Menopause is a natural phase in a woman’s life, marking the end of her reproductive years. However, the physical and emotional symptoms associated with menopause can be challenging to navigate. From hot flashes and mood swings to sleep disturbances and hormonal imbalances, menopause can significantly impact a woman’s overall well-being. While various treatment options are available, an increasing number of women are turning to yoga as a holistic approach to managing menopause symptoms.
Yoga, an ancient practice that integrates physical postures, breath control, and meditation, offers many benefits for women going through menopause. We explore how yoga can support women during this transformative time, addressing common symptoms, improving emotional well-being, and promoting overall health.
Before delving into the benefits of yoga for menopause, it is crucial to understand the changes a woman’s body goes through during this period. Menopause is characterized by decreased hormone production, particularly estrogen, and progesterone, leading to various physical and emotional symptoms. These symptoms may include hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood swings, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and reduced bone density.
Physical Benefits of Yoga for Menopause
Regular practice of yoga can help alleviate many of the physical symptoms associated with menopause. The gentle stretching and strengthening postures improve flexibility, joint health, and muscle tone. Here are some specific physical benefits of yoga for menopause:
a) Hormonal Balance: Certain yoga postures, such as forward bend, twists, and inversions, can stimulate the endocrine system, which helps regulate hormonal balance.
b) Bone Health: Weight-bearing yoga poses, like standing postures and balances, promote bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis, a common concern for menopausal women.
c) Improved Sleep: Yoga can enhance relaxation and reduce anxiety, facilitating better sleep quality for women experiencing insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns.
d) Hot Flash Relief: Restorative yoga poses, deep breathing techniques, and relaxation exercises can help reduce the frequency and intensity of hot flashes.
Emotional Well-being and Stress Reduction
Menopause can bring about significant emotional changes due to hormonal fluctuations and the challenges associated with this life transition. Yoga offers a powerful tool for managing stress, improving mood, and enhancing emotional well-being. Here are some ways yoga can support women’s mental health during menopause:
a) Stress Reduction: The practice of yoga encourages mindfulness, deep breathing, and relaxation, which help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing stress levels and promoting a sense of calm.
b) Mood Stabilization: Yoga’s mind-body connection helps regulate emotions by calming the mind, increasing self-awareness, and promoting acceptance of the present moment.
c) Anxiety and Depression Management: Studies have shown that yoga can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression by reducing cortisol levels, increasing serotonin production, and improving overall mental health.
d) Self-Care and Empowerment: Engaging in a regular yoga practice fosters self-care and self-compassion, empowering women to embrace the changes happening within their bodies and cultivate a positive body image.
Creating a Personalized Yoga Practice: To experience the full benefits of yoga during menopause, it is essential to create a personalized practice that suits individual needs and preferences. Here are some considerations for designing a yoga routine for menopause:
a) Gentle and Restorative Yoga: Menopausal women often benefit from a gentle and restorative yoga practice emphasizing relaxation, deep breathing, and stress reduction.
b) Mindfulness and Meditation: Incorporating mindfulness techniques and meditation can enhance self-awareness, reduce anxiety, and promote emotional well-being.
c) Targeted Asanas: Selecting yoga postures that address specific menopause symptoms, such as cooling poses for hot flashes or gentle twists for hormonal balance, can be particularly beneficial.
d) Regular Practice: Consistency is key when reaping yoga’s benefits for menopause. Aim for a regular practice schedule, whether a few minutes each day or longer sessions a few times a week.
e) Cooling and Calming Poses: Include poses such as forward bends, gentle inversions, and supine twists to reduce heat and calm the nervous system.
f) Hormone-Balancing Poses: Incorporate poses stimulating the ovaries and adrenal glands, such as supported inversions, seated twists, and backbends.
g) Stress-Relief Techniques: Practice deep breathing exercises (pranayama) like alternate nostril breathing and extended exhalations to reduce stress and promote relaxation.
h) Strengthening Poses: Emphasize weight-bearing poses like standing postures, balances, and gentle backbends to promote bone health and prevent osteoporosis.
