out from Under:
Asana for Relieving PMS
by Anna Rychner
Almost every woman experiences symptoms
of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) at one time or another.
Precisely why is still an open question, although both
Ayurvedic and homeopathic physicians believe that lifestyle
factors that disrupt the body's natural rhythm and create
hormonal imbalances play a significant role. Stress,
bad eating habits, traveling, overwork, difficulties in
relationships, and lack of exercise all contribute to
the pattern of emotional instability, anxiety, irritability,
depression, and mood swings which is characteristic of
PMS. These symptoms are often accompanied by headaches,
food cravings, weight gain, bloating, breast tenderness,
and a host of other unpleasant physical symptoms.
In 1980 Dr. Guy Abraham, an obstetrician and gynecologist
at UCLA, developed a classification system which grouped
PMS into four types: Type A (anxiety); Type C (craving);
Type D (depression); and Type H (H2O retention). The anxiety
that characterizes Type A is often accompanied by irritability
and mood swings. In addition to experiencing cravings-notably
for sugar-those who have Type C PMS often have fatigue
and headaches. Confusion and even memory loss frequently
accompany the depression that is the hallmark of Type
D. The water retention characteristic of Type H PMS can
also cause weight gain, bloating, and breast tenderness.
This is not to say that a woman will experience only one
type of PMS or that her symptoms will be the same each
month. Any combination of these symptoms may occur; they
will vary from month to month depending on which stress
is present and which hormone predominates.
Dr. Susan Lark of the PMS Self-Help Center in Los Altos,
California, has developed a complete treatment model based
on the four main types of PMS outlined above. The self-help
measures she recommends include moderate exercise, dietary
changes and supplements, massage, and yoga postures. Because
yoga postures provide both immediate relief for the discomfort
of PMS and an opportunity for inner renewal, they will
be our focus here. The postures suggested in this article
are based on work done at the PMS Self-Help Center, the
discoveries I've made holding weekly Yoga Focus Groups
for women, and the recommendations of yoga teachers I've
studied with through the years.
Type A Asanas
The corpse pose (shavasana), the crocodile (makarasana),
and the child's pose (balasana) are particularly helpful
in relieving anxiety and nervous irritability. All three
are simple relaxation postures. The crocodile is helpful
for women who experience severe cramping or are unable
to relax lying on their backs. It allows the mind to focus
inward with fewer distractions as the head faces downward,
like a crocodile concealed underwater. The child's pose
is a compact fetal-like posture that relaxes the body
completely. It focuses the breath on the organ systems
in the abdomen and pelvis, which helps massage and tone
them. The gentle inversion of head, neck, and torso relaxes
the back muscles, thus easing low back pain, a common
Doing a systematic deep relaxation exercise in either
the corpse or crocodile pose calms and soothes the nervous
system. This relaxation exercise can be self-directed
or done with an audiotape. When doing a relaxation exercise,
remember to close the eyes and keep your focus inward.
Let go of mental chatter and be aware of the breath. Make
sure that you are breathing diaphragmatically and that
the breath flows smoothly and evenly through the nostrils
without noise, jerks, or s.
The Corpse Pose
Lie on your back, your arms at your sides, palms up, and
your feet a comfortable distance apart. Be sure to adjust
your head, neck, and shoulders to bring them into alignment
with the rest of your body. Close your eyes and relax;
allow the floor to support you and breathe deeply and
Lie on your abdomen with your head tucked inward and down,
your forehead resting on top of your folded forearms.
The legs are a comfortable distance apart, feet and toes
pointing outward. Breathe fully, feeling the abdomen expanding
downward with each inhalation and your hips and buttocks
rising slightly upward with the exhalation. Allow the
gentle movement to soothe premenstrual cramping and massage
the uterine muscles.
The Child's Pose
Kneel with your buttocks resting on your heels. Bend at
the hips and let your torso relax on your thighs and your
forehead rest on the floor. Relax your arms and hands
on the floor beside you with the palms up and the fingers
pointing toward your feet. Place a pillow either on your
lap if you are having difficulty folding your body over
your thighs, or between your calves and thighs if you
cannot rest comfortably on your heels.
Type C Asanas
Many women experience food cravings before the onset of
menstruation, especially cravings for sugar and chocolate.
The body needs more glucose because it is more responsive
to insulin at this time and may translate this need into
a craving for sweets. Chocolate contains magnesium, a
mineral that decreases menstrual cramping and helps normalize
glucose metabolism. The problem with using sugar and chocolate
to meet these nutritional needs is that consuming them
often induces a let-down feeling, fatigue, and headaches-all
of which are characteristic of Type C PMS.
