A high level of pain and discomfort associated with the menstrual cycle often reflects a high level of physical and nervous tension in the body and mental and emotional opposition to the process. This is why some women who are habitually tense and on edge tend to have difficulty with their menstrual cycles, while those who have a healthy body and accept the menstrual process may have no abnormal symptoms.

Disturbances of the menstrual and reproductive functions are extremely common and are a source of continual suffering for many women throughout their lives. However, there are many forms of natural therapies which can alleviate the distress, including the gentle art of yoga.

Congestive dysmenorrhea is associated with the terrible tension that health professionals often call premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It is experienced in many forms: often as a heavy, dull aching in the abdomen and the lower back, which may begin up to three or four days before the bleeding itself. Some women notice swelling and tenderness in the breasts, swollen abdomen or a generally bloated feeling. Greater fluid retention can be seen as increased weight and there may be some nausea, headaches, general stiffness and constipation. The seemingly worst aspects that makes menstruation so emotionally debilitating are irritability, depression and lethargy, Both physical and emotional congestion usually lessen in intensity when bleeding begins.

Doctors usually treat menstrual difficulties with pain-relievers and hormonal supplements. However, these drugs can produce unpleasant side-effects and should be taken with great caution. Conversely, yoga offers natural and effective methods to help prevent and relieve premenstrual pain, without toxic side-effects. The benefits of yoga actually extend far beyond the physical body; yoga develops your awareness of menstruation as a useful part in your life. Yoga will also help you regulate your hormones and balance your system.

Women who practise yoga regularly have found that period pain, and the tension and symptoms that lead up to your period, are eased and possibly eliminated with regular practise over a few months. These women also report that they are more relaxed and their overall health and vitality is greatly improved.

To achieve maximum benefit, it is recommended that all the following poses are done in sequence.

1. Shavasana - Corpse pose

Technique: Lie on your back, on a comfortable mat or rug. Align your neck with your spine, and relax your shoulders down away from your ears. Outstretch your arms beside you, about six inches away from the body, with your palms facing the ceiling. Gently let your feet hang outwards, with your legs slightly apart. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Breathe in through your nose, right into your lower abdominal region, and feel this area expanding with your powerful, healing pranic breath. As you breathe out through your nose, release any tension, and allow this pain to go. Practise this technique for five to ten minutes before your yoga practice and a little longer at the end of your yoga session.

Benefits: Shavasana relaxes the body and mind. It is very important to be in the right position, so that every muscle can relax completely, enabling the blood to circulate with ease throughout the body. The complete stillness of the body also gives the nervous system a chance to rest.

Caution: If you have lower back pain during menstruation, slightly bend your knees to take the pressure off your lower back. Another possible variation, if your inner thighs are not too stiff, is to gently bring your knees apart, with the soles of your feet facing each other. Make sure this does not disturb your complete mind-body relaxation and healing session.

2. Pavonamuktasona - Foetal pose

Technique: Inhale and bring both knees and your chin towards your chest. Holding on to your in breath, tighten your pelvic floor muscles and draw the navel as close as you can towards the spine. Hold your breath, while sucking everything in for as long as you can, without stressing your body. Exhale and return to the relaxed corpse pose (refer to No1). Repeat three times.

Benefits: This pose allows the full stretching of your spine, especially in the lumbar area, and it also compresses the abdominal region, which slightly massages the associated organs.

Caution: Tucking your chin towards the upper chest stimulates the thyroid gland; therefore this pose is not recommended if you have thyroid problems, especially an overactive thyroid. During menstruation, work with gentle contractions of the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles and don't hold your breath for too long. Do not do this pose if you have a stomach ulcer or hernia.

3.  Lying spinal twist

Technique: Lying on your back, bring your left foot to your right knee, then your right hand to the outside of your left knee. Pressing your left shoulder firmly in to the floor, gently twist to the right, bringing your left knee as close as you can to the floor. Release your neck by looking to the left and extending your left arm, with your palm facing the floor. Breathe in as you get into position, and then breathe out, surrendering to the pose. Continue to breathe in and out of the nose, expanding the abdominal region, rib cage and chest as you breathe in. Repeat on the other side.

