The first time I ever acknowledged in public the fact that I had a period was in yoga class. “Is anyone here menstruating?” the teacher asked. I tentatively raised my hand, feeling a little exposed.
“We’ll be doing inversions later in class, but I’ll give you some restorative poses to do instead,” she told me.
Ooh, restorative poses, I thought. I didn’t even know what that meant at that point in my yoga journey, but I know that given the low energy I was currently feeling, anything restorative sounded like just what I needed.
What I would come to learn over my decades of yoga practice is that it is at its most powerful when you tailor the poses to your particular body. And because yoga is a dynamic, changing practice—ranging from the very mellow yin yoga to the super athletic ashtanga yoga—it is the perfect tool to help women with their dynamic, changing bodies. Because we aren’t the same creatures week to week, or even day by day. As our hormones fluctuate, so do our energy levels, stamina, resistance to pain, and mood.
Here then a few of my favorite poses for each part of your monthly cycle–you can find more in the book I co-wrote with Ellen Barrett, The 28 Days Lighter Diet, which teaches women how to heal their PMS and shed excess weight by working with their bodies through all phases of the menstrual cycle.
These poses help your body regulate itself and provide just the support you need, just when you need it. And ahh, having a happy body and balanced hormones feels great.
The first days of your period
At this point in your cycle, your energy is at its lowest levels, and you are also at your most intuitive. Give yourself the chance to be still and get quiet with this soothing pose that also creates a lot of space in your abdomen and hips for your uterus to do her work of shedding that lining.
Reclining Bound Angle Pose
Sit on the floor with your feet in cobbler’s pose. Lie back on to the floor (or a couch cushion if you have one handy) and rest your hands either on your belly or on the floor beside you. Stay 2-5 minutes.
The tail end of your period
Your energy is coming back and you are probably getting ready to start moving again. This pose is almost a complete practice in one pose – it’s a slight inversion, forward bend, and full-body strengthener that is also great for releasing tension, both mental and physical.
Start on hands and knees with your knees directly under your hips and hands directly under your shoulders. Tuck your toes under, straighten your legs and reach the hips back so that your spine extends to its full length. Reach the heels down toward the floor and let the head dangle. Stay 3-10 breaths.
The days leading up to ovulation
This is when your energy is peaking, so you need stronger poses to match your intensity. This is the time of the month where you can climb mountains and still feel like you have gas left in your tank at the end of the day. These poses will help tone your body so it can support you.
Stand with your feet wide apart and extend your arms to the sides at shoulder height—your ankles should be right underneath your wrists. Turn the right toes out 90 degrees, and turn the left toes in 45 degrees. Look out over your right finger tips and keep your weight firmly planted in your left leg as you bend your right knee to a 90-degree angle (or as close to 90 degrees as you can get). Stay 3-5 breaths. Come back up to standing, switch the direction of your toes, and repeat to the left.
Extended Side Angle Pose
From warrior II with the right knee bent, place your right hand on the floor outside your right heel and reach your left arm straight up and over your head to create a big stretch along the entire left seam of the body. Spin your chin up to look at your bicep. Stay 3-5 breaths and repeat to the other side.
At this point in your cycle, your energy is waning, and so is your patience. These forward bends will help you turn your attention inward, where it is longing to be. They will also give your abdomen a gentle massage.
Wide-Legged Straddle Pose
Sit on the floor with legs opened into a wide straddle. Fold forward at the hips with a long spine as far as you comfortably can. Stay 5-10 breaths.
Kneel on the floor and open the knees wide. Keeping your buttocks on your heels, fold forward and bring your torso to rest on the floor. Turn your cheek to one side. After a minute or so, turn your cheek to the other side. Stay another minute before coming up.
Kate Hanley is the co-author of The 28 Days Lighter Diet and the founder of MsMindbody.com.