Relieve Period Pains and Cramps with Yoga
A guest article by Verena Leuze
Especially in the first days of your period, you might feel rather listless, tired and with severe abdominal and back pain, you would probably prefer to stay on the couch or in bed. With certain relaxing yoga exercises, you can relieve and ease PMS and period pains such as cramps and severe back pain.
According to Ayurveda, during your period you are in a cleansing process that has a strong heating effect on your body. You can counteract with yoga poses that have cooling and calming effects and this way help to bring body and mind back into balance. Hip openers relieve your lower back and relax your buttock muscles, while gentle twists give your digestive organs a little massage, neutralise the spine and have a mentally liberating effect.
When in pain or in stressful situations, your breath is usually shallow, irregular and with unconscious pauses. By concentrating on breathing deeply and calmly (also called "pranayama"), you can supply your body with more oxygen, calm your mind and release muscle tension and cramps.
For the following exercises, I recommend using a bolster and a block. Alternatively, you can also simply use several larger cushions.
Note: Our bodies are all incredibly individual with different needs - especially during periods. Be mindful with yourself and listen to your body: if a particular exercise doesn't feel good, feel free to skip it and move on to the next. If you feel particularly comfortable in a certain posture, feel free to stay in that position longer than indicated.
01 Arrive & Breathe: Knee-to-Chin-Position | Apanasana
Give yourself a few nice breaths in this posture to arrive on your mat.
• Lie with your back on the mat and gently pull your knees towards you.
• Inhale deeply through your nose 3-4 times and exhale slowly through your nose. Arrive.
• If you wish, roll over your lower back in slow and careful circles - like a small massage. After about 3-4 breaths, change direction.
• To come back up to sitting, roll onto your side and comfortably straighten up from here.
02 One-legged Forward Bend | Janu Sirsasana
This pose gives your abdominal and digestive organs a nice massage and can have a relaxing effect during menstruation. It gives your back thigh muscles a nice stretch, opens your hips and relaxes your neck muscles.
• Find a comfortable and upright seat and stretch your right leg straight out to the front.
• Bend your left leg and place your left foot against your right inner leg.
• Now place your yoga bolster (preferably with an additional cushion) on your right stretched leg.
• Inhale deeply and stretch out your arms above your head. While exhaling, with long lower back, bend forward over your right leg.
• Rest your upper body on the bolster and let your arms hang to your sides. Allow your upper back to get round.
• With each breath, let yourself sink heavier and softer into your bolster.
• Enjoy this posture for 3-4 minutes. Repeat this exercise on the other side: stretch your left leg to the front; bend your right leg and place your right foot at your left inner leg.
Tip: If there is air between your belly and the bolster, feel free to pad up with more cushions or pillows to get to lie and relax on your pillow tower completely.
03 Seated Butterfly | Baddha Konasana
The seated butterfly stretches the muscles of your buttocks and back. It especially relaxes the muscles in your lower back, while you gently open your hips. By resting your head on the yoga block as a support, you also relieve your neck muscles.
• Find an upright seat and put up both feet.
• Bring the soles of your feet together and let both knees - with the help of your hands if you like - sink to your sides carefully. You can keep your feet at a slight distance from you.
• Grab your ankles with your hands.
• Inhale deeply and find length and straightness in your upper body. Exhaling, bend forward from your hips. Make sure that your lower back remains long and straightened.
• Place the block on edge between or on your feet. Place one or more cushions on the block and rest your forehead on them.
• Relax your legs and mindfully breathe into your belly. Observe your hips becoming softer with each breath and your knees sinking to the floor more and more.
• Enjoy this pose for 3-4 minutes.
04 Twisted seat | Ardha Matsyendrasana
This posture vitalises the spine and stretches leg and hip muscles. In addition, the twisting gives your digestive organs a gentle massage, regulating digestion. On an emotional level, twists make you feel calm and serene even in "twisted" situations.
• We start from a sitting position: Stretch out your right leg to the front.
• Angle your left leg and place your left foot on the mat at your right outer leg.
• Inhale while lifting your right arm to the ceiling - find length and straightness.
• Exhaling, carefully turn to the left side and place your left hand behind you on the mat. With your right arm, reach around your left knee to get more into the rotation.
• Hold this Asana for 10-12 breaths. With each inhalation, lengthen your spine and lift the crown of your head a little more - with each exhalation, gently get a little deeper into the twist.
• Repeat this exercise on the right side (with your right leg now angled).
Tip: Make sure that your belly has enough room in this posture and that you do not press against your abdomen. To do this, you can bring your angled leg a little further to the front. Only go as far into the rotation as it feels comfortable for you.
05 Child's pose | Balasana
In yoga, the child's pose is usually practised in between asanas to come to rest and to briefly relax. Due to the posture, this yoga asana provides a moment of security; it invites you to reflect on yourself and to look inward. This is why this asana is also called "Folded Leaf". It stretches and relaxes the spine and neck vertebrae.
