Every woman on the planet has one thing to look forward to as she gracefully ages – perimenopause and menopause. I have been practising yoga since a teenager and it has helped me through some tough physical and emotional challenges. I feel that at the time of writing this, it is definitely supporting me through the perimenopausal years for sure.
As I understand it there are 3 main stages of menopause:
- Perimenopause – the years leading up to menopause. They are often the most symptomatic.
- Menopause – classed as when you have not had a period for 12 months.
- Post Menopause – the years after reaching menopause.
Some of you reading this might already be there; some of you might be in those mystical years of perimenopause like me. Incidentely perimenopause can last for a good many years. Some women notice symptoms from their early 40’s (or even before).
Symptoms of Perimenopause and Menopause
Like most hormonal life transitions, there are a few unpleasant symptoms and many of these occur during the perimenopausal years. They can include:
- Hot flushes
- Joint pain
- Mood swings
- Loss of muscle mass
- Loss of bone mass
- Brain fog
- Weight gain or redistribution of weight from the hips to the belly area
- Digestion issues
- Loss of sex drive/libido
Along with this, we have the added joy of being at more risk of insulin resistance, weight gain, osteoporosis and osteopenia, cardiac problems, some cancers and dementia.
You can read more here
However, before you lose the will to live there is a lot we can do in terms of damage control.
Your yoga practice, for instance, can make a huge positive difference; so let’s turn that frown upside down and empower ourselves with the knowledge and tools to make things better for our ongoing health and wellbeing.
Yoga For Perimenopause and Menopause (An Eastern View)
Yoga is part of the family of Eastern holistic practices and the menopausal transition is seen very differently from how we see it in Western society.
Instead of it being a time for loss (with women seeing themselves as past their sell-by date), it is a time for new beginnings. It is simply the next chapter or season in life.
According to Chinese Medicine, for example, post–menopause is seen as the ‘second spring’ – a beautiful new season of life for women to look forward to, not dread.
We should definitely NOT be disappearing into the woodwork
So let’s see how we can use yoga to help ourselves enjoy life, and stay fit and healthy whilst getting through the menopausal journey in one piece.
Yoga Will Help Us Maintain Strength Throughout the Perimenopause and Menopause.
As we get older, we will lose muscle mass especially if we do not move our body enough. Losing muscle is linked to menopause but to be honest it is not really a menopausal–specific thing. It is more of a ‘not moving and using your body enough’ thing!
Yoga is not known for building muscle strength per se, but it is a hidden gem of a tool to help us do so.
The combination of moving in and out of poses to more static holds both helps to stimulate muscle growth and prevent muscle dyspraxia (breakdown). Add on the use of props in our practice (especially blocks, resistance bands and blankets), we can take it up another level.
Incidentally, the more muscle mass we have, the higher our metabolism which will help us avoid that dreaded weight gain.
See this in action by watching this practice video:
Yoga Will Help Us to Maintain Bone Mass
Losing bone mass is a menopausal thing. Oestrogen is a very important hormone and does a lot of jobs. One of those jobs is to promote the production of the building blocks of bone tissue.
As oestrogen dips and declines as we move through perimenopause and menopause, our ability to make new bone tissue declines also. On top of that oestrogen activates the production of vitamin D. Vitamin D helps us to absorb calcium. Calcium is a key mineral for bone health.
To help minimise the loss of bone mass we need to do weight–bearing exercise and plenty of it. Yoga is perfect for this especially poses that challenge our endurance, balance and stability. Think long holds and incorporate plenty of balance poses, whether it be on the legs or arms – all is good. A little bit of jumping or bouncing can also help – try adding it to your mat practice!
Yoga Keeps the Joints Happy
Again, the drop in oestrogen can make our joints feel stiff and achy.
Yoga is great for joint health so a protective support through perimenopause and menopause.
The various yoga poses move the joints through their full range of motion and so provide a buffer that will help your joints be as happy as they can be as you get older.
Yoga also strengthens the joints.
We need a bit of both to keep the joints pain–free and be able to move in all the directions we wish to move.
We call this functional movement – any exercise that allows us to live our lives from getting up from a coach to reaching up high for a can of beans.
Remember, if you don’t move in a particular direction you will eventually lose the ability to do so over time.
To get a taste of how yoga can help your joint mobility I have a practice video for you to try here:
Yoga is Good for Beating Brain Fog Associated with Perimenopause and Menopause.
We all know that hormone fluctuations can play havoc with our ability to function. Brain fog is a real thing.
Mental clarity and focus are more achievable if we are calm and relaxed over muddled and overwhelmed.
Luckily yoga has plenty of tools that train us to do just that. I find that a combination of flow yoga, breath work, meditation and relaxation can really help me and take only minutes to do.
Yoga Gives You the Tools to Help You Manage Stress.
Ok – this is a biggie as the physical effect of stress in the body is the precursor of many of the symptoms listed above.
The simple fact is that the more stressed we are the more menopausal symptoms we are likely to suffer from including hot flushes, weight gain, digestive issues, sleep problems, headaches, mood swings and low libido.
We have a problem though.
Today’s women are busy people. Not only do we rush around doing our own things but we also have to look after other people too – be it kids or older family members.
We are overwhelmed with stuff to do and the list is pretty endless. This is leaving us little time to rest and recuperate.
Long-term ‘busyness’ increases stress (as we are spending more and more time in the fight-and-flight nervous system).
Ongoing stress causes inflammation. Inflammation leads to an unhappy body and a difficult menopause.
Yoga offers a wide diversity of tools to help us manage the effects of stress and encourage proper rest. Savasana, for example, is the ultimate pose of rest. Another amazing yoga tool for rest is Yoga Nidra.
You can try a yoga Nidra out by clicking the video below:
When we spend more time in the ‘rest and digest‘ nervous system our hormones re–balance themselves, our bodies work better and we as a result will feel better.
Reducing our stress levels will also help us avoid putting on too much weight. When we are stressed it plays havoc with our hormones which can lead to weight gain as our body feels threatened.
When we feel threatened we hold onto weight so that we can either run away from the bear or survive the next famine. This is a primitive response of the brain to stress. Balancing the nervous system helps to calm this response and the body (thinking it is safe) will let go of the weight.
I hope that you can see a few ways that yoga can support us through perimenopause and menopause. In my personal opinion, the most helpful thing that we can start doing now is learning how to manage our stress response. This I believe will help us avoid many of the more annoying symptoms of the menopausal years.
We also need to change our attitude towards ‘the change’. After all every single woman on the planet will go through it and we still have so much to look forward to on the other side!