I’m bloated, crabby, and feel exhausted—and I haven’t made it out of bed yet. When my period hits, I don’t feel like doing anything. Even still, I make it a point to roll out my yoga mat because I know that I’ll feel better if I practice yoga. As it turns out, scientific evidence backs up my experience—several medical studies have shown that yoga can help relieve the symptoms of menstrual disorders.
Menstrual cramps are experienced by 50% of female adolescents and common among women of reproductive age. Yoga may offer relief from menstrual pain; however, painful cramps aren’t the only uncomfortable side effect of periods. Menstrual disorders run the gamut from dysmenorrhea (painful cramping) to emotional issues, headaches, breast pain, acne, and fatigue.
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In 2017, the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine published a review paper that compiled the various studies that have been conducted in relation to yoga and its benefits for menstrual disorders. (A review paper is different from a study in that it looks at data from various past studies to form a conclusion.)
Of the 15 included studies, each had a different combination of symptoms and approaches to treatment. The original studies looked at multiple disorders, including dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and treated them with asana, pranayama, and other relaxation and meditation techniques. Due to the large range of practices, styles of yoga, and intensity levels, it’s not possible to identify what would work best for the general public. Despite the wide variety of symptoms and approaches, each study reported positive results for yoga helping to relieve menstrual disorders.
Yoga poses for menstrual cramps
A 2011 study from Iran found three asanas—Cobra, Cat, and Fish—to reduce menstrual cramps in adolescents with primary dysmenorrhea. The researchers randomized 92 girl students, ages 18-22, to an experimental group and control group. The experimental group practiced the prescribed yoga postures, while the control group received no intervention. The intensity and duration of their period pain was measured with the Visual Analog Scale for Pain, and the girls were studied for three menstrual cycles. In the first menstrual cycle, both groups received no intervention (to acquire baseline characteristics); in the subsequent two cycles, experimental subjects were asked to practice the three yoga asanas during their luteal phase (the second half of the menstrual cycle).
Researchers found the yoga group participants to have significantly improved parameters on pain intensity and duration, compared to the control group. The researchers conclude: “These findings suggest that yoga poses are [a] safe and simple treatment for primary dysmenorrhea.”
There are several reasons these poses may be efficacious for alleviating dysmenorrhea. Cat pose stretches out the lower and upper back, which relieves cramps; Cobra stretches out the belly and creates gentle pressure, which may mitigate cramp severity; and Fish pose stretches out the upper back and belly, creating space and helping cramps diminish in intensity. Other poses recommended during menstruation include Camel, Hero, Pigeon, Prayer Squat pose, forward bends, and twists. Some poses are cautioned against while menstruating in certain traditions, such as inversions, strenuous backbends, and free-standing poses.
Yoga poses for menstrual disorders
In addition to the above asanas, I’ve found several other yoga poses beneficial for menstrual disorders.
For headaches and moodiness caused by menstruation, start in Child’s pose. By gently stretching the back, Child’s pose may help relieve headaches and release tension. For something more energizing, try Warrior II. This pose opens the hips and abdomen, increases mental focus, and helps ground the emotions.
Bloating and constipation can be common symptoms of menstruation. Supine Bound Angle pose is a gentle way to open the hips and relieve constipation. Wind Relieving pose and gentle twisting poses such as Belly Twist can also improve digestion.
For more stretch, bring your body up from a supine position into Bridge. This is a gentle way to energize the body and can help with some hormonal issues while menstruating. Standing Backbend pose can also help with hormonal issues and can be done from Mountain pose.
To help balance and calm your nervous system, end your practice with an extended savasana pose. You may wish to have your knees bent with the soles of your feet on the mat or support your legs with bolsters, blankets, or pillows to bring your low back and tailbone in a neutral position. Focusing on your breath throughout the practice will also help calm your nervous system.
Menstruation affects a wide range of systems in the body and can create mental, emotional, and physical discomfort. Fortunately, yoga has a plethora of practices that can be utilized to create inner and outer ease and balance. When menstruating, the most important thing to remember is to listen to your body and to be gentle with yourself and your practice.
Have you found yoga practice to help with painful menstrual cycles? What yoga poses do you practice for menstruation relief?