How yoga can help menstrual cramps and other symptoms of PMS
Melie Purdon, a yoga teacher and prenatal expert at YogaRenew, says that while people experiencing menstrual cramps often feel compelled to lie on the couch and be inactive, doing so actually reduces the body’s ability to work through discomfort on its own. “We can decrease symptoms of period cramps by moving the body in a way that will massage the organs and make room in the abdomen for the uterus to contract and shed its lining without compromising the breath.”
Yoga simply helps you and your consciousness get out of the way and give your body the space to do what it is meant to do according to Purdon, who says that if you practice yoga consistently—especially on the days you don’t feel well—you may actually derive even more benefits from your practice.
“For example, during period cramps and PMS, the body can feel sluggish and heavy, morale may be low, and energy can feel multiple espresso shots away,” she says. “Yoga will improve blood flow and overall vitality.” Blood flow is important during a woman’s period because it helps to expel the built-up tissue and endometrial lining from the uterus. This process helps to keep the uterus clean and healthy and prevents the buildup of bacteria and other debris which can cause infection. Additionally, the blood flow helps to keep the endometrial lining of the uterus thin and elastic, which is important for healthy fertility. Cramps are your body’s way of drawing blood flow to your uterus, so doing exercises like yoga that can help the process are beneficial.
With that said, yoga—especially when you have symptoms of PMS—doesn’t need to be an intense or vigorous workout to be beneficial. “What we want is gentle, targeted movements that will, even in a few minutes, benefit the practitioner’s mind and body simultaneously,” says Purdon.
The best yoga poses for cramps and other period symptoms
1. Supta Padangusthasana II (Reclined Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose) With a Strap
How to do it: Lie on your back with your legs extended long holding a yoga strap (or belt if you don’t have one) by the ends with both hands. Bend your right leg and place the ball of your right foot into the middle of the strap. Extend that leg up toward the ceiling, then let it open out to the right side like a book (leg can be straight or slightly bent if you have tight hamstrings), keeping your left hip heavy on the floor. You can place a pillow under your right thigh for extra support. Flex your thighs and left foot. Hold for 10 breaths, then switch sides.
In general, hip openers like Supta Padangusthasana II are great to do one your period. Find it and more in this 25-minute flow:
2. Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend)
How to do it: Stand tall (option to have your back against a wall for extra support). Step your feet wider than your shoulders, then with your hands on your hips, fold forward, leading with your heart, allowing your head lower toward the floor—option to bring your hands to your feet or ankles if they’re accessible, or allow your palms to flatten into the floor beneath you with a soft bend in your elbows. Press the outer blades of your feet down and away from one another, as if you could rip the floor apart with your feet. Keep your legs extended fully and the sides of your torso long. Hold for 10 breaths releasing downward toward the floor. (If a full forward fold doesn’t feel good, Purdon says you can rest your arms and head on a chair in front of you.)
3. Janu Sirsasana (Head to Knee Forward Bend)
How to do it: Start seated on the floor with your open in a straddle (V) position. Bend your right knee, bringing the sole of that foot against the inner thigh of your left leg. Rotate your torso to square your left leg. As you breathe in, extend your torso upward. As you breathe out, fold over your left leg (option to place a pillow or bolster and a blanket on top of your left leg for support). Walk your hands forward on either side of your left leg, pressing into your palms and lengthening your heart forward as you breathe in. As you breathe out, relax your belly over the bolster and rest your head on the blanket.
4. Supta Sukhasana (Reclined Easy Seat)
How to do it: Start seated cross-legged on the floor (you can place pillows under your knees for extra support) with a bolster or two pillows lengthwise on the floor behind you, fold a blanket on the end to support your head. Recline back over your props and allow your arms to open out to the sides. Close your eyes and hold for 10 breaths, then switch the cross of your legs and hold for 10 more.
How often should you do yoga poses for period cramps?
Purdon says that there are no universal guidelines or expected outcomes for how quickly you can expect to notice PMS symptom relief from doing yoga poses for cramps—everyone is different, and our bodies all respond uniquely to yoga, as well as the hormonal fluctuations causing menstrual cramps and other PMS discomfort.
“The main idea here is to realize that the work is gradual and builds on itself–you wouldn’t expect to eat a full orange and the vitamin C to kick your flu symptoms right away” says Purdon. “Therapeutic yoga is very similar; if someone is brand new to the practice of yoga, it will take some time for the benefits to show, especially with such a targeted goal as to ease cramps.”
It’s the practice that you commit to every day—on the days in between your bleeds—that will make the greatest impact, Purson adds. “The wealth of the practice lies in its adaptability to different seasons of life. The key to making the practice of yoga work for you in every scenario possible is to practice consistently without interruption and over a long period of time,” she says. “You don’t need multiple hours a day, you just need to show up.”
Finally, Purdon notes that severe period cramps can sometimes be caused by endometriosis. Along with a consistent yoga practice, it is important to work with your healthcare provider and medical experts if you’re concerned or distressed by PMS symptoms or not seeing relief from home remedies.