YogaRose.net Explainer: What is it ashtangis talk about when they talk about ‘ladies’ holiday’?

"Stay perky through your period" Midol print ad from 1945

“Stay perky through your period” Midol print ad from 1945

There are at least three ways you could have guessed that it’s that time of month for me:

  • I have chocolate within reach on my kitchen counter at home; on the table behind my desk at work; and, for a while, I had a Twix bar in my purse. (I don’t always get cravings for chocolate during my cycle, but for whatever reason, the urges have been quite strong this time around.)
  • I’ve been wanting to go to bed early (rather than having to force myself).
  • I haven’t practiced Ashtanga for two days.

I feel as if my six-day-a-week practice has helped me experience my menstrual cycles a little differently — in a good way — so I thought this would be the perfect time to do a YogaRose.net Explainer on “ladies’ holiday.”

What are Ashtanga yoga practitioners referring to when they talk about “ladies’ holiday”?

Maybe you’ve heard ashtangis quietly talking about it. Maybe you saw the quite funny “Sh*t Ashtangis Say” YouTube video that made the rounds a while back (that very catty scene where a woman is saying, “Yeah, I’ve noticed she’s been taking a lot of ladies’ holidays . . . “). Maybe you sort of know what everyone is referring to, but aren’t 100 percent sure.

In a nutshell, the idea is that practicing Ashtanga during your menstrual cycle goes against the energetic grain. You’re trying to engage the strong upward flow of the energetic locks of the practice — mula bandha and uddiyana bandha — while your body has a strong downward flow.

Here is Kimberly Flynn explaining ladies’ holiday in a way only that only she can:

What do women who practice Ashtanga think about this?

As you can imagine, there’s not consensus on this issue. Some bristle at the thought of being benched during this time and ignore this aspect of the tradition. Others relish it. At the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, for instance, Nancy Gilgoff asked women who were on their cycle to watch the led primary series class instead of practice. (I thought could feel the hesitation in the room when several women had to make that decision of whether to roll up their mat and find a spot to sit and watch.) Nancy explained that when she first started studying in Mysore in the ’60s, the idea that she shouldn’t be practicing during her period went against the spirit of the feminist movement. But she came around on the issue based on the energetic conflict.

Heidi Quinn of Monterey Yoga Shala said this to The Confluence Countdown:

After hearing various theories regarding the Ladies’ Holiday – Should I practice or not? –  Nancy finally offered an explanation I could support.  She explains it as a way to honor our bodies, a way to respect the body’s natural inclinations toward depletion and fatigue, and to support the downward flow – apana.

Here is Yoga Mama‘s take:

When I first started to practice Ashtanga yoga I did not adhere to “Ladies’ holidays” and I still have a little bit of a problem with the “ladies” word, but I am not about to try and change Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ language to suit my own.

As Ashtanga became a regular part of my life and I became more aware of my bodies needs, I have grown to love these “ladies’ holidays” and find a quietness and stillness in these non-physical practice days. When I return to my mat, I feel softer and it feels like a renewal on all levels. This is how I seem to practice yoga these days. My body [and mind] now has a cycle that is flowing. I no longer feel the need to go against my natural cycle and can now embrace the feminine changes (most of the time).

Here is Katie Scanlon-Gehn‘s take:

This is something that I get asked a lot and because I’ve always sort of rebelled against anyone telling me not to do something I’ve also rebelled against the whole idea that women can’t do something just because they are menstruating. But as usual, after my initial reaction to authority, followed by empirical investigation and experience plus a dose of mellowing with age – and even I can see some value to the practice of “ladies holiday.”

What do you think about this?

When I didn’t have a regular yoga practice, I didn’t think anything of practicing during my period. But over the years, as I found a more regular practice, I started noticing how it didn’t feel great to practice at that time — but I usually did anyway. At some point, though, it struck me so clearly in class that bandhas don’t work during this time. Not even a little bit. At that point, I stopped practicing Ashtanga during my cycle, but would still practice vinyasa or power yoga.

Now that I have a six-day-a-week Ashtanga practice, I feel much more connected to my body on several levels — my cycle being one of them. Periods have become less of an intrusion on my daily schedule and more of a time to slow down and listen — feel — what’s happening in this body of mine. It’s more time to observe, and a different way to try to practice non-attachment — in my case, letting go of the idea that my highly constructed schedule shouldn’t change (i.e., slow down) to accomodate the power of this natural flow. As a consequence, I’ve joined the ranks of women who have come to appreciate the tradition, and I happily honor it.

One thing in particular that I’ve noticed about my body during this current cycle is that damn  . . . that dark chocolate is being received so warmly. ;-) 

(Graphic credit: Midol print ad from 1945 via the genibee Flickr photostream.)

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11 thoughts on “YogaRose.net Explainer: What is it ashtangis talk about when they talk about ‘ladies’ holiday’?

    • Interesting about the quality of the dreams! Do you have thoughts on practicing in general, or on bandhas and/or inversions during this time?

      • I usually take at least one day…the one of the heaviest flow off, because it only makes sense on a logistical and physical level. Inversions at this time do not make sense.
        I ususally have a very intense physical practice before the time of the month. If I don’t, PMS will get the best of me and no amount of chocolate or wine will get me through. ;)
        Post-menstrual practice is light and liberating.

        • Oh, and I agree on the bandhas–they are totally in reverse and we have to learn to let them soften. Learning to soften is a very important aspect of prenatal yoga. It helps you during labor and delivery. Allowing yourself to do so once a month is good practice for the body!

  1. I had this dilemma when I was first starting to rock out the Power Yoga hardcore. Do I go up into shoulderstand? What about headstands? So I did what anyone would do…I googled and checked out my books to see what they said about a woman’s cycle and practice. Most resources suggest not doing inversions. Generally, shoulderstand does not feel good for me during this time. Headstands are not an easy space for me, so again, I avoid them during this.

    Otherwise, I usually practice per normal…and here comes the total TMI…this week I’m on my “time of the month” and my hip space and hip flexors totally kicked it into 5th gear and fell apart. I cried through half of my meditation class on Sunday, I went to a slow flow on Monday, another on Tuesday and another slow restorative class on Wednesday. This has not been a crank it out week. I think the culmination of flow, emotions and general stuff I’m working through made it necessary to be in a softer place for “this time of the month” this time around. Doing this, I can see how it could be a good chance to find a softer space, instead of the usual Ashtangi/Power Yogi place I love and hold dear. THANK YOU for bringing this up! Love it.

    • Thanks for sharing. Not TMI at all. :-) Oh, those hip spaces!

      I think restorative practices can be so sweet — and sometimes so necessary. I’m glad you listened to your body and found the softer spaces you needed.

      While there are lots of resources (books, blog posts, and all the rest), I think women still sometimes find it hard to bring up. So I’m happy to hear from you and from others that bringing up the topic here, in this way, helped to open up the discussion space.

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