Guest post by Emma Lymn
Over the years, yoga has gained significant popularity. Nowadays you’ll see photos of celebrities in their yoga gear and carrying their mats around after a class on magazines and popular gossip websites. Why? Easy, yoga makes you feel good. In fact, most yogis will tell you that they feel better after attending a session, which isn’t always the case with other forms of exercise.
There are many reasons yoga is a mood booster and has many benefits.
In fact, yoga’s effects are so far reaching that many women keep going to their yoga classes even during their periods, a time of the month where you might be tempted to veg on the couch. That brings us to the menstrual benefits of yoga. Before we delve deeper into that, let’s address an all too common question.
Can You Do Yoga When You’re On Your Period?
The simple answer is yes, though there’s a lot of controversy on the topic.
Some yoga experts will tell you to skip class altogether during your period. On the other hand, others will encourage you to attend because yoga has been shown to help alleviate many of your PMS symptoms.
Basically, yoga is a holistic practice that involves three main components. There are poses, breathing, and meditation. While most people are familiar with the stretching and pretzel-like movements, the other two are less know.
They’re all equally important because the goal of yoga is to provide physical, mental and spiritual well-being. This is why each of these three aspects helps with one or more of your symptoms during this time of the month.
For example, breathing and the different postures aid in allowing the water in your belly to redistribute throughout your body. Meanwhile, meditation helps you calm down, reduces your moods swings, stress, anxiety, food cravings, cramps and back pain.
That said, everyone is different. It’s for this reason that there is no right or wrong answer as to whether you should do yoga or skip it altogether.
It all depends on you and how you feel:
- Is pain cramping your lifestyle? You may decide not to go to yoga if you experience severe pain during your period. This makes it very inconvenient to perform various poses with other people. If you regularly go about your life during this time, then yoga will just be another activity during the day.
- What kind of yoga? Similarly, you can choose what kind of yoga to attend. Some women like to sweat a lot. If that’s the case, then a more intense form of yoga suits you. Something like Ashtanga or Power Yoga. On the other hand, you may prefer something more soothing. Thus, it’s better to choose a softer type of yoga like Iyengar or Kripalu Yoga. Both of which are very gentle and don’t cause you to sweat.
- Light or Heavy? Finally, your flow varies by the month. On lighter months, you may opt to attend more rigorous types of yoga. Slow things down on months when it’s heavier.
In any case, should you decide to practice yoga during your menstrual cycle, it’s important that you take precautionary measures. One that I would recommend is listening to your body, it will let you know when not to attempt a particular pose. Remember, you always have the option to skip it and join the group when they get to the next pose.
Another thing you can do is inform your teacher so she’s aware of how you’re feeling. This way, she’ll be able to tell you which movements to avoid and if possible, how to modify postures to suit your situation.
Menstrual Benefits of Yoga During Your Period
While it may not seem like it, research shows that yoga helps with PMS symptoms. Studies found that doing yoga during your period may help reduce cramps, lower back pain, mood swings and other bothersome things you experience.
To understand how, it’s useful to take a look at what actually causes all these symptoms. Two factors that contribute to PMS are your sex hormones and brain chemicals.
- Hormonal changes. Many of your premenstrual symptoms happen because of the cyclic fluctuations of your hormones. For the most part, this involves the sudden drops and rises in your estrogen and progesterone levels.
- Brain chemicals. Interestingly, the fluctuations in your sex hormones affect some of the chemicals in your brain. This causes them to fluctuate as well. Among those affected include serotonin and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). Serotonin helps regulate your mood, sleep, sexual desire, and function, among other things. Meanwhile, GABA is associated with your mood, including depression and anxiety. Thus, explaining why you feel the way you do during that time of the month.
So why do your hormones suddenly fluctuate?
The answer lies in the different events that happen during your period. In each phase of your menstrual cycle your levels of estrogen and progesterone change.
