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PCOS is every modern day woman’s nightmare: not only does this condition affect the normal functioning of your body, it also affects your appearance. Add to that the fact that, in extreme cases PCOS can prevent a woman from conceiving. Could yoga – one of the oldest schools of exercise – have the answer to PCOS and its innumerable problems?
Overview of PCOS
PCOS is an acronym for polycystic ovarian syndrome. In this condition, the level of androgens (male hormones) in a woman’s body goes up. As a result, body morphology and functioning of internal organs changes. A woman suffering from PCOS will show most of the following symptoms:
- Cysts (fluid-filled sacs) on the ovaries, which can be seen in a sonograph
- Irregularity in menstruation – caused by either delayed or no ovulation
- Excess body, facial hair, and acne
- Difficulty in losing weight
- Difficulty in conceiving
- Acanthosis nigricans – a condition in which the skin develops dark, thick, velvety patches, especially in skin folds (such as armpits, neck folds, groin, etc.)
There is no one factor that can be attributed as the cause of PCOS – it is caused by a combination of hereditary as well as environmental factors. Stress has been very commonly linked to the development of PCOS. Other health complications that often go hand in hand with PCOS include obesity, diabetes (type 2), mood disorders, etc.
While ovarian cysts are the most significant symptom of PCOS, they are not the only symptom that characterise the condition. PCOS (along with showing the above symptoms) is also known to affect thyroid function.
Due to its ambiguous nature of origin, PCOS cannot be completely cured. However, lifestyle changes can help women live with PCOS without letting it affect the quality of their life, including being able to conceive.
Why Yoga Works Against PCOS
Yoga is not ‘exercise’ – yoga is a way of life. Yoga refers to a set of principles that form the basis of a lifestyle that, if practised through life, will take you closer to moksha (liberation from the circle of life, death, and rebirth).
It may be obvious from the above description of yoga that: the principles that yoga is based on will help you attain the highest level of harmony between all your five senses, your different body parts, your thoughts, your emotions… your entire being.
The most commonly known and widely practised school of yoga is the hatta yoga. Hatta yoga focuses on the following main aspects of personal discipline:
- Mitahara, or proper diet
- Shatkarma, or proper body cleansing
- Asana, or proper body posture
- Pranayam, or proper breathing
- Dhyan, or meditation
- Kundalini, a form of primal energy located at the base of the spine
This holistic way of life is hence guaranteed to uplift the quality of every aspect of your life – be it better health, better thoughts, better frame of mind, or just being content and happy. PCOS is simply one of the disorders that yoga can positively affect and help manage – there are many, many more.
Benefits of Yoga for PCOS Treatment
The aspect of yoga that has been adopted worldwide by people to cure different ailments – from Alzheimer’s disease to cancer, and many more – is ‘yogasana’. Most often it is practised along with dhyan, or meditation. Using yoga to manage PCOS has a lot of benefits:
- It is inexpensive, unlike the different medicines and other treatments that women have to undertake to manage not just PCOS, but also all allied problems (like laser treatment for excess body hair).
- It is non-intrusive, as it does not involve using any device or medication.
- It has no side-effects – except maybe feeling positively healthy and refreshed! While medication may be required to kick the body into action (especially when it comes to ovulation), most of the pills prescribed affect and alter the body chemistry, often leading to undesirable side-effects.
14 Yoga Poses for PCOS
When it comes to adopting yoga as a ‘treatment’ or ‘management’ technique for any kind of ailment it is important to remember that yoga needs to be practised every single day for its benefits to kick in. Here are 15 of the most effective yoga poses for PCOS.
1. Baddhakonasan, or Butterfly Pose
This pose works on the muscles of the groin area, the inner thighs, and organs in the abdominal cavity. In women, it is known to regulate the function of the ovaries and to soothe the menstrual cycle.
2. Supta Badhakonasana, or Reclining Butterfly Pose
This is a modification of the Baddhakonasan and is shown to have similar benefits.
3. Bhujangasan, or Cobra Pose
This is the seventh pose of Surya namaskar. Bhujangasan works on the swadishthan chakra, said to be located in the sacrum. Bhujangasan does wonders on activating the kundalini (primal energy that is the main driving force of all life; in literal terms, sexual energy), thereby aiding in controlling symptoms of PCOS.
