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Yoga for Menopause
Hormonal changes are responsible for the discomforts of menopause, and although yoga can’t change your hormone levels, it can help limit the damage and discomfort.
Yoga can be both calming (restorative) and challenging (heating). During perimenopause and menopause, your body is already stressed, and often heated from hot flashes and night sweats. In turn, your yoga practice during menopause should focus on restoring balance by calming your nerves and cooling your body.
Incorporating certain types of poses — namely, restorative front and back bends, reclining poses, and chest opening postures — can have a positive effect for many women. Moodiness, fatigue, and even fuzzy thinking can improve with the right yoga practice (especially under the watchful eye of an experienced yoga instructor), so start by learning a little more about what styles are good options, and why.
Finding the Right Yoga Practice for your Symptoms
Yoga is a deceptively broad term – there are so many different types, and it can take some time and attention to find the right practice for your body. You could sample a selection of different classes, but the danger with trial and error is that you may wind up injuring yourself, worsening your symptoms, or simply losing interest very quickly.
Take some guidance from yoga experts, and start gently. These types of yoga combine the unity of breath and movement with the deep stretching, relaxation, and restorative poses that will help you combat your menopause symptoms:
The most popular type of yoga is Hatha, which is actually an umbrella term that refers to the central practice of uniting body and mind through postures. These postures (asanas) help you control your breathing, calm your mind and relax your body. Hatha yoga includes a wide variety of more specific yoga practices.
In practice, Hatha yoga is one of the gentlest types of yoga. A Hatha class will combine standing and sitting stationary poses (each held for a few moments) with the special balanced breathing known as pranayama. It’s the best place to begin if you’ve never practiced yoga before.
With a focus on technique and a wealth of props to help you maintain perfect form, Iyengar is especially helpful for those with injuries, flexibility issues, and illness. Precision is the name of the game here. Iyengar yoga teachers are also highly trained and specially certified, which means they can bring a lot of expertise to your specific menopausal issues.
Since many of the poses are held for a long time, Iyengar can be more challenging than you might imagine. However, there’s usually a way to modify your yoga practice, so speak to your teacher before the class to see how you can adjust the poses to suit you better.
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This form of yoga shifts the focus from the physical to the meditative. Chanting and pranayama breathing are important parts of the practice, and they will help you learn to relax and strengthen your concentration and resolve.
Integral yoga is particularly helpful because of the spiritual aspect (meditative chanting can help you understand and explore your beliefs), and since it encourages you to look within yourself, it’s a great way to get in touch with how menopause is changing – and enhancing – your perspective. Of course, the focus on calming and controlling your thoughts can also do wonders for anxiety.
In the end, the best yoga postures for menopause are often the ones that restore your energy, rather than push your physical limits. In this regard, yin yoga is a good choice, because it aims to soothe and stretch your muscles to alleviate tension. Instead of challenging your strength and flexibility, you will focus on opening your joints, moderating your muscle tension, and aligning your body.
The more powerful yoga practices, like Astanga and Vinyasa flow, can be pleasantly challenging for the body and mind, but it’s easy to go overboard with dynamic yoga when you have physical limitations or chronic discomforts. Working up to a more cardiovascular yoga isn’t out of the question during menopause, but avoid hot yoga (like Bikram or Moksha) if you’re prone to hot flashes or dizzy spells – that’s a recipe for trouble.
The Limitations of a Yoga Practice
Despite the list of benefits, keep in mind that yoga can’t solve all your problems. In fact, unless you pair yoga with other healthy lifestyle changes, you may not see much of an improvement at all.
There haven’t been many large and targeted studies on yoga’s specific benefits, but one rigorous trial that followed 249 menopausal women — some of whom practiced yoga, and some who did not —uncovered some important realities. For one, neither group of women experienced much improvement in depression, anxiety, or hot flashes at the end of the study. However, there was some good news: the women who stuck with a yoga routine found that their insomnia decreased.
Even though sleep quality was the only area that saw improvement, this is a bigger success than it may seem. After all, a cycle of sleepless nights and weary days will leave you exhausted, and exhaustion is proven to enhance your pain and discomfort. So, if yoga helps you get a better sleep, you should be able to manage your symptoms much more effectively and comfortably.
While yoga may not work wonders for you, one thing is clear: any regular physical activity will certainly help you combat your symptoms, and combining strengthening with stretching and relaxation is a good place to start.
The ability to center your mind is an incredible advantage when so many of your physical symptoms respond to a high-stress lifestyle. If you can work two or three yoga workouts into your week as well as regular walking, jogging, swimming, or aerobics, you’ll soon strengthen your body and your mind enough to cope with your most bothersome menopause discomforts.