Though we have progressed much in terms of being digitally savvy and well-informed about health and fitness, there’s still a long way to go before periods, menstrual cycles, infertility and other intimate women’s health topics make their way into daily conversations.
Perhaps you are one of those lucky enough to be surrounded by friends who talk freely about their periods, sex life and such, but I think it’s safe to say that for most women in Singapore, period and womanly issues are confined to their bathrooms, or shared with liberal gynaes at best.
From my experience, it has always been awkward when I try to discuss periods with my friends – even the close ones.
A typical convo goes like this…
Me: The iced matcha latte sounds great.
Friend: Yeah, but I’m trying to avoid cold drinks.
Me: Oh, is it that time of the month?
Friend: (Nods apologetically)
[When I attempt to probe]
Me: How does having cold drinks affect your period?
Friend: (says uneasily) It gives me bad cramps…
And the period talk usually ends here.
For some reason, talking about periods in a predominantly Asian culture usually carries a degree of shame and embarrassment. It’s like confessing a deep, dark secret – you are dying to share the details, but wonder if you would be judged.
If you’ve been nodding your head vehemently up to this point, it’s time you tried womb yoga.
What’s womb yoga?
It’s yoga that pays homage to the womb, for all the great stuff it has done or can potentially do: regulate your menstrual cycle, give you effing good orgasms, grow a baby, push it out of your body…
Be prepared to talk about your period (and other issues, if you like)
In womb yoga, periods are at the forefront of discussion. At the class I went for at Terra Luna Yoga, a women-focused yoga school, founder and instructor Dewi Chen broke the ice by getting everyone to introduce herself and share something about her cycle.
In contrast to my awkward period talks with friends, the period-sharing at womb yoga went like this:
Chinese woman (in her 30s): Hi, I’m XXX. I’m on day two of my bleed, and having quite bad cramps. I’m hoping to have a restorative practice today.
Japanese woman (in her late 40s): Hi, I’m YYY. My period has been irregular lately. The flow is much less than before, just a little bit here and there…
Chinese woman (in her 30s): Hi, I’m ZZZ. My period is coming in a few days, and I’m feeling extra tired and bloated. I’m looking for a more energetic practice to lift my mood.
Me: Hi, I’m Estelle. I haven’t had my period since I got pregnant and gave birth to my second child, as I’m still breastfeeding. Not looking forward to having it back. (chuckles) And yes, I’d like an energetic session too.
You will do womb salutations, instead of sun salutations
We started with meditation in our preferred lying position, with the option to use props such as blocks, bolsters and blankets that were laid around our mats. That was followed by gentle stretching exercises focusing on the neck, shoulders, back and hips. So far, so good.
When we were suitably warmed up, Dewi led us through womb salutations with calming, meditative music in the background. “Why salute the sun, when you can salute your womb,” Dewi’s voice chimed. Her womb salutation sequence involved gentle, feminine moves like hip circles, pelvis tilts and spinal twists in womb-friendly positions, which reminded me of belly dancing.
Move however you want in womb yoga
During the session, she regaled us with stories about the origins of yoga – how the primary styles of yoga like Hatha, Bikram and Iyengar were all founded by men, who sought and emphasised on perfect alignment and postures, to the benefit of male body structures and inclinations.
“In womb yoga, you are free to do what feels good for you. Forget about alignment and posture, and doing yoga the right way. Listen to your body and acknowledge what it needs right now,” Dewi urged.
With that, I tried to tune in to my inner self, and stop thinking about whether my hips were in line, whether my shoulder was pulled back, and whether my legs were straightened enough while in the triangle pose. Honestly, it’s hard to let my body flow according to “what it needs”, when I spent the last couple of years learning to do yoga “the right way” from mainstream yoga studios. Oops.
It felt like a yoga dance, as Dewi encouraged us to keep moving and freestyling during poses. Being self-conscious, I decided to follow her closely.
When it came to doing certain poses like downward dog, Dewi gave options for the bleeding ones to skip the pose. And when we had to lie in prone position, Dewi immediately noticed my apprehension and said: “Estelle, since you’re breastfeeding, avoid this pose because it will make you feel uncomfortable.”
In any ordinary class, I would have plonked my boobs on the floor already, because frankly, I’d have never thought about disclosing to the instructor in the middle of yoga: “Sorry I’m breastfeeding and my boobs are ultra-sensitive so I can’t do this.” So, I was impressed by how Dewi kept my condition in mind, and readily gave ideas for modification.
Worship your womb
Moves aside, Dewi kept the class engaged by constantly filling our minds with positive imagery. For instance, she made us visualise an overflow of goodness (something about wisdom and nourishment) from the womb (which Dewi referred to as “she”) covering our bodies from head to toe, like thick, nutritious honey. I thought of how happy Winnie The Pooh would be.
She also taught us the yoni mudra, an essential part of womb yoga. Yoni refers to vulva in Hinduism, while mudra refers to gesture.
To do the yoni mudra, join the tips of your thumbs and press them to your navel, then join the tips of your index fingers and let them point downwards to form the shape of erm, a vulva.
Doing the yoni mudra is supposed to promote energy flow, calm the mind, and relieve stress and tension.
It felt therapeutic, being able to place my hands around my womb to show some appreciation after over 30 years of existence. Do this in public, and people will definitely stare. Inwardly, I thanked her – I mean, my womb – for giving me manageable periods, and producing two healthy kids so far.
Final thoughts about womb yoga
Of all the yoga classes I’ve attended, this is the first time I’ve felt so understood and empathised as a woman, and as a mum. I experienced another “wow” moment when Dewi adjusted my posture during savasana. She supported my legs using bolsters, because “it’s not comfortable to lie flat on your back during this postnatal period”.
True enough, I’d been experiencing a niggling pain in my lower back whenever I lay flat, and felt immediate relief once my legs were propped up.
There are definite advantages to doing yoga in a small group, what’s more in an all-women setting like Terra Luna Yoga. (The maximum class size is 12.) I enjoyed more attention, and felt free to speak my mind with the instructor Dewi, who’s also trained in pre and postnatal yoga, as well as a doula.
Because it’s so rare to find people who are so ready, open and knowledgeable to talk about women’s health issues, I found myself lingering in the studio to chat with Dewi and the other instructors about all things pregnancy, motherhood and women’s health-related. The “I feel you” vibes never felt so strong. And I left feeling more educated about my womb, vulva and pelvic floor than what Google has taught me.
All things considered, including my mixed feelings towards freestyling and labelling my womb a “she”, this empowering and inclusive female environment is enough to lure me back, perhaps to try the other classes like Terra Power and Terra Flow. That says a lot, considering this school is located at Bukit Timah Road, miles away from where I live in the east.
A version of this article first appeared in Shape.
(Photos: Estelle Low and Terra Luna Yoga)