Though women often experience cramps during menstruation, exercise can help alleviate those and other symptoms of discomfort, like inflammation and mood swings. According to instructors at Swan River Yoga (citywide; www.swanriveryoga.com), regular yoga practice offers a multitude of benefits. "With a consistent practice, periods can be lighter, shorter and more comfortable," says instructor Libby Bryan, who co-owns the Mid-City location.
Some teachers recommend menstruating students refrain from inverted poses (any pose where your heart is above your head). "Yoga moves your energy up," Bryan says. "So the first one to three days may not be the best time to be doing inversions, because you want your energy to flow down. But this is not a rule." Swan River Yoga founder Michele Baker, who co-owns the business with Keith Porteous, explains that every cycle is different, and women should learn to listen to the unique needs of their own bodies.
During menstruation, poses that open the hips are especially helpful. Hip opening poses reduce the inflammation and contractions that cause cramps by opening the base of the pelvic floor and creating space between the uterus and other reproductive organs. Additionally, yoga activates the endocrine system, which helps bring the body's chemistry and hormones back into balance. In addition to relieving physical symptoms of menstruation and promoting relaxation, yoga eases mood swings. "It is possible to have no cramps and no drastic mood swings, as well as a mild menopause and healthy aging process ... with the benefits of yoga," Baker says.
Swan River Yoga instructors suggest the following two poses for cramp relief. Both are good alternatives in a yoga class when inversions are presented, or to practice on your own.
Reclined Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Lying on your back, bend your knees. Open the knees, allowing the outer legs to rest on the ground. If your legs don't meet the floor, support the thighs by placing rolled-up blankets underneath them. Lay your arms on the floor with palms facing up, and allow the shoulders to find their way to the floor. The arms can also rest outstretched on the floor behind the head with palms together or fingers interlaced. It can feel very comfortable to place a soft, weighty object (like a folded blanket) on the hips or upper chest while in this posture. Allow the front of your body to remain open to the sky and the back to feel supported by the earth. Hold the pose for 10 minutes.
Seated Squat Pose (Malasana)
Open your feet just a bit wider apart than outer hip distance and ground all four corners of the feet. If they do not ground completely, place a blanket underneath the heels. Place your arms inside the inner thighs and bring the hands into a prayer position, which balances out the polar energies in the body. Press the arms into the legs, and isometrically squeeze the inner thighs toward each other. Hold for at least 10 to 20 breaths.