In America alone, 85 million women suffer from PMS, with symptoms including insomnia, depression, irritability, bloating, breast tenderness, and digestive issues. While PMS is common, it is not normal. Yes, there is some natural water retention that happens during a healthy menstrual cycle, and your energy will dip as you get closer to the first day of your period. But if you dread the days leading up to the start of your cycle, something is out of balance.
The good news is, it can be healed. And yoga can play a huge role in that process.
I know. My own PMS used to last a full 10 days, during which time I gained 5 pounds of water weight and went up a cup size. I needed two wardrobes. The two or three days before my period, it was all I could do to get off the couch.
Through attending a women’s yoga class and learning more about what poses to do at which times of the month from “The Women’s Book of Yoga and Health” by Linda Sparrowe and Patricia Walden (a book I still refer to at least weekly), I learned how to alleviate many of my symptoms.
It was such an empowering experience that I teamed up with Ellen Barrett to write “The 28 Days Lighter Diet,” which teaches women how to heal their PMS and shed excess weight by working with their bodies through all phases of the menstrual cycle. Because women are not the same creatures week to week, or even day by day. Our bodies are dynamic, with different needs at different times, and most diet, exercise, and lifestyle advice assumes we have consistent needs and energy.
Now my period mostly comes without much fanfare. And when I start to notice my irritability levels spiking for multiple days, for example, I know it’s time to prioritize more targeted yoga.
5 poses to take the “S” out of “PMS”:
First a note on props: I am a big fan of props. I love dragging them out and spreading them all over the place, and I love cleaning them all up when I’m done. But most of all, I love how a well-placed bolster or strap feels so incredibly supportive. It transforms a plain old pose into a life-changing experience, where you emerge from your yoga session feeling like you’re floating on a cloud instead of slogging through mud. Particularly if you are having challenges with your menstrual cycle, I share this mantra with you: “Buy the bolster. Use the bolster. Love the bolster.”
Reclined heart and/or hip openers – to create space in the abdomen and lift your mood
1. Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)
Sit on the floor with your feet in cobbler’s pose. Throw a fastened yoga strap over your head—as if you were putting on a sweater—and finagle the strap so it goes around the outer edges of your feet, in between your knees, and across the sacrum behind you. Tighten the strap so it’s snug without being too constrictive. Lie back onto a bolster and place a small folded blanket under your head. Put blocks, rolled-up blankets, or a small pillows under your thighs to support your legs. Rest the backs of your hands on the floor near your hips and close your eyes. Stay 2 to 5 minutes.
2. Supta Padangusthasana II (Reclining Hand to Big Toe Pose)
Lie on the floor with a bolster touching your right hip. Lift your right leg to a 90-degree angle and place a strap across the ball of the right foot, holding the ends of the strap in your right hand. Keep the left leg heavy and straight on the floor, and open your right leg to the side, bringing it to rest on the bolster. Stay 1 to 2 minutes, then switch legs.
Supported forward bends – to relieve irritation and anxiety
3. Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend)
Sit on the floor with legs opened into a wide straddle. Place a bolster (or two, or three—get creative and use couch cushions if you need more height to be comfortable) on the floor between your legs. Fold forward at the hips with a long spine as far as you can, then round the spine to rest your torso on the bolster. Stack your forearms on top of one another and rest your forehead on your top arm. Stay 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Adho Mukha Virasana (Downward Facing Hero Pose)
Kneel on the floor and open the knees wide. Bring a bolster to the floor in between your thighs. Keeping your buttocks on your heels, fold forward and bring your torso to rest on the bolster. Turn your cheek to one side. After 1-2 minutes, turn your cheek to the other side. Stay another 1-2 minutes before coming up.
Final relaxation – to quiet the mind and relax the nervous system
5. Supported Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Amp up the relaxation factor by placing a bolster underneath your spine and a folded blanket under your head. Stay 2-5 minutes.