Can Yoga Really Help You Periods?
Before I dive into this blog post, I just want to acknowledge that yoga is a spiritual practice that has many limbs (the number differs between paths) and they encompass the practice of asana (the physical postures or poses) and pranayama (breathwork) as well as many other aspects.
I am focussing on asana and pranayama in this post.
The practice of asana is designed to prepare the body for deeper mental and spiritual work. There are many forms, and the most popular styles are vinyasa (flow), haha (more slow and static), and astanga (fast paced and hardcore spectacular).
There are less known forms that I have specialised very slow static forms in which poses are held for many minutes anywhere from 3-15 minutes in such as gravity yoga (for improving flexibility), yin yoga (great for joints), and restorative yoga (great for slow recuperation and rejuvenation).
The More “Active” Styles of Yoga
These can be great for movement in general which is needed for overall health and wellbeing, and for getting circulation going around the body including the pelvic organs. It can be a great way to clear your brain from everything that has been going on in your day.
We need to find our goldilocks zone with cardio exercise. The magical zone which has all the benefits for our body and not going too far, in that we end up stopping our periods.
There is also the need to be aware of any form of pelvic floor work as sometimes, classes focus on tightening the pelvic floor with Kegel type exercises, but not releasing such as with release kegels which are equally important to ensure no pelvic floor dysfunction.
So just be aware, if you are working on your mula banda lock, that you need to work on release too. Mula banda lock exercises can be helpful with restoration of organs post childbirth and also for prolapse, however, I strongly recommend also seeing a Women’s Health Physiotherapist/Pelvic Health Physical Therapist.
Unless you have postural blood pressure issues, or certain injuries, these forms of yoga can be a great way to maintain your health, and since they are well known, I am not going to talk about them too much here.
The Slower & More Passive Styles Of Yoga
These styles of yoga have many benefits that are not often talked about which I would like to focus on here.
What it looks like: this is a form of yoga that uses many props such as cushions, blankets, bolsters and pillows. Each pose can be held between 7 and 15 minutes.
Main Aim: to lose sensation in your body and allow your body to recover and recuperate. It is also known as active relaxation as it is designed to help you relax.
How it can help your periods: stress is one of the biggest issues when it comes to hormones and underlying inflammation. This form of yoga can really help to enforce time for the body and brain to relax outside of sleep.
What it looks like: this is a form of yoga that uses many props such as cushions, bolsters, blankets and straps. Each pose can be held anywhere from 5-10 minutes followed by a counter pose that allows for the full bounce back benefit.
Main Aim: to find the edge of your stretch and stretch the fascia around the joint capsule and starve the area of synovial fluid and then to have a release which allows the synovial fluid flood back in. It is thought to strengthen the joints and thicken the synovial fluid in the joints (although there is no study proving this, anecdotally, it has helped mine and my clients joints).
How it can help your periods: this style of yoga can help you to become more aware of your body (especially as you are constantly finding your edge), which is important for your overall body literacy. It can open up space in the pelvic area and also the long time in each pose, means that you have a lot of time to work on breathing or calming your monkey mind.
The mind game can be quite intense when you are still with no distractions such as your phone for you to practice on. Sometimes this can result in emotional releases, where you have not had time or not given yourself time to deal with emotional events in your life. It can also mean that your brain, given time and space without distraction is able to go into a creative problem solving mode and I have had many creative peaks following a yin session.
If you haven’t yet taken the period quiz, you might want to check it out to see if emotions play a big part in your period problems (and you get to see the video regardless of the result).
There is also some focus on the meridians if you know your Traditional Chinese Medicine and there are some Yin practices tailored around women’s health bearing these principles in mind.
What It Looks Like: a load of people crying and wondering what they did wrong in a past life. Joking, although it is super intense. This is another slow practice but with the intensity dialled right up. Each pose is held for 3-5 mins, and props such as straps, bolsters, dictionaries or whatever you have handy are used. There are reset poses as with yin, but one every few poses and for shorter periods of time.
Main Aim: to lengthen your sarcomeres and increase your flexibility using high intensity slow stretching and various breath and mind techniques to get the nervous system on board with slow passive stretching (not suitable for pregnancy as it can trigger the release of the hormone relaxin). Learning to relax the muscles is important for gravity to do the job of the stretch. The trickiest part of gravity yoga is the mind game.
How it can help your periods: learning to reset your nervous system through breath and mind techniques is actually really great for preparing to go to sleep, and sleep and recovery are very important for your periods as it affects your emotions, inflammation levels, hormones and physical recovery. The stretching can be very beneficial for getting space back into the pelvic area which is often tight from being sat still all day. The reset I experience with gravity yoga after being sat still in a chair all day is phenomenally quick. If you don’t know why this is an issue, please do check out my blog post on posture and periods.
A quick note on Gravity Yoga, it is a trademarked style that I have permission to teach as part of the teacher training agreement.
What it looks like: people sleeping on yoga mats (some will actually be asleep and that is ok). Although, there is usually someone reading through a script.
Main Aim: to achieve a state in which the body is completely relaxed and the practitioner becomes sequentially and increasingly aware of the inner world by following a set of instructions that is very similar to body scanning and other mindfulness practices (although Nidra came first).
How it can help your periods: it can really help you to connect with your body, something that is really key for being your own health detective. It is also extremely relaxing and can help prepare you for sleep, which as I mentioned before is important for health and periods.
Pranayama & Breath Work
Many years ago, I started teaching and leading meditation groups and whilst I have been practicing meditation since I was a child, I understand that this is a really tricky practice for some. I have lost track of how many clients get upset because they hear that it is so beneficial, but they just can’t get through even an “easy” 5 minute mindfulness meditation practice.
If this is you, I really want to let you know that this is ok and breath work may be a great alternative for you. When you are focussed on your breath, you often get many of the same benefits as meditation, but it is easier for some people because they are focussing on their breath.
You can also use your breath in many ways; to relax and calm yourself, to prepare for bed and rest, and also to make yourself alert and aware.
Breath work is highly effective in my experience and it is something I am using more and more in my practice both for myself and for clients. Sometimes I use pranayama exercises and sometimes I use the exercises I have gained from my many years as a trumpet player and singer in my previous life as a musician.
Breath work can help with resetting your circadian rhythm and improving your sleep, concentration and reduce your feelings of stress and help with emotional releases.
My Qualifications In This Area
Yoga was something I practiced with my Indian neighbours when I was a child, however, I am a Registered Yoga Teacher who has completed 500 hours of training and done a women’s health yoga teacher post graduate training, 250 hours of Yin Yoga training, 50 hours of Yoga Nidra specialty training and Gravity Yoga teacher training.