Benefit: This pose exercises the muscles in the back, helping to relieve back pain. Regular practise will improve the mobility of your hips, back, shoulders and neck. It also benefits the whole nervous system and has a massaging effect on the internal abdominal organs, promoting digestion and relieving constipation.

4. Hamstring stretch

Technique: 4a. Lying on your back, bend your left knee (foot flat on the floor) and raise your right leg perpendicular to the floor, with foot flexed. Place your hands behind your right knee, calf, foot or ankle depending on your flexibility. Tuck your chin to your chest, pull your stomach in and gently, as you breathe out, draw your knee as close as you can to your nose. Hold this position for four breaths. Focus on sending healing pranic energy to the abdominal area. 4b. To counterpoise this strong stretch bend your right knee, and draw it towards your nose. Relax the right leg to the floor. Swap legs and repeat.

Benefits: Stretching the hamstrings is a limbering process, which helps to release tension in the back of the legs and prepares you for the following poses. This pose also stimulates the thyroid and parathyroid glands and gently massages and oxygenates the abdominal area.

Caution: Do not do this pose if you have an overactive thyroid gland. If you feel tension in the back of your neck, keep your head on the floor. If you have very tight hamstrings, and feel great discomfort in or around your knee, gently bend the knee.

5. Abdominal toning massage

Technique: Lying on your back, raise both legs together, perpendicular to the floor. Suck your kneecaps up towards your quadriceps and with strong, tight legs and feet flexed, start drawing small circles in the air, leading with your heels. Start drawing larger circles, making sure your back does not arch off the floor. Push your spine into the floor and keep your abdominal muscles firm. Breathing slowly and rhythmically, circle your legs to the right for ten breaths, then to the left for ten breaths. Counterpoise this massage by hugging your knees into your chest.

Benefit: This exercise strengthens and tones the abdominal muscles. It also massages the abdominal organs and by bringing your full awareness to this area can be very healing. The stronger your abdominal muscles are the less likely you are to suffer from lower back pain. This exercise also strengthens quadriceps and hamstring muscles and reverses the blood flow in your legs, enhancing circulation and relieving tired, aching legs. Rotating the legs also helps calm the mind.

CautionIt is important that you do not arch your lower back off the floor. If this exercise is too strong for you, or you have a heavy menstrual flow, slightly bend your knees.

6. Leg raises (variation of Tibetan rite)

Technique: 6a. Lying on your back, flex your feet, suck your kneecaps up towards your quadriceps, push your navel towards your spine, tighten your pelvic floor muscles and as you breathe in, raise both legs together perpendicular to the floor, simultaneously tucking your chin into your upper chest. 6b. Hold your breath as you separate your legs, as far as they will go. Still holding your breath, bring your legs together slowly (6a), and as you breathe out, slowly release your legs to the floor. Repeat three times, gradually increasing the number as desired. Counterpoise this strong stretch by hugging your knees to your chest.

Benefits: This exercise is fantastic for toning the abdominal muscles and massaging internal organs in the abdominal region. It also strengthens the legs, stretches the hamstrings and inner thigh area and helps opens the hips. Chin to chest will activate the thyroid area. Breathing correctly in this exercise is vitally important so please pay particular attention to the instructions outlined above.

Caution: If you have weak abdominal muscles, lower back problems or heavy bleeding during menstruation, bend your knees. If you have neck problems keep your head on the floor. Remember, you can modify poses until you become stronger. Never exercise to the point of stressing your mind or your body.

7. Sphinx pose

Technique: Lie face down, legs slightly apart, with your arms bent, elbows under your shoulders with your forearms and elbows on the ground, close to your body. Begin by extending the head and neck, pressing your forearms into the floor and bring your chest forward, between your arms (this will enhance the curve of the upper spine). Tighten your buttocks and legs to extend them away from the torso. Breathe deeply for six breaths, then release to the floor. Place arms by your side and relax.

Benefit: The sphinx pose is a variation of the classic cobra pose. This pose not only benefits those who are not yet strong enough for the classic cobra pose, it also prepares the body for the cobra pose.

