Ageing gracefully isn’t always easy, especially when the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause set in. Between nightly hot flashes, heightened anxiety and moodiness, menopause can be a nearly universal source of stress for women from their early 40s well into their late 50s. I know this all too well as I have been enduring hot flashes since I turned 48. As a yoga teacher, I wanted to find out if yoga could help me. The truth is yoga can help with some but not all the symptoms. This article provides all the information I was able to find and a sequence to practice at home. The biggest wake up call for me was that how we react to what happens in our lives has a huge impact on our health. If we approach this menopausal time of life with respect, take it as a physical call to slow down and pay closer attention, it can be a time of deep reflection and a chance to really consider how we wish to spend the remaining years of our lives.
Menopause is defined as the final menstrual period (FMP) or loss of ovarian follicular function. The hormones oestrogen and progesterone regulate menstruation. When the ovaries start producing less of these two hormones, peri-menopause will start. One year after your last period is the time when you are officially in menopause. Most women enter menopause in their early 50s and it lasts, on average, for 7 years.
The most common reason is the natural decline of reproductive hormones. Certain cancer therapies can also induce menopause, causing symptoms such as hot flashes during or shortly after the course of treatment.
Home practice for menopause Yoga, while doing little to reduce hot flashes, has been proven to provide relief from many other symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, memory loss and depression. I created this routine to help alleviate these symptoms, and suggest Sitali pranayama to cool the body when a hot flash arrives. I hope you enjoy it. Hold each pose for 10 long, slow breaths.
HOW IS MENOPAUSE DIAGNOSED?
Generally menopause is undiagnosed. Under certain circumstances, a doctor may order a blood test to determine the level of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) in your blood. This will indicate if you are in peri or full menopause.
1. Hot Flashes 75% of women experience hot flashes of some kind as they approach menopause and for the first year or two after their periods stop. Between 20-50% of women continue to have them for many more years. Most women have mild to moderate hot flashes, but about 10-15% of women experience such severe hot flashes that they seek medical attention. As time goes on, the intensity usually decreases.
To deal with hot flashes:
• Identify the triggers – keep a diary and note when they happen and for how long.
• Dress in layers, so you can peel off one layer after another as you get warmer.
• Don’t wear wool, don’t wear synthetics, and be wary of silk.
• Where possible, lower the thermostat.
• Wear cotton pajamas or a nightgown to bed.
• Use cotton sheets only, not synthetics. Take a cool shower before bed.
• Pace yourself and avoid multitasking.
2. Fatigue Of all the symptoms women complain about during perimenopause, fatigue is second only to hot flashes. Plunging progesterone could be the culprit, especially if the fatigue is coupled with depression and lethargy. If a woman feels inexplicably weary for days or weeks on end, depleted adrenal glands could be part of the problem.
3. Vaginal dryness/atrophy With the significant drop in oestrogen after menopause, the tissues inside the vagina often become thinner, drier and less elastic. As a result, you may experience vaginal dryness and irritation, tightening or shortening of the vagina, and/or more frequent infections in the area, such as yeast infections and urinary tract infections.
4. Anxiety, irritability and insomnia During perimenopause, oestrogen spikes causing anxiety, nervousness and irritability. Adrenal glands that are exhausted and overtaxed can also produce bouts of anxiety and intense irritability. When a person is under stress, the sympathetic nervous system responds by accelerating the heart rate, slowing down the muscles of the digestive tract, and increasing blood circulation to the brain to fight the stressor.
5. Depression and mood swings Long periods of fatigue, coupled with a melancholy attitude or a sense that the life you once knew is now over, can trigger bouts of depression. Too much progesterone (or a drastic drop in oestrogen) can also contribute to everything from a bad case of the blues to severe clinical depression.
6. Memory loss At times during menopause, some women suddenly lose their train of thought or find themselves unable to organise their thoughts. Nouns tend to be difficult to find and there is a general frustration at not being able to say what you want when you want to.
