As a menstruating woman, yoga practitioner and teacher, I must admit that I struggled for years trying to reconcile my body’s rhythms with the spiritual practices of asana and pranayama that I love so much. As a student and teacher of Hatha Yoga, and later, Jivamukti Yoga, I was taught that daily spiritual practice should be sustained for a very long time, and with extreme focus and discipline if I hoped to ‘reach’ the state of enlightenment, or liberation; we call this sustained spiritual practice sadhana. However, I was not yet aware of the full scope of spiritual practices and what form those practices may take. And so I set out to practice vigorous asana daily, often ignoring the waxing and waning energies and moods arising within. So when I simply could not sustain the practice due to waning energy levels or the highly sensitized state of menstruation itself, I had to wonder: was I just not cut out for yogic sadhana?
Something was amiss in the practice for me. I can’t quite explain the feeling, but it was a bit like trying to shove a beach ball into a square box. Although I loved the practices and often felt very connected afterwards, I could not sustain the state of wholeness, the state of union, as I believed it could be sustained. To my ignorance, I was being effectively locked out of a full experience of my body due to my shallow practices; not through any ill-intent on the part of my teachers or my lineage, but simply because I had not been made aware of the spiritual weight of recognizing and respecting womb-life; nor the significance of honouring the practice of menstrual cycle awareness, which is, what Alexandra Pope calls, a woman’s ‘inner yoga.’ So there I was, attempting a practice of yoga, using my body to go beyond my body, and yet the natural cycle of my body held the encoded key to my spirituality all along.
A yoga practice that does not acknowledge and honour the menstrual cycle can be deeply disempowering and disembodying for people who live with wombs. A practice that disembodies is one that risks denying the pure, raw intelligence of the body, which is a sacred microcosm of the macrocosm: the earth Herself, the Divine Feminine in form. Ultimately, yoga practice is done with an aim of union with Self and with Divine Consciousness. For someone with a womb, that connection with Divinity is a fully embodied experience, and denying that innate wisdom can lock that individual out of their potential connection with their spiritual Self. Essentially, this locks us out of our joy and potential for true healing.
For so many of us, something has been missing from our experience of Yoga as bleeding humans. Deep within us, there rests a sacred portal or seat of Divinity, and yet, our culture (including the current, modern yoga ‘culture’) tends to overlook, bypass or down right ignore our lived experience of ‘menstruality’ (a term coined by Alexandra Pope to name the experience of living with a menstrual cycle). These rhythms and cycles at work within connect us to a unifying consciousness as we recognize and attune our attention to become aware of them. The womb’s cycles are akin to our shared circadian rhythms, lunar cycles, cyclical turning of the seasons and daily revolutions from dawn to dusk; all of which are cyclical sources of vitality for all humans, and yet the female body is endowed with yet another. What is often deemed a curse, a nuisance or generally misunderstood is really the ground of our being, the source of our health, vitality, creativity, sexuality, and the very force of life itself. The systematic practice of yoga – that is, asanas, pranayamas, meditations, etc. – is not what creates this source of power within us; but it can facilitate a reawakening of a state of awareness and release of stagnant prana (life force energy) so that the state of awareness can be maintained. There is simply nothing we ‘must do’ in order to ‘get there’ (i.e., the state of spiritual union). We have only to become aware…to look deeply within for the source of absolutely everything. And to look again, and again, and again…simply to notice the varying levels of density that is the veil of disillusioned separation between individual and universal consciousness. This metaphorical veil is thinnest and most permeable at menstruation, opening one to visionary states and a feeling of intimacy with spiritual realms, if one dares to witness. That simple witnessing is a discipline that I can sustain through all of the fluctuations of life.
What is sometimes just a misdirected gaze (i.e., believing in the powers of external practices over the powers of our own innate wisdom) is at other times potentially harmful. For instance, the practice of inversions, intense pranayamas and bandha (energy seal) work can be physically harmful to a woman who is menstruating or post-natal or otherwise counterintuitive to a woman who is trying to conceive. And yet, the contra-indications to these practices are not, in my experience, commonly made known or openly discussed. If they are, they aren’t usually given in accompaniment with alternate practices.
It is important to clarify something here: I am not suggesting that people with menstrual cycles should stop practicing Hatha Yoga (or other styles of yoga that include asana and other physical practices). But I am most definitely saying – not suggesting – that our practice of yoga must be done in reverence and honour of our menstrual cycle and all stages of womb-life. Not only for the sake of our overall health and safety, but equally so that we do not miss the ineffable spiritual forces at work within us, inviting us home to ourselves with every breath. May all other practices be complimentary and derivative of that core awareness, for nothing else can truly replace it.
For some of us, reconnecting to this sacred part of ourselves – our cyclical nature – will feel like a natural and effortless homecoming. For others, this reconnection will be initially painful or frustrating, especially if we have had a life-long negative relationship with our cycle or any physical and emotional traumas related to it. This reconnection, however challenging, will result in a sweet intimacy with our selves and with the cosmic, universal forces of life. With this intimacy, healing can take place very organically. Yoga practice can be a proper support for that healing if taken in the proper dosages that are suitable for our present state.
I hope to provide yoga classes that hold space for the spark of such reconnection to take place. A yoga practice that inspires a journey to healing, or perhaps further supports an already well-established practice of menstrual cycle awareness. In either case, I am in service to cyclical wisdom and I am in service to the Divine Feminine as She moves, breathes and creates through you and me.
Each one of us will have a wholly/holy unique experience, as everyone’s cycle is personal. However, there are aspects of our experiences of womb-life (those that we are mainly taught should be kept secret) that we will share. And so, besides offering a personal practice to you, I intend to create a supportive spiritual community that can give context and meaning to your experiences along this sacred path. We never have to feel alone, even though we may be physically separate for now.
These are humble beginnings of womb-friendly living and yoga practice for me. I feel that I have been shocked awake with the knowledge, and at heart, I am experiencing an overflowing sense of gratitude and ease to a degree I have never felt before.
I cannot yet answer why, after months (years really) of gestation, this work is asking to come out in my journey now. During a time of uncertainty, upheaval and loss – but also compassion, reflection and healing – the Feminine within me is poking Her head out from behind the veils of the way things were, asking to be seen and heard. In that sense, I guess the timing is perfect. As our earth heals, we now know with every fiber of our being that our healing and hers are profoundly interwoven. I welcome you back home to yourself. I welcome us all to the initiation of this new paradigm.
Boundless gratitude to all of my teachers over many years. A special thank you to Dr. Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, author of Yoni Shakti: A Woman’s Guide to Power and Freedom through Yoga and Tantra and Alexandra Pope & Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer, authors of Wild Power and founders of Red School, who have been essential influences through this journey of menstruality.
I send you blessings on your journey, wherever it may take you next.