Yoga as a way to manage PCOS symptoms? Yes, please!
This common female endocrine disorder causes your ovaries to produce an excess of male hormones, resulting in irregular periods, weight gain, and problems with fertility and ovulation.
But recent research points to a regular practice of yoga as an effective way to manage PCOS symptoms.
How Yoga Benefits Symptoms of PCOS
Although yoga cannot cure PCOS, it may help with some of the symptoms.
Yoga May Decrease Testosterone Levels
According to a recent study, practicing yoga may help decrease testosterone levels and alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression in women with PCOS. More specifically, participants who did a one-hour yoga class three times a week for three months reduced testosterone levels by 29 percent.
In the study, researchers randomly assigned 31 women with PCOS between 23 and 42 years of age to either a mindful yoga group or control group. Classes happened three times a week for one hour each, for a total of three months. Participants’ endocrine, cardiometabolic, and psychological measurements were taken initially, and then again after three months.
After the testing period, researchers found that women who completed the yoga intervention (13 total) had lower free testosterone levels (5.96 vs. 4.24 pg/mL; P<0.05). Free testosterone is a normal hormone that can be elevated above typical female ranges in women with PCOS.
Study participants also saw an improvement in measures of anxiety and depression.
Yoga is Accessible for Many Fitness Levels
Although positive changes in PCOS symptoms and anxiety levels can occur with any moderate aerobic exercise, yoga is accessible for many fitness levels and a wide range of ages. This is not always the case with other forms of exercise like swimming, cycling, walking, or running. Plus, yoga has a mindfulness component that helps promote relaxation and balance moods.
Monisha Bhanote, MD, FASCP, FCAP, triple board-certified physician, and Yoga Medicine instructor, says that adding an integrative approach to women with PCOS can be beneficial as individuals can show an increased prevalence of depression and anxiety.
“These mood disorders may be directly related to biochemical imbalances and exacerbated by stress related to body image and fertility issues, and utilizing a mind-body approach with self-care should be encouraged,” she adds.
Are There Specific Yoga Poses that Can Help?
Yoga has a wide breadth of practice. From a gentle flow to advanced poses reserved for experienced yogis, this ancient practice has something for all levels. That said, some styles may be a better fit for finding relief from PCOS.
“In seeking relief from the pain and other symptoms of PCOS, I recommend the more gentle yoga poses, especially those focusing on stretching and relaxation,” says Lisa Burnett, certified Pranakriya prenatal yoga instructor and owner of My OM Yoga.
As opposed to building core strength and endurance, Burnett says you want to focus on the abdominal area, but with tenderness and grace.
Bhanote likes to recommend yoga poses that increase mindfulness and bring blood flow to the pelvic region. With that in mind, here are six of their favorite poses for managing the symptoms of PCOS plus a bonus breathing exercise.
Garland Pose (Malasana)
Malasana can strengthen the pelvic floor and abdominal core while opening the hips. Bhanote says this can benefit individuals with PCOS by increasing circulation and blood flow to the pelvic region, improving metabolism, and aiding digestion.
You can use a block or two under your glutes for support until your body becomes familiar with this position.
- Start with feet about a mat’s width apart.
- Bend your knees and lower your buttocks toward the floor to come into a squat position.
- Bring your hands in prayer position (anjali mudra). You can allow your thumbs to touch your sternum to help keep the chest lifted.
- Press your upper arms/triceps inside of your knees and stay engaged with spine straight (elbows press into knees to open the hips).
- Extend the low back and draw shoulder blades toward one another.
- Remain in this position for up to 5 breaths.
- Come out of it by straightening your legs.
- Repeat the pose for a total of three times.
It’s OK if your heels don’t remain planted on the ground when you come into the position. Support the heels with a rolled blanket to help keep you balanced and upright.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
Bridge Pose can calm the brain and reduce stress and anxiety while relieving tension in the back muscles.
- Start by lying on your back with your knees folded and feet hip-distance apart on the floor.
- Place your hands, palm down beside your body.
- Inhale while slowly lifting your lower back, mid-back, then upper back off the floor (while the pelvis lifts up, lengthen from pelvis to sternum).
- Gently roll the shoulders and bring the chest toward the chin.
- Keep thighs parallel to each other and the floor with all four corners of the feet pressed firmly into the ground.
- Breathe with ease and stay in this pose for 1–2 minutes.
- Repeat up to 5 times.
Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
Dhanurasana may help relieve menstrual discomfort, stimulate reproductive organs, and regulate menstrual flow, according to Bhanote. “It increases circulation to the pelvic region, releases tension from abdominal organs, and also stretches the neck, shoulders, and legs muscles,” she says. Overall, it may improve anxiety and decrease stress.
