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Yoga for PCOS: benefits, poses and how to get started

Polycystic ovary syndrome, commonly known as PCOS, affects approximately 1 in 10 people in the UK with ovaries. Although medication and supplements can be useful treatments for PCOS, a lot of people with PCOS are often looking for a more holistic approach to managing their symptoms. So, is yoga for PCOS beneficial?

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome, commonly known as PCOS, affects approximately 1 in 10 people in the UK with ovaries. Symptoms of PCOS range from irregular menstrual cycles, hirsutism, and acne to infertility, reduced quality of life and even binge eating, anxiety and depression. PCOS is characterised by imbalances of various hormones including testosterone, insulin and stress hormones like cortisol.

Although medication and supplements can be useful treatments for PCOS, a lot of people with PCOS are often looking for a more holistic approach to managing their symptoms. So, is yoga for PCOS beneficial?

What is yoga?

Yoga is a group term for the physical, mental and spiritual practices that originated in ancient India. The aim of yoga is to control (yoke) and calm the mind. There are a variety of different schools of yoga, practices and goals. The term “yoga” in the Western world often refers to a modern, revised form of Hatha yoga. This iteration of yoga is considered a posture-based physical fitness, stress relief and relaxation technique.

There are many benefits of yoga ranging from physical benefits like increased flexibility, increased muscle strength, and improved cardiovascular and circulatory health as well as mental health benefits such as stress management, improved focus and increased concentration.

What are the benefits of yoga for PCOS?

PCOS is a chronic condition which means it cannot be cured. But, the various symptoms of PCOS can be managed through a variety of lifestyle changes, and yoga may be a helpful tool for symptom management.

PCOS symptoms are often driven by insulin resistance, increased androgen levels and high-stress levels. Regular yoga practice may be able to improve symptoms of PCOS because research suggests that regular practice may improve anxiety, glucose metabolism, hormone levels, and stress levels in people with PCOS. Read more about the benefits of yoga for PCOS below.

Yoga may improve anxiety in people with PCOS

A group of ninety 15-18-year-old people assigned female at birth were sorted into two groups. One group practised yoga every day for 1 hour per day for three months. The other group did physical exercises for an hour a day instead. The group who practised yoga daily had significant improvements in symptoms of anxiety.

Regular yoga practice might improve glucose metabolism in people with PCOS

A study investigated the impact of practising suryanamaskara, asanas, pranayama, and meditation for 1 hour per day each day for 12 weeks. They found that fasting blood glucose levels and HOMA-IR levels were significantly improved in those who undertook the daily yoga practice.

Yoga may improve hormone levels in people with PCOS and improve menstrual frequency

Ninety people with PCOS practised yoga daily and, compared to those who exercised daily instead, had improved anti-mullerian hormone (AMH), luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), testosterone and prolactin. This group also had improved menstrual frequency (i.e. their period came more often!).

Yoga may reduce androgen (testosterone) levels

A small study of twenty-two people looked at the impact of undertaking a three-month mindful yoga programme. The people assigned to the yoga programme had significantly lower free testosterone levels.

Regular and consistent yoga practice may improve the quality of life in people with PCOS

People with PCOS may have a lower quality of life due to the symptoms associated with PCOS. Consistent yoga practice may help to improve the quality of life in people with PCOS. A study where participants practised yoga daily for three months saw a significant improvement in the quality of life in participants.

How to start a yoga practice

Yoga is a low-cost, low-risk and accessible form of movement to add into your routine. If you are curious about how to start a yoga practice as a beginner, keep reading!

Choose a space to practice

If you trying a yoga class for the first time, they will provide everything you need to practice. If you are starting yoga at home, then choose a space with enough room to outstretch your hands.

You ideally would use a yoga mat to practice on as they help with your stability and grip. But, if you don’t have a mat then a flat surface will do.

Start with noticing your breathing

Breathing is one of the key parts of a yoga practice. Start by tuning into your body and noticing your breath. Connecting with your breath can help build a strong mind-body connection and even reduce stress levels and help with blood pressure stabilisation.

Follow a sequence of poses

If you are a beginner, you may choose to start by picking some asanas (poses) from our selection below and move through a sequence. Or, you could find an online video or class to help guide you through a practice.

>> Watch this | 15-Minute Morning Yoga for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Best yoga asanas (poses) for people with PCOS

There are many differenet asanas which you may find beneficial for your personal health status and symptoms. Here are some of our favourite poses for PCOS.

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)

Bridge pose can help relieve tension in your back.

  1. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor, knees bent
  2. Place your hands beside you, palms flat
  3. Slowly raise your pelvis, lower back and then upper back off the floor whilst keeping your feet, shoulders and head firmly grounded on the floor
  4. Stay in this pose for 30 seconds or so

Adjustments: if you feel too much pressure/tension in your neck, roll a small towel and place under

Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)

This pose increases circulation to the pelvic area and may help relieve menstrual discomfort.

  1. Lay face down on the mat
  2. Bend your knees and reach your hands towards your ankles
  3. If you can, grip hold of your ankles
  4. Take a deep breath and lift your chest off the ground
  5. Hold for 15 seconds or so

Adjustments: if you can’t reach your ankles, use a yoga strap to support this pose

Butterfly Pose (Supta Baddhakonasana)

Open the heart, hips and chest with this seated pose.

  1. Start by sitting on the mat with your legs out in front of you
  2. Bend your knees and bring your heels towards you
  3. Press your soles together and drop your knees to the sides

Adjustments: use blocks or towels under the thighs to support this pose

Key takeaways: yoga for PCOS

These benefits definitely seem promising for the effects of yoga on people with PCOS. But, the amount and strength of evidence supporting yoga for PCOS are, unfortunately, low. This means that more research is required to be able to determine if everyone with PCOS should do yoga.

Instead, if you enjoy yoga then adding it to your routine is likely to be beneficial to you. This is because yoga is great for improving physical strength, flexibility and cardiovascular health. Yoga can also improve stress levels and mental well-being. All of these benefits are likely to be helpful in improving PCOS symptoms.

Plus, yoga is an accessible, low-cost and low-risk intervention for PCOS. So, to conclude, if you like yoga or are inspired to try it, then go for it! Namaste.

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Annabel Sparrow ANutr Author at The PCOS Collective

Author | Registered Associate Nutritionist

 

Annabel is a Registered Associate Nutritionist and pilates teacher with an interest in gut health and pre-and post-natal nutrition. She has a BSc degree in Psychology and is passionate about building healthy relationships with food and understanding the connection between food and mood.

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