Subject Expert: Jo Sales
Entering the rollercoaster that is the Peri-Menopause and Menopause presents myriad new, and often alarming, physical and emotional challenges. Just as in other life-change phases such as puberty, pregnancy and childbirth, the symptoms often differ hugely in both number and intensity between different people. While yoga is not unfortunately a panacea to address and cure all of these symptoms, it does give us specific poses that can help us weather the squalls and storms before we emerge into the calm of the other side.
From the wide variety of yoga practices available, it is the gentler, restorative system that can be of greatest value during menopause. This approach is particularly effective for those women who have decided against using HRT, or for whom this is not a medically viable choice. In these restorative poses, the body is held or supported using props such as bolsters or blankets, allowing much of the physical and mental exertion to be released. This gives the often over-stimulated adrenal system a welcome break, and as a consequence, soothes and restores us.
Because each yoga pose brings with it specific physical and emotional benefits, it’s possible to build a personalised practice of poses that will best support each person’s own unique experience of menopause. It’s really all about picking the right pose, or ‘tool’ for the job…
This approach is particularly effective for those women who have decided against using HRT, or for whom this is not a medically viable choice.
Cooling, reclined poses such as Reclined Bound Angle pose (Supta Baddha Konasana), supported with bolsters and blocks, allow the belly and the chest to soften. This can lessen the effects of hot flashes by reducing gripping and tension in the body.
Turn to gently supported inversions such as Legs-Up-The-Wall pose (Viparita Karani) to help encourage deep relaxation. 5-15 minutes in this pose brings deep rest and a feeling of being nourished and revitalised.
Downward Facing Dog pose (Ardha Mukkha Svanasana) with the head supported on a bolster or block, can help focus the mind and collect fragmented thoughts. The pose also facilitates deep, focussed breathing.
ANXIETY/IRRITIBILATY & INSOMNIA
Forward bends such as Wide-Legged Forward Bend pose (Prasarita Padottanasana) with the head supported by blocks or a chair help turn our attention inwards. By literally blocking out external stimuli they allow us to retreat back into ourselves and feel soothed. Our ‘Fight or Flight’ response (controlled by the sympathetic nervous system) begins to be replaced by our ‘Rest and Digest’ or ‘relaxation’ response (controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system).
The menopause often intensifies feelings of loss and insecurity as we wave goodbye to fertility at precisely the same time our children become more independent and less needy. Try a simple breathing practice to help calm the mental chatter. Sit cross-legged in Easy pose (Sukhasana) for 5 minutes, counting the inhale for 4 and exhale for 4. Notice when you find yourself caught up in a thought and come back to the feeling of the breath entering and leaving the body. End the practice by naming something you have in your life that you feel grateful for no matter how small. Notice how this simple, daily 5-minute practice can help shift your perspective and mood.
Through a focus on poses and breath, yoga sets us on a journey that can begin to cultivate a quieter mind and increased ability to cope with the many ups and downs life throws at us. It gives us an opportunity to step away from our day-to-day world into our deeper, innermost self. I think of thoughts, feelings and emotions becoming like the waves on the surface of a stormy ocean, and through the practice of yoga we can learn to drop below this disrupted surface into a quieter and more still world. By using yoga to turn inwards and listen to our own needs with patience and compassion, we can equip ourselves for the journey through the menopause and develop a practice that will ground and energise us long into the future.
Jo Sales has been practicing yoga since her early twenties. Now 44 and a mother to 3 boys aged 14, 12 and 6 she has witnessed the many ways that the practice can be adapted to support our changing life stages and bodies. She has been teaching yoga since 2011 and is a British Wheel of Yoga accredited teacher based near Marlow, Buckinghamshire. She teaches private clients in their homes and small group classes. For more information on Jo or if you are interested in her helping guide your own yoga journey then she would love to hear from you. http://www.josalesyoga.com
As always it is best to first speak to a medical expert to ascertain whether yoga is suitable for you or before starting any new exercise regime. For more details on these poses it is always best to learn them from a qualified yoga teacher or an online resource to check for alignment details and any contraindications.