Yoga for PCOS: How It Can Help
Posted by Allie on 29th September 2016
I fell in love with yoga after my first class 12 years ago. I was living in Australia when I started practising Ashtanga yoga and had been diagnosed with PCOS a couple of years before. Feeling disconnected and disappointed with my body when first stepping on to that mat, I was amazed with how I felt after practising yoga - light, strong, balanced, more centred, calm and more connected with my body. There have been periods of my life where I’ve not practised as regularly and it’s really impacted my sense of physical and emotional wellbeing. Yoga is a way of life and it’s become a very integral part of mine.
Don’t just take my word for the benefits of yoga though. Research is also showing that it can help some PCOS symptoms and factors associated with it.
What is yoga?
The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ which can be translated to ‘yoking’ or ‘union’. Yoga is dedicated to creating a union between mind, body and spirit. An Indian sage called Patanjali is believed to have compiled the basic philosophical writings of yoga, a collection of 195 aphorisms called sutras. The Yoga Sutra outlines the 8 limbs of yoga, which act as a framework for living a purposeful and meaningful life. Although a lot of yoga practice in the West today focuses on the physical aspect of yoga (asanas), the intention is to practice each limb, or branch, of yoga to reach enlightenment.
Here’s a very brief outline of the 8 limbs of yoga:
1. Yama: the first limb deals with one’s ethics and integrity. For example, practising non-violence or stealing and truthfulness.
2. Niyama: self-discipline, personal behaviour and spiritual observances. Examples of Niyama include meditation practices, saying grace, attending church/temple, practising contentment and gratitude for life’s blessings.
3. Asana: these are the physical poses that may be the most familiar of the limbs to people practising yoga today. By practising asanas, we develop discipline and prepare the body for meditation.
4. Pranayama: breathing techniques which can be practised in isolation and your yoga routine.
5. Pratyahara: this means to direct our attention internally and away from external stimulus.
6. Dharana: this limb refers to concentration and managing distractions of the mind.
7. Dhyana: the practice of meditation.
8. Samadhi: the eighth and final limb, Samadhi is enlightenment, a state of ecstasy, transcending the self and being at one with the Universe.
How can yoga help PCOS symptoms?
There are relatively few studies looking at yoga as a therapeutic intervention and more high quality research is required to ascertain its effectiveness. Nevertheless, several studies indicate that yoga has a range of benefits when used as an adjunct treatment including reducing stress and improving cardiovascular endurance (1).
A 2013 study looked at the effects of doing yoga with ninety girls aged 15-18 years with PCOS (2). Participants were randomised into two groups. For one hour a day over 12 weeks, one group practised yoga, including asanas and relaxing breathing techniques, and the other group carried out a set of exercises. Researchers found that yoga reduced levels of hormones associated with PCOS, anti-mullerian hormone, lutenising hormone and testosterone, and improved hirsutism and menstrual frequency. There were no significant changes in body weight between the two groups.
There is limited research looking at the affects of yoga on PCOS specifically. Studies have been carried out examining the impact of yoga on other health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes. Research has shown that yoga improves glycemic control, and lowers oxidative stress and blood pressure in those with type 2 diabetes (3). Whilst it isn’t possible to generalise these findings to PCOS, yoga has been shown to have other beneficial effects on factors that can affect women with the condition. For example, studies have found that yoga improved sleep, quality of life, oxidative stress, mood, anxiety and insulin resistance (1,3).
Want to try yoga?
Don’t be put off by images of bendy people getting into poses that fill you with fear! Yoga is for everyone. If you’re new to yoga, it’s advisable to find a class with a trained teacher. Yoga’s become increasingly popular over the years with lots of different classes and styles available. Speak to a yoga teacher or studio about any queries you may have and if you don’t like a class, try another one until you find the right fit for you.
Note that referenced or mentioned authors, websites and organisations are not affiliated with, nor endorsing, the content published on Positive PCOS.
1: Bussing, A. Et al. 2012. Effects of yoga on mental and physical health: a short summary of reviews. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: eCAM 2012
2: Nidhi, R. et al. 2013. Effects of a Holistic Yoga Program on Endocrine Parameters in Adolescents with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: A Randomised Controlled Trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 19 (2): 153-160
3: Innes, K.E. & T.K. Selfe. 2016. Yoga for Adults with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review of Controlled Trials. Journal of Diabetes Research. Article ID 6979370