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Bending Over Backwards to Relieve PMDD

Using Backbends to Improve Symptoms

Feeling depressed? Anxiety got you in its grip? Body and mind all tense? If so, chances are good that you also aren’t breathing fully. You’re likely collapsed through the chest, and this is likely causing even more tension in your neck and shoulders. Haven’t we all got enough to deal with?! Unfortunately, the discomfort can become a vicious cycle. And women with PMDD know all about vicious cycles!

So many of us work at desks all day folded over our computer keyboards and phones. We spend lots of time sitting in our cars or slouched on the couch. Rarely do we stop and consider the effects such rounded forward posture is having on our bodies… tight shoulders, tight chests, stiff necks and shallow, restricted breathing. We are a very hunched-over society. It doesn’t end there, though. When we’re tight and collapsed forward, it can impact our state of mind, making us feel closed off, insecure and depleted.

Sound familiar? It is even more critical for women suffering the effects of PMDD, who regularly have to cope with feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety, and disconnection from self and others, to find some... any... relief. Surprisingly, backbends may be just the right movement to counter such feelings. We all know, any little thing can be the difference between carrying on with life and crashing down into the pits of despair.

Backbends are known to help uplift a darkened mood and improve one’s energy. They can also help reconnect us to our diaphragmatic breathing and open our hearts. Could something so seemingly simple actually help when symptoms hit hard? Absolutely!

Done with proper awareness of the body and modifying as appropriate, backbends can help us deal with and shift our worst states. It’s important to take our lead from our own bodies, though, and do what works for us uniquely. When we push the body and try to conform to some picture or do something that doesn’t suit it, we are training our nervous system to stay nervous! Nobody with PMDD needs that! Rather, go for minimal sensation that allows a consistent breath and gradually deepen as your body invites you to. We want to invigorate ourselves without overstimulating our nerves. Of course, everybody is different so everybody will find some variation of backbend more beneficial than others. This can also change day to day, so I’m giving you several choices here. Whichever position you choose, make sure you are not compressing or pinching your lower back. It’s an unfortunate name, really, back "bend." Think “reach” and “lengthen” instead.

Standing Backbend

Stand with your feet together or about hip width apart... try both and choose the most comfortable. Root your energy through your feet into the ground and feel the chest gently lift up and forward as your spine lengthens through the crown of your head. While continuing to ground through your feet, allow your tailbone to be heavy as you continue to lift upward from the waist, allowing the shoulders to release downward. Feel a corset-like action from your waist down around the core. Breath in and raise your arms to the sides flipping your palms towards the ceiling as your bring your arms over your head, palms meeting. Release the breath and breathe in once more. Gently lengthen towards the corner where the wall and ceiling meet behind you. Be careful not to compress your lower back. Remember: gently reach and lengthen. Release the stretch and the breath as you return to center. Repeat as desired, floating the arms back down slowly on an exhalation when you feel complete.

Prone Backbends

Many will find backbends from a prone position wonderful if you suffer from cramps. Others might hate it, so try and see. Pregnant women will want to avoid, for sure. First, lie on your belly and simply allow the body to arrive there. Resting your head on your hands, notice the tops of your feet, the front of your thighs, your hips and front pelvis, the belly, ribs, chest. Feel how the impact of breath pushes the belly towards the ground. Pause here feeling the movement of the breath. Gently shake your hips side to side and let go of any tension in your lower back. Now you are ready for any of the following poses:

Sphinx (See pics below.)

Take your feet to the back corners of your mat. Bring your arms up and rest on your forearms, elbows directly under your shoulders. Spread your fingers brightly and as you inhale, press your forearms into the floor and lift your head and chest as you reach both up and toward the wall in front of you. Keep your elbows close to your body. Lengthen through the legs towards the back wall. Relax the shoulders downward. Some people like to push into the ground with the pelvic bone. Others will find more comfort keeping the lower spine relaxed. Experiment to find your magic fit. You might even find having the legs closer together is better for you. Make sure you can breathe easily and fully. If not, back off a little until you can maintain the breath and the posture. Exhale and release slowly back to the floor. Come up and down several times if you like. Then rest in child’s pose (pic below).

Snake (See pics below.)

From lying on your belly, resting lightly on your chin, bring your arms behind your lower back. Inhale, allowing your chest and head to lift off of the floor, reaching forward and up. Keep your neck in line with your spine and look straight ahead. Don’t crane it back. Bring your shoulder blades towards each other and imagine someone pulling your arms away from you opening the chest further, but if you have shoulder issues, have a care when clasping your hands behind you. You can leave your legs rooted or lift through the legs as well, pressing the pubic bone into the ground, activating the length of your body from head to toe. Hold and breathe. Release and repeat. Then rest in child’s pose.

Bow (See pics below.)

