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Four Criteria of a Yoga Practice for Women: a 4 part blog series (Hormone Balancing Yoga)

Hormone balancing yoga blog post

In this 4 part blog post series, we will discuss four essential criteria of a Yoga Practice for Women.


(For the purpose of this series we are writing about the experiences of those assigned female at birth having ongoing experiences with either menstruation [or the supression thereof via birth control], pregnancy, birth, lactation, or perimenopause).


Though the modern yoga marketplace may be primarily filled with women yoga teachers, there is still an over culture of hyper-athleticism and a history of male-body led yoga lineages driving how yoga is shared and presented.


At EarthWell, we aim to keep in mind these four elements, and I (Miriam) will be discussing them via this blog post series:


  • Hormone-balancing yoga practices

  • Menstrual cycle awareness (MCA)

  • Sangha (community) of yoginis 

  • Nature connection 


In this first blog post, we will start by discussing Hormone-balancing yoga practices


Yoga in pop-culture has become associated with exercise. But Yoga is not just to strengthen bones, improve your balance or build lean muscle. In fact, other forms of exercise may be better suited for you whether for reasons of body type, health-history or age. Physical injuries have dramatically risen in recent history as a result of highly demanding physical styles of yoga…so if you’re turning to yoga to primarily “keep in shape”, you may want to think again. 


With that warning aside, a lesser known hazard of popular “power-yoga” practices (vinyasa yoga styles that are off-shoots of Ashtanga yoga as taught by Pattabhi Jois), is that they can continue to imbalance women’s already sensitive hormonal systems. This danger is similar to how some female athletes can train so intensively that they may experience amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation), and the cascade of short and long-term hormonal imbalance that may follow. 


There are times in a woman’s monthly cycle (menstruation) and greater life cycles (like when trying to conceive, pregnancy, postpartum, and even during the wild hormonal changes of perimenopause) where tremendous nourishment, rest and rejuvenation are needed to bring balance to the female system. However, the ability to truly rest and recover is something missing in our typical lives, and also our yoga practices. 


In general, our culture offers us “junk food” forms of rest (good, but not great): television, podcasts/radio, alcohol and tobacco/weed, and night-time sleep infused with chemical pollution from many of our sleeping surfaces, as well as light pollution from small LED electronics, streetlamp or a neighbors outdoor house lights. (Not to mention noise pollution from vehicles if you live in a city).  


High-energy physical yoga practices that are not designed to balance our hormones can end up doing the opposite: overstimulate and therefore disregulate. Though women can do well with more vigorous and physically demanding forms of Yoga practice, the missing piece for many Yoginis are more gentler forms of Yoga such as Yoga Nidra. 


Classical Hatha Yoga traditionally includes a “resting pose” or savasana in between every single active pose! The rule of thumb is to have just as much stillness and non-doing as one had action and effort. Gentle Yoga, Prenatal and Postpartum Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga, Womb Yoga, and Yoga Nidra have all starting showing up in the yoga marketplace for women as an answer to this need many yoginis feel for a more nourishing approach.


One of my go-to approaches in the “Gentle Yoga” sphere is Yoga Nidra, or the “Yoga of Sleep”. Yoga Nidra puts the body in a deeply nourishing state of rest: a “super-food smoothy” state of being for your hormones that helps everything repair quicker and more deeply. But more than just supporting physical health alone, Yoga Nidra helps the whole of your being. (Visit www.yoganidranetwork.com for a free online resource for 10-45 minute downloadable recordings gifted freely from teachers from a variety of yoga nidra schools).


In Yogic Philosophy, we are considered to have 5 bodies: Annamayakosha (The Physical body), Pranamayakosha (The Energy body), Manamayakosha (The Mental-Emotional body), Vijnanamayakosha (The Wisdom body), and Anandamayakosha (The Bliss body). 


In deep states of focus and relaxation that one might find in Meditation and Yoga Nidra, we can attend to the all 5 layers. Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri) states that a yoga practice should be 1/3 physical practices, 1/3 yoga Nidra or meditation, and 1/3 mantra or sounding practices. (Notice that he suggests a full 2/3 of your time on the mat be suited for the 4 other bodies we carry with us).


Yoga Nidra is traditionally practiced laying down, comfortably supported by blankets, pillows, on a soft-yet-supportive surface. With napping and lengthy stretches of night-time sleep being associated in our culture with lazinesss, some consider rest practices like Yoga Nidra to be a form of radical resistance in a culture that tells us we are not worthy of resting unless we “earned it”.


During our women’s retreats for mothers, we always have a solid 30 minute restorative yoga Nidra practice, for instance! With a bit (or a lot) of sleep deprivation as part and parcel of parenting, practices that encourage a sleep-like state for your brain are of utmost importance for mental and physical health. 


To take the idea of Hormone-balancing Yoga Practices a step further, let’s look at our second criteria for a yoga practice for women in our next blog post about Menstrual Cycle Awareness! 

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