8 tips to reduce menstrual pain

Queer yoga in Berlin

Goddess Pose

A little while ago, I wrote a blog about my experiences with endometriosis. And as a result, some of the participants in my yoga classes have asked me how to reduce their own menstrual pain. Not all folks with menstrual cramps have endometriosis, but perhaps some of the things I’ve found that work for me to reduce menstrual pain could potentially work for you too!

1. Painkillers

I try to limit the amount of over-the-counter pharmaceutical painkillers that I use, because I’d prefer to not feed into the pharmaceutical industry. But sometimes I just don’t have time for anything else, and they can be a quick and easy fix. Medicinally-herbed cookies can do the trick just as well, but they’re not so ideal if I have to work that day! 😉

2. Menstrual Yoga

I like to do a slow flow with lots of deep breathing, skipping abdominal exercises, mula bandha and inversions, and focusing on hip openers. Poses like Goddess (above) and Lion help me to release tension that I’m holding because of the pain. I find that my jaw and shoulders also get tight during menstrual cramping, and these poses open up the jaws and the throat. I also find that growling and hissing loudly also helps to reduce anxiety, which I sometimes get when I’m PMSing or during heavy periods.

3. Stress Reduction Sitting Exercises

Menstrual cramps arrive at the least opportune moments – at work or in social situations. Stress aggravates menstrual cramps and can either bring them on or make them worse. I have created an exercise routine that I can do while sitting with other people that’s not so obvious. I take slow deep breaths and sit up tall with a neutral spine, as if meditating. I press my thighs down against the chair, so my lower abdomen lengthens away from the chair, creating more space for all the painful bits to relax and do their thing – shed menstrual blood and tissue. In addition to that, I also do short pushes down, as if ‘bearing down’ – what they tell folks to do when they’re pushing a baby out. I make sure I’m wearing enough protection to catch everything that comes out – and it does! And the cramps go away.

4. Riding a bike on cobblestone

Most cyclists in this city think it’s annoying to ride on those bumpy cobblestones, but I find it actually helps my cramps to loosen up! Instead of fighting the bumping, I just bump along with it and works like magic. 😉

5. Dancing / Hip shaking

Speaking of which, any movement of the hips can be great to help reduce menstrual pain. I used to attend an Osho Kundalini Meditation class at the Osho Centre here in Berlin. It was a wonderful practice to shake out those tense hips and pelvis, loosening the whole region. I don’t go out dancing very much anymore, it’s hard to find the music I like to dance to here! But, if it’s something you like to do, some hip-shaking dancing could definitely be what the doctor ordered.

6. Masturbation / Sex

Loosening of the pelvis and all the muscles around it, is a great way to let go of menstrual tension. In my experience, a good vibrator does the trick nicely. If you don’t want to get messy, or can’t stand the smell or the blood, then the shower is always a good place! And who knows? Your partner might even think it’s hot!

7. Hot water bottle

I don’t often resort to the tried-and-true hot water bottle, but when I do, it’s very soothing. In my experience, it doesn’t work as well to relax my pelvic muscles as some of the other items above.

8. Limiting coffee / alcohol

Whenever I drink coffee when I’m cramping, it always makes it worse. So I try to limit the coffee to when I’m not cramping as much. I also find that when I drink alcohol during menstruation, my tolerance is severely reduced. Not only do I get tipsier faster, but it also causes more menstrual cramping in the morning, and has sometimes lead to a hangover after only a couple of drinks. Drinking tea is often a good substitute for me.

So! I hope some of my experiences can help you to experiment and find your own solutions to reducing menstrual pain. And if you’re in Berlin sometime, drop by one of my classes! I teach Vinyasa Flow and Queer Yoga at English Yoga Berlin.

 

Practicing Breath

practicing breath

Practicing Breath

The idea of “practicing breath” is one that’s often heard in yoga classes. But what does it really mean?

Aren’t we always breathing?

In the novel Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins writes about two characters, Alobar and Kudra, who learn techniques of immortality, one of them a slow, controlled breathing practice. I often think about them as I breathe the way I’ve learned through years of yoga practice. And no, I’m not doing it because I want to be immortal!

I started practicing yoga about 20 years ago. I’d follow along with the breathing techniques in classes, and feel their immediate effects; more openness in my body, a greater sense of calm, more energy, and sometimes just pure bliss. But I started to understand why they were so important only more recently as the practice became more a part of my daily life.

Breathing as Pain Alleviation

I’d struggled for years with pain from of endometriosis. And a few years ago I began a weekly practice of Osho Kundalini Meditation. Through this, I learned techniques of relaxation of the pelvic muscles, which helped to reduce the pain. As I would go through the exercises, I started to realize that it was my breathing that brought me to the relaxation. The deep yoga breath made me more conscious of where I was holding physical tension in my body and in invited me to release that tension. I don’t practice the Osho technique anymore, but as soon as I start feeling the pain from endometriosis, I take deep breaths and focus on relaxing my pelvic muscles. The pain quickly dissipates. I’m not saying that this could work for everyone, as not all pain is because of tension. But it works for me.

Breathing to Reduce Anxiety

Another thing that deep conscious breathing helps me with is anxiety. As an introvert, I feel the pressure of social anxiety in crowds of people. It’s easy to take a drink or too in social settings to numb that, and though I’m a yoga teacher, I’m not against that, as it does help me relax! But there are other situations where anxiety creeps up on me too. In these cases, a minute or two of deep controlled and conscious breathing help to me feel a bit more at ease. It’s not perfect, but that little bit does help me to function better.

Breathing as a Healing Practice

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been learning about restorative yoga and its healing potential. Allowing our bodies to rest through deep relaxation and conscious breath can support us in recovering from illnesses faster, reducing stress and anxiety, boost our immune systems and make us stronger. Last year, I began an advanced yoga teacher training, the Svastha Yoga Therapie program. What I’ve learned in the first couple of modules was invaluable. I’m excited for the 3rd and 4th modules which I will attend this year, which are all about the breath. I look forward to continuing to learn more about how the breath can heal.

Practicing Breath

The idea of practicing breath is not something unique to yoga, but it’s one that we focus on in yoga classes. Once or twice a week, we get together, breathe and move together. We learn various breathing techniques in a class lead by a knowledge guide. But then what happens when we leave? Do we go back to our short breaths, hunching shoulders up to ears while waiting for the bus in the cold? Holding our breath when someone makes us angry? My idea of practicing breath is about being conscious and aware of how I’m breathing in the moment. I try, when I can, to take this practice out of the yoga studio and into my daily life. It may not change the world and all society’s problems. But it can help me to deal with it better, and get strong to fight back against it in a way that is productive.

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Juli teaches restorative yoga and vinyasa flow at English Yoga Berlin in our Kreuzberg yoga studio.