6 best breathing practices for menstrual pain and PMS

Women go through many seasons in their lives. Some seasons are for welcoming what comes through our path with open arms and some for letting them go so that we can feel light as a feather. Being a woman teaches us to give birth to ourselves over and over again, creating, dissolving, constantly evolving and renewing. The cyclic nature of our journey is evident in our monthly menstrual pattern. Menstruation can be an empowering time for recharging feminine energy but it can come with many unwanted side effects such as cramps and mood swings. Many women have negative feelings about their period and are open to exploring ways to cope with the hardships that come with it. 

Just like menstruation, breathing has a cyclical nature. The renewal process of inhaling and exhaling to live is similar to building up and then discharging the blood for the creation of life. For new things to come the old have to be evacuated. These similar processes are interconnected. Breathing patterns and menstrual cycles affect each other and we can use breathing methods as a tool to manage the side effects of menstruation. 

How breathing and menstruation affect each other: 

Let’s take a closer look at the science behind the relationship between breathing and menstruation. 

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is the term for symptoms women experience before their period such as mood swings, tender breasts, depression.  Seventy-five percent of menstruating woman experiences PMS at some point in their lives. PMS is caused by estrogen and progesterone imbalances. The progesterone hormone has an impact on respiration. Between days 15-28 of the menstrual cycle, the progesterone level is higher than normal which increases breathing and causes the outflow of carbon dioxide. A week after the ovulation period, carbon dioxide levels reach the bottom point. This decrease in carbon dioxide is one of the contributors to PMS symptoms since lower levels of carbon dioxide are also related to worsened oxygenation. 

Between days 1-14 of the cycle women feel at their peak. During this time, the highest levels of carbon dioxide and lowest levels of progesterone are experienced. They feel worse in the last week of the menstrual cycle when the carbon dioxide level is lowest and progesterone levels are highest. Impaired breathing habits contribute to some of the fundamental problems women come across in menstruation.

One of these problems is difficulty in concentration. The brain and nervous system consumes 20% of the oxygen. When breathing is impaired and the body doesn’t get enough oxygen, the brain works slower and concentration will become more and more difficult to achieve. 

Another hardship menstruation can bring is period pain and migraines. Impaired breathing has a role in causing cramps and migraines too. Carbon dioxide widens and relaxes smooth muscles including the uterus. Thus lower levels of carbon dioxide contribute to period cramps in the uterus. Tension in the body increases pain. With shallow breathing, we overuse the muscles in the chest (which is connected to the spine contributing to back pain as well), neck and shoulders. Tension in the neck muscles can cause headaches. 

Benefits of breathing techniques:

Breathing techniques can be helpful for period pain. Deep breathing is effective for pain relief for many reasons including psychological relief, tension relief and easing the nervous system. 

Pain causes the breathing to become shallow and we breathe through the chest instead of taking abdominal breaths. This causes a sustained perception of a stressful state where the sympathetic nervous system causes “fight-or-flight” responses such as increased heart rate and blood pressure. Deep breathing helps the individual to feel the sensation of pain but doesn’t experience the emotional reaction to pain by bringing our attention into the present moment and working as a mindfulness tool.

The next benefit mentioned above is tension relief. Pain causes muscles to contract and tissues to tighten as a protection response. By breathing deeply, you can increase hormones like nitrous oxide and reduce the tension in muscles and connective tissues. The diaphragm is the muscle that allows us to breath. The diaphragm and pelvic floor move together. By taking deep and slow abdominal breaths, you can relax the pelvis and reduce the tension in the muscles. 

Another benefit of taking deep breaths into the stomach is soothing the nervous system and can lead to reduced anxiety. When we regulate breathing we can reverse this stress response. In particular, deep breaths with longer exhales activates the parasympathetic nervous system which is the rest state where the body calms down and returns to a balanced state. 

Different breathing methods can reduce anxiety, stress, regulate the emotions, calm the mind and facilitate spiritual tranquility. All these benefits can transform the side effects like mood swings and depression. Breathwork approaches such as holotropic breathwork take women on a journey of self-discovery to find inner peace and reach spiritual growth. This can help women connect with their femininity and make use of their increased vulnerability and emotionality during this special time of the month. 

Some breathing techniques to practice during menstruation: 

Some breathing techniques to help you cope with the effects of menstruation: 

4-7-8 breathing: This method promotes sleep and reduces anxiety. Inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds and exhale for eight seconds. Repeat this cycle as long as it feels right. 

