These gentle poses will help to reduce menstrual cramps if you’re suffering from period pain.
If you menstruate, you’ll be familiar with the clawing feeling that hits your stomach around the time your period comes. The pain comes from contractions of the uterus as it sheds the lining of the wall, which in turn compresses blood vessels and cuts off oxygen supply to the womb. Without oxygen, the tissues in your womb release chemicals that trigger pain.
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Everyone has their own methods of dealing with these cramps, whether it’s taking painkillers, eating or drinking certain things or simply lying down. But gentle movement like yoga can help too: a 2017 study by Khon Kaen University, Thailand, found that 30 minutes of yoga, twice a week, for 12 weeks significantly improved period pain and quality of life.
Because yoga can reduce stress, it is thought that it can also help to stimulate the body’s own natural painkillers. “Yoga is very nurturing for the body and while for some people, doing any form of exercise or movement during their period is the last thing on their mind, when done gently, it can be very soothing,” adds Sarah Highfield, yoga teacher at Yogagise.
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And it’s not just those on a 12-week plan that can reap the benefits: “Even if you have never done yoga before, by simply practising a few simple yoga poses, you could feel the benefits and pain relief instantly,” says Sarah. “However, it is a different and unique situation for each individual. To be safe, I would say use it to help ease mild period pain, but if you are experiencing more intense pain, then avoid yoga and rest instead.”
Here, she shares three of her favourite yoga poses to do when suffering from period pain. “The most important thing to remember when practising these poses is to listen to your body and practise with awareness and sensitivity,” Sarah explains. “Our bodies are all different shapes, and sizes, we all bend and twist in ways which are unique to ourselves. What works for one person may not work for you, so play around with it and see what feels best for you. If you can, try to hold each pose for ten deep breaths in and out of the nose.”
Seated half bound lotus forward fold
“This pose is great at relieving mild period pain because the forward fold has a stimulating effect on the abdominals and reproductive muscles. Forward folds stretch the lower back, so can help to counteract any small aches in that area,” Sarah says.
Come to sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Bring the left foot to sit on top of the right thigh. Take your left arm around the back of the body to reach towards the toes. Lift the right arm up and fold forward over the right, extended leg. Repeat on the other side.
“This pose stretches the whole of the front of the body, opens up the shoulders and strengthens the back muscles,” says Sarah. “A little strength and flexibility will be required to do this pose, but if you can come into it comfortably, you should find that the stretch through the front of the stomach will help to ease muscle contractions in that area. It also stretches the spine which relieves mild lower back pain.”
Kneel on the floor with your knees about hip width apart. Tuck the tail bone under and pull up through the sit bones. Place your hands behind your armpits as you begin to open the chest and heart, then staying in that open position, place one hand at a time on the heel of each foot.
Seated revolved head to knee pose
“This pose stimulates blood flow and circulation in the abdominal area and helps to ease mild back pain by stretching the lower back,” explains Sarah. “Many yogis believe that twisting poses, such as this one, help to detox the body and refresh the internal organs, and when you release the pose, blood flows back into the area bringing with it nutrients and improving circulation.”
Sit on the floor with your legs open wide. Tuck the left foot in to the groin. Reach up and then lean over to the right side, so your right hand reaches towards your right foot. Extend your left arm over your head towards the right, twisting your torso towards the sky so you open through your chest. Repeat on the other side.
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Images: Sarah Highfield
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).