Is Your Birth Control Yoga Friendly?

Interview with YogaDork.com founder Jennilyn Carson

By: Holly Grigg-Spall Dec. 22, 2015, 11:39 a.m.
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Jennilyn Carson is the founder of YogaDork.com. She's also a doula and a yoga teacher. She recently created Cycledork.com to "undo the taboo" around the menstrual cycle while educating women on fertility awareness and contraceptive use. Learn more about Jennilyn here. Support the development of Cycledork.com at Indiegogo. For this interview for our "Green Lights Lifestyle" series, she tells us about how and where yoga and fertility awareness intersect and connect.

You shared that you've never used a hormonal birth control pill, what was behind that decision?

I think part of this has to do with growing up in a home where medication wasn't used too much, or relied upon, I guess. My parents weren't against it, it just wasn't a regular thing for me, which was also my choice. I've always felt very in touch with what was going on in my body and a chemical (hormonal) change wasn't something I was interested in. I don't really remember even taking Advil until college (which was definitely either for my period cramps or a hangover). I think it also has to do with the fact that I didn't have extreme periods - they were usually pretty average. No debilitating cramping, no super terrible breakouts or horrible aches (just the average kind!). I used latex contraceptives primarily for birth control. It wasn't until later I learned the truth about my cycle and ovulation, fertility awareness, hormonal birth control, etc.

When did you start practicing yoga?

I began practicing yoga end of high school and into college when I stopped dancing. Dance was a huge part of my life from age 3, but going to college meant a new phase, and in my 18-year-old brain that meant leaving dance for a new career and the frontiers of NYC. (A few years ago, I started back up with dance and fell in love again!)

Does fertility awareness change the way you approach yoga practice?

Absolutely! Being aware of where I am in my cycle plays a huge role in my yoga practice. I've realized that I need to go easier on myself, physically and mentally, during certain days when I'm tired and more sensitive like in Week 4 - the week before my period - or during my period. Or I know I'll usually have extra energy for a more adventurous and playful practice midway through my cycle. Being conscious in yoga and conscious of my body's cycle are not mutually exclusive. In fact, it all plays into my practice on and off the mat, too - being kinder and gentler and more understanding to myself and others because I have a better understanding of what's happening in my body.

Are there any common lessons you have gleaned from both yoga and fertility awareness?

When you think you have it all figured out, think again. Both yoga and fertility awareness are tools for self-inquiry and understanding, but they're not exactly answers. Just like we continue to change and evolve, I feel the tools are only as good as their updates and applications. My yoga is a lot different from when I was 18 or 25, and so is my cycle. Now in my 30s, my understanding of both (and their relation to my life) has improved but I'm constantly learning more as life goes on. Yoga encouraged me to explore and inquire more, which led me to fertility awareness and contraceptive use in the first place. I use both to give myself the space to check in and tune in.

Do you use yoga differently during different phases of your cycle and how?

Yes, for sure. My energy levels are different throughout my cycle, as can be my attitudes. It's a delicate balance, but it's also a flow, so to speak. There are waves to my yoga practice just like there are waves to my cycle. Sometimes I get ants in my pants and need to move, and sometimes I need to just sit and be still. Sure, life stuff factors into it all, too, but knowing where I am in my cycle helps me understand WHY I need to move or be still.

Are hormonal birth control methods commonly used in the yoga community?

Yes and no. There's such a broad range of practitioners these days that there really is no typical yogi. That said, the women I've spoken to about this gave me a range of responses. Many had said they were on a hormonal birth control pill earlier in their lady lives but had been off of it for years. Some mentioned that they're still on birth control pills due to various health reasons (note: not used for contraceptive use). What I've found is that either they decided a long time ago because hormonal birth control pills weren't for them, sort of coinciding with their first interest in yoga, or they are still taking them because they appear to be the only option. Saying that, I would be highly surprised if a majority of the female yoga teachers were on hormonal birth control.

You started the site YogaDork and now you have Cycledork - what is the ethos behind these sites?

YogaDork was created because I felt there was a need for a critical yet playful voice in the yoga world, which has changed so much since I started the site in 2008. A huge part of it is for the better as yoga grows and the image of what a yogi should be and look like is dissolving. I'd like to think the site has lived up to its mission through the years: commentary on yoga news and culture with wit and wisdom.

With Cycledork, I intend to bring that playful, irreverent, yet informative vibe to menstruation. Backing up for a second, I started a women's site called Salted Scarletry a couple of years ago. I still have plans for the site, but in working on it, I realized what I really want to focus on, what really needs a boost in positivity, contraceptives awareness and understanding menstruation. There's so much linked to menstruation including equality, women's health, and let's be honest, men's health by association, and how we see ourselves, as humanity, moving into the future. Heavy, I know!

Do you think more women are taking an interest in their cycles now and why might that be?

It seems so. Women are starting to ask more questions and beginning to realize there's more information, there are more options and more tools out there. For instance, thanks to technology, women are becoming more aware of the fluctuations in their own cycles, even if it's just for the sole purpose of trying to get pregnant (or avoid it with some type of contraceptive). The surging interest in wellness, I believe adds to it. A lot of people are looking to better their lives, to be healthier and happier in general. Plus other factors like revelations in science (hello, microbes!), the push for food source transparency (ie non-GMO), and the fight for gender equality are all helping to bring more understanding, awareness and interest around menstruation.

Tell us about your current fundraising campaign.

Yes! We're currently running a campaign to raise fertility awareness and funds for our new site Cycledork. In short, Cycledork is a period-positive website covering everything cycle-related from commentary on cultural news and references to highlighting great organizations helping women, to sharing tips on how to have a better period as well as personal essays. I say,"we" and "our" because I started the site but have already brought on some amazing contributors. As I've learned from YogaDork, running and managing a website is no easy task, and right now everyone is volunteering their time because they believe in it.

Just like any startup, though, we're looking for help to get the site off the ground, to finish building it on the development side and to roll out some initiatives like an advertising platform that will keep the site sustainable and our contributors compensated in the longer term. We're planning to be around for a while! At least as long as women have periods. Our first big mission is to undo the taboo. It's time.

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Holly Grigg-Spall

Holly Grigg-Spall

Marketing Consultant and Blog Editor

When she came off the birth control pill after 10 years in 2009, Holly decided to write a blog about the experience. That blog became a series of articles, and then book, "Sweetening the Pill," which then inspired a feature documentary, currently in production and executive produced by Ricki Lake. She is a fertility awareness and body literacy advocate and educator, a Daysy enthusiast, and excited to help more women come off the birth control pill and find a natural, effective alternative.

holly.grigg-spall@valley-electronics.com