Caution: Release this pose immediately if there is any discomfort or pinching of the spine. You can modify this pose by raising your feet on to your toes, which will take the pressure off your lumbar region.

8. Bhujangasana - Cobra pose

Technique: Lie face down, extend your legs, knees tight with your feet slightly apart, toes pointed down. Rest your palms on the floor underneath your shoulders. As you inhale, slowly pull your trunk up, without the help of your arms. First the head is raised, then by tensing your back muscles, the shoulders and the trunk lift, until only the pubis, legs and hands remain in contact with the floor. Maintain this position for a few breaths, then exhale and release to the floor. To counterpoise this stretch lie face down on the floor with arms by your side and relax.

Benefits: The pose increases the flexibility of the spine and may bring relief to stiff shoulders. It also activates the functioning of the kidneys and adrenal glands and tones the abdominal organs, helping to relieve constipation and menstrual disorders. It will also facilitate deep breathing.

CautionAvoid this pose if you suffer from lordosis, hernia, liver problems or an overactive thyroid gland. Gently release this pose immediately if you experience a pinching pain in your lower back.

9.  Pratanasana - Child's pose

Technique: Kneel on the floor, then sit back on your feet. During exhalation, fold forward and rest your head on the floor in front of knees. Extend your arms forward and push your buttocks into heels, lengthening the spine. Then, while resting your forehead on the floor, move your hands next to your feet, palms facing upwards and completely relax your body.

Benefits: This pose is very calming and is used as a resting pose or back arch counterpoise. It releases tension in the back and shoulders and allows you a rest, while breathing in and out of the lower abdominal region.

Caution: People with high blood pressure, inflamed sinuses, headaches or very stiff hips can place forehead on a rolled towel or on fists (on top of each other).

10.  Dhanurasana - Bow pose

Technique: Lie on your stomach, face to the floor, arms and legs extended. Inhale and bend your knees, stretch the arms backward and hold your feet with your hands. Exhale and lift the chest, pulling the legs away from the ground. Ideally only the abdomen rests on the floor with knees hip width apart. Stay in the pose, with gentle breathing, for as long as it is comfortable then counterpoise with the pose of the child.

Benefits: This pose exercises the whole spine, invigorates the spinal nerves and strengthens and brings flexibility to the muscles in the back, neck and shoulders. The pose also opens the chest to facilitate deep breathing. The abdominal organs receive toning and functioning is activated and the muscles of the abdomen, thighs and buttocks are also toned.

Caution: People with hernia, ulcers, high blood pressure, enlarged liver or spleen should not do this pose. This pose is also not recommended for people with a lordosis condition, as it increases the spinal arch.

11.  Vajrasana - Thunderbolt pose

Technique: Kneel on the floor with knees and heels together. Sit back on the heels and keep the spine erect. Gently pull the chin in to keep the back perfectly straight, then extend both arms over your head and place hands in prayer position. Breathe in as you raise your arms, and out while returning your hands to your thighs.

Benefits: In this pose, the spine is naturally erect and free from tension, enabling breathing to be at ease. The hip joints, knees and ankles are strengthened and the sciatic nerve toned. With arms extended overhead, a lengthening of the spine is allowed.

Caution: If there is any knee discomfort or problems, do not execute this pose.

12.  Ustrasana - Camel pose

Technique: Kneel on the floor, knees hip width apart with toes resting on the floor (or modify with toes tucked under). Inhale, and place palms to the small of the back, then gently lengthen the spine and curve it backwards. As you exhale, place the right palm on right heel, ankle or calf depending on flexibility, and the left palm to left heel, calf or ankle. Gently release the head backwards and push the trunk towards the thighs, which are kept perpendicular to the floor. Remain in this posture for a few breaths then, inhaling, go back to kneeling position and, exhaling, go into the child's pose (refer to No 9) and relax.

Benefits: This pose strengthens the back and invigorates the spinal nerves. It develops firmness in the chest, which is fully expanded and facilitates deep breathing. It massages the abdominal organs and is highly beneficial for the liver, pancreas and kidneys. It is especially recommended for menstrual disorders, as it strengthens the pelvic region, ovaries and womb.

