Emme Magazine

The benefits of yoga during perimenopause and beyond

Menopause, what joy!!!  At least it should be

Menopause literally means the cessation of menstruation; I don’t think too many women would look at the passing of that chapter with regret! But the real problem is not the menopause per se, it’s the nightmare that the peri-menopausal years can become. And the concept that the symptoms can go on for years after the menopause. Hot flushes waking you at night literally drenched, menstrual cycles that are totally irregular, twice as painful, heavy and long; PMT like you had as a teenager, depression, anxiety, mood swings, insomnia, headaches, problems with memory and concentration, weight gain, breast tenderness, reduced sex drive, stiffness and soreness in joints, urinary incontinence and urgency, heightened sense of smell and altered sense of taste… the list doesn’t make for happy reading.  Not all women have all these symptoms, but some do and plenty of others besides, and as this chapter can last for a decade, you need a coping strategy.

Each new chapter of a women’s life is accompanied by hormonal fluctuations

Puberty, pregnancy, postnatal yearsand then the perimenopause.  This chapter is no different with declining oestrogen levels and fluctuating progesterone levels.  Research in the 1960s led to hormone replacement therapy (HRT), if the hormones are replaced, everything will be back to normal, right?  Except it never will be, and many studies have linked HRT with breast cancer and other serious health risks.  The UK’s NHS states “The benefits of HRT are generally believed to outweigh the risks.”  Generally believed?? Hmnnn, not entirely reassuring, but for many women, it’s an absolute final option and can be life saving.

There are a multitude of strategies and things that will help and it’s about finding what works best for you over the long term

A coffee with a friend and a shoulder to cry on, a walk up the high street, a new top . . . all important in their own way but right now, on Corona Lockdown, impossible.  And the problem is they are external solutions and fleeting.  The warm glow of that new purchase fades pretty quickly and that lovely friend will not want the same story tomorrow.  If this is going to last for a decade, that’s going to get crazily expensive and you’ll run out of shoulders pretty quickly.

We all need to find a solution that’s sustainable and comes from within

We need to be able to take care of ourselves.  There are a hundred ways to do that from a glorious punnet of strawberries, a walk in the sunshine, a course of therapy with a caring, compassionate counsellor.

And that’s where Yoga can help in the mix

Many people who practice yoga realise it is the thing in their life that makes them feel the best.  They leave a class feeling lighter in their bodies and head.  More open, more space.  And the constant circles of chattering, to do lists, repeated conversations, anxieties in their mind (the brilliant Sanskrit name is chitta vrittis arestilled.

The wonderful and powerful thing about yoga is this altering in your mood and body has come from you

You have achieved this.  And the cost can be absolutely minimal, if not free.  Because you are reliant on no one but yourself to achieve this, with a little time, 10 minutes, you can practice every day.  And another wonderful thing is the practice never ends, it’s a path you travel on for life.  The greatest moments in a yoga teacher’s career is when a student tells you that,after your class, they have had the best night’s sleep they’ve had in years.  That is praise indeed.  When they tell you their back, hips, sciatica, frozen shoulder, post-natal depression has eased, and they are linking it to yoga.

Yoga originated in India several thousand years ago and the word can be translated on a simple level as union

it can be as basic as the union of breath and movement.  Ancient yogic texts present a philosophy that leads to a harmonious life and self realisation through control of the mind and body; there can be physical, mental and spiritual components of the practice.  The physical components or postures, Asanas; breathing techniques, Pranayama and Dharana meditation (or very loosely interpreted as relaxation) are the most commonly practiced of the teachings in the West today.

Hatha Yoga is the general name for all forms of physical yoga practiced in the West today

It derives from the teachings of Swami Svatmrama, in the 15th century he compiled the classic Hatha text, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.  Swami Svatmramaconsiders the purpose of Hatha yoga is to physically prepare and purify the body for higher forms of meditation.  Hatha derives from the combination of two Sanskrit words, Ha, the masculine sun energy and Tha, the feminine moon energy.  The flow of energy on the left of the body is the ida nadi, the lunar force; whilst the right side is the pingala nadi, the solar force.  Hatha yoga focuses on the perpetual duality of nature; yin and yang, hard and soft, male and female. As a style of yoga it means forceful, vigorous or intense and covers all styles of yoga practice that include asanas and pranayama, together they balance the body creating harmony and equilibrium.

At any other point in time, the first thing I’d suggest is finding a local class

A gentle Hatha class with a teacher you like:their manner, the sound of their voice.  There are a hundred different styles of yoga, but the postures (Asanas) are all exactly the same, it’s just the sequencing, the journey between the poses, the breakdown and teaching, that defines the practice.  This is not the time for a strenuous Ashtanga or Vinyasa Flow class, but a time for a quieter, reflective practice. With social distancing, classes are on hold, and yoga teachers are not allowed to take on new students.  So you need to look for books or online articles and guidance, and there are plenty.

I had the great pleasure to train with the wonderful Judith Hanson Lasater, the author of Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times

Her book is beautiful and introduces the practice of Restorative Yoga. This is a practice where you use blocks, bolsters and blankets to support you in your postures.  You spend much longer in the postures, you can easily hold one posture for 30 minutes, but your body is supported in it, so you open by allowing your body to relax.  I cannot recommend her book highly enough.  There is an entire chapter dedicated to Transitions: Opening to Menopause.

There are brilliant online articles

The website yogajournal.com has a series of wonderful articles on yoga and menopause and their Poses by Benefit search function lists 15 postures with fantastic instructions and Contraindications and Cautions.

Yoga may not be the answer to all of your problems, but why not try it, because it just might be!

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