4. Naukasan, or Boat Pose
Naukasan works on the abdominal muscles and organs located in the abdominal cavity. It is also known to regulate thyroid function – one of the effects of having PCOS.
5. Dhanurasan, or Bow Pose
One of the best poses to help constipation, dhanurasan is also beneficial in relieving menstrual discomfort – cramps, stiffness, etc. It also stimulates the reproductive organs, thereby helping them function better.
6. Balasana, or Child Pose
Balasan has no direct impact on any particular ‘organ’ in the body. However, it is a great asana to strengthen the hips. In spite of that, this asana makes it to our list of yogasanas for PCOS bcos it is a good ‘counter asana’ – which helps the body return to its normal state after being stretched and extended in the other different asanas.
7. Marjariasana, or Cat Pose
The cat pose is known and practised by many to get rid of back pain. It is a great pose to strengthen your spine. In women, the pose has additional benefits: it helps strengthen the core muscles, giving strength to endure childbirth and tackle menstrual cramps.
8. Bitilasan, or Camel Pose
The camel pose is the opposite of the cat pose. It acts to balance the cat pose, and should always be practised together with it.
9. Prasarita Padottanasana, or Wide-legged Forward Bend
This asana too works on your hips; it helps to open them up wider, so that childbirth will be easier. Prasarita Padottanasana also helps to tone the abdominal muscles and visceral organs.
10. Padmasan, or Lotus Pose
This is a great asana for both men and women, as it works on reproductive organs of both the sexes. In men, padmasana is known to ease sciatica too. In women, sitting in padmasan during the mestrual cycle can bring cramps well under control. The pelvic girdle is worked on by this asana.
11. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, or Bridge Pose
The bridge pose does wonder to regulate thyroid function, an important aspect of PCOS. It is also known to stimulate organs in the abdominal cavity. The most significant benefit of this asana is that it helps cure symptoms of menopause, a very significant feature with respect to treating PCOS.
12. Paschimottanasana, or Seated Forward Bend
Paschimottanasana helps tackle one of the biggest side-effects of PCOS – obesity and weight gain. Most women who have PCOS find it difficult to lose weight – Paschimottanasana is the answer to this.
13. Shalabhasana, or Locust Pose
This is another yogasana that is known to benefit women suffering from ovary as well as uterine disorders. As we know PCOS affects the ovaries, and so this is a good pose for PCOS. Diabetes is a complication of PCOS, and the locust pose (or superman pose) is also known to help control diabetes (if practised every day).
14. Malasan, or Garland Pose (also known as Yoga Squat)
The benefits of Malasana and squats are similar – they help open up the hip and pelvic girdle, and are hence great for women suffering irregularity in mensus, as well as those wanting to bear children
4 Yoga Pranayam Exercises for PCOS
Breathing has great importance in any kind of exercise. Be it weight-training in the gym, or yoga in the tranquillity of your house – there is a proper pattern to when you need to inhale and when you should exhale. Along with that, yoga also has a separate set of ‘exercises’ that focus only on different methods and techniques of breathing. Here are 4 best pranayam exercises for PCOS.
1. Yoni Mudra
The yoni mudra is a hand posture that represents the female vagina. Sitting in padmasana, and joining your hands in the yoni mudra whilst deep breathing, can be a great way to help manage PCOS. This will especially benefit and regulate the functioning of the reproductive organs.
2. Nadi Shodhana
Nadi shodhana is inhaling and exhaling alternatively through individual nostrils of the nose. It is done in tandem: first, you inhale from the left, exhale from the right, and then inhale from the right, and exhale from the left, in slow continuous cycles. The most direct connection that this pranayam exercise has with PCOS is that: it helps in balancing of the male and female energies in the body (which is the root cause of PCOS). It also helps establish a balance between the levels of different hormones in the body.
PCOS can really take its toll on your mental calm and peace. One of the best pranayam exercises to calm yourself down in the face of anxiety and panic is to do the Bhramari: place both palms on your ears, close your eyes, draw a deep breath, and exhale slowly while humming as loud as you can. If placing palms is difficult, you can close your eyes and ears as shown in the picture above
Kapaalbhati is the best breathing exercise for weight management. It shows a high impact on the abdominal muscles and the core. Kapaalbhati also works to bring diabetes under control. Being two significant complications associated with PCOS, this is an excellent exercise for women to practice.
