Is Yoga the Missing Piece from Your PCOS Self Care Routine?

Supplements? Check. Improved nutritional choices? Check. A curated team of supportive health care providers? Check. A regular yoga practice? Haven’t gotten around to it yet? If not, it’s definitely time to consider doing so. With its ability to improve self-confidence and self-awareness, balance hormone levels, and dampen the effects of stress, yoga might be the tool to help you manage your PCOS symptoms you’ve been looking for.

PCOS, with its myriad of symptoms, can leave you feeling like you’re constantly chasing a solution for each symptom. This powder for that. That tea for this. This pill for that symptom. Self-care for PCOS can be complicated, overwhelming, and confusing, but it doesn’t have to be.

Yoga addresses many of the underlying triggers (like insulin resistance and inflammation) of the PCOS symptoms you may be experiencing. Its beauty and effectiveness lie in its simplicity. Though simple, it is powerful.

Now, I get that “simple” might not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of yoga. Especially if you’re familiar with the version of yoga commonly presented on social media. Contrary to that image, you don’t need to know Sanskrit, have a fancy mat and an endless supply of colorful leggings, nor do you need to be able to twist your body into pretzel-like shapes. Just an open mind and a little open space will do. Yoga is for everybody and can be practiced just about anywhere.

In 2012, researchers set out to determine which was better at improving many of the endocrinepsychological, and metabolic changes associated with PCOS: yoga or conventional exercise. For 12 weeks, half of the adolescent girls in the study of various shapes and sizes with PCOS practiced yoga. The other half followed a conventional exercise routine.

Yoga was found to be more effective in just about every way than conventional exercise regardless of the participants’ starting weight or waist circumference. And the positive effects were seen independent of body size changes during the intervention. In other words, it didn’t matter what size or shape the participants started at or ended at, yoga was beneficial.

Exactly how did a regular yoga practice benefit the study participants? Yoga:

Yoga and Anxiety

Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome have a higher risk of depression and anxiety symptoms than women without PCOS. Fortunately, yoga can provide relief from both. While more, high-quality research is needed, much of the research we do have suggests yoga might be beneficial for people experiencing depression and anxiety. It’s thought to provide relief by stimulating the vagus nerve which in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest and digest system.

 

Yoga and Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance is incredibly common in women with PCOS. Many of the increased chronic disease risks and symptoms can be traced back to insulin resistance and the resulting high blood sugar levels. Resolving insulin resistance can do wonders for your health and quality of life. A systematic review found yoga can be an effective adjunct therapy to reduce insulin resistance [5.]

 

Yoga and Hyperandrogenism

Elevated “male” hormones are behind the acne and hirsutism many women with PCOS experience. Though the exact mechanism is unknown, yoga can lower these androgens, resulting in less acne and male pattern facial hair growth.

Before we move on, I’d like to point out that you may find information online about “power poses” that may increase testosterone levels. This research comes from Amy Cuddy’s research on the effects of body language on confidence and biochemical markers. Her research found that when open body poses, typically associated with male dominance or victory, were held for two minutes, there was a measurable increase in the study participants’ testosterone levels.

People have tried to apply those findings to yoga poses. But they’re comparing apples to oranges. The power poses from her study aren’t the same as yoga poses. Plus, the original research has been repeatedly called into question since results have not been consistently replicated in similar studies. There is, however, one study of that links holding cobra pose for two to three minutes (much longer than you would typically hold the posture) with increasing testosterone.

 

Getting Started: Yoga for PCOS

While the study participants from the 2012 study practiced yoga for one hour every day, you can get started with as little as five minutes. A little is better than none. If not having enough time is what’s preventing you from a daily yoga practice, remove that barrier! However much time you have is perfect.

If you’re completely new to yoga, I’d recommend trying a beginner, intro, or foundational class at a local studio at least once to get some personalized instruction. If that’s not an option, no worries. There are tons of videos online, many for free, that break down the basics. Yoga with AdrienneYogasteya, and Curvy Yoga are some of my favorite places to get yoga videos. They give detailed instruction and tips for tailoring yoga to your body.

Once you have the basics down, you’re ready to start a home practice. Choose a time of day and an area in your home where you can practice with minimal interruption.

To get you started, I’ve listed three yoga poses and one breathing technique I recommend practicing daily. Read on for instructions and the benefits of each.

yoga for PCOS

 

Child’s pose

Instructions

  1. Come on to your hands and knees.
  2. From all fours, place your toes together behind you, bring your knees open wide.
  3. Exhale, bring your hips back towards your heels.
  4. Walk your hands forward and rest your forehead on your mat. Close your eyes.
  5. Stay in the pose for at least a minute.

