Your period and your practice
While wishing my yoga students good-bye after a 3:30 class, a student approached sheepishly. As I lifted my gaze to make eye contact with Keely, she asked where I had procured my yoga shorts. As I looked down at my well-worn, four year old shorts, Keely continued to speak. Keely indicated that she used to engage in a regular yoga practice however, she quit 8 months earlier and has finally come back.
As I nodded in interest, Keely shared that she ceased her practice given she struggled to manage her period while participated in yogasana. "During my period I use a tampon and pad...sometimes two. I come to yoga and I feel like everyone can tell I have my period. My pants look huge."
My response, "You are looking for yoga pants that don't reveal everything. Yoga pants that are more forgiving."
A bit teary, Keely highlighted that she could wear sweats or some non yoga-inspired piece of clothing to class while she has her period. However, this leads her to focus on her "frumpyness" instead of her yoga practice.
Keely and I engaged in a brief conversation about yoga fashion and then I shared a link for my yoga shorts on her phone (i.e., Be Present).
Fast forward two weeks, I ready myself for my Tae Kwon Do practice hopping into my dobak (uniform), grabbing my belt, and running through the Korean terms for counting from one-ten...hanah, dool, set, net, dasot...
As I labor to count to 10 in Korean, another female taekwondoist enters the women's locker room. As she enters, Katrina laments the arrival of her period. Further, she curses the white dobak in which she is about to don. She stresses that she might not even come to class tomorrow. A minute into her colorful phraseology, I interject.
"Marina, get a black or blue dobak. You don't need to wear white."
"WTF?" replied Marina. "You can wear black at white belt?"
"Yes. You don't need to wear a white dobak."
"Here I have been dreaming of bleeding out in class and unless I'm sparring, I shouldn't need to think about blood."
Master yoga instructor Scott Anderson (i.e., Alignment Yoga) speaks to the important role of the yoga teacher relative to the creation of a "container for practice/learning." The container the yoga teacher creates assists the yoga student in leaving the world behind them as they ease into their yoga practice. The student works to focus on the here and now. Worrying about your period and the possibility of a wardrobe malfunction clearly limits the student's ability to roll zen and get into the flow.
Like students of yoga, the martial artist comes to the dojang ready to focus on their practice. Classes are often rigorous and involve physical contact including mat work. Who wants to worry about their period when they are practicing knife disarms or ensuring an epic break fall?
Conversations with both Keely and Marina, serve to remind those who lead classes to ensure we aptly create a container for learning. From an ethical standpoint, we want to create an inclusive place of practice whereas all of our students can come to learn and grow. In Keely's case, inclusivity emerged when she observed an instructor in yoga shorts that were loose versus form-fitting. Furthermore, a level of comfort was present as Keely entered into a conversation about menstruation with her yoga teacher. - an often taboo subject.
In Marina's case, being able to wear a black dobak met her need. Before joining her current dojang, Marina had practiced in another state. At her previous dojang, lower ranks were required to wear white dobaks - no exceptions. This was Marina's mental model and a mental model that almost led her to skipping class during her period.
Ningini's stance: Engaging in a regular yogic or martial practice has a legion benefits. Minor adjustments can be made to maximize participation and limit student distress during menstruation.