6 best yoga poses to relieve period cramps and soothe aching muscles in your thighs and back

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6 best yoga poses to relieve period cramps and soothe aching muscles in your thighs and back
Cow pose is great for opening up the chest.Mimi Ghandour
  • Practicing yoga may help relieve swelling, muscle tension, cramping, and other period-related pain.
  • Ideal poses for cramps help stretch your abdominal muscles, open your hips, or relax your pelvis.
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Persistent or intense menstrual cramps can easily disrupt your daily life — especially when your go-to strategies for relief, like heating pads or painkillers, don't do much to relieve your pain.

Evidence suggests, however, that yoga can provide additional relief. According to one small study, practicing 30 minutes of yoga twice a week for 12 weeks may lead to significant improvements in menstrual pain.

Kasia Gondek, a licensed physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist trained in yoga for pelvic pain, says yoga can help reduce discomfort from period cramps by:

Certain yoga poses may do more to ease your pain than others, however. Yoga instructors specifically recommend these six poses to help relieve and prevent period cramps.

1. Reclined goddess pose (Supta baddha konasana)

6 best yoga poses to relieve period cramps and soothe aching muscles in your thighs and back
Femina Physical Therapy

Why it helps: Gondek says this pose, also called restorative goddess pose, is one of the best poses for any kind of pelvic pain.

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It helps open up your hips, which may feel tight and restricted before, during, and after your period.

How to do it:

1. Start lying on your back, with your knees bent and feet planted on the floor.

2. Place one bolster pillow underneath your knees. Then position another bolster lengthwise under your spine. Your butt should rest on your yoga mat.

3. Lie back and allow your props to support your back, neck, and head.

4. With your arms relaxed by your side, turn your palms facing upward.

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5. Touch the soles of your feet together and let your knees gently fall to either side. If this feels uncomfortable, you can also keep your feet planted on the mat.

6. Remain in this pose for at least 3-5 minutes.

7. When you're done, plant your feet flat on the floor, remove the prop from under your knees and slowly sit upright.

Note: Many yoga classes use special oblong pillows as bolsters. If you don't have one, you can make your own with a rolled towel or blanket.

2. Cat-Cow pose (Chakravakasana)

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6 best yoga poses to relieve period cramps and soothe aching muscles in your thighs and back
Mimi Ghandour

Why it helps: Cat-cow pose may help ease period pain because it can stretch the abdominal muscles, which may become tight and tense from cramping.

Research suggests that poor circulation can cause pain and discomfort, and this pose may stimulate blood flow to the pelvic region, according to certified yoga instructor Mimi Ghandour, which may help ease your pain.

Cat-cow pose also opens up the chest and encourages slow, deep breathing. This can help your whole body relax, which is important since the uterine spasms that cause cramps can cause tension in your body — and those spasms tend to worsen when you're stressed.

How to do it:

1. Start on your hands and knees with a neutral spine — in other words, avoid arching or curving your spine.

2. Position your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Point your fingertips to the top of your mat.

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3. To move into cat pose, exhale as you start rounding your spine, tucking your tailbone, and drawing your pelvis forward.

4. Next, to move into cow pose, inhale as you come back to a neutral spine. Slowly tilt your chest forward and arch your back, lifting your chest as you drop your belly toward the mat. Gently gaze toward the ceiling without straining your neck.

5. Continue alternating these two stretches for at least five breaths, while synchronizing your inhalations to the cow pose and exhalations to the cat pose.

3. Supine twist (Supta matsyendrasana)

6 best yoga poses to relieve period cramps and soothe aching muscles in your thighs and back
Femina Physical Therapy

Why it helps: Gondek says this pose can help release tension and tightness in your abdominal fascia — the connective tissue surrounding your abdominal muscles.

Also, this pose may offer additional benefits if you experience lower back pain during your period, since it's great for stretching and strengthening the lower back.

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How to do it:

1. Start out lying on your back, with your arms outstretched to form a "T" shape with your body and your palms facing upward.

2. Keep your left leg extended out in front of you. As you inhale, bend your right knee and gently hug it to your chest.

3. As you exhale, keep your right knee bent and cross it over to the left side of your body until your shin and foot touch the floor. Place your left hand on your right knee for support.

