I used to get terrible menstrual cramps. In college, I remember thinking that my neighbors who shared a wall must be sure that someone in my apartment was having sex. But no, the bed banging against the wall and the moans weren't pleasure-induced. It was just me, having gotten my period.
These days, my period generally shows up unawares. I sometimes feel heaviness in my pelvis and I can sense an energy shift, but it's no longer pain that clues me in to Aunt Flo's impending arrival or pain that accompanies those first few days of her visit.
To me, this is a bit of a minor miracle.
Like many a miracle, there's nothing other-wordly about the solution. In fact, it was quite practical: get my pelvis into a neutral (or close to neutral) position so that my organs can be where they belong. I attribute the following habits and exercises to helping me do that and suggest them to anyone who wants to reduce or alleviate their own menstrual cramps.
1. Ditch the heels.
Sure, it'll take some work to transition to a totally flat shoe. But any heel on that shoe (sneakers included) changes the entire alignment of your body and one of those compensations happens at the pelvis.
2. Stretch the back of the legs.
If you've done a lot of shoe wearing and sitting (and who hasn't?), those hamstrings and calves are tight. Importantly, the hamstrings tug on the pelvis, pulling it out of alignment. If you want to get the pelvis to rest in a more neutral position, you're going to need to stretch the entire back of the leg (remember: if the calves are tight, it can cause a slight bend in the knee, which then also keeps the hamstring shorter). This exercise will help you address both issues simultaneously.
Instructions: Place your feet up onto a foam dome or rolled mat. Without rounding forward through the lumbar spine (lower back), hinge at the hips, sending your hips back a bit as your torso comes forward. Stop bending when your pelvis stops moving and your spine starts rounding. It may be helpful to think of your tailbone lifting gently toward the ceiling. Hang out here for 60 seconds and repeat a few times per day.
3. Lengthen the inner thighs.
Your adductors also connect the thigh to the pelvis, so you'll want to begin opening them up as well. This is a great place to hang out and read or talk on the phone.
Instructions: Place your legs up on the wall in a V shape. You'll want your knees to be straight and your toes relaxing down toward the floor. Importantly, you'll want your pelvis in neutral in order to help you get the most bang for your buck, so scoot away from the wall until the front of your pelvis is flat (ASIS and pubic symphysis in a horizontal plane). You may enjoy propping up the sides of your thighs with blocks or pillows and I definitely suggest something under your head or head/shoulders in order to allow your ribs to drop toward the floor. Using props is my preferred way to do this exercise in order to allow my body to truly relax and not fight the tension in my inner thighs. Hang out here for five or 20 minutes. :)
4. Release the psoas.
Your psoas muscles don't actually connect the pelvis to the leg, but they do connect the spine to the leg, and tight psoas muscles will therefore put a bend at the hip, bring the thigh slightly forward and up. This keeps reinforcing a tucked, non-neutral pelvis, which makes your womanly organs unhappy. So let's get those darlings to lengthen a bit, shall we?
Instructions: Bolster your head and shoulders high enough that the back of your thighs hit the ground. Make sure the bolstering doesn't go under the rib cage. Relax here, allowing your ribcage to drop toward the ground. Hang out here for two to 60 minutes. You can read more about psoas releasing here.
5. Move your body.
In those rare months that I have had cramping, invariably the week or so preceding my period included a lot of sitting, a lot less walking and not nearly as much stretching and overall movement as usual. The body is meant to move. More than you probably realize. More than perhaps you (or I) want it to. But menstrual cramps are so very often a symptom of not getting enough movement.
If you are ready to have a different relationship with your period I highly recommend you have a go at these exercises and habit changes. I'd be surprised if you didn't see results within a month and I imagine things will be MUCH easier for you within three. I'd love to hear how it goes!
P.S. If you want to work around the hips more, you may appreciate the free, virtual class happening on Dec. 7. We'll be working a few different muscles that also attach to the pelvis, which will help you on your journey to relieving menstrual cramps. You can attend live or watch the recording. Register here: Open Your Hips, Open Your Heart
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