Words: Anja Brierley
Photographs: Pete Muller
The womb (also called the uterus) is an organ as well as a muscle. In fact, it’s the strongest muscle in the body by weight being able to grow to accommodate a potential pregnancy as well as birthing a baby. Every month it moves through an intricate cycle of growing an endometrium, changing the quality of the womb lining and eventually releasing the uterine lining as a period. This is the menstrual cycle consisting of menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase. The womb along with the uterine tubes (also referred to as Fallopian tubes) and ovaries are supported by fascia and connective tissue, which in turn are supported by our muscles. The menstrual cycle itself is part of a series of incredible hormonal events which are not just about fertility but also connected to our general well-being, heart health and bone health. The cycle is pretty amazing! To optimise both womb and menstrual health we can use our yoga and breath awareness. Here I am sharing some of my favourite poses for womb health. With all the poses focus on the breath. When we breathe properly there is movement and flow in the pelvis to reduce or avoid stagnation. The breath is also connected to our nervous system including the vagus nerve and its connection to the uterus. From an āyurvedic perspective, we want to make sure apāna vāyu is balanced. Apāna vāyu is the grounding downward moving energy, or prāṇa. It is the energy responsible for menstruation, urination, elimination and childbirth amongst other qualities. Most of us have a very sedentary life. We sit on a chair whilst working in front of the computer, and then we sit on the sofa watching the telly. Often slouching. I am convinced many of our menstrual, womb and pelvic floor challenges are due to our posture and how we breathe. Our pelvic floor becomes tight and it affects our breathing. Energetically we create stagnation and apāna vāyu becomes imbalanced. Everything is connected; body, breath, nervous system, hormones and how we feel… Yoga and breath awareness are incredible tools to find balance again.
SEATED YONI MUDRĀ MEDITATION
Find a comfortable seat. Make sure you are grounded and stable. I like sitting astride a bolster or cushions in a hero’s pose variation (vīrāsana). This is a pose that also supports apāna vāyu. But you can sit in a chair, sit cross-legged or do any other pose. Bring your hands to the lower abdomen. Place the index fingers just above the pubic bones, palms of the hands touching the lower belly with the thumbs together forming a downward-facing triangle. This mudrā represents the yoni. The yoni is the female reproductive system – vulva, vagina, cervix, uterus, endometrium, ovaries and uterine tubes. It is also the Cosmic Womb from where all of Creation happened. Sit here for a few moments bringing your awareness to your womb space. Feel the warmth of your hands on the lower belly. Become aware of the gentle waves of your breath as you breathe relaxed yet deeply.
Creating movement and flow in a seated cat-cow pose is a way to bring awareness and energy to the womb area. As the saying goes “prāna flows where attention goes”. Seated in a comfortable cross-legged position start rocking towards the front of the sitting bones arching the back then shifting towards the sacrum and back of the sitting bones rounding the spine. Allow the movement to arise from the pelvis. You can start to create a more circular spiralling flow. The focus is allowing movement from your pelvic bowl for mobility and flow of the blood and lymphatic circulation in the pelvic area. Please raise your seat by sitting on cushions or support if needed. You can also do this seated in a chair.
MALĀSANA (YOGIC SQUAT)
Squatting is an excellent way to release tightness at the pelvic floor. You want to make it work for your body so perhaps you roll up a blanket under your heels if they are not comfortable resting on the floor. Or maybe you sit on a couple of yoga blocks raising your seat. You can also support yourself by holding on to a sturdy bed frame or perhaps a helpful friend! Once in a relaxed position allow the tailbone and sitting bones to widen. As if the pelvic floor muscles could relax and soften. You are not bearing or pushing down but rather letting go of excessive tightness. Breathe deeply and with ease. This is the apāna vāyu pose. If you are on a heavy period you might want to avoid it during your menstrual phase. It can also be contraindicated if you have pelvic organ prolapse so check with an experienced teacher. But otherwise, it is a wonderful pose to get grounded and allow energy into the pelvis as well as providing plenty of hip mobility.
SETUBANDHĀSANA (BRIDGE POSE)
Bridge pose is an excellent pose to find openness in the front of the pelvis and hip flexors counteracting the sedentary lifestyle most of us have. It also stretches the lower abdomen creating space and ease. When I researched for my book ‘Teaching yoga for the menstrual cycle – an āyurvedic approach’ backbends were often recommended in scientific studies for menstrual health including period pain. They are worth including in your regular practice to prevent discomfort during the menstrual phase and to improve general womb health. There are many ways to practise bridge pose. All start by lying on the floor or yoga mat with the knees bend and feet flat on the floor. Then explore a variation of the following:
- Dynamically you can slowly roll the spine off the floor and gently roll it back in a wave-like flow.
- You can enjoy the traditional variation by lifting the pelvis and part of the back away from the ground and staying here for 3-5 breaths. Rest and repeat three times.
- Or prop lots of cushions, a block or a bolster under the sacrum in a supported bridge pose. Stay here breathing for a minute or longer.
SUPTABADDHAKONĀSANA (RECLINED COBBLER’S POSE)
Sometimes cobbler pose is referred to as Goddess pose. So if that resonates with you, embrace the Goddess-like feel of the pose. In the seated variation, you bring the feet together and let the knees release away from each other. You can add support beneath the thighs. In the reclining variation, you can rest on a bolster or lots of cushions. This pose (specifically the reclining variation) creates space and openness to release tension and tightness around the pelvis and lower abdomen. According to some of the research, which I refer to in my book, abdominal stretching exercises can be an alternative choice to managing painful periods. Perhaps as we counteract some of our sedentary lifestyles with these stretches and allow deeper more complete breaths our womb as well as our hormones can find ease and balance again.
Anja Brierley Lange (BSc, PGDip Āyurveda) is an experienced yoga teacher, Āyurvedic practitioner and teacher trainer. Teaching since 2005 she has specialised in yoga and Āyurveda relating to female anatomy and physiology. Anja is the author of Teaching yoga for the menstrual cycle – an Āyurvedic perspective.
Originally from Denmark, she moved to London and now lives on the Sussex coast where she enjoys being by or in the sea.
Follow @anja_yogini and check yogaembodied.com for courses, classes and inspiration.
The images are from Anja’s book ‘Teaching Yoga for the Menstrual Cycle’ – an Āyurvedic perspective. Photography is
by Pete Muller www.petemuller.co.uk