Originally published 19/11/17.
Republished to celebrate International Day of Yoga 2018.
Yoga is my personal saviour during menstruation as it helps to relieve cramps and muscle tension. In the first months after getting an IUD, cramps punched me in the gut every day and yoga was the only time that I felt free from pain. The best poses to practice during your period help to open up the hips in order to relieve lower back pain. A lot of the recommended poses will also help to stimulate digestion. When you enter into each of these poses, focus on your breath; deep breathing helps to release even more tension throughout the body.
Ah, child’s pose. This is a grounding posture that lengthens the spine and provides a little hip opening if you choose. Start by sitting on your knees; keeping them together will take pressure off of the lower back, and widening them will open the hips slightly. Rest your bum on your heels and keep it moving toward the ground. Arms can be extended in front of you or placed by your sides. For added support, place a block or pillow underneath your forehead.
Reclined Pigeon Pose
Reclined pigeon gently stretches the lower back and opens the hips. (It’s great for sciatica pain!) Lie on your back and bring your knees to your chest. Make a “figure-4” with your right leg, resting your ankle on your left knee. Gently pull your left leg in toward your chest without lifting your shoulders, neck, or head off the ground. Open your hip even more by pressing your right knee open with your right ankle. Keep your feet flexed to protect the knee joint.
Wring out all of your stress, stimulate digestion, and ease menstrual cramps with twisting poses. A supine twist is done on the back. Bring your knees to your chest, scooch your hips to the left, and stack your knees on the right side of the body. Complete the twist by extending your left arm and gazing over toward your left fingertips. Keep the left shoulder on the ground during this twist, even if that means coming out of the twist.
Twisted Chair/Noose Pose
Try this pose if you would like a more active twist. Start by coming into chair pose: lean back on your heels, lengthen your spine, and bring the shoulders away from your ears. Bring your hands to heart centre and begin to twist your left elbow to your right knee. Keep your shoulders in line and look toward the sky, if that is comfortable for your neck. Firming your core will help to deepen the twist.
Bound Angle/Supine Bound Angle
Here’s another gentle hip opener for you to practice on your period! This restorative pose is a great transition into corpse pose or rest. Simply sit up or lie on your back with the soles of your feet together and your knees wide apart. The closer your feet are to your pelvis, the more of a stretch you will get. For added support, place pillows underneath your knees. Get even more support by placing a bolster up the length of the spine, with another pillow under your head. Breathe deeply and feel yourself releasing to the earth.
If there is ever a time to savasana (corpse pose), it’s during your period. Lie on your back in a comfortable position, cover your eyes with a warm, damp towel, and just breathe for a moment.
General Notes on What To Practice and What To Skip During Menstruation
The following poses are often met with some ambivalence, so I just wanted to clear up why backbends/inversions may be recommended or discouraged during menstruation.
While many backbends (Camel Pose, Locust Pose, or Bow Pose) can relieve constipation or provide temporary back relief, many teachers caution against these poses. If these poses are still new to your practice, backbends can put extra pressure on your back and leave you with more pain over the next few days. Be gentle with yourself. If you are new to yoga but would like to stretch the core and back, try a few rounds of Cat/Cow Pose.
There are a few reasons why yogis don’t recommend inversions during your period. Yoga and Ayurvedic medicine are closely tied, which believes that a downward flow of energy should be encouraged to properly dispose of waste, including menstrual blood. Inversions impede this downward energy. This same belief also argues that too much talking, singing, or running can disrupt apana. Another school of thought argues that inversions reverse blood flow and could cause endometriosis, but there does not seem to be a lot of science to back that claim up. I personally don’t enjoy practicing inversions while I’m on my period, but I don’t think you’re going to be cursed for eternity or face dire consequences if you do. Again, take things easy, and listen to your body.
Enjoy your practice, and treat yourself to a nice bar of chocolate afterward.
Megan Okonsky is a yogi, traveler, and amateur cross stitch enthusiast from Philadelphia, PA. After receiving her 200 hour yoga teacher certification in March 2017, she took a one-way flight to Bangkok and backpacked through Southeast Asia. She is currently living in Australia. Follow her journey on www.beatbrokebackpacking.com, where she writes about travel and sustainable happiness. Stop by her on Instagram for life updates, and her YouTube channel, where she uploads yoga flows from around the world.