Stretching and bending may be the last thing on your mind if it’s that time of the month and Mother Nature just won’t quit her little love taps to your lower abdomen. But what if you could stretch in a way that actually improves the quality of your time of the month? Yoga has been shown to decrease both menstrual pain intensity and distress significantly. Instead of self-medicating or avoiding everyday activities, you may want to try yoga as a safe and effective alternative for relieving cramps and menstrual pain.
This study in particular found significant improvements in categories such as physical pain, sleep, concentration, negative feelings, social relationships, and work capacity after a yoga intervention. Some women have even reported less abdominal swelling, breast tenderness, and cold sweats alongside cramps after implementing yoga after a couple of weeks.
A Word of Caution
Before jumping into just any yoga practice on your period, please keep in mind that not all asanas (postures) should be performed during your menstrual cycle. These are often termed as “contraindicated,” which means they are inadvisable for practitioners in specific cases.
In the yoga world, inversions are inadvisable during a woman’s period, as the energy that flows downward in the body – called apana-vayu – can be negatively affected. Backbends can create pressure and stress to the pelvic area, which may already be under pressure and pain. For the same reason, deep twists are not advised. Postures that involve deep contraction of the lower abdomen are not recommended for obvious reasons, such as boat pose (navasana).
Overall, try to take it easy during your menstrual period when it comes to stress, physical activity, and difficult postures. These can heighten stress and discomfort within the body.
Yoga Poses to Ease Menstrual Pain
Try these yoga poses to relieve menstrual cramps while soothing your mind and soul. Before starting, set the scene! Light a candle, perhaps some incense, dim the lights, play some relaxing music to get in the mood. Try to hold each posture (or side, if it is an asymmetrical posture) for 5 minutes before moving on. When it starts to get uncomfortable, try to breathe through it and just notice the discomfort instead of shifting around every 30 seconds. Uncomfortable is different than pain. If/when pain arises, come out of the pose safely and rest the muscle that was under extreme pressure.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
This is the go-to resting pose for dynamic and static yoga classes alike. It offers a gentle elongation of the lower back for those with a lot of lower back tension without pulling and straining. It also stretches the entire spine and lower body including the ankles.
It can reduce migraines by increasing blood circulation and calming the body and mind. It also gives the neck and shoulder muscles some relaxation because the spinal stretch extends all the way to the base of the neck. Most importantly, it’s very gentle on the pelvic region and is almost like giving the uterus a big, loving, calming hug. Consider placing a blanket or pillow under the forehead for extended holds.
Knees to Chest (Pawanmuktasana)
This posture is also known as “Wind Release Pose” because it directs the pelvic floor to lift in such a way that stored gas can be relieved. It doesn’t always need to result in flatulence though. It can help move accumulated wind in the stomach and intestines higher up in the abdominal region as well.
It involves the lower, middle, and upper back, which are areas that store a lot of tension. It is also great for the hips and the pelvic region as a little self-massage. Intestinal relief is very important because gas, difficulty in digestion, and delayed emptying are all hallmarks of a menstrual cycle due to added stress and an influx of hormones.
In Pawanmuktasana, the thighs are brought into the abdomen. Pressure in the abdomen encourages blood flow to organs such as the uterus. This is also perfect for those sitting or driving a lot during the day because it can relieve back pain. Many will instruct this posture with an engaged neck but for this sequence, let your neck relax on the floor. Bring your knees into the chest and keep your lower back reaching toward the floor to get optimal hip stretching. You can bring one knee in at a time as well for a different variation. If you find any pressure in the lower back or uneasiness under your neck, place a blanket underneath.
Supine Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
As mentioned earlier, deep twists should be avoided during menstruation. However, this easy spinal stretch can actually be very beneficial to relieve menstrual pain. It brings a gentle elongation to the spine and abdomen, and brings the hips, knees, neck, hamstrings, middle and lower back onto the stage as well.
The twist provides an abdominal massage, which helps stimulate digestion while slowly releasing tension from the lower back. For menstruation, it massages the lower pelvic muscles as well as stimulates blood flow to the lower body. Feel free to keep the lower leg straight or one arm on the top knee to keep the body in a twisted position. Looking opposite your knees will also provide slow lengthening of neck muscles which tend to get stiff throughout the day.
Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
The goal of the forward fold is not to touch the toes or the floor, but to lengthen the hamstrings as well as the lower back. When going into the posture, try keeping the lower back straight and long while bending the knees to touch the floor. With hands on the floor and lower back long, begin to slowly straighten the legs until you feel a delicious lengthening in your hamstrings.
Forward folds puts a gentle pressure on the abdominal area, which comforts any cramping muscles. Just like the child’s pose, it offers a warm massage and hug to the lower abdomen. It can help with lower and upper back stiffness, which are a source of stress that can compound into menstrual pain. Remember to keep the neck relaxed, and stay here for a maximum of 10 breaths at a time, slowly coming out to avoid lightheadedness.
Reclined Butterfly with Bolster (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Using a bolster or long pillow under the back can add even more relaxation for this posture. Adding the bolster gives a lift that actually allows prana (energy) to flow out in the direction it’s meant to. With the hips on the floor and back slightly elevated, the focus is the impact on the internal organs.
As a repeating theme, this pose can improve digestion and ease gas flow, as well as relieve reproductive organs. It is also extremely soothing for the nervous system, which can benefit sleep and decrease chronic stress! If you have a couple blocks, you can elevate the bolster or pillow even more.