In this backbend, you can do a half or full bow. To start, for half bow, rest with your right arm along your side, your other arm supporting you as in sphinx. Exhale, bending your right knee toward the butt and grab hold of your right foot/ankle with your right hand (or a strap or belt if you aren’t as flexible). Keep the foot flexed if you need to protect your knee. As you inhale, press the pubic bone and upper right thigh down and push the ankle against the hand or strap at the same time as you lift through the chest, opening your heart. Keep your chin parallel to the ground, breathing smoothly and deeply. Release. If that goes well, you can move to the other side or try a full bow pose taking up both ankles at the same time for a really fabulous chest opener. If you do the full version, move the shoulder blades toward each other and make sure your knees aren't splaying outward. Release tension in the shoulders and move them away from your ears. You shouldn’t feel any pinching in the lower back! If you do, release the pose, shake the hips side to side, and push back to a child’s pose position to rest.

Prone Backbend Photos

From top left: Sphinx, Child's Pose, Snake Pose 1, Snake Pose 2, Half Bow, and Bow

Kneeling Backbend

Kneeling Pose

If you’re already into yoga, you’re probably familiar with Camel Pose. However, I prefer the Bowspring Yoga approach to this pose. It’s gentler on the lower back, easier to breathe, and frankly, just feels safer and more nourishing.

Come to your knees, about hip width apart, tucking the toes under. Rest your hands on your thighs as you lean slightly back towards your heels. The knees push apart while the heels squeeze toward each other. Now reach the arms in front of you with the palms facing up. On an inhalation, reach the hands around the top of the head, keeping the elbows pointing forward, creating a sort of “basket” for the back of the skull. The head pushes upward into the hands as the spine arches back. The underside of the arms also lengthen as the elbows move toward that “ceiling-meets-wall” corner. See if you can feel the tissues gliding over the rib cage and under the arms. As you exhale, slowly release back to upright. Repeat if desired or simply sit back on your heels to rest.

Supported Backbend

Supported Backbend



I love supported backbends on those days when I feel drained. There are many variations available but I’m going to share my favorite with you; if it doesn’t suit, you can find other similar postures online. You will need two yoga blocks or a stack of books and a yoga bolster or firm couch cushion. Have a blanket and small head pillow nearby too. Place the yoga blocks into a “T” formation (or do the same with your books keeping them level). Place your cushion on top of the T allowing the bottom part of the cushion to reach the floor (see pic below). Now sit with your back right against the edge of the cushion and gently lower yourself down to the cushion. Place the head pillow or blanket under your head. You can keep your legs straight out in front of you (see pic) or bring the soles of your feel together and bend your knees in Butterfly Pose (see pic), which can feel great if you have any menstrual congestion. If the backbend isn't deep enough for you, feel free to remove the block and place the cushion flat on the floor; you may have to shift it towards your head slightly to keep unnecessary pressure off your lower back. Cover yourself with a blanket, allowing your arms to rest at your sides palms up. It’s essential to feel every part of you is supported, so use more props or adjust whatever you need to to completely relax. Simply breathe, unwind through the chest, ribs, and shoulders, and receive the healing benefits of the pose. Breathe! Stay for 10 or 20 minutes.

Supported Backbend Photos

From left to right: set up your props, sit with your back at the cushions edge, legs straight, soles of feet together

Active Spinal Flex

Spinal flex comes from the kundalini yoga tradition, and I love it because it is active, and sometimes, I need the energy to shift a really shitty mood. Either sit in a chair with your hands on your knees or on the floor with your legs crossed, grabbing hold of your shins or ankles. Ground through the sits bones and begin to breathe deeply in and out. As you breathe in, the chest moves through the arms towards that good ole ceiling meets wall angle, shoulder blades drawing together in the back. And as you exhale, your back and shoulders round forward. Keep your chin level with the ground rather than tilting it up or down as you flow. Move at a brisk but comfortable pace staying with the rhythm of your breath. Be greedy for the air! Continue for one to three minutes and then sit quietly and feel the changes of energy flow in the body.

Just remember, we’re not practicing backbends for the sake of a backbend. We’re practicing them for the sake of the body, mind, and spirit... to feel good. So always modify poses to be accessible and comfortable. If you have other health issues or injuries, consult with your healthcare provider first.

Backbends are a fabulous tool for anyone wanting to feel more open-hearted and alive. But for women with PMDD, they can be the difference between falling down the spiral of darkness and maintaining equilibrium through challenging times. Give them a try and see for yourself. You might even find your digestion improving, your back getting stronger, and your posture improving too as a lifetime of pent-up tensions dissolve.

Cheeky Minx
Cheeky Minx

Cheekyminx writes intimately about PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder) and hosts the Facebook page PMDD Life Support, a place where women with PMDD can find information and inspiration to cope. Your contributions are appreciated!

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