Because there was some debate about and, indeed, disagreement with, Dr. Timothy McCall's advice about doing inverted yoga poses while you are menstruating (see Ask the Yoga Doctor: Are Inverted Poses During Your Period a Bad Idea?), I decided to look for a second opinion on the subject. For this second opinion, I was looking to hear from someone who themselves experienced menstruation and someone who had health training in a related field. I started by contacting yoga teacher and physical therapist Shelly Prosko, and she connected me with Carolyn Vandyken, who is a pelvic health expert. Here's what she had to say:
"Despite many attempts to find research to support the widely held belief that inversion poses contribute to endometriosis or endometriomas (endometrial tissue found outside of the uterus) there appears to be no evidence to support that claim. Listening to your body and what feels good throughout your cycle should be an individual choice; fear of potential harm should not play a factor in the decision-making process for self-awareness and intuitive practice throughout a women's cycle. Young girls and women do not stop their athletic endeavors during menstruation, including gymnastics, synchronized swimming, or other sports that place them in an inverted position. There is no increase in prevalence of endometriosis in these athletes. In short, empirical and experiential evidence does not support this belief."
Thank you so much, Carolyn! It is good to know there has been research into this issue and that you conclude it is safe to practice inverted poses while menstruating.
I think one of the reasons there was so much debate about this is that different yoga traditions have treated this issue in different ways. In the Iyengar tradition (which is the one in which both Dr. McCall and I received our training), there was some concern that long-held inversions during menstruation might have a negative effect on the reproductive system (as Carolyn described above) and so they were completely prohibited. Naturally, before there was scientific research on this, most teachers felt like they wanted to err on the side of caution. Hopefully, health experts like Carolyn can now help spread the word that there is no evidence of the need for safety concerns about doing inverted poses while menstruating.
Carolyn Vandyken is a clinician, educator, researcher and advocate for pelvic health, LBP and all things persistent in the pain world. Carolyn graduated from McMaster University with a Bachelor's degree in physiotherapy in 1987. She became an MDT credentialed therapist in 1999, certified in medical acupuncture in 2002, and received a CBT certificate from Wilfred Laurier University in 2016. She co-founded Pelvic Health Solutions, a post-graduate teaching company and is actively involved in research with Dr. Sinead Dufour, publishing several studies on the connection between low back pain and pelvic floor dysfunction. Carolyn won the distinguished Education Award from the Ontario Physiotherapy Association in 2015.
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