Period cramping can be a real drag. Personally, I have at least one day a month when I have to commit to stretching first thing in the morning to be able to get out of bed and make my way through the morning pains.
Stretching, in general, makes you feel good for loads of reasons. It increases fresh blood flow into the muscle and helps with joint mobility and flexibility to experience full range of motion and reduce the possibility of injury. Outside of exercise, stretching is great for sorting out other everyday issues like stress, tight neck muscles, and hand cramps—often the result of sitting all day long or using our phone and computers frequently. Another unsuspecting reason to stretch? To alleviate period cramps and painful symptoms associated with menstruation.
You want to find a stretch that feels only a little bit uncomfortable while also focusing on your breathing—taking long, deep breaths and staying in the stretch as long as you can. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, it takes 60 seconds for the muscles to really give in to the stretch. Learning to breathe deeply while you stretch is key. Deep breathing allows for ultimate relaxation and focus while stretching.
Here are my top 5 stretches for crushing cramps:
If you experience lower-back cramping, this pose is the one for you. Sit on the floor and hug your knees up, and then gently roll backward keeping your chin tucked into your chest. Then, using the momentum, roll back up to sitting; continue to rock back and forth. If this position feels too strenuous, you can opt for hugging your knees while on your back to release the pressure; you'll still reap the benefits of this pose from this sort of compression, too.
Child's pose is my favorite period pain relief pose. You start by kneeling on the floor sitting on your ankles. Then stretch your arms up high as you breathe in. Exhale and stretch your arms out far in front with your forehead on the ground—it'll feel like you can stay here for ages. You can do this with your legs together or with your knees apart. Since my cramps tend to be more painful, I find I have to start with my knees apart, which can usually feel a bit icky for a minute, but if I stick with it and make it to five really deep breaths, I start to feel the cramps easing off.
This pose focuses less on flexibility, so bend your knees as much as you'd like. Place your feet hip-width apart and bend over while keeping your chin tucked into your chest. Then, wiggle your hips side to side—it should feel like you're washing everything out of your hips and expelling the tension through your fingertips. Once you find a comfortable spot, again take some deep breaths and slowly roll back up to standing, keeping your knees bent and your chin tucked into your chest—the last thing to uncurl is your head. Take a moment to steady yourself as you may feel a little dizzy.
Block out pose
I use a regular yoga block for this, but you can substitute with a rolled-up towel. I sit with the soles of my feet touching, knees out, and the block under my butt. This position allows me to be able to really relax my stomach and let it all hang out. I rub my tummy and remind myself that this is a temporary state. I focus on my breathing and rubbing my tummy as hard or soft as the pain dictates in an anti-clockwise direction. This pose is also a good one to do before bed since it usually makes me feel sleepy.
I can do this one only if I am feeling less crampy after the other stretches. Cramping makes me feel like I want to roll up into a ball, and this is the opposite, so I can do it only when the cramp pain is dying down a bit.
Lie on your back on the floor with your palms facing up and your relaxed toes falling outward. Breathe deeply and try to imagine you are breathing into your belly button and forcing it out; don’t use your muscles to push out, though—let the air do it! Once you are breathing, deeply count 10 to 20 deep breaths to calm your body and mind.