That time of the month can make some of us feel downright miserable, from cramps to bloating to PMS.
Thankfully, research shows that low impact exercise such as yoga and Pilates can have a profoundly positive impact on our health and wellbeing during our period and throughout the entire menstrual cycle.
Take deep wide breaths
Yoga and Pilates are fantastic forms of exercise for women who have any issues with their menstrual cycle. One of the fundamentals of these two forms of exercise is the heavy emphasis on diaphragmatic breathing. Deep breathing promotes relaxation, increases concentration, enhances mood and allows for deep stretching of the rib cage, belly and pelvis.
Stress is one of the biggest causes of menstrual issues such as irregular or absent periods, period pain, mood swings and more. Stressed out and anxious women tend to breathe into their upper chest and neck, rather than into their diaphragms. Taking deeper breaths, and performing a yoga-based mindful meditation helps reduce stress and the hormonal effects of stress on our periods.
To perform a diaphragmatic breath, place your hands on either side of your rib cage at your waist. Close your eyes and take a slow deep breath in, directing the breath towards the side and back of your lower ribs so that you push your hands apart. Focus on using this breath during your yoga or pilates exercises.
The pelvic floor connection
Like all other muscles in our bodies, our pelvic floor muscles must be strengthened and stretched. Yoga and Pilates are one of the only forms of exercise that give special focus to the pelvic floor muscles during workouts.
In women with period problems such as period pain, heavy periods, and spotting, the pelvic floor muscles can become tight and constricted. By working the pelvic floor muscles, you can improve blood flow and remove any build-up of old blood, as well as promote relaxation of these tight pelvic floor muscles.
To find your pelvic floor muscles, visualise the muscles that squeeze when you are trying to stop the flow of your wee. To work these muscles, squeeze and lift them tightly, then drop them right down. Do 10 squeezes in a row to get some blood pumping, but remember to focus on letting them go as well.
There are also many exercises within yoga and Pilates that help to stretch the pelvis and pelvic floor, which can help regulate your period and reduce discomfort from cramps or PMS.
Whole Body Workout
Beyond diaphragmatic breathing and pelvic floor connection, the whole-body workout that comes with yoga and Pilates sessions promotes the release of endorphins and improved blood flow to the large muscles of your body. This helps boost metabolism and reduce fatigue associated with your menstrual cycle.
Yoga and Pilates also encourage strengthening and stretching in twisting movements, side-bending movements and extension movements. This promotes blood flow to many muscles in the body which are often neglected in other workouts. Holding lengthened positions such as back extensions and hip openers are especially beneficial.
Some of my favourite exercises for menstrual health include:
- Child pose
- Sphinx pose
- Roll down
- Cat-cow pose
- Seated twist
Overall yoga and Pilates offer significant female health benefits throughout the menstrual cycle including:
- Less PMS
- Fewer period cramps
- More regular periods
- Lighter bleeds
- Less bloating
- Less breast tenderness
- Better moods
- Improved relaxation
- Increased concentration
- Better sleep
I recommend adding two yoga or Pilates workouts to your weekly routine and tracking the improvements in your menstrual health over 3 months. You can do this using the new Fitbit Female Health Tracking functionality on the Fitbit Versa. There are also some great yoga and Pilates workouts on the accompanying Fitbit Coach app.
Heba Shaheed is co-founder and CEO of The Pelvic Expert, a digital wellbeing platform specialising in maternal, menstrual and hormone health. Heba is working closely with Fitbit for the launch of their latest smartwatch, Fitbit Versa.