Yoga for PCOS and how it helps you feel better

Yoga for PCOS - woman holding yoga mat
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Have you tried yoga for PCOS symptom relief? Yoga won’t treat or cure PCOS, but it can help you feel better–no matter what type of PCOS you’re dealing with.

What can I expect from doing yoga for PCOS?

There’s no cure for PCOS, but there are medications and lifestyle changes that can help manage it. Lifestyle recommendations to women with PCOS usually emphasize diet and nutrition, stress reduction, and exercise approaches that are tailored to the type of PCOS you have. Yoga fits perfectly into these lifestyle changes. It offers incredible benefits that have been proven through studies. Plus, it’s accessible, at some level, to almost everyone.

What did the studies on yoga for PCOS show?

Studies on PCOS have shown that, along with other targeted approaches, it’s effective in helping manage symptoms. In one study, women with PCOS practiced one hour of yoga just three times per week. Each session included a mindfulness component, like breathing, mind/body awareness, and staying present. After just three months, there were measurable improvements in androgen hormone levels, with testosterone levels were nearly 30% lower than they were at the start. The study also reported that the women saw improvements in depression and anxiety, which are common in PCOS and other chronic health conditions.

What else can yoga do for PCOS?

In more another study, yoga showed that it has the capability to help lower blood glucose levels. It was reported that yoga asanas (postures) increased sensitivity of β-cells and reduced insulin resistance. Even women with a type of PCOS other than insulin-resistant PCOS can experience problems with how her body responds to insulin and uses glucose.

But what really makes yoga such an important tool in PCOS (and so many other conditions) is its ability to reduce stress. The mindfulness we use in yoga reminds us to breathe fully rather than taking shallow breaths. We connect breath with movement. And we become more in tune with our bodies. These things help lower blood pressure and heart rate and make us feel good and calm. When you feel less stressed, you also produce lower amounts of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. With cortisol levels better regulated, we’re healthier and levels of other hormones can start to improve, too.

What other hormones can yoga improve besides cortisol and testosterone?

Hormones are chemical messengers, and they impact every single aspect of our well-being and health. Two hormones directly and easily affected by stress are progesterone and insulin. To continue to make more cortisol, your body will use progesterone. Many women with PCOS have low progesterone already because of irregular or inovulatory cycles.

Many women with PCOS also have a low-functioning thyroid. Stress affects the thyroid gland and so does low progesterone. Cortisol makes it harder for your body to convert your inactive thyroid hormone into an active form. And, progesterone helps increase activity of your thyroid hormones and keep your metabolism going.

What types of yoga are good or bad for PCOS?

The best type of yoga for your PCOS depends on your body and the underlying cause of your PCOS. Generally, I wouldn’t advice anyone with PCOS to head to a hot yoga class, especially if you’re trying to conceive. But even if you’re not, dehydration is common with PCOS (and especially if you’re taking metformin). The intense heat of a studio in hot yoga can lead to a dangerous or depleting situation.

For most chronic health conditions, yoga should be on gentle to moderate. You want breathing to remain steady and to not overexert an already stressed body. Because of their strong mindfulness component, yin yoga, trauma-sensitive classes, and restorative yoga are great options for all types of PCOS. A regular hatha practice that incorporates centering, relaxation, and plenty of breath work (pranayama) is a healthy choice too.

What are a few yoga poses I can do at home for PCOS?

There are so many yoga poses that you can do at home to reap the benefits of the practice. Here are a few ones that are great for PCOS and to get into again and again.

Marjariasana, or cat-cow pose

Yoga for PCOS- woman doing cat cow

This pose is calming, engages the muscles of the abdomen, and gently stretches the back muscles.

Come into table top position, with the hands under the wrists and knees under the shoulders. (If this hurts your wrists, move your hands slightly forward.) Breathe evenly here, lengthening the spine. When you’re ready, press down through the palm. Inhale. Then, on the exhale, draw the belly in and allow the back to rise, like a scared cat. Let the chin come toward the chest. As you inhale, slowly drop your belly toward the mat. Allow your back to take the shape of a hammock. Instead of lengthening the front of the neck, keep the neck in line with your spine. Send your gaze up.

