Every woman’s experience of the menopause is different. Some women become hot, irritable, anxious and stressed. Other women feel overwhelmed by low mood, apathy and despondency. And then there is every nuance in between.
The way these symptoms manifest can be wildly different, but the causes are the same; a huge shift in hormonal output and the consequent stress on the endocrine system which can make even mild symptoms challenging. 1 in 5 women in the UK leave their jobs finding they cannot function in the workplace under the burden of their symptoms. The impact on women’s lives is not to be underestimated.
However there is much than can be done to support the body holistically. Yoga and meditation are both proven to be highly effective for balancing these symptoms, so much so that they are recommended by the NHS. A targeted, discriminative practice is key. The stillness of restorative yoga in particular brings calm to the nervous system, reduces stress in the body and can improve function of the organs such as the liver. This can help process toxins generated by excess hormones, aid digestion for assimilation of essential nutrients and ensures the endocrine system which regulates our hormones is functioning optimally. Even something as simple as deep breathing can reduce anxiety and improve sleep. A North American Menopause study concluded that “Conscious breathing for 15 minutes twice a day can cut hot flushes by 44%”. Freedman, Woodward, Brown, Javaid, and Pandey (1995)
By bringing calmness to the body and regulating our stress response, we build resilience to stressful events when they arise in the future.
Introducing some yoga into your daily routine can be as simple as practicing one supported posture for 10 minutes followed by Savasana, corpse pose for relaxation. This is always the final posture in any yoga sequence. Lie flat on your back on the floor with the eyes closed and consciously relax every part of the body. This pose restores energy and is the gateway to meditation.
One of my favourite poses, supported Supta Baddha Konasana, (shown below) is a wonderful and important pose for women with numerous benefits.
This posture helps to
- reduce fatigue and increase energy levels
- reduce insomnia by inducing calm
- open the chest to facilitate deep breathing
- lift the heart centre to improve the mood
- increase blood flow to the pelvic region
- stimulates the digestive organs
- relax the entire nervous system
Incorporate this into your day during a mid-afternoon energy dip instead of having a coffee, for example. By making this simple switch and taking 10 minutes in this supported pose, you are investing in something that will help you to relax, boost your energy and ensure a more restful night’s sleep.
For women who feel low and lacking in energy during menopause, the more invigorating yoga poses will be of greater benefit. In fact, all women who are suffering with tiredness from lack of sleep or insomnia will benefit from a more active yoga practice in the mornings. This will help to regulate energy levels through the day and will also induce deeper sleep at night. It is also beneficial to get outside in the morning light and move your body early in the day when the muscles feel stiffer. A sun salutation or some backbends will increase energy and resilience. Backbends also stimulate the adrenal glands, which regulate stress hormones and also become a primary source of oestrogen production both during and post menopause. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (below) is a backbend pose that opens the chest to release energy and may even increase libido.
The foundations to enjoy good health are laid by establishing a routine of weight-bearing poses to strengthen the bones, by practicing balancing postures that help keep you steady on your feet and standing poses to ensure that joints and muscles remain flexible and strong.
Yoga and Ayurveda in particular, believe that times of change are very important and emphasise how it is essential to support the body and mind during these transitions. The importance of the “self-care” element in practicing yoga, of taking some time out to look after yourself, should not be trivialised. The old adage “you can’t pour from an empty cup” is especially poignant here, as most women have spent many years perfecting the art of putting their needs to the bottom of the pile. In this particular period of change, our bodies are losing some of the fire that drives us. We need to carefully nurture ourselves during this transformation and take the time we deserve to slow down and rest.
We must remind ourselves “The only constant is change”. The menopause is one of the great transitions of a woman’s life. THE change: a huge shift with obvious and profound effects. And as with any change, it can be a turbulent journey but when we arrive at our destination, transformed into wise women, the elders of our society, we hope that the wisdom and insight we have gained along the way helps us celebrate and appreciate this next phase of life as being as enriching and valuable as any other.
About our workshops
Our “good menopause” yoga and nutrition workshops have been developed to inform women of the many natural options available to provide support during this change. Over two sessions we teach yoga postures, explaining which poses will help with which particular challenges, and introduce meditation and pranayama (controlled breathing). BANT registered nutritional therapist Samantha Josephs – Nutritionista presents an overview of a healthy balanced diet and supplement programme to help to reduce symptoms. We also familiarise women with other holistic practices such as acupuncture, which is also very effective in reducing hot flushes. Handouts and practice sheets help support attendees in introducing these practices into their daily schedule and the results are profound.