4. Keep both shoulder blades on the mat, even if that means you can't touch your right knee to the floor.

5. Stay in this position for five full breaths. To deepen the stretch, turn your head toward your right hand.

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6. Bring your right knee back to the center and extend that leg. Repeat steps 2-5 with your left leg.

Quick tip: If the stretch in this pose feels too intense, you can try placing a bolster pillow or blankets under your bent knee.

4. Standing forward fold (Uttanasana)

6 best yoga poses to relieve period cramps and soothe aching muscles in your thighs and back
Mimi Ghandour

Why it helps: The Sanskrit word "uttanasana" comes from "ut," meaning intense, and "tan," meaning to stretch.

"Intense stretch" is a fitting name, since Ghandour says this pose provides a deep stretch along the entire backside of your body — which is beneficial since menstrual cramps can cause pain in your thighs and lower back.

Standing forward fold is a common pose in hatha yoga, a gentler style that focuses on timing your breath to your movements.

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Gondek says hatha yoga may prove an especially helpful approach for relieving pelvic pain during your period. Since it emphasizes slower movements and deeper stretching, it's less strenuous on your body — a bonus if you don't feel up to moving much at all.

How to do it:

1. While standing with your arms by your sides and feet shoulder-width apart, bend your knees slightly as you hinge forward from your hips.

2. Keep your spine long and shoulders down as you touch your fingertips to the floor in front of you. Release all tension in your neck and let your head hang, relaxed. Breathe slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth for 1-2 minutes.

3. When you're ready, very gradually allow your upper body to rise, with your head coming up last.

Quick tip: For a deeper stretch, you can try bringing your palms flat onto the mat. For a gentler stretch, you can place a yoga block in front of you to rest your fingers or hands on.

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5. Happy baby pose (Ananda balasana)

6 best yoga poses to relieve period cramps and soothe aching muscles in your thighs and back
Mimi Ghandour

Why it helps: This pose helps relieve pain by relaxing the pelvic floor muscles along with releasing tension in your lower back muscles, says Gondek. That makes it a great option if you tend to have an achy or tender back and pelvis during your period.

How to do it:

1. Start lying on your back. Bend your knees in toward your chest, and raise your arms up to grip the outsides or inner arches of your feet.

2. While keeping your feet flexed, gently spread your knees apart so they're wider than your torso, and shift them upward toward your armpits.

3. Gently rock from side to side as you inhale and exhale deeply for 1-3 minutes.

Quick tip: If you're having trouble reaching your feet or getting your knees to widen and shift upward, you can try placing your hands on your calves or behind your thighs instead.

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6. Downward dog pose (Adho mukha svanasana)

6 best yoga poses to relieve period cramps and soothe aching muscles in your thighs and back
Mimi Ghandour

Why it helps: Downward dog pose simultaneously stretches and strengthens the body, says Ghandour — and as with other inverted poses that place your heart higher than your head, it boosts blood flow throughout the body, which may help relieve period pain.

How to do it:

1. Begin on all fours, with your wrists slightly in front of your shoulders, knees under your hips, and toes curled under.

2. Inhale for 3-4 counts, and then as you exhale for 3-4 counts, push through your hands to raise your hips to the ceiling and straighten your legs without locking your knees.

3. Spread your fingers wide and press your hands into the mat. Let your head hang, keep your shoulder blades relaxed away from your ears, and lift your tailbone toward the ceiling.

4. Stay in this pose for five to 10 breaths.

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Quick tip: If you'd like an additional stretch, Ghandour suggests peddling out your feet by bending and straightening each leg one at a time.

Best yoga mats

6 best yoga poses to relieve period cramps and soothe aching muscles in your thighs and back
Hugger Mugger

A good yoga mat cushions your body and grounds you in the practice. Find the mat best for your body in our guide to the best yoga mats.

  • Best on a budget: Hugger Mugger Gallery Collection Yoga Mat, $46.95 on Amazon and Backcountry
  • Best for sweaty yogis: JadeYoga Harmony Mat, $84.95 on Amazon and REI

Insider's takeaway

You may not always feel like moving when you have period cramps — but doing some gentle yoga can often make a difference by helping stretch and relax tense, achy muscles and boosting blood flow throughout the body.

All that said, always listen to how your body responds to your yoga practice, and honor your limitations. If certain poses feel too intense or end up aggravating your cramps, Gondek suggests modifying them or trying something else, like walking, swimming, Pilates, or basic stretches.

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