For many women, our monthly cycle feels like a hindrance. Cramping, bloating, back pain and skin breakouts are just some of the common symptoms of PMS. With lower energy, we often end up feeling cranky or sad. Ladies, you know how it is: there is just something about bleeding that makes life a little more raw and urgent than usual.
To top it off, we don’t get a lot of support from the outside world during our periods. Many traditional cultures encourage women to take time off during their cycles, but the modern Western culture does not. Instead, we’re expected to do whatever it takes to go on with “business as usual.”
Luckily, we can find support on our own terms. The practice and philosophy of yoga, as well as its sister discipline Ayurveda–the ancient healing tradition of India–can help us keep our balance all month long.
Honoring the Cycle
Step one is changing the way we think about our periods. Much more than a nuisance, our menstrual cycle can be seen as a physical and spiritual cleansing process. According to Ayurveda, our moon cycle helps us expel ama—all of the stress and toxins we’ve accumulated throughout the month. Perhaps this is why our emotions tend to feel raw during this time; we are letting go of a month’s worth of stress all at once!
Because our period corresponds with the lunar cycle, it keeps us in touch with the rhythms of nature to promote overall balance. When we are ovulating, we tend to experience heightened energy levels, greater sexual desire, and a glowing sense of well-being. This symbolically corresponds to the full moon, which is the universal time of action. It follows that menstruation holds the opposite energy—the internal, self-reflective, quiet time that is like our own personal new moon.
So, learning how to honor our individual cycles can help us greatly. Allowing ourselves to cut back our work-load and social engagements as much as possible during our period is an excellent form of self-care. Doing what we can to take care of ourselves during the month, will also cut down on the amount of ama we have to release. Taking time to fully feel our emotions as they happen, eating clean and whole foods, and practicing yoga are all wonderful ways to nurture ourselves. As a result, PMS symptoms will be lessened, and we can maintain our balance all month long.
Now, let’s talk about the physical practice of yoga. A regular practice can help reduce menstrual discomfort in many ways. The meditative part of yoga does wonders for the emotional component of PMS. Deep breathing detoxifies and oxygenates our bodies, leaving our organs in good working order. In general, yoga promotes mind-body awareness, better health, and stress relief. The period is a barometer for our overall well-being. So, when we improve our health, we have more comfortable periods.
Postures for Menstruation
In addition to the benefits of a regular practice, there are also specific moves that help alleviate PMS while it’s happening. There are a few guidelines to keep in mind when practicing yoga during your cycle. Avoid inversions such as shoulder stands, headstands, or Legs-Up-The Wall pose, as these restrict the downward flow within the body. Also make sure that you do not practice excessively or cause fatigue, especially to the lower back. Instead, try relaxing and comforting postures such as Child’s Pose and reclining poses.
Practicing pranayama, yogic breathing techniques, is a great way to relieve painful cramping, heavy bleeding, and the intense emotions of PMS. Close your eyes and breathe deeply into your belly, expanding the abdomen on the inhale. As you exhale, gently engage your abdominals to help you expel the full breath. You can also breathe into any areas of the body that are sore or tight, simply by focusing your attention on those areas as you breathe. For example, if you feel breast tenderness or tension in the heart, breathing into the chest area is healing and nurturing.
One of the most common complaints of PMS is cramping. You may find comfort in practicing Child’s Pose with the use of bolsters. By resting your head, chest, belly, and arms onto a nice, soft pillow, you can relax deeply without strain. Another nice pose is Wide-Angle Seated Pose with a Twist, which involves sitting upright with legs spread wide apart, then turning toward one leg and bending forward for the stretch. This can also be done with a bolster under the belly. The gentle twisting action of this pose improves pelvic circulation, which can reduce cramping.
Some women find more relief by creating space in the abdomen area. Postures such as Reclining Bound Angle Pose relieve lower back tension and allow you to relax. Simply bring the soles of your feet together as you would for Butterfly Pose, and then gently recline so that your torso rests on the floor. This can also be done with pillows under the mid-back, shoulders, and/or head for added support and comfort.
Do you have suggestions for other yoga poses that work for you during your cycle?
Written By: Sarah Baldwin
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