Two postures that stimulate blood flow to the abdominal
and pelvic areas and help regulate sugar metabolism are
the bow (dhanurasana) and the modified bridge (setu bandha).
The bow stretches and tones the ovaries, uterus, and abdominal
organs. The upward momentum created by the sweeping movement
of the head, eyes gazing toward the sky, and legs drawn
up, increases energy and elevates the mood. Performing
the modified bridge with controlled breathing rejuvenates
and tones the reproductive organs as well as the abdominal
organs, thereby helping to relieve carbohydrate cravings.
Lying face down with your arms at your sides, bend your
legs at the knees and bring your feet toward your buttocks.
Clasp your ankles and raise your trunk off the floor.
Squeeze your buttocks together and bring your knees in
close to each other. Hold the pose 10 to 15 seconds and
repeat up to 3 times.
The Modified Bridge
Lie on your back with your knees bent, your feet parallel
to each other and close to your buttocks. Rest your arms
at your sides with your palms down. On the exhalation,
elongate your spine by pressing your lower back into the
floor. Inhaling, lift your pelvis and then your mid-back
and upper back. Your weight is now supported by your shoulders
and feet. Hold the pose for 10 to 15 seconds. Roll down
by slowly lowering the upper back to the floor, followed
by the mid-back and pelvis. Repeat this gentle flexing
of the spine, rolling up and down 5 or 6 times.
Type D Asanas
Because the bow has a mood-elevating and rejuvenating
effect, it is also excellent for women suffering from
Type D PMS as well for those with Type C symptoms. The
upward-facing dog (urdhva mukha shvanasana), which is
also a backward-bending pose, stimulates both the back
and front of the body, especially the lumbar and pelvic
regions. The upward gaze and sweeping movement skyward
not only counteracts the downward pull of gravity, but
also helps relieve depression.
The Upward-facing Dog
Begin in a prone position, forehead on the floor, arms
bent at the elbows next to your chest, fingers pointing
forward, elbows in. On an inhalation, begin rising up
from the forehead, nose, and chin, continuing the stretch
through your neck, upper torso, and lower torso until
your entire pelvic basin is tilting upward. Feel the weight
shift as you start supporting yourself on your arms. Gradually
straighten the arms, broadening your shoulders down and
away from the ears, stretching and curving your spine,
and tightening your buttocks. Your weight is supported
on the tops of your feet and your hands. Keep the backside
firm and lifting up. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Type H Asanas
Gentle inversion postures have been found to be most helpful
for problems of weight gain, bloating, and tender breasts.
The modified wide-angle pose (upavishtha konasana) and
the half or supported plow (halasana) are two gentle,
effective postures for relieving the symptoms of Type
The modified wide-angle pose relieves swelling by opening
and energizing the entire pelvic region. By directly altering
the pull of gravity, it reverses the effects of bloating
and fluid retention in the legs and feet. The half or
supported plow pose similarly reduces swelling and fluid
retention by stimulating circulation in an inverted position.
The modified version of the posture is recommended over
the full plow here to avoid injury to the lower back-the
muscles in the lumbar area are already stressed due to
the pressure caused by fluid build-up in the pelvic basin.
The Wide-Angle Pose
Lie on your back with your pelvis against a wall, your
legs extended up the wall, and your arms resting at your
sides. Open your legs into a V on the wall. Breathe easily,
holding this position for 1 minute. Then bring your legs
together and hold them straight up for another minute.
Repeat the cycle twice more.
The Half Plow •
From a supine position, raise your legs over your head
until they are parallel to the floor. Support your hips
and back with your hands, arms bent, elbows tucked next
to your rib cage. Hold the pose for up to 3 minutes, depending
on how comfortable you are. Come out of the pose by bending
your knees close to your forehead and rolling down, making
contact with the floor one vertebra at a time.
You may wish to rest your feet on a prop such as a chair
or a stack of pillows to relieve any strain in the lumbar
Many of us sail through our monthly cycles barely noticing
changes in our physical and mental states. But those of
us whose bodies send up red flags with each hormonal shift
are given a special opportunity to renew ourselves each
month. This is the perfect time to turn to yoga practice.
Premenstrual Syndrome Self-Help Book. By Dr. Susan Lark,
Forman Publishing, 1984.
A Woman's Best Medicine. By Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D., V. Butler,
M.D., and Melanie Brown, Ph.D. Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam,
Anna Rychner is Director of Life Waves Health Counseling.
During her 20 years of teaching, she has been developing
yoga focus groups for women.
article was provided by the Yoga
International Article Archive. Published