illustrated figures performing different yoga movements and postures

Illustration: Marta Pucci

Diet & Exercise

Go with the flow: yoga for PMS relief

After tracking your cycle for a few months, you may discover that you don't actually experience premenstrual syndrome or symptoms on a monthly basis. But if you do, you know it. And when it strikes, all hell can break loose.

To cope with PMS, your first instinct might be to curl up in bed and hibernate for days. While rest is important, movement and stimulation could be much more effective for fast relief.

Sometimes the best cures are also the simplest (and the oldest!). Yoga is splendid way to get active whether you're at home, outdoors or in a studio.

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Yoga has been shown to be effective in both easing cramps and shortening how long cramps last (1, 2).

Yoga may help to ease your cramps in a few different ways. First, certain poses help to stretch the areas where you feel premenstrual pain. Research shows that stretching your abdomen, pelvis and groin can lessen the intensity of cramps (3).

Practicing yoga increases blood flow in your body (4), which may also help to ease cramps. Some people who experience cramps have less uterine blood flow on the first day of their cycles (5). This may make their cramps more intense. The warming effect of yoga may also lessen cramp intensity - just like a heating pad…without the pad (6, 7).

Yoga might also ease painful cramps by helping you de-stress.

Why? Turns out when you're less stressed, your uterus may actually contract less intensely (3). The soothing combination of movement and breath has been shown to ease the feelings of stress and anxiety that some people experience as premenstrual symptoms (8, 9).

Yoga can lower the amount of certain stress hormones produced in your body (10, 11) One of these hormones is cortisol.

Cortisol is known as the "stress hormone" and is intimately connected to the pain some people experience before their period (12).

Yoga may also help in regulating reproductive hormones that contribute to premenstrual symptoms (13). Research shows that levels of follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone and prolactin may all be affected by a consistent yoga practice (13). Balancing these, and other hormones might help to lessen cycles irregularities, and ease painful cramping (13, 14).

Lastly, exercise and movement simply distract you from your cramps. Yoga brings focus to other parts of the body and gives the mind something else to pay attention to (15).

Here are a few suggestions for poses you can try next time you're feeling the pinch of premenstrual cramps:

Bow pose:

Stretches and stimulates the abdomen; also applies abdominal pressure, which may be soothing to some people. Here's a video that teaches the posture.

Camel pose:

Stretches and stimulates the abdomen. Here's a video that teaches the posture.

Legs-up-the-wall:

Helps in moving blood from the legs to the abdomen. Here's a video that teaches the posture.

Child's pose:

Stretches the back, which may help relieve cramps in the back of the lower lumbar. Here's a video that teaches the posture.

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