We may have entered the era of menstrual realness, but for some women, that hasn't changed the fact that getting their period still sucks. Bloating, mood swings, cramps.... (It doesn't get much more real than that.)
In high school, you may have used your period as an excuse to get out of gym class, but now that you're chained to a desk most of the day, a little movement is definitely appreciated, especially since yoga has been scientifically linked to easing pain from period cramps.
"I crafted this vinyasa flow to focus on poses that both relieve cramps and nourish the body at the same time."
As an herbalist and certified yoga teacher, Ali Kamenova is a huge proponent for treating cramps with a targeted yoga sequence—not popping a pain killer. The Los Angeles-based instructor's built her entire practice around interval yoga (which targets specific parts of the body) and created a specific class for treating PMS.
"I crafted this vinyasa flow to focus on poses that both relieve cramps and nourish the body at the same time," she says. Each move targets a place women commonly experience period pain, like the lower back or hips, and modifies moves you might be instructed to do in a typical yoga class (like inversions, which some believe can disrupt menstrual flow).
Not only is her sequence an opportunity to stretch your body in all the ways it craves, but it will also help reset your mind—which Midol definitely can't do for you.
Keep reading for Ali Kamenova's yoga flow for curing period pain.
1. Set your intention
Close your eyes and stand in mountain pose, with your hands at your sides, finding your body's equilibrium. Start to focus on your breath and awareness of your alignment. Breathe into your belly and into your heart. Most days each side will seem different and unequal. In this part of the practice, recognize this without judgement or drawing conclusions.
2. Open up
Shift your waist from left to right while deepening your breath. From here, inhale your hands over your head. Press your palms together and reach side-to-side, holding for a few seconds on both the left and right.
Expand your midsection and exhale the tailbone down. Spread your toes wide open, keep your legs strong, and your shoulders relaxed. As you reach to the left and then to the right, you're filling your midsection and creating space and openness in your body. Your back should be upright and your rib cage lifted. Feel the connection with your core, without creating contraction or tension in the body.
3. Plié pose
Take a step out along the length of the mat and sink into plié pose. This is the most amazing, female-supporting pose because it creates strength and flexibility. Align your feet with your knees so that your feet follow the direction of where your knees are pointing. Start with a more gentle plié, not too deep for the first few moments, then slowly sink a tiny bit deeper. Bring one hand over your belly and the other over your heart.
Raise the left heel and then the right to do mini squats. This creates a lot of space in the perineum and opens the hips, which can generally relieve cramps and make you feel light and good.
4. Transition into triangle pose
Straighten the knees coming out of plié and turn forward. Turn your left foot in and spread your toes, ready for triangle pose. Reaching ahead with your right hand forward, lower the right hand down the right leg. Rotate the left outer hip. The focus here is openness in the hips—creating space in the midsection, hips, rib cage, and back.
When you inhale deeply into all areas of the body, you'll notice that the breath gets "stuck" in certain places, almost as if you can't inhale there. This shows us where our prana energy is that day. It is not a big deal—it's just an indicator of how you feel at that time.
5. Side lunge steps or jumps
Using the length of your mat, bend one knee. Straighten one leg in front of your body and then shift from side to side. You can do 20 to 50 reps of these. If you're feeling tired and don't have a lot of energy, then just go from side-to-side.
This is an important pose to do during menstruation, because it opens the hips. Be conscious of doing small hops instead of big jumps, because they move stuck energy and circulation. From a Chinese medicine perspective, improved circulation or blood flow in that area will help cramps and discomfort during a woman's period.
6. Seated forward bend
Come into a seated position. Bring your legs in front and lower down into forward bend. Bring the soles of your feet together in butterfly pose and lean forward. Hold here for as long as you need, from one to five minutes depending on what your body's telling you. This is a great way for you to stretch during your period because there's no inversion involved—you'll start to feel lower back pain and tension fade away.
Go into pigeon, bringing your right leg forward and your left leg behind. This pose targets back pain caused by PMS. Lengthen your torso keeping the rib cage lifted and hold one side of the pose for one to two minutes, guiding your stretch with your breath. Soften your breath and your body with a long exhale. Then switch your legs so that you're stretching with your left leg forward and right leg behind.
Get comfortable and lower down in savasana. Take some time to be present and let the mind go, reflecting on your practice and feeling gratitude for your life. Namaste.
Don't feel bad about not being in the mood to leave the house—in fact, Jessamyn Stanley thinks everyone should do yoga at home. And if you want to kick period cramps and mood swings to the curb the Ayurvedic way, these recipes are the cure-all you've been waiting for.
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