Can Ashtanga Yoga improve the health of the human reproductive system?
YIN & YANG
Should women practice Ashtanga Yoga during their cycle? How does this yoga help with regulating the menstrual cycle?
In the essential text on Ashtanga Yoga, The Yoga Mala, Jois states, ‘Some women suffer from abdominal pain during menstruation. This is removed by the practice of these asanas (Marichyasana.) The womb becomes powerful and enables a woman to carry a child strongly, and miscarriage due to weakness is cured.’
Our current testing standards do not have a way to quantify or qualify Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or Ayurveda, but if there was not any validity behind them, their practice would have dissiapared long ago. Current western treatments are relatively new compared to TCM and Ayurvedic treatments. Western treatment are focused on making a patient feel better for a while by treating their symptoms, but the underlying cause of the symptoms is not not fully addressed. There is a push in the medical community to treat the root of the symptoms, and consequently there is a progression towards TCM and other natural remedies as evidenced by The World Health Organization (WHO) accepting TCM into the fold.
Not everyone is welcoming of natural remedies. In an open letter to WHO, Scientific American wrote; To include TCM in the ICD is an egregious lapse in evidence-based thinking and practice. Data supporting the effectiveness of most traditional remedies are scant, at best.* Most acupuncture studies do not meet current testing standards because TCM focuses on the individual and not the symptom. Both systems are in agreement that the individual is not the symptom, but we cannot quantify an individual separate from the symptom with our current testing model. Research into TCM has found unique structures at acupuncture points and acupuncture channels using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), infrared imaging, LCD thermal photography, ultrasound and other CT imaging methods, and have named these structures the ‘primo-vascular system.** While this is not direct and enough evidence to support the claims of TCM and Ayurveda about channel theory and nadis being accepted into medical practices, there is significant progress into acceptance.
So how to quantify Jois’ claims that certain asana and the entire primary series can enable a woman to carry a child?
There are many tools in our tool box to treat our health. We want the ‘best’ tool to get the job done. One question we need to be asking ourselves is, ’Is this tool duct tape?’
“Being skeptical can be good. Critical thinking can be good, but take it too far and it can turn into cynicism…” (The Miracle Equation - Hal Elrod)
Our knowledge of science is evolving. What we know to be true today, scientists are hard at work disproving.
An open cadaver on an autopsy table will show the organs, soft tissues, bones, nerves, blood vessels, etc. Nowhere inside can we see emotions. There is no fear, love, joy, loneliness, or happiness that can be seen with our eyes.
Scientists have disproved that emotions exist only in our heads. Emotions can be measured.*** Simply because we can’t see it with our eyes doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Our senses only perceive a limited view. It’s comical that based on this we think we have it all figured out.
In May of 2019 the World Health Organization (WHO) included Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine remedies into the 11th version of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11) Documentation of TCM medical practices dates to 1766 BCE where healers use various parts of plants and animals to treat patients. Traditional Chinese medicine is based on the concept of Qi, a system of energy that flows along meridians in the body to maintain health.**
From India, The Varaha Upanishad (13-16 BCE) describes nadis as a pathway that ‘penetrate the body from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head. In them is prana, the breath of life and in that life abides.’ (VU 54)
It’s impossible to deny that there is a flow of energy through the body. “It’s been called by many names. In ancient Chinese medicine, it is called Qi. In yoga, it is called Shakti. In the West, it is called Spirit….the yogis call energy centers chakras.” (The Untethered Soul - Michael A. Singer) Traditional Oriental Medicine links these centers with our internal organs. Both systems involve using natural remedies to allow the body to heal itself.
The path of yoga is a natural remedy that works on the individuals energies. The Ashtanga Yoga Method is a sequence of asana or postures that work together in a series that progressively restores health to an individual. ‘If one first practices the Surya Namaskara and then the other asanas, then one’s blood will become hot and pure, and will flow to every part of the body.’ (The Yoga Mala - Jois)
The primary series begins by heating up the blood and moving the nutrients (Prana/Qi) to all parts of the body. The standing sequence that follows uses the energy and heat created in the Surya Namaskara’s to build a healthy digestive system.
In Maslow’s Hierachy of needs, food, warmth, and safety are the basic needs that must be met before an individual can focus on psychological needs including reproduction and intimate relationships. After addressing the basic needs, eventually the individual can turn their focus on self-fulfillment goals, including creative activities.
In a similar way the primary series of the Ashtanga Yoga Method works to first establish warmth and safety in the individual and improve their digestion through the practice of the first 6 standing asana. The benefits of each of these standing asana are stated to restore digestive health and stabilize the spinal column.
Beginning with Utthita Hasta Padangushtasana the benefits continue to focus on digestion and the resolution of pre-existing conditions but introduce a new benefit; to the hip joints and areas of reproduction. Interestingly this asana and the one that follows, Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana have the first two fingers encircling the great toe.
In TCM theory, at the great toe are the entry points to the Foot Tai Yin and Foot Jue Yin channels on the medial and lateral side of the nail respectively. The Foot Tai Yin point, Yin Bái (Sp1) regulates the blood and can be used to treat menorrhagia and uterine bleeding. The Foot Jue Yin entry point, Dà Dūn (Lv1) also helps with regulating menstruation. Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana further helps to regulate the menstrual cycles by invigorating the Ren Mai and Chong Mai when the lateral malleolus places pressure on the proximal end of the thigh on the lateral border of the abductor longs muscle. This point is known as Yin Lián (Lv 11). Interestingly Jois states that, ‘this asana can be practiced by anyone of all ages and gender’ understanding the the benefits of these asana serve everyone.