During a recent trip to Fearrington Village, I signed up for a yoga class. I was in South Carolina, we were on a farm, there were cows mooing and birds chirping, so yoga seemed most appropriate. With each chaturanga and Vinyasa flow, I felt myself becoming one with nature—I was fully at peace. That is until we geared up to do inversions, and the instructor warned anyone with their period against taking part. Not that I can successfully do an inversion, but my clear head was making me feel invincible, so when she mentioned that, considering I was on the third day of my cycle, I felt knocked down. However, the instructor said she had good reasoning: Apparently, when you do a handstand on your period, the blood flow in your reproductive system becomes interrupted and messes with your cycle. Who knew flowing could affect my internal flow?
Considering I can't be the only female who's gone to yoga during her period, I wanted to investigate this some more, so I chatted with another yoga instructor and Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron, MD, director of fertility preservation and reproductive endocrinologist with Fertility Centers of Illinois. The good news: Inversions actually aren't all that bad, and there are even other poses you can do that will improve your PMS symptoms. For more on these poses (and why inversions aren't the enemy, keep on scrolling.
Says Hirshfield-Cytron, "It is perfectly safe to do yoga during the menstrual cycle, regardless of position, and women should not worry about hurting their reproductive organs through this exercise." The issue instead mostly lies with being pregnant during yoga. "When a woman is pregnant, she should avoid heated yoga and some positions that involve inversions because pregnant women are more likely to get light-headed. As the pregnancy develops, the spine adjusts, such that performing all yoga if not done correctly or adjusting to the pregnant state can cause back pain or injury. For this reason, prenatal yoga classes are encouraged during pregnancy."
There's also cause for concern for women who are going through IVF treatments. "During infertility treatments when a woman's ovaries are stimulated, yoga positions that involve twists or inversions should be avoided. The ovaries swell during IVF stimulation, and these maneuvers could lead to a rare complication called ovarian torsion."
Lastly, Yoga Instructor Laju Choudhury says all women who are menstruating, regardless of whether or not they're pregnant, should avoid yoga poses that put pressure on your stomach because it can increase bleeding and pain in the lower abdomen.
Below, take a look at the poses Choudhury recommends for optimal health during your cycle.
Start by standing with both feet together and clasp your hands straight up in the air. Slowly bend to one side at your obliques while keeping your legs straight to form a crescent shape with your body and hold for a few breaths. Repeat on the opposite side. Choudhury recommends practicing Pranayama breathing because it brings fresh oxygen to the bloodstream: "Bad old blood is going out, and fresh new blood is coming in. It's cyclical, and it's good for making healthy blood during your period."
"Overall stretching of the arms and legs and all parts of your body brings relief to your spine, which helps with cramps in the lower back," says Choudhury. To execute eagle pose, stand with one foot on the ground, and then wrap the opposite leg around your standing knee, and place your foot behind your calf. Intertwine your arms out in front of you while keeping your elbows bent, and place one palm behind the other. Repeat on the opposite side.
"This pose provides relaxation for the body and mind, as well as overall relief of the tension held in the lower spine. Ease off the backward bending, and carefully go into forward stretching poses."
Start by sitting on your knees with your feet underneath your bottom. Then, raise both arms straight into the air, arching your back slightly, and bring your palms together, interlocking your thumbs. Keep your stomach tucked in and torso stretched. Next, lean forward, and slowly bring your forehead down to the ground, holding the stretch while you breathe slow and controlled breaths. Finally, raise your head and hands, and slowly return to the seated position.
Next up, check out more yoga poses that help with PMS.