Updated: Sep 20, 2019
Join a conversation with women in their 50s and invariably the conversation will turn to menopause.
“These hot flashes are killing me!” someone will exclaim, fanning themselves.
“I can’t sleep anymore,” someone else will say. “My mind just races, then I feel itchy all over.”
Menopause occurs when your body ceases ovulating and menstruating, which typically happens around age 51. A woman is considered to be in menopause when it’s been twelve months since her last period. However the transition into menopause is a lengthy process that can take up to ten years to move through.
During the transition period into menopause, known as perimenopause, most women will start to experience uncomfortable symptoms including hot flashes, mood swings, anxiety, night sweats, anxiety, dry or itchy skin, heavy or irregular periods, insomnia, loss of bone density and more.
Many of these symptoms are caused by the hormonal adjustment taking place in the body. As your ovaries gradually reduce production of estrogen and androgen, your adrenal glands try to pick up the slack. Meanwhile your pituitary gland goes into overdrive, trying to get your ovaries back in the game. The hormonal fluctuations are what lead to many of these unpleasant symptoms women experience during perimenopause.
Fortunately, yoga is great tool for helping navigate “the change”. Both asana (physical postures) and pranayama (breath work) can offer relief of whichever symptoms are bothering you.
A study by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that that as little as 20 minutes of yoga practice a day can reduce hot flashes and increase quality of life and another study in the Menopause Journal found that regular yoga practice dramatically increases sleep quality during menopause.
One of the best tools in your arsenal during the change is your breath. There are several breath practices that relieve menopause symptoms. One of the best is the “cooling breath” (sitali pranayama) which can help alleviate hot flashes, anxiety and focus the mind if you’re feeling “spacy”.
To practice the cooling breath, sit up straight curl the sides of your tongue up and inward, like a straw. Gently suck air in across your folded tongue, breathing in for a count of five as you slowly lift your chin in the direction of the ceiling. Close your mouth, pause, then gently exhale through your nose to the count of five as you lower your chin to its starting position. Repeat 8-12 times.
When practicing asana, supportive poses are usually best for calming the body and restoring balance. Positions where you can relax into a bolster or other support help quiet the mind as well as the adrenal glands. Restorative yoga and yin yoga are all great options for finding relief, and adding in a regular yoga nidra or meditation practice can also provide great benefit.
In your home practice you can also incorporate the following poses to help ease a variety of menopause symptoms:
Legs up the wall
Reclined bound angle
Supported forward bends
For a more in-depth exploration of how yoga can help you navigate the change and which postures address specific symptoms, join me at my upcoming seminar “Yoga for Menopause” on October 13th from 2:00-4:00 p.m. at unfold. Registration is $45 (or $40 if paid by October 6th). More info & register here.