Make the Pose Your Own

  • Place a pillow or your blanket between your bottom and heels.
  • Place a pillow or cushion between your legs, and rest your upper body on the pillow or cushion.
  • Place a block or cushion under your forehead.

Benefits

  • Calms the mind.
  • Provides a feeling of surrender and release.
  • Stretches the hips and lower back.

Seated Twist

Instructions

  1. Come into bound angle pose (soles of your feet together in front of you, knees open away from each other) or a simple cross-legged position.
  2. Inhale, lengthen your spine.
  3. Exhale, place your left hand on your right knee and turn your upper body to the right.
  4. Take five slow, deep breaths in this position.
  5. Inhale, come back to center.
  6. Exhale, switch sides by placing your right hand on your left knee and spiraling your upper body to the left.
  7. Inhale and come back to center.

Make The Pose Your Own

Turn your head over your shoulder in the same direction as your twist to stretch your neck as well.

Benefits

  • Stimulates the digestive and reproductive organs, promoting healthy digestion, elimination, and reproductive function.
  • Releases tension in the lower back.
  • Stretch tight hips after a day of sitting.

 

yoga for PCOS

Sufi Circles

Instructions

  1. Come into bound angle pose (see above) or a simple cross-legged seated position.
  2. Inhale, lengthen your spine.
  3. With your hands on your knees, begin to make circles with your torso.
  4. After a minute or so, reverse directions.

Benefits

  • Promotes blood circulation to reproductive and digestive organs.
  • Improves mind-body connection by linking movement with breath
  • Stretches the hips and lower back.

 

Ujjayi Breathing for PCOS

Equally as important as the physical yoga poses, are the breathing exercises. A foundational breathing practice, ujjayi, also known as victorious breath, is the one you’ll most often use during active yoga poses.

Instructions

  1. From a comfortable seated position or lying down on your back, take a deep inhale.
  2. Exhale through your mouth as if you were fogging a mirror, slightly constricting your throat. You can place your palm close to your mouth so you can feel your breath. Pay attention to the sound and sensation coming from your throat. Repeat this a few times.
  3. Inhale again, this time exhale through your nose but aim to make the same noise and create the same sensation in the back of your throat as you did when exhaling through your mouth. Repeat as often as you’d like.

Benefits

  • Provides a point of focus during active practice or meditation.
  • Thought to stimulate the vagus nerve, promoting relaxation.
  • Encourages deep breathing, leading to a release of tension and optimal blood oxygenation

Yoga is an impactful, uncomplicated, accessible, and portable way to help alleviate PCOS symptoms especially feelings of anxiety. Don’t delay any longer. Give yoga a try and decide for yourself if it’s the missing piece in your PCOS self-care routine.

Kendra Tolbert MS, RDN, CDN, RYT is a registered dietitian and yoga teacher specializing in PCOS and fertility wellness. She helps women and couples balance their hormones with simple and effective lifestyle changes, without deprivation. Visit Live Fertile for more information about nutrition and yoga for women’s health.

 

Sources

Cramer, H., Lauche, R., Anheyer, D., Pilkington, K., Manincor, M. D., Dobos, G., & Ward, L. (2018). Yoga for anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depression and Anxiety. doi:10.1002/da.22762

Cuddy, Amy J.C., Caroline A. Wilmuth, and Dana R. Carney. “The Benefit of Power Posing Before a High-Stakes Social Evaluation.” Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 13-027, September 2012.

Nidhi, R, Nagarathna, R., Padmalatha, V., & Amritanshu, R. (2012). Effect of holistic yoga program on anxiety symptoms in adolescent girls with polycystic ovarian syndrome: A randomized control trial. International Journal of Yoga, 5(2), 112-117. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.98223

Nidhi, R., Padmalatha, V., Nagarathna, R., & Ram, A. (2012). Effect of a yoga program on glucose metabolism and blood lipid levels in adolescent girls with polycystic ovary syndrome. International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics, 118(1), 37-41. doi:10.1016/j.ijgo.2012.01.027

Nidhi, R., Padmalatha, V., Nagarathna, R., & Amritanshu, R. (2013). Effects of a Holistic Yoga Program on Endocrine Parameters in Adolescents with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 19(2), 153-160. doi:10.1089/acm.2011.0868

Innes, K. E., Bourguignon, C., & Taylor, A. G. (2005). Risk Indices Associated with the Insulin Resistance Syndrome, Cardiovascular Disease, and Possible Protection with Yoga: A Systematic Review. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 18(6), 491-519. doi:10.3122/jabfm.18.6.491

Minvaleev, R. S., Nozdrachev, A. D., Kir’yanova, V. V., & Ivanov, A. I. (2004). Postural influences on the hormone level in healthy subjects: I. The cobra posture and steroid hormones. Human Physiology, 30(4), 452–456.

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