Yoga Poses for Period Cramps: 4 Restorative Poses To Try – Healthline

Menstruation is not just something that people with a uterus experience for a few days each month. Our periods begin well before we see blood, in the form of period cramps and PMS (premenstrual syndrome).
Period cramps can be one of the more painful signs that “Aunt Flo” is coming to visit (where did that nickname even come from?), though most PMS symptoms would probably not be classified as enjoyable.
Other PMS symptoms include, but are not limited to:
Reading this list, the last place you may want to find relief is on a yoga mat. Many of us prefer curling up in bed with a heating pad and snacks, but yoga asana (the physical postures of yoga) has repeatedly been proven to help alleviate the pain associated with period cramps, as well as many of the other symptoms associated with PMS.
Period cramps, known medically as dysmenorrhea, is caused by the uterus contracting. This occurs when the hormone-like chemical prostaglandin is released, or can be a result of a uterine condition like endometriosis or fibroids (1, 2).
There is wide variety in the intensity and length of period cramps, depending on the individual. Many people may even experience periods of heightened and lessened cramps throughout their lifetime, depending on their age and reproductive stage (3).
In addition to the uterus contracting, people with cramps sometimes feel pain in other areas of their body, such as lower back aches or even hip and thigh pain.
Exercise has long been suggested to relieve the back pain and aches associated with PMS (2). The type of exercise may play a role in the pain relief, with higher intensity exercise helping by reduction of inflammation, and lower intensity exercise, like yoga, helping to decrease cortisol and prostaglandin levels.
For example, one study observed the effects of a specific yoga-based program on menstrual cramps and found significant improvement not only on pain, but also quality of life after the yoga session (4).Another study concluded that yoga may be even more effective at alleviating PMS symptoms than general exercise (5).
Sarah Garden has been working as a yoga therapist for over 20 years with a specialty in chronic pain and pelvic health. She has observed that yoga can be particularly helpful with the “broader body response” to the pain associated with dysmenorrhea, like shallow breathing, breath holding, and muscle tension.
Garden explains, “Yoga practice can teach us how to relax our body and breath even in the face of pain. It can gently stretch cramping muscles, and have an overall calming effect on the nervous system.”
Research has found that yoga is especially good for PMS symptoms and period cramps by decreasing cortisol levels, reducing prostaglandin synthesis, and improving quality of life.
The specific poses that alleviate period pain and PMS symptoms are often subjective. Garden has observed that for some of her clients, a general flow that includes many different types of postures has been helpful, as it moves the body in a variety of ways.
But according to Garden and another longtime yoga teacher, Sara Hess, who adapted both her yoga practice and teaching after being diagnosed with Stage 4 endometriosis, restorative yoga can be a good place start.
Hess has found that this family of poses “can create a nurturing and opening feel for the uterus to relax and heal,” continuing, “the uterus is the strongest muscle in the body, but it commands surrender. Restorative [poses] help us to surrender more deeply within our uterus.”
What classifies a posture as restorative is both the use of multiple props, so the body is fully supported, and longer hold times. As such, the postures below can be held anywhere from 5-20 minutes, as long as you’re feeling supported.
In addition to physical poses, Garden recommends spending time on pranayama, which are the breathing practices of yoga, and deep relaxation meditations.
Props required: Bolster, blanket, strap, and two blocks
Props required: Bolster, strap, one block
Props required: Bolster, blanket(s), block
Props required: One blanket or a thin bolster
To begin, let’s clarify what a yoga inversion is. They are generally classified as shapes where your pelvis is above your heart.
Common inversions that people may question doing on their period are poses like as Handstand, Headstand, Shoulderstand, and Forearm balance, but many postures can actually be classified as inversions, even without your feet leaving the floor. For example, Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) can be considered an inversion.
As such, many evidence-based yoga teachers and yoga therapists, like Garden, have been digging into the studies trying to find supporting evidence that going upside-down on your period is dangerous, only to come up empty-handed.
It is not entirely clear where the idea that people on their periods should not invert. One theory is that yoga asana was quite male-dominated in its inception and there were fewer female students and teachers. This may seem surprising considering that most modern-day yoga classes are populated by a majority of females.
For example, in the Ashtanga tradition, some shalas (studios devoted solely to this style) will ask you to leave if it’s the first three days of your period (6).
This is said to protect the practitioner and manage their energy, but some teachers admit to an unspoken idea that a person is unclean when they are menstruating — a belief that can be traced back to the Bible and other spiritual texts (7).
Many modern teachers, like Garden and Hess, are working hard to debunk these outdated beliefs and handing the power back to the students as to whether they feel right about going upside down that day.
And frankly, as anyone who menstruates knows, your body tells you what you need. Some days at the beginning of your cycle it is hard enough to lie flat on your yoga mat, let alone jump into a handstand, but then later that week, you could feel ready to fly.
Yoga is ultimately about listening to your body and doing what is best for you.
While traditionally, people were told not to go upside down when on their cycle, modern yoga therapists have not found confirming evidence. The best thing one can do is listen to their body.
Just because some poses may reduce pain or relieve symptoms does not mean that you should ever force yourself to do physical movement when you are feeling low on energy.
One of the symptoms of PMS is fatigue, and if you are extremely tired, there is a risk that you may be less mindful when moving. In that case, it might be better to rest and try again a different day.
Please also note that some people have medical conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis, which can worsen PMS and period cramps to the point that physical movement can actually exacerbate certain symptoms.
Please always speak with your medical provider before trying anything new or if you are experiencing more pain after exercising.
Garden reminds us that, “while yoga can be very helpful, it often needs to be a part of an integrated approach with consideration given to other treatment modalities and supports.”
If your cramps or PMS symptoms ever seem worsened after exercising, speak with your medical provider, as it may be a sign of an underlying condition.
Our periods may be something we have to deal with every few weeks for the majority of our lives, but thankfully there are some great alternative approaches and therapies that can help us find some relief.
Something to consider, which many of the philosophical teachings of yoga reinforce, is that nature is filled with ebbs and flows. The cycles of the moon wax and wane, the waves of the ocean crest and fall. Just as in nature, our body cycles too.
Those weeks during a person’s menstruation cycle can be a nice opportunity to slow down and connect with your body in a more restorative way.
Last medically reviewed on March 30, 2022