• Sit on your heels and bring your knees to the edges of your mat. Place your cushion or bolster on the mat in front of you and lie on your bolster with lengthened upper body.
• You can stretch out your arms to the front or rest them on the mat at the sides of your body - whatever feels more comfortable to you.
• Push your tailbone down and take note of your lower back and your entire spine lengthening.
• Close your eyes and let yourself sink into your cushion heavily and softly.
06 Lying Butterfly | Supta Baddha Konasana
In this position, you gently open your hips and relax your buttock muscles. While breathing deeply and consciously into your belly and pelvic area, you can release muscle spasms. Your spine can relax in a neutral position and release your entire body weight to the floor.
• We start from a sitting position again: Place your bolster behind you on the mat, directly against your tailbone.
• Put your feet up and roll your back down onto your bolster.
• Now bring the soles of your feet together and gently let your knees sink to the sides. Do not put any additional pressure into this hip opener, but let the knees sink to the floor by gravity alone.
• Place your hands on your belly, like you wanted to protect it, and feel the warmth of your hands under your abdomen. Observe your belly slightly rising with each inhalation and lowering again with each exhalation. Calmly and evenly.
• Stay in this position for approx. 3-5 minutes.
• To release the lying butterfly, carefully bring your knees back together - with the help of your hands if you like - roll over to one side and slowly straighten up again, coming back into a sitting position.
07 Legs up the Wall Pose | Viparita Karani
Legs up the Wall Pose or "Viparita Karani" in Sanskrit has a calming effect on your mind and your nervous system. It can help to relax and to relieve stress. Reversing the blood flow by raising the legs and stimulating circulation in general, this posture has a particularly cooling effect on your organism. It relieves the neck and increases your breathing volume by opening the chest. Viparita Karani can also help with swollen calves.
• We practise this exercise with a wall (alternatively with a door or a closet).
• Place your bolster against the wall and sit sideways on your bolster. Find support with your hands behind you and place your legs, one by one, against the wall. Now turn your body to the wall and bring your pelvis directly against the wall.
• Comfortably lie on your back. Relax with your legs leaning against the wall while your arms rest on the floor.
• Breathe into your chest and let everything flow into the other direction for a moment.
• Enjoy this gentle relaxation for approx. 3-4 minutes.
Variation: If you wish, you can also get into a straddle against the wall and let your legs sink to the sides. Another alternative is to bring the soles of your feet together at the wall - as in butterfly - to open your hips even more.
Tip: Some people advise against inversion postures during the period, claiming that energies would be directed in the wrong direction by reversing the blood flow during menstruation. But there is no scientific evidence for this. Personally, I find reversal postures during the period a blessing. But again, listen to your body and do what feels good for you!
08 Belly Twist | Jathara Parivartanasana
Belly Twist is a balancing yoga posture that releases tension in the upper and lower back and neutralises the spine. The rotation gives the abdominal organs a gentle massage and stretches the chest muscles. It brings a lot of wideness and openness to your chest and supplies your body with more oxygen, which in turn has a nice cooling effect on your body. If you feel a crack in your back while lying down - don't worry, that's completely normal!
• Come into supine position, bend your right leg and bring it closer to you while keeping your left leg stretched out.
• Stretch out your right arm to the side at a 90-degree angle, palm facing the ceiling.
• Now bring your right knee to your left side. Your eyes follow your right hand.
• Mindfully send your breath along your spine through your upper and lower back and let yourself sink into this twist gently. Find peace and serenity.
• Stay in this position for about 3-4 minutes and then repeat this exercise with your left leg on the right side.
09 Corpse Pose | Savasana
Savasana is a wonderful relaxation exercise that is usually practised at the end of a yoga class. It symbolises the act of letting go: Your entire body is relaxed and motionless while the body's weight is released to the floor. The spine relaxes in a neutral position and your thoughts come to rest completely.
• Lie on your back on the mat, back flat. Slightly open your legs and arms to the sides.
• If you like, put your bolster under the back of your knees and cover yourself with a blanket.
• Close your eyes and let yourself sink into the mat. Relax every single muscle and allow yourself to be free of facial expressions.
• When thoughts arise, just let it happen without forcing anything: Take note of your thoughts and just let them move on again.
• For more relaxation, repeat the following mantra in your mind: "let" (inhaling) - "go" (exhaling).
• Enjoy this relaxation for about 5-10 minutes.
Verena Leuze teaches yoga on YouTube for free - especially Power Yoga and advanced yoga. As a former professional ballet dancer, she attaches great importance to precise, correct (and thus healthy) body alignment during her yoga sessions. Due to severe period pains, after much research she developed a Yin Yoga session specifically for PMS to relieve menstrual cramps. On Instagram and Pinterest, Verena shares snippets from her everyday life, yoga inspiration, and tips and recipes for healthy eating.