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Yoga and the Menopause

Like many women, I entered perimenopause in an already fatigued and stressed state. Even with regular yoga practice the years of working, bringing up children, family obligations and all the other obstacles life had thrown at me had had its effects. When hot flushes and mood swings began to arise, I was thrown off balance, not realising what was happening. Luckily, I already had the tools of yoga at my fingertips to help me with this transition. Yoga is an ancient system of practices that promotes optimum health, calms the mind and helps one reach their fullest potential. The three main practices used in the west are pranayama (breathwork), postures (asana) and meditation.

I was already aware that yoga is not only a huge benefit to the mind, to the muscles and bones in the body, but also to the organs and glands. Yoga can help support the body and mind as it goes through this massive hormonal change. I adapted my yoga practice to target my symptoms and with further research, along with working with other menopausal women it was proved to me that yoga can help prevent and reduce the common symptoms. It’s important to bear in mind that all menopausal symptoms are related, so using yoga to ease one unpleasant symptom, generally leads to having a positive effect on the rest of the body and mind.

One of the most common symptoms is fatigue. Maybe this is a message to slow down a bit, to take some time for yourself and reflect. One of the yoga tools I use most and one of the easiest yoga practices, is Yoga Nidra or yoga sleep. Lying on the ground with blankets, pillows and bolsters propping up the body and being guided through a series of relaxation prompts enabling one to reach the state between wakefulness and sleep[mb1] . It is profoundly relaxing and nourishing. It is said that thirty minutes of Yoga Nidra is the equivalent to two hours of good quality sleep.

Breathing exercises, or Pranayama, are an excellent tool for calming the mind as well as helping to create and balance energy When feeling stressed out, or experiencing brain fog. An effective exercise is to sit on the floor (with a cushion or blanket under your bottom) or on a chair, close your eyes and tune into your breath. Counting the length of each inhalation and exhalation, to the count of three or four, whatever is more comfortable for you, then extending the exhalation and taking the focus into the exhalation moving down the body into the root, the place between the two sitting bones or to the base of the spine. Focussing on and extending the exhalation slows the parasympathetic nervous system (fight or flight mode), calming the mind. Focussing on the exhalation travelling down through the body will have a grounding effect taking the attention away from all the chatter in the brain.

An excellent breathing exercise for those experiencing hot flushes is Sithali breath. This is a cooling breath enabling you to inhale cool air into the body. Curling the tongue into a U shape with the tip poking out between the lips. Alternatively, tucking the tip of the tongue behind the front teeth with the edges poking out the sides on the mouth. Inhaling slowly through the holes formed by the shape of the tongue and exhaling through the nose draws the cool air into the mouth and down through the respiratory system then exhaling slowly through the nose. This has a cooling effect within the body.

Many asanas or postures can have a positive impact on both the physical and emotional symptoms experienced during perimenopause. Most women feel the need to slow right down and practice gentle yoga, but some women find a dynamic yoga practice may help sweat out the hot flushes and alleviate anger and stress. Taking the time to tune into your body and mind is essential to find out what will be of greatest benefit to you, as you move through this transition and beyond.

When experiencing a lack of confidence or feeling overwhelmed, a strong standing posture can be a great boost. The Warrior poses, Virabhandrasana 1 and 2, make the legs feel strong and upper body energised. Releasing the head forward when seated or towards the ground when standing, takes all of the pressure out of the spine and creates space between the vertebrae. Bowing forward allows you to become more introspective and calmer. Inversions (upside down postures or placing the head lower than the heart) allow fresh, oxygenated blood to flow to the head and neck, having a calming effect on the nervous system.

Restorative yoga is a wonderful practice during perimenopause and beyond, it is when the body passively stretches with the use of props such as bolsters, blankets and blocks, allowing the muscles to deeply stretch without effort. Practicing elevated legs-up-the -wall pose, where the hips are raised on a bolster or blanket, close to wall with the legs stretched up the wall not only revives the legs and releases the back but also allows the blood to pool into the belly soaking the reproductive organs with oxygen. It is a great stress reliever, quietening the mind. Practicing supported Balasana (Childs pose) with legs wide and a bolster placed between them, laying the front of the body along the bolster is great for when you are emotionally overwhelmed. Just perfect for when you want to crawl back into bed and pull the duvet over your head. It allows the abdomen to completely release and stretches the spine out, relieving muscular tension.

Yoga is a very powerful holistic health tool when practiced during this time of redefinition. Menopause is a time when our responsibilities and values may be changing, when we may feel the need for reflection and solitude, or whatever this hormonal shift in our body may stir up. I believe the menopause is a bridge to a new phase of life, a time to feel more empowered and confident. Yoga can help us transition smoothly and positively into menopause and beyond.

Guest Post by Mary Betteridge