- Start lying down on your stomach with your arms on the side of your body.
- Fold your knees up and reach your hands to hold your ankles.
- Breathe in and lift your chest up off the ground while pulling your legs up.
- Hold the pose for 15 seconds, and remember to keep breathing.
- To release, bring your chest and legs back toward the ground, release the hold on your ankles, and relax, face down.
- Repeat for a total of 3 times.
If you cannot reach both of your ankles at the same time, you can do one leg at a time, or use a yoga strap for assistance.
Cat-Cow Pose (Chakravakasana)
The Cat-Cow Pose is also high on Burnett’s go-to list for PCOS.
- Get in tabletop position with your palms down, wrists and elbows aligned under shoulders, knees under hips, ankles straight back from the knees. You can curl the toes under or tops of the feet down, as the flow moves you.
- Inhale, bend the elbows, lower the belly, lift the chin and the tail bone simultaneously, moving each of the vertebrae of the spinal column in a wave.
- Reverse the movement on the exhale by tucking the tail bone and chin, and doming the back as you draw the navel toward the spine as the chin tips toward the chest.
- Repeat for desired amount of times.
Head-to-Knee Pose (Janusirsana)
Burnett says this is a great “all-inclusive” pose.
- Sit down on a yoga mat.
- Extend the left leg to the corner of your mat, foot flexed, back of the heel down, toes to the sky. The right knee is bent with the foot tucked as close as comfortable to the groin.
- Extend your arms over the legs, breathe in deeply, and exhale, moving the upper body gently toward the left foot, while slowly bringing your right arm in an arc over your head. A strap is nice to create resistance and go deeper into this stretch of the rib cage facing the sky (the right on this side).
- Feel the twist of the torso, the shoulder/hip opener, the gentle massage of the sacroiliac joint, and the movement of kidneys, ovaries, and each internal organ with each deep breath.
- Do 7–12 on each side.
Butterfly or Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddhakonasana)
Burnett says this is an excellent restorative pose that completely supports the spine and back body, while gently releasing tension from the shoulders and chest, and opening the heart and the hips.
This pose is appropriate for every level. To modify, use blankets or pillows under the shoulders, under the head at an incline, and under the thighs.
- Begin seated on the mat with legs extended in front of you.
- Bend your knees and bring your heels toward you to press the soles together. Your knees will drop to the sides.
- Lean backward until your back is on the floor. Arms will be supported and open, palms up.
- Close your eyes, breathe deeply for 3–5 minutes, or longer if you are comfortable.
- Be sure to come out of the pose mindfully, by rolling to your right side and pausing there for several breaths and then up to seated, or in any way that works best for you.
Bonus Breathing Technique (Kapalbhati Pranayama)
“Kapalbhati is a rapid breathing exercise that may help a few of the characteristics associated with PCOS such as weight management, blood sugar levels, and stress levels,” says Bhanote.
In this technique you will inhale normally but exhale with force and the help of the abdominal muscles. This is best if performed on an empty stomach. This breathing exercise is not recommended during pregnancy.
- Sit in a chair or cross-legged on the floor.
- Close your eyes and try to relax the entire body.
- Inhale deeply through the nose while expanding the chest.
- Exhale with forceful abdominal muscle contractions to relax.
- Repeat 10 times (1 cycle) up to 5 minutes while beginning.
What Other Benefits Does Yoga Provide?
What makes yoga practically perfect is the ability to benefit your body and mind at the same time.
Several studies back up the pros of yoga for a variety of mood disorders, health conditions, and overall well-being. While not an exhaustive list, here are some of the more notable benefits of yoga:
- is accessible to a wide array of ages
- helps promote deep breathing and relaxation, which may help to decrease stress
- may be an effective practice to reduce anxiety
- can reduce chronic pain and help with the overall treatment of chronic health conditions
- can help improve balance and mobility in older adults
Can Other Forms of Exercise Benefit PCOS Symptoms?
Yoga is not the only form of movement that can help with PCOS. Other forms of moderate exercise can also help you manage PCOS symptoms.
According to the CDC, participating in physical activities like walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming can help balance hormones, boost your mood, reduce weight, and manage blood sugar and insulin levels.
Moderate exercise in particular can increase your body’s sensitivity to insulin, which reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and more, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Living with PCOS can feel frustrating at times. Finding ways to manage the symptoms and boost your overall health can help you feel better.
Practicing yoga regularly may help ease the symptoms of PCOS and decrease testosterone levels. It can also promote relaxation.
Remember, yoga is only one part of an overall treatment plan for PCOS. Diet, cardiovascular exercise, strength training, mindfulness-based meditation, and medication are all treatment options your doctor may recommend.