Even though you already know, I’ll say it anyway: having endometriosis means knowing what it’s like to live with pain. And that pain can range from discomfort to severe, disruptive, and completely life-altering. Yoga poses for endometriosis can’t solve the actual condition, but a gentle, regular practice is a research-backed way to help reduce pain, including low back and pelvic pain from endo.
An overview of endometriosis
In endometriosis, tissue that’s only supposed to grow inside the uterus also grows in places outside the uterus. It can end up on reproductive organs, as well as in the abdominal cavity and other places throughout the body. In the luteal phase of your cycle, the tissue inside your uterus thickens and then sheds. (And, as a result, you have your period.) But with endometriosis, the tissue in other places throughout the body also sheds at the same time. That blood has nowhere to go and can create inflammation, scarring, and pain.
Why yoga is helpful for pain management in endometriosis
Several years ago, a trial looked at 40 women with endometriosis. The researchers’ goal was to measure the effects of yoga poses for endometriosis pain. One group of women didn’t practice any yoga. The other group attended 90-minute yoga classes twice per week for a total of 8 weeks. By the end, the women who practiced yoga reported a significant reduction in pelvic pain and better quality of life.
It makes sense that mind-body therapies like yoga help with pain. These types of therapies encourage staying present and emphasize conscious breathing. Both are strong techniques for supporting mental health and managing discomfort. But yoga also may be helpful because of its ability to reduce levels of stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol. High cortisol or cortisol dysfunction can lead to a heightened perception of stimuli, which equals more pain.
The 4 best yoga poses for endometriosis
The best yoga poses for endometriosis are restorative, helping wipe away stress and gently stretching the pelvic region or low spine. Before starting any postures, try some gentle warmup stretches and focused breathing.
Reclined bound-angle pose
Reclined bound-angle pose is calming and grounding, which is helpful for cramps and pain. For endometriosis, use a folded blanket or towel under the low back. Something that can also feel good: fold another towel and place it on top of the low belly. Its gentle weight provides a slight amount of input for the body while still offering a feeling of restoration.
To get into reclined bound-angle pose:
- Start by sitting on the floor and placing a small blanket or towel underneath the pelvis.
- Gently lay down but keep your feet flat on the floor for a moment, with the knees pointed up.
- Now let the knees open out to the sides, like butterfly wings, and allow the soles of the feet to come together.
- Take the hands and gently place them right on top of the towel that’s folded on the belly.
Cobra pose is a nice stretch for the spine and opens the chest area. It also engages the abdomen. Because it gently stretches the midsection, it helps keep scar tissue or adhesions flexible, which can help with pain.
- Lay down on the floor face-down with your hands beneath the shoulders, fingers spread wide. Your nose should point straight down toward the floor.
- Press the legs and top of the feet into the floor. Engage the belly muscles.
- Imagine lifting from the sternum as your arms straighten slightly. Let your neck follow the natural curve of the spine as you rise.
- Breathe. Hold for one minute and release down.
- Avoid squeezing the glutes (and skip this posture if pregnant).
Malasana is one of my all-time favorite poses to softly open the inside of the thighs and hips and stretch the low back. This pose feels amazing for back pain because its positioning creates gentle traction for the low spine. It also helps strengthen pelvic muscles and improves circulation to organs in the pelvis.
- Start in a standing position with the hands together at heart center.
- Bring the feet wider than hip-distance apart. Turn the toes out just a bit and the heels slightly in. (If you’re using a yoga mat, a good rule of thumb on distance is to step the feet to the outside edge of the mat. The arches of the feet should cross the outer edges of your mat.)
- Rise onto the balls of the feet.
- Pull the belly button in to engage the abs and protect the low back. Start to lower down, straight from the pelvis, without sticking your bottom out.
- If possible, lower the heels as you come into a full squat. Otherwise, you can stay up on the balls of the feet. You’re welcome to keep the hands at heart center, gently pushing the elbows into the thighs. Or, you can release the hands to the floor for support.
- Breathe in this pose for about a minute, working your way up to 3 minutes.
Knee-down twists offer up a lot of benefits. For one, it’s a restorative posture that can help relieve stress. But twists also come in handy to help manage endo belly (bloating from inflammation). Nearly 83% of women with endometriosis experience uncomfortable and painful bloating, ranging from mild to extreme.
- Recline onto your back. Then, pull your knees in toward your chest.
- Send your arms out to the sides, like airplane wings. Keep the palms face-down.
- Press down through your arms and hands. Draw the knees closer together. Let them both fall to one side.
- Look toward the ceiling or out over the opposite shoulder. Repeat on the other side of the body.
Be gentle and go slow
With any and every chronic condition (and pain), start out new activities and yoga poses slowly and gently. See how your body responds to just a few breaths or moments in each posture, and work your way up to holding them for a little longer.
- How to clean a yoga mat during COVID + what to bring - September 18, 2020
- Hot yoga and fertility: what to consider - September 2, 2020
- Yoga with a mask on? Words from an RYT and MD - May 18, 2020