As women navigate the transformative journey of menopause, yoga emerges as a valuable ally, offering physical and emotional support. The holistic nature of yoga helps women manage symptoms, reduce stress, improve overall well-being, and foster a positive connection with their bodies. By embracing the practice of yoga, women can empower themselves during this significant life transition and find inner balance, peace, and acceptance. Remember, it is always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before beginning any new exercise or wellness routine, especially during menopause.
Through the gentle movements, mindful breathing, and reflective nature of yoga, women can embark on a transformative journey of self-discovery, finding solace and strength within themselves. Menopause becomes a challenging phase and an opportunity for growth, renewal, and embracing one’s true essence. So, unroll your yoga mat, take a deep breath, and step onto the path of holistic well-being as you gracefully navigate the transition of menopause with yoga by your side.
NourishDoc: Hello, everyone, and Namaste. Happy Friday. Well, this Friday, we bring a special topic on therapeutic yoga for women undergoing perimenopause and menopause. We have Lindsey with me. She’s joining me live from the UK. She is a yoga therapist focusing on her Ph.D. on Menopause and how Yoga Therapy can be beneficial. Thank you so much, Lindsey, for joining me.
Yoga Therapist Lindsey: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
How Does Yoga Help With Menopause?
NourishDoc: All right, Let’s start with what menopause is and how yoga therapy can help.
Yoga Therapist Lindsey: Great. So menopause for many women, we go through a period of perimenopause which can last for some women for many years before we reach post-menopause status. We know when we reach that when we consecutively haven’t had a period for 12 months. So up until that, we are in this perimenopause state. Now for many of us, this can bring a variety of symptoms, including Vasamota symptoms known as your night sweats and hot flushes.
We can experience anxiety and depression; for many of us, we get brain fog, and we can feel forgetful, and we can lose confidence because of all of these things, and because many of the symptoms we suffer can then affect our sleep. So for many of us, our sleep is disturbed, and then that, in turn, affects how we show up every day. For example, how we show up at work and in our personal life. We all know what it’s like if we don’t have a good night’s sleep.
We can struggle mentally and physically. We may not eat as well. We may not feel the same desire and motivation to exercise and look after ourselves. So it becomes this kind of cyclical loop; we experience many of these symptoms, impacting our day-to-day life. Now around 20% of us may not even notice. We might sail through, and about 80% of us will experience many of these symptoms, including joint and muscle pain.
Some of us might experience hair loss. So the symptom list is quite vast. Now out of the 80% of us that will maybe suffer from some symptoms. A great number might feel fine that it’s quite intense and has a real negative impact on our lives. For many of us, we don’t always understand why and then soon as we go to our GP with these issues and sometimes they don’t always understand what’s going on either, which can make us leave us feeling quite confused.
So from a yoga therapy point of view, we can come in, and areas we can help with are things like night sweats and hot flashes. So for many women, they can be the most annoying thing at all, and where there have been studies done on yoga mindfulness breath work. They have been shown to reduce the prevalence of night sweats and hot flashes, and a lot of it is because of the approach to it. So when we practice mindfulness, for example, it allows us to view things from a different perspective, and it can improve how bothered we are by the symptoms.
So if you find that you get quite distressed, you’ll lose sleep, which might cause anxiety. Mindfulness can help us pay attention to how we are in that present moment, how we react to certain things and our response to them; what triggers us? So, we could spend time sitting with our thoughts through mindfulness and guided meditations. Just five minutes a day with our breathing and thoughts, paying attention, it could be guided body scans.
So there’s a vast area that we can touch on with mindfulness to help us manage the symptoms we show up with. Now other areas we can help with as yoga therapists are anxiety and depression. So for many of us going through menopause, it can be stressful. When we feel stressed, we have high levels of cortisol running through our body, and when we have high levels of cortisol running through our body which is a stress hormone, what happens is that we can it affects sleep as well.