Caution: Do not execute if you have severe spinal disorders. If you have a stiff neck or neck problems, keep the neck aligned with the spine. If you experience pain in the spine, gently release the posture immediately.

13. Majrasana - Cat pose

Technique: 1. Crouch down, on all fours, like a cat; knees hip width apart, hands shoulder width apart, under your shoulders. Arms remain straight. a. Loosen your spine by contracting the abdominal muscles during exhalation, rounding your back towards the ceiling, tucking the tail-bone in and lowering the head with chin towards your chest. b. Inhaling, release the contraction, tip the tail bone upwards, dip your spine towards the floor and raise your head. Expand your chest and complete inhalation. Alternate these positions several times, coordinating the movements with your breath.

Benefits: This pose will increase the suppleness of your spine, relieve tension in the back and neck area, firm the abdominal muscles and tones internal abdominal organs. It is a great counterpoise for back bends and exercises the pelvic floor. The cat pose also benefits people with asthma or heart problems as it expands the lungs.

Caution: If you have weak wrists, make fists and put your knuckles on the floor, thumbs forward.

14. Paschimattonasana - Head to knee pose

Technique: a. Sit with your legs extended, feet flexed (toes toward your shins). Inhale and extend your arms to the side, then raise them above your head. Look straight ahead and stretch your arms towards the sky. b. Exhaling, extend forward and reach your arms out, parallel to your legs. Allow your body to fold from your hips and spine. Gently inhale. During the next exhalation, extend further to reach your feet and hook your index fingers around your big toes. If you are flexible, lower your elbows to the floor and allow your face to rest on your shins or knees. While the pose is held contract the lower abdominal region for stimulation and breathe freely, feeling the spine gradually release, particularly when exhaling. c. Breathe in and come out of the position, raising both arms to lengthen the spine.

Benefits: This forward stretch stimulates the abdominal viscera, increasing the organs' vitality. The whole of the spine is exercised, the spinal nerves invigorated and the kidneys toned. The hip joints are loosened, the abdomen firmed and the back muscles are stretched. The legs are made more flexible and strong, especially the hamstrings. Regular practice is said to relieve disorders in the reproductive and digestive system.

Caution: Do not do this stretch if you have a displaced spinal disc. If you experience any pain along the spine, bend your knees.

15. Puruottonasana - Frontal body stretch

Technique: Sit on the floor, with your legs extended and your spine straight. Lean back slightly and place your palms on the floor behind you. Point your fingers towards your body, or if this is too uncomfortable for the wrists, turn your fingers away. Inhale, lifting your chest and roll your shoulders back. Simultaneously straighten your arms and press your hands into the floor. On the exhalation, lift hips off the floor and squeeze your buttocks together. Use your abdominal muscles to control the abdominal wall (which should be pulled in) so your body is in a straight, inclined line. Keep your legs together and point your feet towards the floor. You can either carefully drop your head back or keep your chin tucked in towards your neck. Hold this position for a few breaths.

Benefits: Strengthens arms, wrists, neck and back. Loosens shoulder joints and stretches ankles and front of feet. This pose also counterpoises forward bends.

CautionDo not drop your head back if you have neck problems. If you are not strong enough, you can bend your knees in the table-top position.

16. Spinal rock

Technique: Sit with your knees drawn up to your chest, ankles crossed, hands holding your feet. Tuck your chin in and round your back. Exhale and roll back on to the floor and then return to a sitting position. Continue breathing and rock back and forth, five or six times.

Benefits: This exercise loosens a tight back, shoulders and neck. Rocking on the spine acts as a massage and stimulates the nervous system. The abdominal muscles are also activated.

Caution: It is important to keep your chin close to your chest to avoid hurting your neck or bumping your head. Do not practise on a hard floor.

17. Halasana - Plough pose

Technique: Lie flat on your back, with your arms on the floor beside you, palms facing down. Swing your legs up and back towards your head, using the momentum to lift your hips. Take your feet towards the floor and use your hands to support your back. If your feet easily reach the floor, stretch your arms so your fingers touch your feet. Breathe deeply and freely, with awareness of your abdominal muscles being tucked in. To counterpoise this strong pose, finish with a spinal twist (refer to No3).

