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Most women who have not reached menopause experience various kinds of menstrual problems including cramps, heavy flow, migraine headaches, irritability, or tension, or some combination of these symptoms and more. Yoga can relieve menstrual symptoms.

Menstrual distress is a monthly problem for hundreds of millions of women. Surveys find that from 45 to 95 percent of women of reproductive age experience abdominal swelling, lower back pain, abdominal distension, nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, lethargy, irritability, breast tenderness, fluid accumulation, autonomic nervous symptoms, lack of focus, depression, and emotional distress with their periods. School, home, and work, however, don't give women time off to deal these problems, and medications for menstrual symptoms tend to cause as many new symptoms as they correct. For this reason, more and more women are turning to alternative methods for menstrual symptom relief such as yoga.

Why Yoga for Premenstrual Syndrome?

For women who deal with PMS and menstrual symptoms, yoga is primarily a method of pain control. It's non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical, and cost-free. Almost any woman can learn the very basic poses that help relieve periodic pain and distress, and there is a scientific understanding of why yoga works.

  • Yoga practice "downregulates" the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, reducing hormone production.
  • It also reduces the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, the "fight or flight" part of the nervous system that both generates and responds to stress hormones.

Yoga doesn't usually eliminate the experience of pain and unpleasant symptoms during menstruation, but it makes them a great deal more bearable.

Is It Hard to Learn Enough Yoga to Control Menstrual Symptoms?

Many women can't imagine that they could ever learn how to do the complicated yoga poses called asanas that make up a typical yoga routine. What isn't generally understood is that yoga isn't just about moving the body into complicated positions to stretch and build muscles. Yoga also includes breathing, meditation, and relaxation.

And there are specific exercises that have been studied scientifically to confirm their value in treating menstrual problems:

  • the surya namaskara (the "sun salutations");
  • three animal poses, cat, cobra, and fish;
  • and yoga nidra, which is a kind of psychic sleep. Let's take a look at each of these components of a yoga routine.

Starting with the Surya Namaskara

Most yoga routines for controlling menstrual distress begin with some version of a cycle of up to 12 sun salutations, the surya namaskara. Clinical research protocols usually instruct women to do 10 repetitions of the cycle over a period of five minutes, although fewer or more repetitions would also work. Don't worry if you can't pronounce the traditional names of the poses.

Ideally, to start the sun salutations, which can be learned by watching video, one should be able to stretch both arms straight up and touch palms, and then bend over to touch the palms flat on the floor. However, if all you can do is to raise your arms to head level and bend over just far enough to hold your palms facing down and flat in front of your knees, this will also be helpful.

Likewise, if you can't do a "push up" after you do your first sun salutation, you could even do the movements for the top of half of your body while seated in a chair.

It's beneficial to stretch as much as you can, even if you cannot emulate the poses modeled by your instructor.
Continue reading after recommendations

  • Tsai SY. Effect of Yoga Exercise on Premenstrual Symptoms among Female Employees in Taiwan. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016 Jul 16.13(7). pii: E721. doi: 10.3390/ijerph13070721. PMID: 27438845.
  • Yang NY, Kim SD. Effects of a Yoga Program on Menstrual Cramps and Menstrual Distress in Undergraduate Students with Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Single-Blind, Randomized Controlled Trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2016 Sep.22(9):732-8. doi: 10.1089/acm.2016.0058. Epub 2016 Jun 17. PMID: 27315239.
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