When it’s that time of the month, you may be so uncomfortable that you just want to lie on the couch with a heating pad and a pint of Rocky Road. Cramps can be brutal and may feel debilitating, but with a few yoga poses you can help alleviate the pain—and maybe even avoid packing on a few period pounds.
Yoga can help you breathe into any discomfort you’re having, which it helps release feel-good hormones to keep you from yelling at your partner, BFF, or your dog. And if you’re past that stage in your life, these poses also help alleviate menopausal symptoms.
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You can start with Maryichyasana (pose dedicated to the sage). This feels great on the lower back and the pressure of the thigh up against the abdomen helps relieve cramping pains. It’s also great for tension in the shoulders and upper back.
Sit comfortably with legs forward, bend your right knee in and place your left foot on the floor a little to the outside of your left hip. Lift your left arm up then lean forward as far as you can, threading the left arm inside the left thigh and back behind you. Reach around behind you with your right hand and catch the right wrist with the left hand (use a towel or strap if you can’t reach the hand). Fold forward in to a rounded forward bend. Hold for 5 to 8 breaths and repeat on the other side.
Next, open your legs wide to Straddle. Straddle lets the pelvis open and feels good on the lower back, hips, and waist. If you’re tight in the hamstrings and inner thighs, you can sit up on something like a yoga block or folded towel.
Make sure you’re sitting forward on your sit bones and keep your inner thighs rolling back as go in to the fold. Try and maintain a long spine to stretch out the back and inner thighs. If you can reach for your toes grab them in yogi toe lock, or just walk your hands forward.
Finish by lying down on your back in Goddess pose. This is a great way to relieve cramping. You can also place a heating pad on your belly or under your lower back as you lie in this pose.
Bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees open to their own sides. Place your hands on your belly or let them fall out to the sides. Feel the belly rise and fall with the breath and imagine your deep breaths relieving any pain and discomfort. Hold for as long as you wish, then roll to your side and gently come back up to sitting.
Kristin McGee is a leading yoga and Pilates instructor and healthy lifestyle expert based in New York City. She is an ACE certified personal trainer who regularly trains celebrity clients in New York and Los Angeles. She serves as Health’s contributing fitness editor and is frequently seen on national TV. Her latest in a large collection of fitness DVDs is YogaSlim. Follow her on Twitter @KristinMcGee and like her page on Facebook.