Benefits: This pose loosens the spinal muscles and tones the central nervous system. It helps to reduce fat around the abdomen, hips and waist and regular practice of Halasana affects the functioning of all abdominal organs, improving digestion and elimination. Due to the reverse pull of gravity, haemorrhoids and varicose veins are also relieved. Halasana also increases the blood flow and oxygen supply to the thyroid gland, which regulates metabolism. In addition, fatigue, nervous tension, headaches and insomnia may be relieved. The pressure on the spinal cord and nerves has a calming effect, rejuvenating and revitalising the entire nervous system.

Caution: This pose is not suitable for anyone who has experienced a stiff or painful back or neck, including disc prolapse, injury, disease or strain. High blood pressure precludes this pose. Halasona is not recommended for women who are menstruating or pregnant and children under 16 years of age should not do this pose.

18.  Sarvangasana - Shoulder stand

Technique: Start in Halasana (refer to No 17). This helps to stretch the spine and place your hands higher up your back for support. The legs are lifted from the Plough position straight in to the shoulder stand. With the help of your hands, lift the trunk higher which will bring your chest closer to your chin. It is important to stretch and lift upward, so that the back does not feel heavy on your hands, arms or neck. As you continue stretching your trunk upwards, press your elbows into the floor and keep them close together. Firming the abdomen, buttocks and legs will help you to hold the posture. Breathe deeply and rhythmically, holding the pose for a short time initially and working to hold it for five minutes. Do the Foetal pose (refer to No 2) to counterpoise shoulder stand and relax the nervous system. Finish with the lying down twist (refer to No 3) to release the muscles in your back.

Benefits: Strengthens the muscles in the back, shoulders, neck and abdomen. This pose is sometimes referred to as the 'queen of poses' as it rejuvenates the whole body. It is said to be a source of increased energy, vigour and vitality and is very relaxing. People with varicose veins and tired, aching legs will gain relief and it also helps with haemorrhoids. An increased flow of fresh, oxygenated blood is supplied to the head, energising the brain. This increased blood flow brings fresh nutrients and clears away toxins, rejuvenating facial tissue, reducing the signs of aging. The chin pressed to the chest stimulates the thyroid and parathyroid glands, which improves metabolism. Sarvangasana stretches the neck stimulating the nerves which govern respiration and the heart.

Caution: Do not do this pose if your have an enlarged thyroid, high blood pressure, ear or eye problems or a weak heart or cardiac trouble. This pose is not recommended for people who have a displaced disc or an enlarged spleen or liver. Do not do this pose during menstruation. If you have pain or weakness in your neck do not do this pose until you strengthen your neck with other yoga poses.

19. Standing/squatting twist

Technique: Get into a squatting position, up on your toes, with knees together, fingertips on the floor in line with your hips. Without moving your knees, place your right arm outside your left thigh, fingertips on the floor. Then raise your left arm, fully extended, with fingers together and look up at your left hand. Try to align your nose and thumb so you have a strong, straight, extended arm. Breathe deeply for five to six breaths. Return to the centre position, taking a breath in and out and repeat on the other side.

Benefits: This exercise requires balance so it forces the mind to be present within the body. It opens the shoulders and chest area, releases the neck and allows the spine to twist, increasing flexibility. This pose also gently massages your internal organs.

Caution: If you have stiffness or pain in your neck, keep your head looking directly ahead, with your head and neck in line with your spine.

20. Shavasana - Corpse pose

Technique: Finish your yoga session with the corpse pose (refer to No 1), allowing yourself to completely relax, letting go of any stress or tension that may be left in your body. Focus your awareness in the second chakra region, below the navel, and use this time to send powerful, healing, pranic energies to this centre. You may want to visualise a beautiful orange colour in this centre, healing and rejuvenating this area. Stay in this pose for 10-15 minutes, breathing in and out of this centre. When you are ready, gently hug your knees into your chest, roll over on your right side, sit up and feel totally relaxed.