Permission to Rest | The Benefits of Slowing Down During Menstruation

Permission to Rest | The Benefits of Slowing Down During Menstruation

Over the past fifty years, women have made bold moves toward equal representation in positions of leadership and pay in the workplace, and rightfully so. It goes without saying that we are more than capable, and deserving, of holding power and earning in all the same ways that men are.

The problem is, almost every woman I know is exhausted. 

The average person who is in a female body and fulfilling the gender role of “woman” is holding too much, is physically and emotionally overwhelmed, and is on the brink of burnout

Why is this, and what can be done about it?

One important factor is that unfortunately, women have been taught to ignore our feminine biology. Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten our unique natural rhythms, or perhaps as a means to gain equal respect, we have been asked to conform to more typical male models of being.

Over time, it became the expectation that we could and would work high powered jobs, while also managing the household. And on top of it, we have been asked to somehow maintain a perfect physical appearance. 

Women are expected to do all of this perfectly, and consistently—all of the time—despite our deeply cyclical nature. 

The female body marches to the beat of a monthly and seasonal drum, beyond just a daily one — meaning there are phases of each menstrual cycle in which we are primed to perform highest, and phases in which it is important that we rest. 

While male bodies are highly attuned to a circadian rhythm (the solar cycle of each day), female bodies have an additional attunement—and that is to an infradian rhythm. In this case, the lunar cycle of each month. 

This important monthly rhythm is as powerful—and as important—as the daily.

What It Means to Have a Monthly Rhythm 

Just as we are required to rest at some point during a 24–hour sun cycle, and just as the lunar cycle calls for a quiet calm during the New Moon, our bodies also call for rest and reflection for a few days each month. 

For women, that time is during our monthly menstruation.

This is our natural moment for reprieve, and cultures throughout history revered this time in their own ways with traditions such as the red tent, in which women lived in a separate lodge while menstruating in order to connect to spirit, wisdom, and creativity. 

The reality is, we are not designed to operate on full power every day, much less every moment of every day, and we are not designed to engage in strenuous exercise each day of the month. Trying to do so is causing us great harm, both mentally and physically. 

It’s time that we tune back into the nuances of our cyclical nature and remember how to source our power from rest. 

It is imperative that we take time to rest regularly, especially when our bodies need it most. Because suppressing our uniquely cyclical nature has tangible consequences, including burn out.

And yet, surprisingly, there is a trend in modern fitness that purports that people in female bodies should not only avoid rest, but actually workout harder on our periods. Some popular fitness trackers claim that physiologically, your body is primed to hit it hard during menstruation.

Their theory is that you gain more muscle during your period than at any other phase of your cycle. What’s even more worrisome is that they recommend that we ignore our natural impulse to rest during this phase in order to do so. 

In Ayurveda, we always recommend listening more deeply to the body, and honoring what it is asking for, because our bodies store our somatic wisdom. 

Why Rest Is Extra Important During Menstruation

Ayurvedically speaking, each phase of the cycle embodies a distinct transition of doshas

  • During the follicular phase, or the beginning of the cycle leading up to ovulation, we go from vata to kapha (a building phase). 
  • During ovulation we go from kapha to pitta (all that juicy energy heats us up!). 
  • During the luteal phase and into menstruation, we go from pitta back to vata (the release of heat). 

Menstruation is a time when we are transitioning from a pitta experience to a vata experience. Our temperature has been heightened since ovulation, and as we menstruate, we release that heat—our temperature drops, we clear more space, and we embody more vata. 

Vata is present to support the flow of the menses out of the body. Given its heightened presence, we need to be careful about anything vata-provoking during this time. Our body is not best equipped for vigorous activity or anything with cold and rough qualities, as these create an imbalance of the ether and air elements within us. 

Ideally, we treat ourselves to warm, well-cooked meals, lighter workloads, less screen time, and less travel—in favor of getting cozy with a warm blanket and a book. 

This also means that high intensity workouts like HIIT classes, jogging, kickboxing, cycling, or any other forms of vigorous exercise are contraindicated. 

During menstruation, it is also important that we take special care of apana vayu, that downward moving vata energy that is responsible for release during menstruation. This subdosha of vata is specifically responsible for the down and out movement, and it also relates to healthy hormonal balance.

Maintaining balanced vata and a healthy flow of apana vayu is crucial for reproductive system balance, which as we know, is related to general feminine health. 

According to the Ayurvedic texts, excessive physical activity disturbs apana vayu, thus discouraging downward flow. Disturbance of apana vayu causes a variety of symptoms, including:

  • accumulation of fat in thighs
  • occasional constipation or diarrhea
  • no menses, profuse menses, or irregular menses
  • discomfort during sex
  • lower back discomfort
  • loss of healthy bone density

Pause there. How many women do we each know who are experiencing these discomforts and imbalances? Could it be that we are engaging in too much vigorous activity—especially during menstruation? 

Perhaps this is one reason why, in traditional cultures, women made a habit of doing less while they were bleeding.

Finding Permission to Rest In the Modern World

If you are someone who enjoys a regular workout, consider this your invitation to take a break from anything too strenuous during the three to four heaviest days of your period. 

If you’re called toward movement on your period, it’s best to focus on gentle walking or restorative yoga. 

Aside from the exercise component, rest could look like declining weekend invitations in favor of staying home and doing something slow. You might look ahead and consciously decide not to contribute something to the upcoming bake sale if you know you’ll be bleeding that week. Or maybe you give yourself permission to sleep in, even just 30 minutes later, if that’s a possibility for you. 

Creating space for rest doesn’t necessarily mean taking time off work—though it certainly can. 

If you’re able, at least try to align your work calendar such that you are in a mode of reflection during those few days. This might mean that you look back at the past month to review successes and failures, analyze project data and reports, and feel into how your work is feeling for you. Take breaks as needed.

If none of those actions are possible for you, consider doing something as simple as a two minute meditation where you focus on your breath. You could do this simple meditation in your parked car—perhaps outside the school where you’re picking up your kids, or outside the grocery store. Close your eyes and breathe instead of scrolling your phone. 

For more ideas about how to rest deeply and unapologetically, check out Tricia Hersey—aka the Nap Bishop.

When we re-engage with our monthly rhythms, rather than ignoring them entirely, we are less likely to experience some of the discomfort, irritation, and overwhelm that can accompany menstruation, or the days leading up to it. 

When we are eating and caring for ourselves in alignment with our cycles, we find that we are generally more comfortable in our bodies, which also supports our mood and emotions

And, we discover that our inherent power is not related to behaving exactly the same as people in male bodies—it is different, it is feminine, and it is unshakable.

Women have worked hard to get to where we are. And now, this is the era of rest. 

Take it extra easy and give yourself permission to NOT do as much as possible while you are bleeding. Giving yourself that permission is key—if you want to curl up with a blanket and go inward, you get to do that. 

You do not need to achieve more, do more, manage everything, work out constantly, or control your body more to earn your power. Take a deep breath, knowing that your power is inherent in the miracle that you already are, exactly as you are.