Thursday, March 18, 2010

Yoga sequence for menstrual pain

We are all different, but if you are like me, there are days when even the idea of standing up makes me nauseous. In typical fashion, the internet tells me I have a menstrual "disorder", dysmenorrhoea. Ack! So, for those of you who also suffer from extreme cramps, hot flashes, nausea, diarrhea and other discomforts during your monthly flow, here is a sequence with some yoga poses that I have found helpful.

Before beginning the sequence, prepare a thick folded blanket, a yoga strap, and some bolsters/pillows/blocks to use as props. Create a calm atmosphere by dimming the lights and burning your favourite essential oil.


  • Begin by finding a comfortable position (sitting with your back against the wall, lying down, or lying on your side with support of a pillow), close your eyes, and bring your awareness to the breath. Begin to breathe slowly and deeply through the nose, and focus on inhaling into your belly and lower back. When you are comfortable, take a deep breath, and take a long, slow exhalation while counting. Use this count to establish a 2:1 exhale:inhale ratio for your breath (i.e. exhale for twice as long as you inhale). Continue for as long as you like, or at least 24 rounds.
  • Alternatively, if you feel hot or feverish, try Sitali Pranayama, one of the few yoga breathing techniques that uses the mouth. Sitali has a wonderful cooling effect on the entire body. If you can curl your tongue, inhale through your curled tongue like a straw. If you can't (it's genetic so don't fret!), close your teeth together, open your lips, and suck the breath in through your teeth. Again, establish a 2:1 exhale:inhale ratio and continue for about 24 rounds.
You may find that these pranayamas alone have a wonderful effect, especially when you focus the breath on the belly and lower back! To continue with the sequence, come gently onto all fours (hands and knees), establish a slow, even breath through the nose. Remember that everyone's body is different! If a pose doesn't feel right or helpful to you, just skip it.

  • Puppy Pose: From hands and knees, gently walk the fingertips forward. Placing a pillow underneath your head, extend your spine and bring your head down onto the pillow. Continue to breath deeply, filling the lower back on each inhalation, and try to avoid collapsing in the lumbar spine (i.e. don't curve your lower back but try to keep it straight and elongating). After 10-20 breaths, come back to all fours.
  • Thread-the-needle: From all fours, inhale and bring your right arm up to the right side. Exhale, and bring the arm down through the gap between your left hand and your body. Extend the right arm to the left side, palm facing up, and bring the right shoulder down to the mat. Work with the positioning of the left hand to find the ideal stretch for you. Breathe deeply into the lower back for 10 breaths, then inhale back to centre and switch sides.
  • Supported child's pose: from all fours, bring your feet together and your knees apart. Place a bolster or pillow between your legs to support your pelvis, and place another underneath your belly, chest and head. Gently ease your weight back and down towards your heels and stretch your arms out in front of you or let them rest to either side of the body. Stay as long as you like, breathing deeply.
  • Cat and cow: When you're ready, come back to all fours and gently ease tension in the lower back with 5 repetitions of cat and cow: inhaling, let your lower back curve downwards and look up, exhaling, curl your spine towards the ceiling and tuck your chin to your chest.
  • Sunbird pose: From all fours, come down onto your elbows. On an inhalation, lift your right leg and stretch it out behind you at the same height as your hips. Exhale, bring it down, then inhale the left leg up. Repeat 3-5 times on each side, focusing on extending the back, not curving it (don't lift the leg so high that you feel strain in your back!)
  • Supine pigeon with support: From all fours, bring your right knee forward between your hands, with the foot towards the groin, and stretch your left leg out behind you. Place a pillow or bolster inside your right knee. Lengthen the torso and extend forward, resting the chest and head on the bolster. In addition or as an alternative, you may also want to put a small pillow underneath your right hip. Stay here for 10-20 deep breaths, then switch sides.
  • Seated side stretches: After pigeon, come to a comfortable cross-legged position. Bring your left hand to the left thigh or to the floor, and on an inhalation, reach your right arm up in the air and gently stretch it towards the left hand side. Repeat on the other side. You can stay in each stretch for 5 breaths or you can alternate sides with the breath.
  • Supta virasana with support: From your seated position, come onto your knees. Keeping your knees parallel and close together, gently grasp your calves and help the lower legs come to the outside of your thighs and come to sit between your legs. You can make this easier by a) placing pillows or bolsters underneath you until you can sit comfortably, or b) placing a folded blanket across your calves before you sit back. You may also want to place blankets or pillows underneath the feet if you feel discomfort there. Now, place a pillow or bolster behind you and grab a blanket or small pillow to support your head. Gently lean backwards, adding pillows until you can recline comfortably. Place the last pillow underneath your head, and bliss out in this restful version of Hero pose.
  • Supported child's pose: Counter the back-bend in Supta Virasana with another 5 breaths in child's pose. Then...
  • Upavista konasana against the wall: Come to sit with your back to a wall. You can sit on a pillow and place another at your back for added comfort. Bring your legs wide apart, toes lightly flexed. If you have stomach discomfort, you may want to just stay there, breathing deeply into the stretch. If you feel comfortable, you can place a bolster in front of you and gently elongate the spine as you bring your chest and head to rest on the bolster. Take 10-20 breaths here.
  • Baddha Konasana against the wall: From upavista konasana, inhale back to centre. Bring the soles of your feet together, placing two blocks or pillows under each knee. Bring your hands to your sides or grasp your feet or ankles, and take 10-20 deep belly breaths in this pose. You may also wish to use a yoga strap wrapped underneath the feet and around the lower back for additional support.
  • Resting half moon: From baddha konasana, move away from the wall. Bring both feet to the left hand side so you are sitting on your right hip, and place a pillow or bolster next to the right hip so the long side is along your right thigh. Slowly bring your hands to the right side and lower yourself down sideways until you are lying over the bolster on your right side. Scissor your legs and stretch your arms out overhead. Take 10-20 breaths and repeat on the other side.
  • Pavanmuktasana: Come to lie on your back. Inhale, bringing your right knee up towards your chest and gently pulling it towards the outside of your right shoulder. Take 5-10 breaths, and then switch.
  • Legs up the Wall pose with support: For this version of legs up the wall pose, you want to place a large pillow or bolster underneath your lower back, and another under your head and shoulders. Make the support so that your hips are lower than or even with your belly, but not higher. If you don't have a wall you can also replicate this pose by lying on the floor with your lower legs resting on a chair (knees bent). Stay as long as you like.
  • Supta Baddha Konasana with support: Finally, to finish off, bring the soles of your feet together again. Place a large pillow or bolster behind you and blocks or supports under each knee. Lie back and place an additional pillow under your head. Top it off with an eye mask and relax into supine bliss!!
I hope some of you will find that helpful! What about you, readers? What works for you and your loved ones during that time of the month?


  1. I was just about to hit the mat for a restorative practice when I saw your post. What perfect timing! I'm never so good at putting together a restorative sequence, but this one sounds lovely. Thanks for the ideas.

  2. Great sequence. Although...I'm totally not getting resting half moon. Picture? :) (babs)

  3. Oh I will have to use this soon!! since I went synthetic estrogen-free (umm, the pill) my moon time pains have gotten worse.

    Thank you!

  4. :) Let me know how it goes when you try it! I LOVE these chill, deep stretching sessions during my cycle.

  5. I am working on a series for peri- and monopausal women and will post that on my blog soon. I have always founds relief through yoga and love your sequence! Merci.