Yoga for Period Cramps: A Quick Guide
We’ve been there - that pain in your lower abdomen that makes you reach for the hot water bottle. Some people experience it worse than others, and we feel for those of you with debilitating period cramps. For most of us, though, a little gentle exercise usually makes things feel better, not worse. So, if you feel up to it, here are some of the best yoga poses for period cramps to relieve your symptoms and - bonus - calm your mind.
Can yoga help period cramps?
First up, does yoga actually do anything for period pain? The evidence certainly seems to suggest so. One review analyzed the findings of 15 different studies around the effect of physical activity on menstrual disorders, finding that all of the studies came to the same conclusion: that women who practiced regular yoga experienced reduced symptoms relating to period cramps, premenstrual syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
As well as relieving physical symptoms, studies have also found that yoga can help to change how we experience period pain - as well as how we relate to it. That’s because yoga is a powerful antidote to stress and can even go as far as helping rebalance our nervous systems.
Yoga for period pain: what style to practice?
All periods are different, and every body is different, so first and foremost, we’d recommend that you listen to your body and do what feels right for you. That goes for both the poses and the style of yoga. Some people might feel more called to do restorative or yin practices for the first couple of days when cramping is the worst, before feeling more energized to move through a more flowing vinyasa-style practice.
Remember, you don’t need to do full hour-long practice to feel the benefits of yoga. Just ten minutes is enough to get your body moving and your blood flowing to help relieve your symptoms.
Yogic breathing for period cramps
From a couple of the poses below to a full-length class, remember to focus on your breathing. One of the key reasons yoga for period pain relief is beneficial is because of the breath to body connection that yoga offers. You may even like to practice some pranayama - breathwork - before moving through a few yoga poses. Why not try this simple is sama vritti pranayama (box breath):
- Find a comfortable position - you can be cross-legged, kneeling or even lying down
- Take a few deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and out through your mouth
- Then on your next inhale, inhale for the count of four
- Hold it for four breaths, imagining your creating the roof of your box
- Exhale for four breaths
- Hold your breath again for four breaths, completing the box
- Repeat for 5-10 rounds
- Come back to your normal breathing pattern
Yoga poses for period cramps
So, now we’ve taken a breath, what are the best yoga positions for period cramps? Well, it’s all down to personal preferences, but here are a few you might like to try. Grab your yoga mat or do them from the comfort of your bed - it all counts!
Apanasana (knees to chest pose)
Sometimes also known as ‘wind relieving pose’, this is a great option if you feel bloated during your period, or feel cramps in your lower back. Simply lie on your back and draw both knees towards your chest. You can hold onto your shins with your hands, or if you have the mobility, wrap your arms around your legs to take hold of opposite elbows. If it feels good, you can rock slightly from side to side, massaging your lower back, or draw your knees around in a circle.
As the name suggests, this pose is good for stimulating digestion, and it also helps to stretch and stabilize your pelvis. Stay here for as long as you like, inhaling and exhaling deeply.
Balasana (child’s pose)
If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you’ll recognize child’s pose as the classic resting posture - but there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye. Child’s pose offers a gentle stretch for your lower back, as well as your hips, thighs, and ankles. You can either keep your knees together or take them wide apart, and bring your belly to rest either on your thighs or between them.
If it feels uncomfortable for your ankles or knees, place a rolled-up blanket or towel underneath them, then let your head rest on your yoga mat. For a more restorative version of the pose, place a yoga bolster (or use a pillow or cushion) between your thighs, and let your belly and chest lie on top of it. Let one cheek rest on the bolster, and stay here for five minutes, before switching cheeks for another five minutes. The calming effects on your mind will be just as good as the gentle stretch of your body.
Baddha konasana (bound angle or butterfly pose)
For this pose, come to a seated position with your knees out to either side and the soles of your feet together, creating a diamond shape between your legs. You can have your feet far away from your body for a less intense stretch in your inner thighs, or draw your feet closer to your body to feel more sensation.
This pose opens up your hips, and offers a gentle stretch for your inner thighs. You can also try bending forward, drawing the top of your head towards your feet to stretch your lower back and gently compress your internal organs, helping to relieve cramps.
Reclined baddha konasana
For a more restorative version of this pose, come to lie on your back, with your knees bent and the soles of your feet together. Pop a cushion under each knee if they don’t quite meet the ground, and close your eyes. Rest here for as long as feels comfortable - beginners should start with one to three minutes whilst more experienced yogis might want to stay in this pose for as long as ten minutes.
Cat cow is often done in yoga classes as a way to mobilize your spine and get ready for backbends but this pose is equally as good for releasing tension in your hips, back and abdomen if you’re experiencing painful cramps.
Come to a tabletop position, with your hips directly over your knees and your shoulders stacked over your wrists. As you inhale, drop your belly towards the ground and shine your chest forwards, then as you exhale, round your shoulders and draw your belly button in towards your spine, mimicking a cat. Move through these two positions as many times as feels good.
Join us on our mission
Natural Cycles’ mission is to empower every woman by giving her the tools she needs to be in charge of her health. Understanding our own menstrual cycle is a great first step to getting to know your body better. As well as using Natural Cycles to either plan or prevent pregnancy, you can also record cycle symptoms (such as period pain) in the app, this is a great way to spot patterns in your unique cycle.