Let’s be honest, sometimes going for a long run is the last thing on your mind when you’re experiencing menstrual cramps. In these times, practicing yoga can serve as a smart alternative as it can soothe your body and mind, and even help strengthen your running muscles, so you maintain your fitness goals.
That’s why we tapped two experts to explain how practicing yoga can assist in easing your period cramps. Find some relief with these tips and poses.
How does yoga help when you have menstrual cramps?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that more than half of women who menstruate experience some kind of pain for one or two days each month. For some, that pain can feel mild and for others, it can become severe.
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During menstruation, “the uterine lining releases a substance called prostaglandins and the prostaglandins cause cramping of uterine muscle,” explains Brandon Martin, M.D., a physician in obstetrics and gynecology at St. Luke’s Hospital in Easton, Pennsylvania. Though experiences vary from person to person, this release is what causes pelvic cramping, pain, nausea, and diarrhea.
Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever, like ibuprofen or naproxen, is one way to relieve menstrual cramps. But for runners, mixing nonsteroidal anti-inflamatory drugs (NSAIDs) with intense exercise can be risky, considering a study published in Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise in 2007, which included 55 ultramarathons, suggests use of these pain-relievers before, during, and after training can increase oxidative stress, which may be due to the meds’ affect on kidney and liver function. Newer researcher on ultrarunners also points to the potential for negative effects on the kidneys.
Exercise is another way to address menstrual cramps. A meta-analysis published in 2019, which reviewed 12 trials including a total of 854 participants, suggests exercising at least three times a week or more, for 45 to 60 minutes each, can help reduce menstrual pain, regardless of exercise intensity.
In terms of yoga specifically, a recent review published in Frontiers in Pain Research highlights several studies that suggest practicing yoga over the course of several weeks or months can improve menstrual pain. This is likely because yoga includes physical postures, breathing exercises, and relaxation methods that help manage pain.
The exact mechanism through which yoga and other types of exercise provide relief from menstrual cramps is not fully known though, Martin tells Runner’s World. But many patients report that they perceive menstrual cramps as less painful and for shorter duration when engaging in yoga and other exercise activities, he adds.
“Yoga really gives us permission to listen more, to adjust, to accept, and to find power and strength in different kinds of movement,” Cara Gilman, yoga instructor, run coach, and founder of Run Yoga tells Runner’s World.
Not only can yoga support those dealing with period pains, but it also supports a runner’s stride. “Yoga brings mobility and motion to other areas of the body which helps keep injuries away that are caused by overuse,” Gilman adds.
What’s more: Yoga really helps improve your mind-body connection, which is also pertinent to running. “It’s working that mental fitness which is so important because listening is how we get stronger,” says Gilman.
The Best Yoga Poses for Menstrual Cramps
Practice this sequence when you’re in need of an energy boost and a little relief from menstrual cramps, says Gilman.
How to use this list: Perform each pose in the order listed below, for the number of breaths described. Complete poses 5 and 6 on each side before moving on to the rest of the sequence.
1. Child’s Pose With Side Stretches
- Start on all fours, shoulders over wrists and knees under hips.
- Send hips back so they rest on heels for child’s pose.
- Walk hands out in front of you resting torso on thighs, and head on mat. Hold for 10 rounds of breath.
- Walk arms to the left side and hold for 5 rounds of breath.
- Then walk arms to the right side, and hold for 5 rounds of breath.
- Return to center, and hold for 5 more rounds of breath.
2. Cow-Cat to Child’s Pose
- Rise up from the child’s pose, so you’re on all fours with shoulders over wrists and knees under hips.
- Slowly inhale, dropping stomach toward mat, lifting chest forward, and drawing tailbone upward so you come into a slight back bend.
- Pause, then slowly exhale, drawing chin toward chest and belly button into spine as you tuck tailbone under.
- Then send hips back to return to child’s pose.
- Repeat 5 times.
3. Hovering Child’s Pose
- From child’s pose, lift knees slightly off the ground and balance on the balls of feet in a low squat position.
- Send hips back and stretch arms in front of you, head facing down but hovering above the ground. Hold for 5 rounds of breath.
- Then walk arms to the left side and hold for 5 rounds of breath.
- Walk arms to the right side and hold for 5 rounds of breath.
- Return to center and hold for 5 more rounds of breath, integrating any movement that feels good, like moving hips side to side.
4. Sun Salutation
- From hovering child’s pose, flow into downward dog by lifting hips up and back and walking hands out in front of you. Hold for 5 rounds of breath.
- Walk feet to the top of the mat. Come into a forward fold, letting upper body drop over lower body.
- Inhale to lift torso and come into flat back by placing hands to shins or feet, drawing shoulder blades down and back and reaching chest forward.
- Exhale to fold forward.
- Inhale to reach arms above head, and bring palms together as you come to a standing posture.
- Exhale bringing hands down in front of chest.
- Inhale as you reach arms above head again, and bring palms together.
- Exhale to fold forward.
- Inhale, coming into flat back by placing hands to shins or feet, drawing shoulder blades down and back and reaching chest forward.
- Place hands on ground and step back into plank pose, then exhale as you lower into a chaturanga push-up.
- Flow into upward facing dog by extending arms, tilting the crown of head slightly back, lifting chest upward, and pressing into the the tops of feet to actively engage quads.
- Tuck toes then send hips up and back to return to downward dog. Hold for 5 rounds of breath.
- Repeat 3 times.
5. Low Lunge Variation With Prayer and Open Twist
- From downward dog, step right foot forward to outside of right hand.
- Place left knee on ground, sinking hips down and forward.
- Reach arms overhead and hold for 5 rounds of breath.
- Bring palms together and hands in front of chest.
- Twist to right side, placing left elbow to the outside of right thigh. Tuck left toes under to lift left knee off mat and to straighten left leg. Hold for 5 rounds of breath.
- Place left hand on the mat, and extend right arm toward ceiling. Hold for 5 rounds of breath.
- Place right hand back down and step back to downward dog.
- Repeat on other side.
6. Active Lizard Lunge to Relaxed Lizard Lunge
- From low lunge, place right hand on the inside of right foot, arms shoulder-width apart. Hold for 5 breaths.
- Gently place back left knee on ground, and stay on hands or come onto forearms on mat and relax head and shoulders to come into a stretching restful position. Hold for 5 rounds of breath.
- Lift left knee, come onto hands, and step back to plank or downward dog.
- Repeat on other side.
- Lie faceup with feet flat on the mat, knees over ankles and hands down by sides.
- Press into heels to lift hips up and bring shoulder blades toward each other to clasp hands under hips. Hold for 10 to 15 rounds of breath.
- Lower down.
- Repeat 2 to 3 times.
8. Supine Twist
- From bridge pose, lower hips back down to the mat.
- Bring knees together and toward chest, wrapping arms around shins.
- Then, extend arms out to form a T shape, palms facing up.
- Drop both knees to the right and look over left shoulder. Hold for 10 rounds of breath.
- Bring knees back to center, then repeat on the other side.
- From supine twist, straighten both legs out on the mat, and place both hands on belly.
- Focus on breathing into hands for three minutes while relaxing body into the mat.
Monique LeBrun joined the editorial staff in October 2021 as the associate health and fitness editor. She has a master’s degree in journalism and has previously worked for ABC news and Scholastic. She is an avid runner who loves spending time outside.