yogatreeI remember my first introduction to yoga: I’d signed up for it at college after completely bombing out of a taekwondo class that mainly involved wearing a pajama-like “gi” and running barefoot for an hour straight on hardwood gym floors followed by a single kick. I figured yoga would be a much less physically punishing way to fulfill my school’s dastardly gym requirement.

I’d never done yoga before (this was the early ’90s before yoga studios were as prolific as Starbucks) and imagined it being sort of like a kindergarten nap–where we curled up like cats on a small mat and dozed while our teacher caught up on her latest romance novel. A perfect example of a win-win situation.

So, I was a bit confused when I walked into the yoga class and the instructor, who was seated on her mat, had a little porcelain pot in front of her along with a bowl, a towel and a bottle of water. She quietly proceeded to pour the water into her porcelain pot and then pour that pot of water into one nostril and, like magic, have it come streaming out the other nostril and into the bowl. I quickly wondered if I hadn’t given taekwondo enough of a try.

I soon learned that this was a “neti pot” and that this was part of her ritual for cleansing the body before a yoga class–and, thankfully, it was optional.

The instructor then went on to teach us a variety of introductory yoga poses, such as downward dog, sun salutation and the tree pose. And while the class wasn’t a total nap-fest (though I admit to conking out more than once in the child’s pose), I remember it being extremely relaxing–and not just during class, but for hours after. It was an easy decision to stick with it for the complete semester.

Years later, I would not only go on to use a neti pot regularly myself, but also report on studies that examined nasal irrigation and its ability to reduce allergy and cold symptoms in magazine articles.

And, similarly, I would go on to report on the many ways yoga has beneficial effects on mood and health.

(I have yet to find a study on the benefits of running your bare feet raw on a hardwood floor, however.)

I bring this up to you today because yoga can be part of your arsenal for easing premenstrual symptoms, including irritability, moodiness, sadness, pain and lethargy, according to a few studies (such as this and this).

In addition, a new study in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine shows that yoga can also reduce menopausal symptoms along with stress and depression that can occur during this phase.

Researchers credit yoga’s ability to reduce stress, raise levels of mood-elevating chemicals in the brain and teach you coping strategies, such as how to calm yourself using breathing techniques. And new research suggests yoga may even help regulate hormones, which supports a previous study that found it can help balance hormones in girls with polycystic ovarian syndrome.

New to yoga? Before hitting up YouTube for a how-to video, head to an in-person class. Yoga may look simple, but beginner students need guidance from professional instructors to do postures correctly and avoid injury. In addition to visiting your local yoga studio, you can find free and low-cost yoga classes at libraries and community centers.

[Photo: Caren]