A few months ago, yogi Jessamyn Stanley (@mynameisjessamyn) popped into the Shape offices to talk all things period yoga and body positivity. (If you need a body confidence boost, her words are just the trick.) In passing, she mentioned the fact that certain yoga instructors recommend against doing inversions of any kind (headstands, handstands, shoulder stands, etc.) during your period.
Wait, what? If you thought all you had to worry about during period yoga was a little leakage, well, apparently all that time upside down may be risky too. (Related: Here's what the color of your period blood means.)
But considering the fact that the female reproductive system only has one exit, the chances of your menstruation blood going anywhere it doesn't belong are slim to none. So why would yoga teachers be telling students to skip handstands on their ~moon cycle~?
According to yoga philosophy, prana is the "lifeforce energy" that can be further divided into components called vayus (winds), a type of energy through which the universe operates. "Menstruation is considered to be one of the five vayus, Apana: an energetic force that involves the downward and outward flow of energy from the body," says Heidi Kristoffer, Shape's resident yoga expert and creator of CrossFlowX. "If you are actively inverting, you are thought to be inhibiting that natural process, and potentially disturbing the natural energetic flow."
So, essentially, it's a yoga tradition—not a health thing: "Medically speaking there are no complications associated with yoga, including all the unique positions, upside down and all, during your period," says Sherry Ross, M.D., an ob-gyn and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health. Period.
If you haven't heard these cautions before, it likely just depends on what type of training your teacher received. "If you have a 'classical' yoga training (where Sanskrit is used and yoga philosophy is studied), you will have learned about this in your teacher training," says Kristoffer. "But many of the 'younger' schools of yoga are more into telling you to do what feels good for you. And since every woman has a different experience with menstruation, that makes a lot of sense regarding inverting during your period."
If you're really worried about messing with your Apana, you can skip the inversions and rest easy knowing any yoga or exercise is probably doing your body (and prana) good. Yoga has many known short-term and long-term health benefits for your body, mind, and spirit. "During your period, yoga can help give you more energy and vitality and help minimize cramps and bloating," says Dr. Ross. (Try Kristoffer's go-to yoga poses to ease cramps.)
Ditto with exercise in general, which can relieve some of the most annoying symptoms associated with PMS, such as bloating, water retention, cramps, fatigue, mood swings, social withdrawal, and weight gain. "Not to mention, those feel-good, mood-boosting endorphins and serotonin help ease the pain and stress experienced during certain times of the month," says Dr. Ross. (Here's everything you need to know about the perks of exercising on your period.)
And if doing a handstand is the fastest way to get you to your happy place? Go ahead, kick upside down. Your Apana will be fine—promise.