If you suffer from moderate to severe menstrual cramps like I do, you'll do almost anything to relieve them. Something you may not have tried, though, is yoga. Some yogis advocate taking a break from practicing during your period to rest and renew, but can yoga help with period cramps? The answer, it turns out, is somewhat complicated; while there are certain yoga poses to avoid during your period, such as inverted poses that are counterintuitive to the direction your body position energetically needs to be in during menstruation, there are others that can help alleviate discomfort during that time of the month. So, to briefly answer our original question: Potentially, although not for every pose.
Let's dig a little deeper, shall we?
As someone who has tried everything from heating pads to hemp oil and everything in between with varying levels of success, the idea that I can reduce cramping by doing a few yoga poses is very appealing — and I know I'm not alone in my pain. One study published in American Family Physicians found that 90 percent of people who menstruate experience some sort of cramping, also known as dysmenorrhea.
But while every person is different, and the decision of whether or not to exercise while you're on your period is a personal one, a 2016 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that subjects who participated in yoga found significant relief from menstrual pain and distress versus those who did not do yoga.
However, you might find yourself needing to change your routine a little bit during your period. "Your period might be a time you change your approach to your yoga practice. If you regularly practice an intense Ashtanga or Power class, you might opt for a Yin or restorative practice for these few days of the month," Andrea Cespedes advised on Livestrong. "A less-intense class might be just your style when you're feeling mellow, fatigued, and grouchy."
If the idea of dragging your cramping, tired soul to a yoga class sounds too daunting, you can also practice these period-pain relieving poses at home. Heather Yamada-Hosley recently posted and briefly summarized a video by Yoga With Adriene that offers a yoga routine to relieve menstrual cramps on Lifehacker. The poses offer the gentle, restorative options Cespedes suggested.
In the video, host Adriene Mishle advises giving yourself plenty of space for your practice, more space than you normally would, so the postures are more comfortable. "What I love about this practice is that it eases cramps and quells PMS," Adriene says in the half-hour video. "It's also a comforting, supportive sequence that I can do in the comfort of my own home."
Some of the exercises she offers include shoulder loops, neck circles, cat-cow (one of my personal favorites), child's pose (with a blanket under your knees for added comfort), and hip swivels.
The most important thing to remember: Listen to what your body is telling you, and only perform the poses that feel comfortable to you. Every body is different, and what works for some people might not work for others. Be gentle with yourself and take it slow. Periods are a pain, but hopefully some gentle yoga makes them more bearable.