It’s well documented that – no matter how much we don’t want it to be true – exercising helps with PMS symptoms, from painful cramps to fatigue and mood swings.
But you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who actually wants to go for a run or smash out a heavy weights session while they’re dealing with the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
Instead, gentle exercise, such as yoga or Pilates, might be the perfect antidote.
In fact, a 2020 study found that Pilates can considerably reduce PMS symptoms.
How can Pilates reduce PMS symptoms?
‘Research has shown that a regular Pilates practice could improve your physical and psychological PMS symptoms, significantly reducing the feelings of irritability, mood swings and depression, and abdominal cramps, food craving, headache, fatigue and breast tenderness,’ says movement specialist and founder of the Transformative Movement Method, Vanessa Michielon.
‘By providing both a safe, low impact, full body training method, and an opportunity to cultivate focused attention and mindfulness, Pilates can be one of the best forms of movement to support you if you are affected by PMS.’
Pilates can help both the physical symptoms, by working on the abdominal area to reduce cramping, as well as the psychological symptoms.
According to Vanessa, this is because abdominal exercises ‘help to get rid of prostaglandin – the chemicals which constrict the blood vessels in the uterus and make the muscle layer contract, causing our well-known painful cramps – which in turn reduce back pain, and abdominal and pelvic discomfort.’
Also, activities that require mindfulness help to strengthen our decision-making skills, thus improving the ‘emotional impulsivity’ you might feel while PMS-ing.
Vanessa has shared five Pilates movements to try out to curb mood swings, cramping and bloating during your premenstrual phase.
Five Pilates moves to help with PMS symptoms
‘This is a great way to connect to your breath and slow it down, while opening your front and back body, and releasing muscular tension,’ says Vanessa.
How to: On your hands and knees, breathe in and allow your chest to soften towards the ground, as your head and tail lift to create an arch in your spine.
As you exhale, gently hug your abdominals in and curl your back, allowing your upper back to round towards the ceiling and your head and tail to lower and move towards each other.
Repeat, increasing the range of motion and enjoying a pleasant stretch in your abdominals and back muscles.
‘This is an effective and gentle exercise for the mobility of your torso, which invites you to fully focus your mind on the articulation of the spine,’ says Vanessa.
How to: Lay on your back, knees bent pointing towards the ceiling, feet hips distance apart.
Lengthen your arms towards your hips, shoulders and hands firmly anchored down, and keep your gaze towards the ceiling.
Breathe in to prepare; as you exhale, lift your tailbone, lower back, middle back and lower part of your chest off the ground, while maintaining your shoulder blades firmly in touch with the floor.
As you breathe in again, unfurl your spine sequentially and release one vertebra at the time on your mat.
Repeat finding a smooth flow of breath and movement, imagining you lower your spine becomes longer with each repetition.
According to Vanessa, the roll-up is ‘a wonderful way to cultivate core strength and back mobility.’
How to: For a gentle version of this exercise, begin laying on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
As you breathe in, lift your arms toward the ceiling.
As you exhale, gently hug your abdominals in, reach your arms forward and lift your head and shoulders off the floor.
Use your hands to climb up your legs, while sliding your ribs to your hips and come up to a seated position.
As you breathe in, roll back down creating a deep C shape with your spine and use your hands to slow down your descent.
Once your shoulders are back on the floor lift your arms up and release your head.
Repeat 5/10 times, progressively smoothening the transitions and releasing unnecessary tension from your shoulders.
‘With this exercise you can improve the mobility of your thoracic spine and stretch all your back muscles while gently connecting to your obliques,’ says Vanessa.
How to: Lay on your back, bend your knees and bring them together, feet flat on the floor.
Open your arms to the side until they are in line with your shoulders.
As you breathe in, allow your knees to rock to your right side, keeping your feet and knees together and your left shoulder blade on the mat.
As you breathe out, gently hug your abdominals in and bring your knees and feet back to centre.
Repeat to the other side, always avoiding flaring out your ribs and trying to maintain as much connection as possible between your upper back and the floor.
‘Finally, this is a great way to open the side of the body, by lengthening the muscles between your ribs and hips,’ Vanessa says.
How to: Sit on the floor with both legs folded to the left side, arms open sideways in a T shape.
Inhale to prepare and exhale to lift your left arm straight up above your head, reaching your spine and head up and over to the right in lateral flexion.
Allow your right hand to slide sideways to increase the support, perhaps allowing your right elbow to touch the floor.
Try to keep both hips grounded and your ribs softly connected.
Inhale to come back to centre, and repeat on the other side as you exhale.
Repeat this movement creating a smooth coordination of breath, spine and arms movements while keeping your hips anchored.
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