Though exercising may be the last thing on your mind when menstrual cramps hit, movement is actually the perfect antidote to provide effective relief. Exercise helps reduce the pain caused by uterine contractions, which often accompany menstruation by releasing a natural internal opioid known as beta-endorphins. Though experts may recommend aerobic activities to relieve this discomfort, Yoga is also a great alternative remedy. Yoga incorporates deep breathing and relaxation along with movement to help relieve cramping and pain by sending oxygen throughout the body. Just as every woman’s menstrual experience varies, the same can be said for the highly individualized experience of practicing yoga. The best advice for a new yogini is to listen to your body and intuition while moving through asana. To find relief from menstrual cramps, try these three postures.
- Begin in a seated position and bring the soles of your feet together, and let your knees open to both sides (Bound Angle Pose).
- Then place your hands behind your buttocks to lower yourself down to your elbows, and slowly make your way onto your back.
- Slightly tuck the chin to keep the back of your neck long, let gravity bring your knees closer to the floor, let your palms face up with arms positioned away from your body.
- Relax. Stay here for 5-10 minutes.
- To get out of this pose slowly roll to your right side and curl into fetal position before making your way back up to a seated position.
- Increases blood circulation in the lower abdomen (the kidneys, bladder, ovaries, and prostate gland).
- May improve digestion.
- Stretches the inner thighs and opens up the groin.
- Increases range of external rotation in the hips.
- Calms the nervous system, reduces symptoms of tension and stress.
2. Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)
- Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and ground your sits bones into the floor by gently rocking side to side or by pull the flesh outward and away from your buttocks.
- Press actively through your heels and engage your quadriceps; perhaps your heels will lift off the ground.
- Place your hands on the ground just outside of your hips and sit up tall, elongate the spine and lift the sternum toward the ceiling.
- Inhale as you keep a flat back, long spine and slowly begin to hinge forward from the hips to lower down.
- Reach for your calves, ankles, or feet, whatever is available to you.
- Keep a long flat back, lifted sternum.
- With each inhale lift and lengthen the torso and with each exhale release into the forward bend more deeply.
- If you would like to get deeper into this posture and if you are grabbing your feet, inhale to lengthen the torso with the head raised and exhale as you bend the elbows out to the sides and pull your torso toward your legs, stretching fully into this deep bend.
- Stay here for 1-3 minutes.
- To get out of this pose slowly inhale to lift your torso away from the thighs as you keep your tailbone rooted to the pelvis. If you would like to take a counter pose, bring your finger tips 6 inches behind your back, facing your glutes. Bend your knees to plant the feet on the ground in front of you, then inhale tuck the pelvis as you lift the hips up to come into reverse table top position.
- Calms the mind.
- Soothes headaches.
- Reduce stress, anxiety, and mild depression.
- Reduces fatigue.
- Stretches the spine, shoulders, and hamstrings.
- Increases flexibility.
- Stimulates the liver, kidneys, ovaries, and uterus.
- Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause and menstrual discomfort.
- Therapeutic for high blood pressure, infertility, insomnia, and sinusitis
- Improves digestion and is good for constipation and digestion disorder.
- Begin by lying on your back with a long spine from the crown of your head to their tailbone.
- First bend your knees to bring your feet flat on the floor then bring your knees into your chest.
- Wrap your hands around the knees, keep the head, neck and shoulders on the ground.
- Extend your left leg long as you keep your right knee drawn in.
- Extend your right arm out to your side at shoulder level. Slowly let your left hand guide your knee over to the left on an exhalation.
- Keep your left hand on your right knee, and turn your head to the right to gaze over the right shoulder.
- Allow gravity to bring your knee closer to the ground and you breathe here.
- Make sure to keep your shoulder blades firmly rooted to the floor and away from your ears.
- Keep Breathing, Hold for 1 minute.
- On an inhale return back to center, bring both knees into your chest, and on an exhale release your right leg long and repeat these steps with your left knee twisting to your right. Again, hold for 1 minute.
- Repeat both sides once more for 1 minute each.
- When you’re finished bring both knees into your chest taking 5-10 breaths, rock side to side to massage the lower back, and slowly exhale to extend both legs back out to the floor.
- Reduces fatigue and re-energizes the body.
- Reduces stress, anxiety and restores balance.
- Lengthens, relaxes, and realigns the spine and hydrates the spinal disks.
- Improves the health of the entire nervous system, as all the nerves pass through the spine.
- Stretches the back muscles and glutes, and it opens the hips.
- Strengthens the abdominal muscles and tones the waistline.
- Improves blood circulation throughout the body.
- Helps eliminate metabolic waste and toxins.
- Pressure against the abdomen encourages massage of the internal organs like the liver, pancreas and the intestine, improving their functioning.
- Increases the health and function of the digestive system.
- Stimulates the kidneys, abdominal organs, urinary bladders and intestines.
Fun Fact: Have you heard that women should not practice yoga while menstruating?
This is an urban yoga myth that has no scientific evidence to prove and is most likely rooted in the once male-dominated ancient practice of the Brahmanic period in India. It was much later when yoga was brought to the west that specific guidance to address women in yoga were included, however these guidelines were still patriarchal. Most of the advice asserts either to not practice yoga while menstruating or to refrain from inverting. This is based on assumptions and superstitions rather than factual evidence and now more than ever the benefits of yoga in relieving menstrual discomfort are inarguable. Women, or anyone rather, should always practice yoga with mindfulness and intuition as you move with comfort and ease through breath and asana.