Recently, I have begun to attune more consciously to my body's monthly rhythms, observing the now-familiar risings and fallings of tempers and energies that run their course in a lunar cycle. This has underscored for me the beauty of shaping my own Yoga practice to fit with this most natural rhythm, learning to listen to what my physical instrument needs. In yogic philosophy and practice we already see many nods to the power of natural cycles and the effect of both the solar (seasons) and the lunar on practice and lifestyle as well.
For example, ashtangis take a pause from daily practice on new – and – full moon days, attributing pranic powers to the full moon, corresponding to the end of an inhale, full to the top and straining to move outward. The quality of prana vayu (one way in which Prana – or life-energy- flows) draws our energies up and out, making us cerebral and headstrong and not suited for asana practice, but rather for breathing and introspection. New moon days correspond to the end of the exhale, to the power of apana vayu, rooting down, excreting, grounding but also making us slow and lethargic. So, these two days are set aside as time to reflect, to be still and observe the power of the lunar cycle, connected to the pull of tides, to the quality of water, the mystic and introspective, the sacred feminine.
I take my cue from this, looking to the internal moon reflected in the female body's cycle– the wax and growth of the seed of life in form of the follicular phase (the ripening of an egg-cell), mirroring the waxing of the moon and culminating in ovulation which brings energies much like a full-moon. During this time, we may feel drawn out of our center, prana on the rise, energies flowing outward, seeking to connect as we reach the peak of our monthly cycle. In the weeks bracketing this peak, our vital energy is surging and we can allow ourselves to express this flow in strong physical practice, Vinyasa, arm-balancing, core cultivation, etc. Bringing balance to the flow of extroverted prana, we may include some balancing pranayamas or kriyas like nadhi shodhana and take a few minutes after practice to sit still and observe this pulsing and alive-feeling.
As the inner moon begins to wane again, in the luteal phase (moving towards menstruation or implantation of an embryo), our practice can also adapt. The body may ask for a gentler, more introspective approach: heart-opening asana, some Yin poses, long holds and deep stretches can feel especially good now and it may become easier to sit a bit longer after practice. The week prior to menstruation, and particularly the day(s) before and first day(s) of bleeding, is a good time to be very gentle with ourselves, listening inward. I personally don't practice any asana on these days but give myself space just to be. This is a time of deep introspection as the inner moon has gone fully into seclusion, the life-giving cycle wound down, preparing to cleanse and then renew. So much energy is needed to support the internal workings and the process of letting go that is inevitably tied to menstruation.
Of course, each woman will experience her cycle in a unique way, as each body houses this mystery differently. Still, we have the possibility through close observation to harness the powers that move in us, this tiny moon that waxes and wanes and works its magic, gifting us with phases especially suited for striking out and acting and others for withdrawing and manifesting. I encourage every woman to observe honestly and sensitively these rhythms and begin to truly to listen to her needs, thus setting free the powers inherent in the cycle of her moon. And, as is so often the case with the microcosm of our practice on the mat, this approach may then expand into other areas of our life, allowing us live more in tune with the natural seasons of our sacred feminine selves in all that we do.
Women's retreats are key to unlocking powerful feminine energy connected to the cycles of Mother Nature. Our upcoming Brac Island Retreat in Croatia from 16-23 June nurtures this unique bond between women and nature.