ReligionScienceSkepticism

Inverted yoga – all you need to know. Period.

Last week, Rebecca forwarded us an email that had come in from one of the SGU listeners, Stuart in India. He wrote:

I have recently been listening to women who are practicing yoga asana and they have been told by their teacher (Trika Yoga) that to perform inverted postures so as to prevent menstruation is beneficial to women. They argue that reabsorbing the chemicals produced during menstruation helps to prevent disease and also gives you renewed energy. One lady has practiced this for a year approximately and she says by her own experience that she feels generally more enlivened.

As you can imagine, I was intrigued. I have practiced yoga for many years because it keeps me in good shape and helps my back and posture. At the core, yoga is generally good exercise and a healthy practice, if you want to strengthen your muscles and improve your flexibility. However, yoga is also surrounded by mysticism and spirituality and it can be difficult to get the reality when learning about it. I’m very used to glazing over during the talk of ‘oneness with the universe’ and ‘interdependence between mind and spirit’ that you inevitably hear as benefits of yoga. Luckily, you practice yoga on a mat, which is very convenient for nodding off during the boring bits.

Stuart’s question, however, was one I hadn’t heard of before.  Most of my yoga instructors have advocated against doing any inverted postures while playing in the Ragtime band. The reasoning was never very clear to me but as far as I could tell, went something along the lines of ‘things will go upside down and be icky.’ Apparently, this yoga teacher was claiming that not only should you perform inverted postures, you should perform a LOT of inversions; so much so that you actually stopped the siege of the Red Army altogether.

First, I tried to find anything on the interwebs about this practice. Nada. I found nothing that referenced yoga for stopping a girl from trolling for vampires, nothing that said anything about benefits of reabsorbed menstrual chemicals preventing disease. I’m sure this yoga teacher was saying these things; unfortunately, this is so nuts it hasn’t even made it to the internet. Which, I’ll admit, is pretty impressive. I also talked to the always awesome SkepDoc, Harriet Hall, who checked the PubMed and other sources for any research around this and found nothing.

Regardless of the research or lack thereof, the facts are that inverted postures are not going to stop your red badge of courage. Although gravity might temporarily slow menstrual flow, as soon as you go back to right side up, the accumulated flow will continue. As to reabsorbing chemicals during Shark Week, again, there doesn’t appear to be any research around this either; it appears to be a new variant on old detoxification myths.

I also did some research as to whether there is any real danger around doing inverted postures while surfing the crimson wave. This also appears to be a myth. Staying in an inverted posture could slow the menstrual flow due to gravity and could potentially cause additional cramping due to accumulated flow but there doesn’t appear to be any evidence of long term harm.

One of the concerns with inversions is that doing an inverted posture while donating to the red cross could cause menstrual tissue to end up in the fallopian tubes and this could cause endometriosis.  This seems to have come from an early theory of the cause of endometriosis which is no longer considered plausible. Most women (90% of women) have “retrograde” menstruation but most do not develop endometriosis.

So what’s the conclusion? Like most exercise, yoga can help relieve some of the discomfort of composing a period piece. Doing inverted postures doesn’t appear to do any harm, but like with most yoga, listen to your body; if you feel pain, don’t do it. The same is true for most exercise, really.  And if you have excessive cramping or other reactions to any exercise.. yep, you guessed it – check with your doctor; there could be something else going on.

Masala Skeptic

Maria Walters (a.k.a. Masala Skeptic) has spent a lot of time in ‘furrin parts,’ including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Pittsburgh. Although her passport is from India, she’s spent most of her adult life in the United States. She currently lives in Atlanta and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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47 Comments

  1. This is very likely completely bogus. The uterus is not an organ of absorption. If menstrual fluid could be safely resorbed, physiology would have evolved to do it without the need for a gravity assist. The idea that there are important and irreplaceable compounds in menstrual fluid makes no sense, has not been demonstrated and is very likely wrong. Carrying a fetus to term and then nursing that infant until weaning will consume vastly more metabolic resources and nutrients than menstrual flow over the same time period.

    There are animals that do resorb endometrial tissue if they do not become pregnant.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endometrial

    and so exhibit an estrous cycle rather than a menstrual cycle.

    I would worry about the possibility of infection which is much more dangerous than the loss of minor amounts of nutrients (which physiology has evolved to replace). Stopping the flow and allowing it to accumulate (as in high absorbency tampons) is what can bring on toxic shock.

