When I am having painful menstrual cramps, often the last thing I want to do is exercise. I was taught to believe that exercise makes cramps worse. I have discovered that this is simply false. Yoga can relieve menstrual cramps instantly, when practiced with awareness. Last week I was having unusually painful cramps. I thought it would help to take a break from my daily yoga practice, pop an Advil, and stay in bed. But I forced myself onto my mat and began a rigorous practice of sun salutations and weight bearing poses in a vinyasa style flow. At first my cramps got worse and I almost stopped after a few minutes. Instead, I kept going until I broke a sweat. Little by little, pose by pose, the cramps went away. I noticed that deep breathing had a lot to do with this. I experimented with shallow breathing and the cramps instantly returned.
I think the poses I chose also had something to do with the cramps going away. I included a few deep standing twists in warrior and utkatasana (chair pose). I ended with seated twists: ardha matsyendrasana and marichyasana. I avoided inversions like headstand. From my experience, doing upside-down poses while menstruating feels unnatural: the flow should go down and out, not up and in. Most importantly, it was a vigorous practice. I increased my heart rate, sweated, and maintained deep, steady breathing.
I ended with a little bit of “mental yoga.” I prayed and asked for my cramps to be a reminder of the pain and suffering of other people. I prayed that I would be able to somehow feel pain on other peoples’ behalf, thereby helping them suffer less. I asked specifically that every time I feel the painful sensation of the cramps, that I don’t focus on my own pain, but instead that I channel the sensation into lessening the pain of other people.
I don’t really know if it was the yoga, or the prayer, or both that made my cramps go away completely for the rest of the day. I did not need the Advil. I felt motivated and energized. My yoga practice had an instantaneous, long-lasting effect.