When you’re dealing with stomach-splitting cramps, a calming yoga flow can feel like heaven; it’s stress relief and stretching all in one. But it actually goes even deeper than that.
“Yoga is actually a great strategy for taking away cramps, because it works the pelvic floor muscles on both sides of the sacrum, the lower pelvic floor, and the rectus abdominis muscles that all surround the uterus,” said Heather Bartos, MD, an ob-gyn and certified yoga instructor. Cramps occur because your uterus is contracting, she explained, pulling on those surrounding muscles (your pelvic floor and the sacral muscles around your lower back) to do so. Yoga stretches out those stressed muscles, which helps them help your uterus do its job better and can end up relieving some of your cramps.
“If we think about how period cramps are essentially ‘labor’ pains that are trying to rid your body of menstruation, then these yoga poses all make sense because they are working the back and pelvic muscles into different positions to prevent overcramping,” Dr. Bartos told POPSUGAR. “Kind of like how we stretch before we lift weights.”
Dr. Bartos added that it’s totally fine to do inverted poses, such as Downward-Facing Dog, where your heart is higher off the ground than your head, despite concerns in the past that they could cause menstrual backflow (where flow can back up into the fallopian tubes). That’s actually a common occurrence for many women during their periods, Dr. Bartos explained, and isn’t linked to health issues. “In the medical community, we have women lie upside down all the time for things,” she told POPSUGAR. “People lie down during their periods to sleep. It’s just kind of an antiquated view of how the physiologic process works.” Whatever poses feel good for you and your body when you’re on your period are fine to do, she said.
Dr. Bartos recommended these seven simple, soothing yoga poses to help alleviate period pain. You can do them one at a time, peppering them throughout the day when you need relief or in a full sequence. Hold each pose as long as is comfortable, and remember to modify if you need to.