Adios, Advil: Poses for Period Relief

Most women, at least at some point, experience period cramping. And it sucks. 

Sometimes it’s just a faint discomfort, other times it’s crippling. Period cramps are caused by a hormone called prostaglandin—natural chemicals produced by a woman's body that cause the muscles of the uterus contract. This contraction helps push the blood through to help shed the uterine lining. Cool, right? But this contraction can also press up against nearby blood vessels, cutting off the supply of oxygen to the muscle tissue of the uterus. Essentially, there's a whole lot of action and pressure happening in the lower abdomen/sacral chakra region for women during this time. Yoga can help alleviate some of this pressure. Here are four yoga poses to find relief at that time of the month. 

Uttanasana: Forward Fold

A forward fold helps us to release pressure in the lower spine and to increase blood flow toward the crown of the head, releasing a surge of fresh blood cells traveling in the body. However simple this pose may seem, there are two main things to remember in order to receive the full benefits of this asana:

  • Begin with feet hips-width distance and bend your knees to hinge forward from the hips to fold over the legs (think about lengthening the spine, not the hamstrings). You can let the arms dangle, grab opposite elbows, grab toes, or whatever is available to you.
  • Breathe! The breath oxidizes the blood cells and facilitates the supply of  fresh blood to the muscles which helps the muscles open. It also helps us relieve stress and when there is stress in the mind it usually finds a little place in the body.

Usrasana: Camel Pose

This pose helps alleviate lower back pain and also stretches out the lower abdomen. Added bonus? This pose also exposes and opens the heart chakra, our center for compassion and love, emotions that can be very beneficial during this time. Begin kneeling with knees hips-width distance and toes tucked under. Bring your hands to your lower spine and hinge forward from the hips as you drop the head back. You can keep the hands on the hips or hold onto your ankles, untucking the toes if you wish to go deeper. It is key here to breathe deeply into the belly to assure full breath. You can practice a few deep belly breaths before, sitting with one palm on the belly breathing in and out of the nose, feeling the belly expand like a balloon and then draw back to the spine. 

Supta Jaṭhara Parivartānāsana: Supine Spinal Twist 

Any twist will be beneficial during your period. This is one of my favorite twists because it allows for a deep relaxation and extended release. Twists temporarily cut off blood supply to the organs and when released, offer a refreshing surge of blood back to the organs. Begin by laying down on your mat facing up. Draw one knee into the chest while keeping the spine flat on the earth, draw the knee over to the opposite side bringing the arms out to a cactus or T shape. Gaze is over the shoulder of the side you are twisting from. Close your eyes, soften muscles around the face, especially in the browbone and the jaw, and focus on elongating your breaths. Stay here for as long as feels comfortable (1–5 minutes) and then switch sides. 

Supta Baddha Konasana: Reclining Bound Angle Pose

Supta, or Supine, means to lay down face up. This pose helps open the hips, increases blood circulation in the abdomen (exactly what we need for those cramps!), and reduces stress. It can be a little tricky on the lower spine, so make sure you have bolsters or pillows available. Begin in a supine position, bring the soles of the feet together, and let the knees fall out to the side. If this feels good, stay here and breathe. If you need a little extra support, take blankets, blocks, and/or a bolster (the long way) underneath the knees, beginning at the base of the spine. You can also place a blanket over the stomach to cultivate some heat, which can also help relieve cramping. Place your hands where comfortable, maybe over your heart and belly.

Try these and let us know if you find some relief. Have other suggestions? Share them in the comments below. 

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Liz Post is a New York City based yoga teacher. She received her 200-hour teacher training certificate at Kripalu Yoga Center in Lenox, Massachusetts. A former student of postmodern philosophy, Liz views her yoga practice as a continuation of her philosophical research. When not teaching, she can be found in her urban garden, talking to plants, or playing with other people's dogs.