Does Yoga Help Menopause Symptoms?
Has your practice of yoga helped your menopausal symptoms?
Yoga Poses For Menopausal Symptoms
The practice of yoga is a great "natural remedy" for treating menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, moodiness, insomnia, and memory problems.
I went through this life event a little early -- I was 49 when I had my last period (the average age is 52). At 55, my body still hasn't quite adjusted to the new hormone levels, and I continue to occasionally experience a few annoying symptoms -- hot flashes, moodiness alternating with anxiety, and some fatigue. And I've noticed more "middle-aged spread" (well, part of that may be because I like my chocolate and pretzels....).
I decided not to use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for a number of reasons -- mostly because I prefer to avoid medications of any kind when possible. I've tried some of the "natural" creams and pills to alleviate hot flashes and other symptoms, but I've never been too disciplined in that area.
But I AM disciplined in my practice of yoga, and that has helped me get through the worst of my menopausal symptoms.
When I skip my practice for too long, or if I don't practice intelligently, I get moody and irritable, I don't sleep as well, I experience more anxiety, and I have more hot flashes.
I know which sequences of yoga poses (scroll down for links to Yoga for Menopause sequences) help me to quiet these symptoms of menopause, so even though they haven't completely disappeared, I can easily deal with them without having them disrupt my life.
"Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured." ~ BKS Iyengar
What is Menopause?
The word "menopause" comes from the Greek "meno" for month, and "pausis" for pause, or stop. Menopause is when our monthly cycle stops.
There are three stages:
Perimenopause -- or premenopause. The greatest fluctuation in hormones are during this stage. Our menstrual cycles start to become more irregular during this time, and we start to experience other menopausal symptoms. Perimenopause usually lasts for about five years, but can last for much longer.
Menopause -- This stage is when the menstrual cycle has stopped. "Official" menopause is twelve months after the last period. The body is still adjusting to the changes in hormonal levels, and we may experience menopausal symptoms (such as hot flashes) for several more years.
Postmenopause -- This stage lasts for the rest of the woman's life. The body has adjusted to the new hormonal levels, and menstrual symptoms have stopped.
A Good Guide
If you get just one book about yoga and menopause, it should be this one.
Yoga and the Wisdom of Menopause by Suza Francina.
The author, Suza Francina, is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher who has done a wonderful job putting together information on how the practice of yoga can help ease our way through this life event. She intersperses her informational chapters with interviews of other yoga teachers and practitioners who have gone through this and how they've adapted their yoga practice during this time.
Yoga for Menopause Sequence
Here's a nice sequence of seven restorative poses, shown in photos, that help to balance our hormones during menopause.
Yoga for Midlife and Beyond by Suza Francina
Find a good yoga class to help you learn these useful poses!
Restorative Yoga Calms Many Symptoms, and Soothes Our Nerves
Menopausal symptoms are caused by changing levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone in the body. The practice of yoga doesn't affect the production of these hormones, but it can alleviate menopausal symptoms by improving the functioning of the endocrine system. The effects of these hormonal fluctuations are smoothed out.
The yoga poses that are most useful to ease these symptoms are restorative poses (quiet, supported, nurturing poses) which soothe the nervous system and balance the endocrine system. Restorative poses help to calm our irritable, jangled nerves, help to cool the body, and to give us much needed rest.
Many women who've had a very vigorous yoga practice up until menopause will benefit from having a more quiet practice more often. They don't have to give up their active practice, but add in a restorative practice when they're experiencing the more difficult menopausal symptoms.
The practice of yoga doesn't necessarily make it possible for every woman to be comfortable during this phase of her life, but it helps many. You still might decide that it's better for you to have HRT treatment if your symptoms are severe and you can't function well in your daily life without this treatment. You may not need HRT treatment for as long if you continue to practice yoga.
Inversions are "upside down" poses, or "head below the heart" poses that include Headstand, Shoulderstand (shown here), Downward Facing Dog pose, and Simple Legs Up the Wall pose, among others.
Yoga inversions help to balance the endocrine system and calm the nervous system. Some variations can be done with support, while some take more effort (Headstand, Shoulder Stand), but are soothing to people who are already practicing them regularly.
If you don't already know how to practice Headstand and Shoulderstand safely, do alternative poses instead, or get the help from an experienced teacher. These are powerful poses for maintaining health, but there are also contraindications to these poses. Practice in a way that is safe for you!
Hot Flashes and Yoga
Hot flashes are experienced by around 80% of women going through menopause. There's a rise in the core body temperature and a faster pulse during hot flashes. Some people, looking on the bright side, call them power surges...
Stress, fatigue, and intense periods of activity can intensify hot flashes. My hot flashes are often preceded by a sudden feeling of anxiety. They're worse if I'm tired or angry or irritable.
Supported poses such as this "Supported plow pose" are cooling, and calming to jittery nerves. (If you don't already practice this pose, there are many other quiet, cooling poses that you can do instead, including lying on the floor with legs up the wall or supported forward bends)
Another cooling pose is "Supta baddha konasana", as shown in the photo a couple of sections above (lying over a bolster with feet together, knees wide).
Fatigue is the second most common menopausal symptom. Gentle supported backbends that open the chest and heart area bring more energy, determination, and joy.
This pose is Setu bandha sarvangasana with support (supported bridge pose variation), and is very soothing to the nervous system as well as a good way to open the chest.
The two other poses shown earlier are also helpful for resting the body and quieting the mind.
Irritability, Anxiety, Mental Tension
Forward bending poses with the head supported (either standing or seated) can help reduce irritability and mental tension. Supported foreward bends shut out external distractions and soothe the mind and reduce stress. The other poses shown earlier also help with these symptoms.
When you're feeling strong and rested, you can do your more vigorous practice if that's what you're used to (I know my body craves the more vigorous work when I'm feeling strong and healthy) but do pay attention to when your body needs these quieter, more nurturing poses. You'll get through menopause much easier if you take care of yourself!
Post-Menopause and Yoga
After our hormones have adjusted to their new levels, our menopausal symptoms disappear and we generally feel more comfortable in our own bodies again.
Our practice of yoga during this later stage of our lives won't be as vigorous as in our earlier years, but it will help us keep our bones strong, our joints mobile, our heart healthy, and it will help us maintain a healthy and positive outlook to life.
The Woman's Book of Yoga and Health - A Lifelong Guide to Wellness
The Woman's Book of Yoga and Health by Linda Sparrowe and Patricia Walden
This is another excellent resource with chapters on all stages in a woman's life. The woman on the cover is Patricia Walden, a senior level Iyengar Yoga teacher, who has gone through menopause and continues to remain strong and elegant.
It includes information for women in all stages of life, from puberty through old age. Sequences are included with good instructions and illustrations.