So many things affect sleep; it can create greater insulin levels in our body and blood sugar levels, which can lead to more visceral fat within the body. So stress also has a major impact, and when we go through menopause, it can be incredibly stressful. So through yoga, we can offer many breathing practices that can help reduce our stress levels. Then, in turn, this can help reduce levels of anxiety and depression. So, as yoga therapists, we look at the person in front of us and what that person needs.
So if somebody’s coming in suffering from anxiety, you might need to practice that helps first to work off some of that anxiety. Then we do breathing practices to help bring the system down. If you’re somebody showing up with depression, you might need a practice that’s more lifting and not grounding. So it is dependent; it’s not a one size fits all approach but an individual approach for each person. So another aspect of menopause that tends to happen in the post-menopause stage is osteoporosis, which is a reduction in our bone density.
Hence, we’re prone to fractures, which could be in our wrists, spine, or hips. For many women, that shows up around maybe the 60s to 70s or earlier than men because men don’t suffer the reduction of estrogen in the body. A reduction of estrogen causes a whole host of these issues with our bodies. However, we’ll stick with osteoporosis for the moment. So when we lose bone density and we’re prone to more fractures where yoga therapy or just pure yoga can help with that through the physical practice of yoga.
So weight-bearing exercises help produce and maintain your bone density, and we can all offer more load in practice. So some weights, some resistance band training. So it doesn’t have to be just focused on purely yoga poses. but the idea is that we want to build and maintain that bone density. So we can stay independent for much longer and become less prone to those falls because we feel stronger and more balanced in our bodies. Then we’re less likely to fracture as well.
So from a strength perspective, yoga can be helpful concerning osteoporosis. Now, the interesting thing, if we come back to estrogen and the impact estrogen has on our bodies, the interesting thing about estrogen is that it impacts all our systems. So it helps to regulate things like temperature, it helps to regulate things like how we sensory processing, and estrogen receptors are found all over the body. So apart from just the physical body, they are also found in the brain.
Body Temperature Regulation
Now what’s interesting about this is that you have receptors in your hypothalamus, which is also linked to body temperature regulation. So this is where the Vasemoto system symptoms come in, right? The hot flushes and the night sweat. So then we can start to see how everything is linked. Estrogen receptors are also found in areas of our brain linked to attention, memory, emotion, and learning. So when women talk about brain fog and forgetfulness, where they talk about feeling highly emotive, whether anger or irritation or frustration, this all starts to make sense.
So the minute estrogen starts to drop in the body, it fluctuates and eventually loses estrogen completely. It all makes sense as to why these symptoms show up. So that’s the neurological side, so it’s not just to do with our ovaries. Everything in the body is communicating. So the brain’s hypothalamus helps stimulate the production of estrogen in our ovaries. You can see that everything is communicating from our brain to our ovaries throughout our bodies. The other area of estrogen impact, which is interesting, is that it helps regulate insulin.
So when estrogen starts to decline, the blood sugar levels go up. That one is when it turns into physical fat around our stomach, which can become an issue for obesity and diabetes too. It all becomes linked, and then we have risks for hypertension. Then there are all risks for also cardiovascular diseases. So once we hit the menopause stage, all of these added associated health threats, except for some of us, can become quite real. The other thing estrogen helps to regulate, and the list is endless, is cholesterol levels.
So when it starts to decline, and we have less regulation of our cholesterol levels, we risk gaining more plaque in our arteries, which is a stroke risk. So all of this is interlinked, and where Yoga Therapy can come in from this side, apart from the physical practice of yoga, which can help with weight gain. We can also work with hypertension and high blood pressure through relaxation practices.
So restorative yoga, for example, yin yoga, where we’re doing slow, steady stretches, holding stretches for longer, and many breathing practices, can be incredibly powerful for bringing down our nervous system. Lowering our blood pressure and less stress and stress is major factors for cardiovascular disease.
