Polycystic ovary syndrome affects around 6 to 12 percent of women during their childbearing years. 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. Recent research suggests 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, Lisa 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. This can benefit individuals with PCOS by increasing circulation and blood flow to the pelvic region, improving metabolism, and aiding digestion.
Bridge Pose Setu Bandhasana
Bridge Pose can calm the brain and reduce stress and anxiety while relieving tension in the back muscles.
Bow Pose Dhanurasana
Dhanurasana may help relieve menstrual discomfort, stimulate reproductive organs, and regulate menstrual flow. It increases circulation to the pelvic region, releases tension from abdominal organs, and also stretches the neck, shoulders, and legs muscless. Overall, it may improve anxiety and decrease stress.
Cat-Cow Pose Chakravakasana
The Cat-Cow Pose is also high on the go-to list for PCOS.
Head-to-Knee Pose Janusirsana
Burnett says this is a great all-inclusive pose.
Sleeping Butterfly or Reclining Bound Angle Pose Supta Baddhakonasana
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.
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. 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.
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 CDCT 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.