Yoga for Women
Except when the body is going through hormonally influenced biological changes, a yoga practice for women can consist of the same postures as those practiced by males. Women tend to have more open hips and greater flexibility then men, while men tend to have more strength than women. Women often have less competitive natures then men so that the non-competitive aspect of yoga comes naturally. Their non-competitive nature can help women realize more easy progress in the spiritual realm.
Yoga and Woman’s Life Stages
A regular yoga practice is beneficial in every stage of life. When an individual goes through changes, such as those associated with pregnancy, menstruation, or menopause, illness or injury, yoga helps them approach life with more equanimity. Yoga practitioners with depression, eating disorders, arthritis, or bone loss find that yoga can contribute to their healing. Special sequences of poses are available for a wide variety of health conditions. We encourage you to approach yoga with a regular ongoing practice, not only doing prescriptive yoga poses. A yoga practice is healing and preventative of many types of illness. It can be emotionally balancing and spiritually nourishing. Yoga can help women on a day-to-day basis by allowing time for inner focus in a culture that is often hurried and which many women find stressful.
Transitions in a woman’s life call for different yoga practices. We offer some guidance about pregnancy and menstruation below.
During the postnatal time, women recover physically from birth and should slowly get back to doing yoga after about 4 to 6 weeks.
After pregnancy, a woman can strengthen abdominal muscles with poses like The Boat Pose (Navasana) and other core strengthening yoga positions. Through a yoga practice, she can regain her muscle tone and help her body deal with the physical strain of feeding, carrying, and taking care of a new baby.
Puberty brings hormonal challenges, and yoga can help young women transition gracefully into adulthood while loving themselves and their bodies at the same time, being more attuned to the self. In menopause, yoga helps deal with emotional imbalance and hot flashes that some women experience. After menopause, women can expect better posture with a more upright and flexible spine, and more mobility into old age.
In pregnancy, yoga helps bring your whole being into balance. Taking time out from a busy life to process the changes you are experiencing is beneficial. Yoga can also help you prepare emotionally and mentally for the anticipated change in your life when you give birth. Emotions are calmed and quieted with the practice of yoga poses and breathing exercises. Breathing exercises develop your inner awareness and can help you give birth by making it easier to consciously relax the body with breath. Yoga postures help you become more adept at changing positions, which is useful in the process of labor and childbirth. You will feel more comfortable in your body which helps you feel better in pregnancy. Aches and pains of pregnancy can be diminished or alleviated with a yoga practice. You can work with your bodily changes to learn how to move ergonomically, freeing your energy with better posture. You can more easily tap into your instinctual self, which will assist you in the birth process.
A little goes a long way in pregnancy yoga. When doing yoga positions, stop as soon as you have had enough of any one yoga position. Seek a prenatal yoga teacher or consult a book or pregnancy yoga DVD to learn yoga during this stage of your life.
If you have ever had a miscarriage, do not do yoga during your first trimester. These early months are the most vulnerable time of pregnancy. Avoid standing poses, inversions, twists, and backbends at this time. You can do forward bends, preferably gentle ones over bolsters or pillows. As you progress to the second trimester, you can vary the poses more. Twists can be done very gently in the last two trimesters. Shavasana, the relaxation pose in which you lie on your mat, can be done lying on your side instead of your back. In the third trimester, modify the yoga poses as your weight distribution changes. Your center of balance is different. Don’t put pressure on or compress the belly to keep the baby safe. The priority in prenatal yoga is not to put stress on the baby-to-be. Learn to use yoga props to adapt poses so they are easier for you to perform. Doing poses next to the wall or with a chair works well, and a prenatal yoga teacher can show you how.
The yoga pose that is considered the best preparation for childbirth is Baddha Konasana, or Cobbler’s Pose, and is also called the Bound Angle Pose. It is a hip opener that also works to open the pelvic area. Sit upright on your yoga mat or a cushion. Place the soles of your feet together and bring the heels toward your pelvic area. Your knees will splay out to the sides. You will feel work in your upper thighs, next to the groin area. Breathe and relax with the intensity so that you can release it. If your knees don’t reach the floor, you can place a pillow under each one. You can sit upright, or you can lean forward with your chest supported on a bolster or two. A third way to do the pose is reclining. Try leaning back onto a couple of bolsters with a small extra pillow for your head. The reclining version helps if you are getting up to urinate frequently at night. If you do this for 10 minutes or more at bedtime, it can help.
Yoga for Menstruation
Women are cyclic in their nature and physiology. Most sequences of poses for menstruation include supported forward bends. Forward bends quiet the brain and are perfect for this time in which one typically feels like going inward. For health reasons, it is suggested that you avoid doing inversions during menstruation. Some women also avoid standing poses or backbends at this time. Having a regular practice with a variety of yoga poses for the rest of the month is recommended for women, keeping them healthy, fit and emotionally centered. Yoga helps a woman deal with heavy or irregular menses and PMS. Special sequences exist for these and other problems. Depending on why she is having difficulty becoming pregnant, certain yoga poses may help women become more fertile.
Overall, a woman can balance her endocrine system, improve her blood circulation, develop better posture, become more toned, have better physical balance, increase her flexibility and strength, and build her immune system through yoga practice. A lifelong and daily practice will cultivate the many health benefits and spiritual growth possible with yoga throughout all stages of life.