Malasana, or garland Pose

Yoga for pcos- woman doing malasana

Malasana strengthens the muscles of the pelvis. It also brings blood flow to the abdominal area. Malasana helps relieve constipation, gas, and bloating, which can be common in PCOS. As a gentle hip-opener, the pose also stretches the inner thighs but also the low back.

To come into malasana: Stand with the feet just wider than hip-width apart. Turn the toes out a little bit. Inhale and draw the belly button in, keeping the belly pulled in as you exhale out. Come up on the balls of the feet. Instead of focusing on bending the knees, start to lower from the pelvis, keeping the belly pulled in and breathing steady. Lower as far as you comfortably can. Here, you can drop the heels or keep them raises. Hands can come to a prayer position at heart center or to the ground for support. Focus on the breath, and stay in this pose for about one minute.

Setu bandhasana, or bridge pose

Yoga for PCOS- bridge pose

Bridge pose feels restorative and rejuvenating. It also strengthens the muscles of the back, abdomen, legs, glutes, and pelvic muscles. Benefits include improved digestion, stress relief, and an opening of the heart center. Also, it’s estimated that about 50% of women with PCOS also have an under-active thyroid. Bridge pose has been said to be helpful for stimulating the thyroid gland, which is at the base of the throat.

Lay down on your mat with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Bring your arms along the body. Put the palms down, gently pressing into the earth. Walk the feet in slightly. Draw the belly in. Press through the feet. Engage the glutes and raise the hips. Breathe evenly as you hold as long as is comfortable. Lower to the floor slowly and easily.

Vrksasana, or tree pose

Yoga for polycystic ovarian syndrome- woman doing tree pose

Tree pose never gets mentioned for PCOS, but it should. Having a chronic condition and uncomfortable or concerning symptoms is a challenge physically and emotionally. Tree pose is confidence-building. It strengthens the parts of the body you look to for support and stability–the feet, legs, and pelvis. While planting and rooting through the foot, you’re also lifting through the heart center. That can provoke an emotional feeling of freedom and openness, which is important for anyone with an ongoing health issue.

To come into tree pose, stand with the feet hip-distance apart. Engage the abdominal muscles. Bring the weight into the left leg without locking the knee. Come onto the ball of the right foot, with the knee slightly bent. Send the knee out to the side, opening the right inner hip. You can stay right here. Or, you can bring the sole of the right foot to the inside of the calf or thigh (anywhere but the knee joint). Press the foot lightly into the place you set it. Lift gently from the heart center. Breathe here, with the hands in prayer at the middle of the chest. Or, raise the arms to the shape of a “v.”

Are there any postures I should stay away from?

There’s no need to completely avoid any specific postures in the span of a class or practice for your PCOS. However, there is one pose that gets included on “must-do” lists for PCOS that I would recommend some women not over-practice: cobra. A very small study showed it can consistently increase testosterone levels in men, and one woman in the study experienced a significant increase in her testosterone levels after performing and holding the pose.

How can I add mindfulness into my practice to reduce stress?

Mindfulness sounds intimidating. Most of us have trouble quieting the constant dialogue in our heads. But it doesn’t have to be complicated or hard. One of the best ways to practice mindfulness is to find a comfortable seat on your mat. Begin to breathe fully, focusing on slowing each inhale and exhale slightly. Imagine drawing the air up from the belly, fully expanding the ribs, and letting the air lift the sternum.

Find your mind wandering? Try saying the word “inhale” in your head when you draw a breath in. Then, say “exhale” as you breathe out. This little job helps keep your mind from wandering to a to-do list. Sometimes, thoughts still sneak in. Don’t judge or beat yourself up for it. Remind yourself that it’s okay. (It really is.) Effort counts. Those few moments of slowing down count. With yoga and mindfulness, you don’t have to do things perfectly or be perfect to benefit.

Cindy Hodits, RYT
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