October is Menopause Month so we’re taking this opportunity to focus on how yoga can benefit women going through this natural but often destabilising time of their lives. Ahead of her menopause yoga day retreat on 13th October 2019, Petra Coveney explains how menopause yoga can help women going through perimenopause to post menopause. Learn about common stress triggers, physical effects, helpful yoga styles and more.
Our hormones affect every part of our bodies, so when our hormones fluctuate during menopause the symptoms can include everything from range from hot flushes, to anxiety attacks, insomnia and night sweats, fatigue and foggy brain. While there are many triggers for these symptoms, including coffee, alcohol and sugar, we know that stress exacerbates those symptoms making your hot flushes more frequent and intense, for example.
A regular yoga practice can help you reduce or eliminate some of the most common symptoms by reducing the stress trigger, as well as improving muscle strength and tone, which weaken in post menopause, balance, flexibility to prevent dangerous falls, and build bone density to help prevent osteoporosis.
One of the most transformational benefits of yoga and meditation is the effect they can have on your psychological state of mind and perspective, helping you to transition through this stage of upheaval in your life, and come to terms with the sense of grief that many of us experience for the loss of our fertility.
I know because I experienced many of these symptoms when I came through perimenopause in my early 40s at a time when it wasn’t as openly talked about as it is today.
The stress trigger
During menopause, the adrenal system is put under considerable strain due to the peaks and troughs of our hormonal fluctuations in perimenopause, and the seismic shift that follows the loss of estrogen and progesterone. Any additional stress in your life will trigger and exacerbate many menopause symptoms: hot flushes and anxiety attacks may increase in frequency and intensity; episodes of insomnia and sleep disturbance can become entrenched; fatigue, brain fog and low mood can become commonplace and debilitating.
Yoga, paced breathing and meditation release stress held in the body, and helps you to connect to the parasympathetic nervous system that enables you to ‘rest and digest’ thereby reducing anxiety, improving sleep and food digestion.
Muscles and bones
The decline in estrogen and other hormones causes some of our muscles to turn to fat (hence the bingo wings and wobbly thighs), and calcium starts to leach out of our bones in post menopause. We need the muscles to support our skeletal structure and avoid debilitating falls. Many yoga poses help to retain muscles and the weight bearing balancing poses improve bone density.
Flexibility, aches and pains
Women in menopause commonly report aches and pains in their muscles and joints which become stiff and can be agonising. There is often no specific cause and painkillers may not relieve it. Frozen shoulder and hip or lower back pain are very common. Yoga deep stretches on a daily basis help to keep you flexible, mobile and can reduce symptoms.
What style of yoga is good for menopause?
If you are experiencing hot flushes and night sweats then hot yoga obviously isn’t the best style of yoga for you. You need to reduce the bodies heat not increase it. If you are feeling fatigued, throwing yourself into a challenging power yoga practice could put unnecessary stress on the body and in turn stress exacerbates other symptoms.
If you are new to yoga, then start by joining a beginners or level one hatha yoga class, or look for a class that is designed to relieve stress. Once you are feel comfortable and calm, you can try other classes.
The most important thing is to find the right yoga class for you, with an experienced teacher you feel comfortable with, and to listen to what your body needs. Don’t make yoga another stressful part of your day, or else it will be counterproductive.
As a result of my personal experiences, in-depth research and knowledge gained from being both a member of the British Menopause Society (BMS) and the British Wheel of Yoga, I developed menopause yoga which is both an approach the menopause and a method that includes specially adapted yoga poses, breath work, mindful meditation and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. I also include wellbeing in these workshops, which cover menopause nutrition, natural remedies, vitamins and supplements, lifestyle changes you can make – as well as trusted medical advice from the BMS on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and other medical support available. This is important, because women need to be able to make informed choices about HRT, which can have many other health benefits.
My aim is to offer women education so that they can make informed choices, feel empowered and embrace the menopause as a positive time of transition to a new and exciting stage of life.
Petra is a triyoga teacher and founder of menopause yoga. She is the first yoga teacher to be accepted onto the British Menopause Society for health practitioners and works with Dr Louise Newson, the UK’s leading campaigner for menopausal women’s rights. Petra has been teaching menopause yoga workshops, retreats and private classes since 2017 and offers menopause yoga teacher trainings. She regularly blogs about menopause yoga and wellbeing. You can follow her on Instagram @Menopause_Yoga