Prana • 1 December 2009

Explanations change.

A long time ago in ashtanga years, a woman on her cycle was dirty. Shamed in to second class status and a sense that her body was profane, she was all out shunned on certain days of the month. Signs were posted. Don’t compromise us with your stink. Don’t profane our rituals – be they puja or asana – by participating in them when you are unworthy.

Consciousness grows. The old belief is recognized as a pillar of patriarchy. We react to it, analyze it, mourn it, let it go. Slowly, the background beliefs that maintained the boundaries and the hierarchies are disavowed.

But do we find other ways of making them true?

What is the New Age belief system but a set of superstitions and justifications, codes of fear and prejudice interlaced with little liberations?

The idea that a woman is dirty has been replaced with woo woo physics. Woo woo physics has replaced the English words “up” and “down” with “prana” and “apana.” Somehow if you use a different word for these things, it’s more meaningful and you can make lots of fun claims.

I remember the lanky guy in my first ashtanga workshop, interrogating Richard Freeman about vatayanasana: Is it pranic or apanic? Which? Which? What is the physics of the thing? Tell me! 

Dude. It’s not just one thing. We are all upward and downward moving at the same time. Whole postures and PEOPLE don't fit in to your cute orphan categories – prana, apana, kapha, vata, pitta, sattvic, rajasic, tamasic, &c. &c. &c.

But according to the most simplified New Age physics, prana and apana are important because that’s what differentiates men and women. And it’s especially what characterizes a woman’s cycle. That is her apanic – downward moving – time. Once she becomes more "in touch" with the rhythms of nature, she will learn to “respect,” “honor,” and “surrender to” apana when it is “her time.”

We are living an sort of wonderful contradiction here.

As one goes deeper in to this practice, one does start noticing that those women who are, in fact, "aligned with the rhythms of nature" will cycle together. That collected rhythm shapes our life together, tied like everything else we do to the moon cycle. But do the orphan categories really explain our experience?

More to the point: if the women’s cycle is so exclusively “apanic,” then why do the sensitive ones tend to menstruate on the full moon?