Yoga for Menstrual Cramps
A question from a reader:
“I get extremely bad symptoms during my period- awful cramps, sluggish, headaches, to the point where I can’t really function. Do you have alternative all-natural remedies that you recommend? I used to just pop a few Ibuprofen for the first two days and I’d be good to go, but I don’t really want to do that anymore.”
I’ve returned to India to continue my own sadhana – at a new Sivananda Yoga center in Varkala. That means I don’t have much time for internet, so I’m re-posting something I wrote awhile ago. The only thing I would add here is to emphasize the last point – adopt a Yoga diet that includes limited amounts of organic dairy and also plenty of omega-3 from flaxseeds, walnuts, etc. Some women skip Yoga asanas altogether when they bleed. Instead take a slow relaxed practice session with lots of yogic breathing.
Menstruation can be painful. At times, I’ve curled up in a ball on the floor unable to do anything else until the waves of pain, lightheadedness, and sweating receded. I’m not complaining. I understand periods are a natural part of being a woman. I could take ibuprofen when I know I’m about to start and it would ward off my discomfort, but I choose not to do that. I don’t like to take any medicine I don’t absolutely have to take.
Yoga has helped a lot. I’ve found pavana muktasana, the wind releasing pose, to be one of the best asanas for relief. There are different versions of this one. In mine, both knees are brought to the chest while lying on the back. The head is brought to the knees and the focus is on manipura lotus at the navel. Concentrating on this area of subtle energy is an important aspect of pavana muktasana’s benefits. I hold this pose for at least three minutes when I’m having the worst bouts of pain.
During menses, whether hurting or not, I include bhadrasana (bound angle), pascimottonasana (seated forward bend), the modern version of viparita karani (legs up the wall) and savasana (corpse) in my daily program. Sometimes I add bhujangasana (cobra), matsyasana (fish) and marjari asana (cat) poses. I find them all to be helpful.
In a recently published study from Iran of Yoga for menstrual cramps, the latter three were shown to be effective for preventing painful periods in a group of fifty young women aged 18-22. The women practiced these three asanas all during the luteal phase of their cycle, which means the entire second half. (For the average 28 day menstrual rhythm, the first day of a period is the first day of a cycle. Count 14 days in and there you have the beginning of the luteal phase.) Compared to a control group of 42 women who didn’t practice any Yoga or have any other intervention, there was a significant decrease in the pain intensity of menstruation. When each woman’s pre-Yoga rating of pain was compared to their own post-Yoga rating, there was also a significant reduction.
Yoga decreases the pain of menstruation and helps women to cope with residual discomfort. No specific asana is necessarily better than any other. What matters is what works for you. If you suffer from dysmenorrhea, the medical term for painful periods, consider trying the Yoga poses mentioned above.
Yoga’s not just about asanas though. It’s also a lifestyle, and a big part of a Yoga life is making an effort to eat pure, nutritious vegetarian food. A vegetarian diet with limited dairy and an increased amount of omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to lessen menstrual pain.
- Rakhshaee Z. Effect of Three Yoga Poses (Cobra, Cat and Fish Poses) in Women with Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Randomized Clinical Trial. J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. 2011 Apr 20. [Epub ahead of print]
- Barnard ND, Scialli AR, Hurlock D, Bertron P. Diet and sex-hormone binding globulin, dysmenorrhea, and premenstrual symptoms. Obstet Gynecol. Feb 2000;95(2):245-50.
- Harel Z, Biro FM, Kottenhahn RK, Rosenthal SL. Supplementation with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the management of dysmenorrhea in adolescents. Am J Obstet Gynecol. Apr 1996;174(4):1335-8.