Alternate nostril breathing: This technique has its roots in Ayurvedic medicine and yoga. Alternate nostril breathing helps with relaxation and coping with pain. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, decreases blood pressure, and slows the heart rate. Exhale fully and close your right nostril with your right thumb. Breathe in through your left nostril then close it with your left thumb. Now release your finger from your right nostril and exhale through it. After you are finished, switch the order of nostrils and start by inhaling through the right nostril and continue the cycle. Keep breathing like this as long as required. 

Ujjayi Pranayama: This technique aims to regulate blood pressure which can prevent or reduce cramps. First, breathe regularly. Then start inhaling as you normally do but exhaling fully, emptying your lungs completely. Continue with this cycle 15 times. Then breathe normally for 15 cycles. For the last part, breathe in and out deeply 20 times and after you are finished, continue with your normal breathing. 

Viloma Pranayama: This technique facilitates feelings of ease and lightness in the body. To do this exercise, inhale normally, hold for two seconds, then exhale. Repeat this cycle for a few minutes (7-10 mins.) and breathe deeper with each inhale. After you are finished, continue with your normal breathing. 

Square breathing (box breathing): This technique transforms the energy, eases the nervous system and decreases anxiety. Visualise a square in your head and focus on the bottom left corner. Now imagine you are going through the bottom left corner to the upper left corner as you breathe in and exhale when you reach the top corner. Follow this breathing cycle through the sides and exhale in each corner. Try to breathe slowly as you move around the square. 

Bhramari Pranayama or Honeybee Breathing: This method is good for tension, anxiety and anger release. Block your ears with your index fingers. Take a deep breath and during the exhale make a bee-like humming sound and repeat the cycle. Make sure you work your stomach and throat while making the sound. 

Overall we can use various breathing approaches while menstruating. Breathing methods support differing needs such as coping with mood swings, cramps and stress during these times.  They are for free  and easy to follow. Menstruation is a time to re-evaluate, renew and let go. Breathing methods allow women to focus on cleansing their energy and connecting with the goddess within, without getting distracted by symptoms. 

Discover how different breathing techniques can invegorate, heal and restart the body. Our Breathwork Method Teacher Training will give you a professional advantage in helping your clients to cope with a plethora of health issues.


References 

Busch, V., Magerl, W., Kern, U., Haas, J., Hajak, G., & Eichhammer, P. (2012). The effect of deep and slow breathing on pain perception, autonomic activity, and mood processing – an experimental study. Pain Medicine, 13(2), 215-228.

Henderson, D. R. (2020, December 2). 6 breathing exercises for pain relief. Netdoctor. https://www.netdoctor.co.uk/conditions/aches-and-pains/a8952/breathing-exercises-to-reduce-pain/.

Leaf Group. (n.d.). Breathing exercises for cramps. Livestrong.com. https://www.livestrong.com/article/420228-breathing-exercises-for-cramps/. 

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020, February 7). Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/premenstrual-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20376780. 

MediLexicon International. (n.d.). How the menstrual cycle affects respiratory symptoms, including asthma. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/252667#1. 

Menstruation. Welcome to Yoga Point. (n.d.). https://www.yogapoint.com/yoga-poses/yoga-for-menstruation.htm. 

Olsson, A. (2020, September 20). Close connection between PMS and impaired breathing. Conscious Breathing. https://www.consciousbreathing.com/articles/close-connection-between-pms-impaired-breathing/.

Orleane, R. (2010). The return of the feminine: Honoring the cycles of nature. AuthorHouse.

Skoglund, N. (2020, October 16). Treating painful periods at home – breathwork. Six Branches Family Acupuncture. https://www.sixbranchesacupuncture.com/blog/treating-painful-periods-at-home-part-one.

Williams, M. (2019, May 22). How to reduce menstrual pain instantly! Parsley and Pumpkins Nutrition. https://www.parsleyandpumpkins.com/blog/reduce-menstrual-pain-instantly. 

Yoga for period PAIN Part 1: Five yoga asanas to ease menstrual cramps and RELIEVE tension. Firstpost. (2020, February 8). https://www.firstpost.com/health/yoga-for-period-pain-part-1-five-yoga-asanas-to-ease-menstrual-cramps-and-relieve-tension-8016591.html.

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