A unique experience for every woman, Menopause can be a time of intense transition that takes several years. While the actual moment itself is simple and short, the transition phase can occur anywhere between 45-55. This can cause many emotional, physical and physiological changes in the body leading to symptoms like hot flashes, anxiety and irritability, insomnia, fatigue, depression and mood swings, memory lapses, and an erratic menstrual cycle. This occurs due to the fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels. However, this is also a time where the body is set to reset, restore and relax.
Before the onset of perimenopause, menstrual cycles are set in motion by the hypothalamus, a small structure at the base of the brain that is responsible for regulating bodily functions, including appetite and temperature. The hypothalamus sends a signal to the pituitary gland to produce important hormones for reproduction, and those hormones stimulate the production of estrogen and progesterone in the ovaries. Now during perimenopause, the ovaries decrease hormone production, while the pituitary gland, sensing low hormone levels, continues to spur on the ovaries. This causes erratic hormone fluctuations. Sometimes there is too much estrogen, which revs the body’s motors, and sometimes too much progesterone, which slows the body.
There have been many studies that have combined the many aspects of Yoga to investigate its effects on menopausal symptoms. It has been found an integrated approach to Yoga therapy can improve hot flushes and night sweats. Studies conclude that Yoga is fairly effective in managing menopausal symptoms.
This world menopause day, we’re talking about how yoga helps you manage menopausal symptoms and the common practices for this.
Many women have found that yoga improves the undesirable side effects of menopause, including hot flashes, stress, depression, lack of sleep, and more. For many women this is combined with feelings of fear, insecurity and a sense of unknown. Yoga plays an integral role in keeping you focused, calm and centered.
Yoga for menopause
Menopause is a natural phenomenon and should not be feared. With regular yoga practice, one can connect deeply with their body, manage symptoms and let go of tension and worries. During this transition, staying calm and balanced is important to keep your nervous system relaxed. Otherwise, the body goes into overdrive and uses more strength and heat than is advisable during this phase. Typical menopause symptoms even make your digestive system seem off, causing an upset stomach and leading to loss of appetite, emotions, mental fogginess, etc. Along with this, your body is also going to experience age-related experiences like joint pain. Yoga, therefore, is that holistic practice that can help you manage all these conditions. Gentle and restorative yoga is relaxing during this period. You can always use props like blankets and cushions to deepen your relaxation.
Benefits of practicing yoga during menopause
- Alleviates cramps, pain and discomfort.
- Induces a sense of peace and calm by balancing the nervous system and mind.
- Helps balance emotions and mood.
- Improves energy and releases fatigue.
- Stretches and relaxes the muscles, nourishing the tissues.
Yoga postures for menopause
Seated Forward Bend
This posture relieves stress, anxiety and depression. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system and vagus nerve. It also stretches and stimulates the back and tones the spinal nerves. It also ignites the digestive fire and improves digestion.
How to do seated forward bend:
- Sit up with the legs stretched out straight in front of you (Dandasana). Keep the spine straight and toes pointing upwards.
- Inhale, raise both arms above your head and stretch up. As you exhale, bend forward from the hip, chin moving toward the toes. Keep the spine erect. Focus on moving forwards towards the toes, rather than down towards the knees.
- Place your hands on your legs, wherever they reach. Do not try to force yourself closer to the thighs if it is difficult. If you can, grab hold of your toes and pull on them to help you inch forward a little. You can also grab your calves if that’s where you’re comfortable.
- Breathe in, keep your head straight and lengthen the spine. As you exhale, gently try to take your naval closer to the knees. Engage your core and try to use your breath to go deeper into the posture.
- Release the grip; inhale, raise both the arms up and lift the chin and chest as well. Breathe out, lower your arms and come back to Dandasana.
Cat cow pose
This movement affects both the front and back of the spine. When you open the chest in the cow position, you stretch the part of the body that relates to your sympathetic nervous system and when you round the back in the cat position, you stretch the part of the body that relates to the parasympathetic nervous system. The posture also massages the joints and tissues around the spine, keeping them soft and supple.
How to do cat-cow pose:
- Come onto all fours with the palms directly under the shoulders and knees underneath your hips. Ensure your weight is equally distributed on all fours.
- Inhale and fill your abdomen with air as you let your belly drop towards the mat. There will be an arch in your back as you do this. Look up towards the ceiling and lengthen your neck and throat.
- As you exhale, pull the naval towards the spine, curve your back and tuck your chin into your chest as you lift up.
- Continue this movement for a few breaths. Let your breath guide you through the movements.
- After a few rounds, release and come into child’s pose.
Reclined bound angle pose
This posture is good for relief from hot flushes. It helps cool down the system and relaxes the body. You can also support the body with bolsters, blankets, or blocks.
How to do reclined bound angle pose:
- Lie down on the back. Now bend the legs and bring the feet as close to the groin as you can. Join the soles of the feet together.
- Relax the hands and place them on the mat beside the legs.
- Relax here and take deep breaths.
This posture improves blood flow and circulation throughout the body. It stretches the back, hands, shoulders and legs.
How to do downward-facing dog:
- Come onto your fours. Form a table such that your back forms the table top and your hands and feet from the legs of the table.
- As you breath out, lift the hips up, straightening the knees and elbows. Your body will form an inverted V-shape.
- Hands are shoulder width apart, feet are hip width apart and parallel to each other. Keep the toes pointed straight ahead.
- Press your hands into the ground. Widen through the shoulder blades. Keep the neck lengthened by touching the ears to the inner arms.
- Hold the downward dog pose and take long deep breaths. Look towards the navel.
- Exhale. Bend the knees, return to table pose. Relax.
This chest-opening posture stimulates the nervous system and removes sluggishness and depression. Stimulating poses like sphinx are both energizing and rejuvenating.
How to do sphinx pose:
- Lie on your stomach and place your elbows directly underneath your shoulder blades.
- Press firmly into the legs and engage your core.
- Lift the upper body. Roll the shoulders back and keep your gaze neutral.
- Breathe deeply and consistently. Let your forearms support you and hold the pose for a few breaths.
Breathing practices for menopause
Pranayama or breathing exercises are helpful during this phase to cool down the body, relax the mind, balance the emotions and keep your nervous system balanced. It particularly helps one keep the mind calm during hot flashes. It can also help in dealing with aches and pain. Do not put any strain on the breath or practice with any retention or locks as this will increase discomfort. Simple, relaxed and gentle pranayama is helpful. Practices like alternate nostril breathing will balance the entire system while also inducing a calming and tranquilizing effect. Humming bee breath releases stress and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Other cooling practices like left nostril breathing and Sheetali/ Sheetkari will cool down the system completely.
Meditation and relaxation
Regularly doing meditation and Yoga Nidra (relaxation) is extremely beneficial. These practices will help you stay centered and grounded. It will release stress, tension, anxiety and worries. It also keeps the system relaxed, helping your digestive system stay calm and balanced. The practices will also eliminate confusion, mental fogginess and despair.
This transition can be a challenging and difficult time for women. Be gentle with yourself. Prioritize your self-care. Listen to your body and only do what you can. It’s okay if you can’t complete your to-do list. Join a yoga class to help you stick to a routine that will support you in taking care of your health during this time.