    There are lots of things that people do that make them feel better that are actually bad for them, such as autoerotic asphyxiation or use of any of the drugs of abuse. Feeling better is not a reliable indicator that things are actually good for you.

    My understanding of endometriosis is that it comes from having endometrial tissue in a place other than the lining of the uterus. That ectopic endometrial tissue goes through the same cycle as the endometrial tissue inside the uterus, but there is no way for the fluid to drain away and so it has to be resorbed in situ.

  2. I also do yoga (it makes me feel awesome), and despite the woo, I avoid inverted postures during my Special Woman Time because, well, it’s supposed to come out, and I want it to. It means less bleeding later, I guess. I actually found that I had to be more careful about doing inverted postures when I had a cold or full sinuses, I get headaches and can feel my sinuses filling up if I’m upside-down with a cold.
    Stop your period? There’s three ways to do that: get pregnant, go through menopause or have a hysterectomy. Otherwise, deal. That’s what ice cream is for.

  3. If I had to guess, I would hazard that it comes from a misunderstanding of a miscarriage/spontaneous abortions in which a fetus is claimed to be reabsorbed by the mother. As we know, that’s not the literal case. Still the phrase is in the public sphere so some nutjob is going to take that one step further and say all menstruation can be reabsorbed.

    It also sounds analogous to a practice recently made famous again by the boxer Juan Marquez who labors under the belief that drinking his own urine is somehow healthy by taking back the nutrients your body excreted. Except, menstruation isn’t really a function of the excretory system, but a function of the reproductive system.

    Hmm, absorbing reproductive fluids. This actually gives me a bad idea for a good line…

  4. To be fair, it probably would benefit some women if they could reasbsorb one chemical lost during menstruation: iron. To be more fair, standing up-side-down won’t actually make you absorb that iron.

    @Rebisaz:

    Hormonal contraception is meant to mimic pregnancy so your ovaries don’t release an egg. Usually every fourth week, women will either stop taking the pill, or take an inert dummy pill with no active ingredient to keep in the habit (they sometimes contain caffeine to compensate for the common symptom of fatigue). If you just take the active pills straight through, many women won’t bleed at all or will have minor spotting. Recent BC pills have been developed for exactly this purpose, but women have been using them “off-label” for decades to skip “periods” (it’s not actually real menstruation). Even with standard use, many women (including myself) find that they have greatly reduced flow. It is less effective for some women than for others.

  5. I really enjoy yoga. Unfortunately, reabsorption is a common traditional bit of yoga woo. This is why at the end of a practice you usually lay down in a corpse pose: to “reabsorb” all the sweat and salts and etc lost during the exercise.

    I’ve never heard of it in terms of menstrual fluid before. I wonder what your instructor would suggest if you vomited during class?

  6. @Sam Ogden: On the contrary, it’s the most popular, followed by menopause.

    As to the dummy pill during the period, has anyone thought to make those dummy pills iron supplements? It seems obvious, but I don’t discount me or someone else overlooking something.

  7. Oh, golly, thanks @catgirl – I was just being silly due to the 3 or 4 comments, especially Elyse’s, right before mine. That was really kind of you to write that information, thank you! Sorry if you wasted too much of your time. I need to be careful when folks don’t know my sense of humor yet. :-)

  8. I think the resorb idea is completely bogus, unless you take the fluid into your digestive system which I think is way gross and would be TMI for anyone to admit to doing.

    There are easier and less gross ways of getting enough iron.

  9. I delurked and registered just because this was an awesome article. Thank you SO much for using almost all possible euphemisms.

    Plus I actually just got home from yoga, and I have wondered from time to time why the reccomendation against inversions while menstruating – and now I know I don’t need to worry about it :D (it wasn’t keeping me up nights).

    Thanks!

  10. Okay now I’m curious. I’ve understood that birth control pills can help tone down the discomfort during menstruation. Are there ways to just outright stop it or is it really just minimizing the effects?

  11. @madfishmonger:
    Stop your period? There’s three ways to do that: get pregnant, go through menopause or have a hysterectomy. Otherwise, deal. That’s what ice cream is for.

    I thought there were birthcontrol pills that delayed a period from about once a month to about once every three months (or even more)? Or that you could even do that yourself by skipping the last week of dummy pills and continuing straight on with next month’s strip.

    Of course, AINAW …

  12. OMG! I can’t stop laughing!

    @amy: Seriously the “cotton pony of love” has to be the funniest thing I’ve heard in, oh, MY LIFETIME!

    Maybe we should title this thread “Red Tent: The Sequel”

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