WATCH: How to Perform Kapaalbhati
Key Takeaway: Kapaalbhati is a very effective breathing exercise that not only has benefits for PCOS, but also the respiratory system. Here is how you do Kapaalbhati.
- Sit in a meditative posture.
- Inhale deeply, expanding the chest.
- Exhale forcefully, using your abdominal muscles to literally ‘throw’ air out of your nostrils.
- Repeat up to 10 times. This is one cycle.
- Perform up to 3 such cycles. Remember to take a deep breath and exhale slowly between each cycle.
In general, deep breathing – whether done while being seated in the lotus pose, or while sitting in your chair at your office – is known to calm the mind down, brings thoughts under control, and help relieve stress. Stress plays an important role in PCOS – a lot of women are known to develop PCOS only owing to the immense stress they feel on a daily basis. If five minutes of your day could permanently eliminate this factor from your life… why not.
Precautions to Take While Doing Yoga for PCOS
While yoga has a lot of health benefits, you need to be careful when you start out practising yoga, especially if you are a novice. While it may not be a high-intensity or high-impact exercise, it does require a lot of flexibility. All joints and muscles in your body will be worked when you do yoga – so if you are not used to moving around a lot, beware of aches and cramps! Here are some precautions you should take while using yoga for PCOS.
- Use a yoga mat. This is especially important for all asanas in which you need to sit on the floor. If you do not want to buy a yoga mat, you can work-out on a thick blanket or carpet. Just make sure it is secured firmly so that it doesn’t move (to prevent slipping and falling).
- Use stretchable clothes – especially pants. Yoga will help you improve your body flexibility. But you cannot bend and twist if your clothes come in the way! Pick accordingly.
- Listen to your body. If you are unable to do an asana perfectly, do not push yourself. The idea is to first make your muscles and body get used to moving, bending, stretching a certain way (by practising every day), and to then slowly push yourself towards attaining the correct posture. Slow and steady does it.
- Use ambient music instead of loud pumping beats. Yoga is not just about focusing on your physical self, but also your mental and emotional self. The best ‘music’ to use is some white noise or soft instrumental music. Chanting music is also good.
- Do not have a heavy pre-workout meal before a yoga session. While this is true for any kind of workout, it is especially important while doing yoga, as a lot of the asanas will put pressure on your belly. Attempting to do them on a full stomach can lead to cramps, nausea, vomiting, or even acid reflux.
- Do not forget to drink water. Yoga may not make you ‘sweat’ a lot, but it is still important to keep your body hydrated. Best tip you can follow here is: drink two sips of water after every asana.
- Disconnect. Do not bring your phone to the floor. If you need it to play music, then turn it on to aeroplane mode. It is important that you enter a zen-like state (or at least try to) in order to harvest maximum benefits of your yoga session.
- Always perform asanas first, then pranayam, and then dhyan. Do not mix up this sequence.
FAQ on Yoga for PCOS
1. How long does it take to cure PCOS with Yoga?
Yoga cannot cure PCOS. In fact, PCOS cannot be ‘cured’ by any means of medication. However, yoga can greatly reduce the symptoms of PCOS, especially those that affect fertility, and with time, can also reduce your dependency on pills or medication for the regularisation of hormones.
2. What is more helpful for a PCOS patient? Doing yoga or joining a gym?
Definitely yoga. Yoga maxes out on one huge benefit of exercising that gymming cannot – stress-relief. While any kind of exercise will help you relieve stress, yoga takes it to another level, with its meditative techniques and exercises that focus only on breathing (i.e. pranayam)… and we all know that stress is a big contributor to PCOS. Along with that, it has also been found out that: rigorous gymming leads to, in fact, an increase in androgens – which is counter-productive for PCOS.
3. Is yoga better than intense exercise in PCOS?
Yes. One of the biggest side-effects of PCOS is not being able to lose weight. As a result, it is natural to be tempted to turn towards more intense forms of workout, in the hope of burning more calories, and burning them faster. However, yoga is a much better option to choose, not only because it will help you lose weight and control your stress levels (as mentioned earlier), but because it has targeted benefits for different body organs too (which intense forms of workout may not be able to provide). Yoga is more like a one-stop solution that is going to act on more than just an overall/general physical level – it is going to specifically heal the organs that are affected as a result of PCOS.