During the follicular phase (before the egg is released), both estrogen and progesterone levels are low. Then, they both rise as ovulation nears, which is when your body releases the egg. Come ovulation time, your estrogen level peaks. Finally, after ovulation, estrogen drops back down while progesterone continues rising until somewhere midway through the luteal phase before dropping down again.
Due to all these shifts, you experience various physical and emotional changes along the way. And, since your sex hormones are closely linked to your brain, they also affect it. Thus, causing you to feel all sorts of mood swings.
One example is your serotonin levels. As your serotonin levels drop, you start experiencing sleep problems. During the latter part of your cycle when progesterone increases, you’ll feel sleepy a lot.
Here’s where yoga can help.
According to a review of studies, yoga improves your premenstrual symptoms. (1) In all of the studies analyzed, researchers found that yoga produced varying levels of relief to different issues which include:
- Reducing pain
- Better well-being
- Improved mood
- Helping participants relax better
- Experience fewer menstrual disorder symptoms
Similarly, another study observed that yoga helped lower its participants’ blood pressure and heart rates during their periods. (2) It also reduced feelings of depression, anxiety, and anger.
Mood Swings and Irritability
Over the years, I’ve learned to be more aware of my mood swings during my period. It helps me keep my emotions in check. I’ve found that my mood swings can sometimes cause me to do or say things I later regret just because I happened to be more irritable or angry around that time of the month.
Besides irritability and anger, you may also experience sadness, anxiety, and sleepiness.
All these symptoms are tied to the sudden changes in your hormone levels and are why you experience those strange food cravings.
Yoga is well-known for helping regulate your emotions and mood swings. In fact, whenever you do yoga, your brain releases a host of relaxing and feel good chemicals. Among which are GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid, and your happiness hormones which include dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins.
These help you feel better about yourself and to a degree reduce some of the effects of the hormonal fluctuations.
Yoga & Period Cramps
Over 90% of women experience lower abdominal cramps just before or during menstruation. As such, it’s probably the most common symptom we experience.
Period cramps happen because your uterus’ muscles contract. Doing so allows its lining to break down before passing out your body.
How intense your cramps are varies from person to person. Some women only experience very mild cramping, while others are so severe that it prevents them from going about their day to day life.
The good news is that doing yoga poses that focus on your pelvis and lower abdominal region help reduce this. That’s because cramps are caused by your muscles, which can be soothed.
Meanwhile, an analysis of studies also found that practicing yoga improves the overall quality of life as a result of dysmenorrhea. (3) By doing so, it helps participants improve physical pain, work capacity, negative feelings, concentration, and sleep problems.
Yoga Aids With Bloating
Period bloating is not only uncomfortable, but it also makes you feel less attractive. Unfortunately, it’s another unpleasant side effect of fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels.
The low levels of progesterone and rise in estrogen levels cause your body to retain more water. This causes you to feel bloated.
Later on, towards the end of your cycle, progesterone peaks while estrogen falls back down. This results in slower digestion. As such, it also causes that feeling of fullness or bloating, but, in a different way.
Like other forms of physical activity, yoga aids with bloating. You probably won’t feel like doing yoga. When you do, it will help the excess fluid move away from the belly and disperse to other parts of your body. Thus, reducing the bloat.
Similarly, movement also helps relieve digestive issues.
Headaches and Migraines
Finally, hormonal changes are what cause your headaches and migraines. This is why you’ll experience them during your menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause.
In this case, it’s the drop in estrogen that causes your headaches. That’s because estrogen plays a role in regulating your sensitivity to pain. When it’s low, you’re more likely to experience these headaches as you become more sensitive and your tolerance to pain goes down.
To help alleviate them, yoga breathing and its relaxing effects help. Together they balance your hormones and also relieve stress or tension, which often make the pain worse.
Emma Lymn is the editor of Health Grinder, a health and nutrition blog. She is passionate about helping others learn to eat healthy and lose weight. A proud mom of two kids and a very spoiled dog, she enjoys traveling and volunteering in her spare time.
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