Yoga has been proven to provide relief from symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, memory loss and depression
1. Hormone Replacement Therapy – HRT Hormone replacement therapy was first popularised in 1966 by physician Robert Wilson. His bestselling book, Feminine Forever, suggested that oestrogen supplements could help control the hot flashes, fatigue, irritability and other symptoms related to declining oestrogen levels during perimenopause. Many women and their physicians eagerly sought the new drug treatment. In the 1970s, though, the first black cloud appeared. Two major studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that oestrogen supplements could increase the risk of cancer in the lining of the uterus. Pharmaceutical companies responded by offering new formulas that combined oestrogen with another hormone,
progesterone, which had been shown in numerous studies to counter the increased risk of uterine cancer from taking oestrogen alone. By the 1980s, research showed that oestrogen-related drugs could increase the risk of breast cancer. In 1993, scientists recruited more than 16,000 postmenopausal women and randomly assigned them to take either the most widely prescribed hormone combination (Prempro) or sugar pills. The eight-and-a-half-year trial was dubbed the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI). In the middle of the trial, Researchers discovered that Prempro was actually increasing – not decreasing – the risk of heart disease, blood clots, and stroke. In July 2002, WHI officials halted the trial three years early and advised the postmenopausal study participants to quit taking HRT.
2. Diet and nutrition Stick to small, light, regular meals with fewer calories, minimal fat, and more vegetables and fruit. Avoid sauces and spices that have a bite to them, and try eating foods that are served cold, at room temperature or warm, but not hot. It is thought that adding soy proteins to the diet could be helpful against hot flashes, since soy is a form of plant oestrogen. Examples of soy-containing foods include tofu, tempeh, soybeans and roasted soy nuts. You may have heard about other plant oestrogens such as ginseng, evening primrose oil, licorice root, red raspberry leaves, sarsaparilla, spearmint, damiana, motherwort, chasteberry and black cohosh. Their safety and effectiveness have not been confirmed in research studies.
3. Yoga Yoga, while doing little to reduce hot flashes, has been proven to provide relief from many other symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, memory loss and depression. The focus is on poses that allow the body to relax and de-stress, using props such as bolsters and blankets.
Forward bends such as Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) and Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend) – in both cases with the head resting on a bolster or blankets – can help reduce irritability and mental tension, because bending forward and shutting out external distractions and stimuli can soothe the mind and reduce the effects of stress. The nervous system then receives the signal that all is well, and the adrenals and sympathetic nervous system stop working so hard.
Chest expanding poses such as Supta Badha Konasana create a mental state that positively affects the mind, supports the heart and lungs to take in more oxygen, improving respiration and circulation, and thus counter feelings of depression as well as feelings of safety and nourishment.
Inversions can help with insomnia because they ground the body’s energy and burn off excess anxiety. They encourage a deep state of rest. Adho Mukha Svanasana (DownwardFacing Dog Pose) and Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) send blood to the brain and encourage deep, focussed breathing, which can improve mental alertness.
Cooling and restorative poses help relax the body. Supta Virasana allows the abdomen to soften, and any tightness in the chest and belly to release. Ardha Halasana (Half Plough Pose) with the legs resting on a chair calms jittery nerves. Savasana (Corpse Pose) soothes the nerves, calms the mind, and puts the body into a state of repose.
Photographer: David Nascimento
Yoga Model: Elaine Kelly
Art Direction: Becky Pritchard
Assistant: Vanessa Arnold
Location: Aum Shala
Clothes: Top by Be Present" and Pants by Inner Fire , Both from KATA & ASANA
Yoga Mat: AFFIRMATS
Spot on Elaine! What a beautiful experience and what a life enhancement! It was my first time in such a setting and it was a great opportunity to meet amazing people like yourself! The article is beautiful and everyone has to know that you did it from the heart. Love it!!!
This is amazing!
Posted on 11 September 2015 by Elaine Kelly