Yoga for Menstrual Health- Periods, PCOS and more

Between June and now, I conducted some yoga workshops for The Period Junction and Doctors for Seva. The central theme to the workshops were menstrual health and being #periodpositive. I was compelled to write further about it because I realised that a lot of women believe that they need rest during their periods. By rest, I do not mean that they have a slow and easy day. I mean that they prefer to curl up in bed and cease to move for the next three days. Such stagnation can be detrimental to health in the long run. Some kind of movement is very important for good health. Research has indicated that incorporating the right kind of movement during your periods can help improve blood circulation. It also alleviates muscular cramps, back pain, and headaches. Even a simple 20-30 minute walk during the menstrual cycle can help to uplift one’s mood and reduce soreness or numbness.

Yoga and your period

The body goes through multiple changes during this period and it is very important to understand one’s body before determining an exercise routine. That said, yoga asanas can be very restorative and relaxing during a period cycle. Certain asanas work very well to lightly stretch the abdominal and pelvic muscles to improve circulation. Other asanas work to compress the pelvic region and massage the uterine muscles into relieving pain. Stiffness in the lower back, calves and inner thighs can also be addressed by performing certain asanas. There is an exhaustive list of asanas and pranayama that can be performed during periods. Here are the popular and effective asanas that are safe to practice even during the first few days of a period, regardless of the flow.

ASANAS-

  • Suryanamaskara
  • Baddakonasana or bound angle seated pose
  • Patangasana butterfly pose
  • Baddakonasana forward bend/ bound-angle forward fold
  • Marjariyasana-Bitilasana or the cat-cow stretch
  • Balasana or child’s pose
  • Paschimottanasana or seated forward fold
  • Janusirsasana or Forehead to knee fold
  • Supta baddakonasana/ Supine bound angle
  • Setubandhasana bridge pose
  • Viparita Karni/ Legs vertically up on the wall pose
  • Supta Marichyasana/ reclining spinal twist
  • Jatara Parivrttasana/ reclining spinal twist B pose

PRANAYAMA and MEDITATION

  • Anulom Vilom
  • Nadi Shodhana
  • Ujjayi pranayama
  • Bhramari pranayama
  • Sheetali pranayama
  • Sitkari pranayama
  • Omkara/ Ekakshara Meditation
  • Yoga Nidra

What to avoid during periods

While every list is quite exhaustive because of the sheer number of practices that come under the umbrella of yoga, there are a few asanas, pranayama, and bandhas that should be avoided.

ASANAS-

  1. Inversions of all kinds should be avoided during the entire course of periods. This is because at a physical level, when the body inverts, the uterus is pushed upwards towards the head. This causes overstretching of certain broad ligaments which in turn can cause veins to partially collapse. Collapsing of veins leads to vascular congestion and increase in blood flow. From a prana perspective, inversions change the direction of apana. The apana normally flows downward from the Manipura (navel chakra) to the Mooladhara (root chakra). An inversion causes the apana to flow upwards, disrupting natural flow and can disturb menstruation.
  2. Strong backbends, balancing asanas, twists and binds, and standing postures put more strain on an already strained abdominal region and should be avoided during periods.
  3. Power yoga and rigorous vinyasa flows are also not recommended during periods because they can cause further abdominal discomfort.

PRANAYAMA AND BANDHAS

  1. Any pranayama that involves forceful breathwork should not be practised. These include bhastrika, kapalabhati, and surya bhedana.
  2. No bandhas (neural locks) should be attempted during periods. Bandhas change the flow of apana (as mentioned earlier). They also strain the abdominal wall considerably. In addition, the uddiyana bandha (abdominal lock) can increase heat in the uterus, causing excessively heavy blood flow.

Despite everything that is written and said about exercise during the menstrual cycle, the best advice is to listen to one’s body. Pick a flow that your body is willing to do and vary your workout to find the right fit at the end of the day.

PCOS, PCOD and Yoga

While  Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and psychosomatic illnesses have been steadily on the rise in the past few decades, it is alarming to see how common Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and Disease have become among young women of today. While PCOD is caused by hormonal imbalances and can be rectified more easily through diet and lifestyle changes, PCOS is caused by a disruption to the endocrine system. It is less common and harder to combat. Both conditions affect hormonal balance and can cause obesity, acne, hirsutism, more testosterone production, male pattern balding, insulin resistance, fatigue, abdominal pain, skin discolorations, and insomnia. Treating both these conditions involve changes to lifestyle, diet, physical activity, and stress management.

Yoga contributes in a big way to aid the battle against PCOS and PCOD. This is because yoga not only increases the physical activity in our life but it improves breathwork, decreases stress levels, and brings about some harmony in the hormonal disruption cause due to the conditions.

Exercise without discretion can cause havoc in the body’s internal functioning. For example, walking naturally is a great exercise because the body calibrates the pace, speed and other factors. But walking on a treadmill means that the calibration is done by a machine which doesn’t have any control over the body. This can add to the stress that the body is already dealing with.

Practicing asanas within the bleeding period and after

People with PCOS and PCOD often have erratic period cycles. This could involve not having periods for several months at a stretch or bleeding for 2-3 weeks continuously once the periods have commenced.

As suggested for yoga during menstruation, people with PCOS and PCOD should practice restorative supine postures and forward bends that will calm the body, improve blood circulation and reduce the numbness in the pelvic region. If bleeding continues for more than 2 weeks, inversions are suggested to curb or stop the blood flow.

Regular practice of inversions is recommended after the bleeding is over. This helps stimulate the pituitary glands and adrenal glands to improve hormonal interaction in the body. Also, extension and elongation of the pelvic and lower abdominal area are important. These can be achieved through back bends and supine postures. It is always advisable to use support and props in such cases because of the painful sensations that these asanas can sometimes create. The lower sacrum and pubic bone must be worked while practicing back bends to reduce the dull sensation in the lower abdominal region.

Certain asanas that help to regulate the pituitary and adrenal secretion,  ovaries, and endocrine system are:

  • Halasana
  • Sarvangasana
  • Sirsasana
  • Adhomukha Vrksasana
  • Sethubandhasana
  • Bhujangasana
  • All forward bends
  • Meditation
  • Pranayama

As mentioned before, practice any form of physical activity with discretion and caution. Be aware of your own body and listen to what the body is saying. This is as opposed to what the mind is telling you, which is that you would like to vegetate and not move at all during your menstrual cycle. Incorporate activity into your lifestyle to be conscious, mindful, and aware of how mind-body harmony can help you lead a healthy life.

Published by Nitya Neelakantan

Yoga teacher, writer, dog mom!

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