Yoga Can Help With Health Risks
So it doesn’t just help with menopause and the menopausal symptoms. It can help with all the associated health risks of menopause well. So it’s a really interesting area to be working with, and if you think that a third of our life is spent in post-menopausal status or stage is really important that we learn how to look after ourselves.
So whether that’s learning through diet or what we can eat, that would be somebody working in nutrition that can help you with that but movement and exercise and when we consider movement and exercise increase things like dopamine and serotonin. So our feel-good hormones also help ward off the negative symptoms of menopause, and that is something that we can all do through the practice of yoga through many breathing practices that can help. I think one of the major things is being able to reduce stress, which has a major impact on all of our center and body systems. So yes, there are many areas to consider with Yoga and Yoga Therapy and areas that we can help with menopause.
Good Breathing Practices
NourishDoc: I think that’s good. Could you name a couple of breathing practices that at least women can do? And then, they can Google it or do a simple demo.
Yoga Therapist Lindsey: Absolutely. So there are a couple of really good practices to do: alternate nostril breathing, which I can demo, and coherent breathing. Both practices are about bringing balance to the body. Now coherent breathing is also known as the six-six breath. So you breathe in for a count of six. You breathe out for a count of six, and that helps lift your heart rate on the inhale, which is what we want; we want our body to do that, and it lowers our heart rate on the exhale.
So you’re working with your sympathetic state, your heightened stress response, if you like. Then your parasympathetic state, which is your calm, rest, and digest response, is our ideal mode to be in, and when we work with both systems in the body, it helps to create balance. It also helps us manage stress better, so when we get used to lifting our system on the inhale and lowering it on the exhale, it improves our nervous system. Hence, the six-six birth is a really good breath to do.
Alternate nostril breathing, I’m happy to do a quick demonstration for you; you’re welcome to join me with it if you like. So basically, I’ll do a count of four on the inhale and four on the exhale, so we’ll keep it simple. There are different variations we can do, but you bring your right hand up and your index and middle fingertip down. You can also place it on your forehead if that doesn’t feel comfortable and relax your right arm by your body, and I want you to exhale fully.
So if you’re watching this live, you can join in. So exhale out and then close your right nose with your thumb and inhale through the left for one, two, three, four, close the left, exhale right, one two, three, four. Inhale right, one, two, three, four, close right, exhale left. One, two, three, four. One more round, inhale left, one, two, three, four, immediate left, exhale right. One, two, three, four, inhale right, one, two, three, four, close, exhale left, one, two, three, four, and release your hand.
So it’s a very short bit of alternate nostril breathing for you. Again, it returns to the right nostril, and the left nostril goes through different stages throughout the days; one is clearer. So when your right nostril is clear, it correlates with the left side of your brain, which is your kind of logic and your learning. When the left nostril is clear, it correlates with the brain’s right side, which is more creative and emotional. So the idea is that it’s all about homeostasis. Bringing balance to our body, and our body is constantly working towards homeostasis, constantly working towards balance. Those two breathing practices can be quite powerful to do.
Yoga Vs. Taking Pills
NourishDoc: Beautiful. Thank you so much for making it so simple to understand. Many women don’t know; they start taking all kinds of different pills, but they don’t know if they start doing therapeutic yoga that can start helping them.
Yoga Therapist Lindsey: There is so much that can be done; it’s understanding and knowing that what we’re going through is normal. It’s a normal process, not a disease, and not an illness, but we can improve the symptoms of it through movement, exercise, breath work, and mindfulness; all these things are key components in making our journey through menopause as smooth as possible.
NourishDoc: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Lindsey, for being us. We are launching the beautiful platform we have built for the last year with so much love and passion. I can’t wait to share it with the world, and Lindsey will be our chief yoga person there. So, I just wanted to share that. Thank you so much.