Is your yoga practice helping or hindering you through your menopause transition?
Not all yoga is suitable for different symptoms or stages.
If you don’t sleep through the night and feel overwhelmed, would you practice a dynamic Vinyasa yoga class? Or, for that matter, teach one?
How could you modify a Vinyasa practice if you’re experiencing hot flushes?
If you are experiencing hot flushes, would you attend a hot yoga class?
If you are experiencing achy muscles and joints due to low oestrogen or inflammation, would yin be the best practice?
If you wanted to build muscle and bone and boost cardiovascular health, would you practice yin or restorative yoga?
I put this one in because if you google menopause restorative yoga often pops up, but we know each of our journeys will be unique and change across The Seven Stages of Menopause (STRAW), and therefore, our practices need to change.
Symptoms: Anxiety, overwhelm, sleep disruption, fatigue, achy muscles and joints, lack of energy, low mood, lethargy, grief and sadness
Stage of menopause: peri-menopause through to post-menopause
A slow and mindful practice filled with simple repetition, balances, and passive inversions, that moves you quietly towards stillness suits many women through menopause. Repetition soothes, balance can focus scattered energy, and passive inversion like legs up the wall or perhaps a restorative pose or two grounds and calms the nervous system.
According to Ayurveda, anxiety, overwhelm, and insomnia are signs of a Vata excess. In essence, your nervous system is turned on too high, the sympathetic nervous system is too active, and the brain circuit that keeps you awake is fired-up and can’t stop thinking.
Sleeping through the night is essential at all stages of menopause because the brain and body rest and repair themselves when we sleep. However, diminishing levels of progesterone and increasing stress hormones can prevent us from getting to sleep and staying asleep. A morning flow or Hatha practice acting as a mop-up practice helps release tension from a poor night’s sleep and can help reset natural rhythms supporting a better night’s sleep. An evening floor-based wind-down practice helps release tension and prepare the body for sleep.
Symptoms: Lack of energy, low mood, lethargy, grief and sadness, reduction in muscle and bone density
Stage of menopause: menopause climax through to post-menopause
Hatha yoga moves your body slowly and deliberately into different poses that challenge your strength and flexibility, while at the same time focusing on relaxation and mindfulness. A practice with heart openers (back bends) and specific pranayama practices (Ujjayi, Bhastrika, Kapalbhati – avoid the last two if constipated) can invigorate and shift your energy. In addition, holding specific poses like balances and standing poses for a five-breath count can help build muscle and bone strength, especially when combined with the use of resistance bands and weights. To support my heart and artery health as well as keep my cholesterol levels down, I go for a brisk walk every day and do both HITT and muscle-building workouts 3 x a week for between 15-30minutes.
Symptoms: Hot flushes, night sweats, fatigue, mood swings, irritability, menopause rage, brain fog, interrupted sleep
Stage of menopause: peri-menopause through to menopause (post-menopause if symptoms are still presenting)
A floor-based Hatha practice is suitable for women experiencing hot flushes and overwhelming emotions as it provides a safe and grounded place to explore breathing practice, reframing their experience. (Yoga: vrittis, vasanas, and samskaras; Western psychology: Cognitive Behaviour Therapy or CBT). If body pain is stopping you from sleeping, a gentle floor-based sleep sequence can be supportive in releasing physical tension. I teach two sleep sequences and a hot flush practice in my 40-hour Yoga for Menopause Wellbeing course.
Symptoms: Achy muscles and joints, hot flushes and night sweats, mood swings, irritability, menopause rage, fatigue
Stage of menopause: Perimenopause through to post-menopause
Yin is a very passive, cooling and still form of yoga where we deliberately switch off the muscles to access the deeper fascial tissues of the body, influence collagen production and nourish our joints. Although we appear still, on a cellular level Yin unleashes a flood of positive responses.
In a nutshell, we dry out as we get older. A reduction in synovial fluid and changes in cartilage create more wear on bones. Our tissues dry up and as a result, we become brittle, not unlike a sponge. We want to stress the fibroblasts in the joint capsules to secrete collagen fibres and proteins to hydrate our tissues through Yin yoga’s gentle, static holds.
One of the reasons for achy muscles and joints is the decrease in oestrogen and inflammation. Inflammation can be addressed through nutrition, self-massage, magnesium and collagen supplements, and suitable movement practices. I suggest a combination of strengthening and stabilising, for example, Hatha or Slow flow, to help support the joints thus decreasing wear, and a yin practice to hydrate the joints and release tension.
Symptoms: Hot flushes, night sweats, fatigue, interrupted sleep, mood swings, irritability, menopause rage, brain fog
Stage of menopause: Perimenopause through to menopause
Most yoga classes in the West start with active asanas before moving to a cool down and finishing with a restorative pose or savasana.
Restorative yoga was developed by B.K.S Iyengar to help people recover from an illness or injury. The supported nature of restorative yoga benefits women throughout menopause. However, be aware that neither yin nor restorative yoga helps build strong muscles and bones.
Judith Lasater (2011) states that forward folds and inversions stimulate the endocrine system, especially the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland signals changes in our hormones as we move from perimenopause to menopause. Supported backbends help to regulate the thyroid gland because of the open position of the throat. Additionally, they stretch the chest and belly improving breathing and digestion.
I have found no academic or clinical research to back this claim. However, over the last decade, my lived experience and listening to women attending workshops and training is that restorative yoga makes us feel more clear-headed, rested, and more aware.
Choose a practice that suits your stage of menopause and the signs you are experiencing.
If you are a yoga teacher who is not coping with your hot flushes, sleep, anxiety, depression, or joint problems and you want to support yourself and your students through menopause and beyond, will you join me in 2023?
- Fishman, L, Saltonstall, E., (2010) Yoga for Osteoporosis: The Complete Guide, W. W Norton and Company.
- Francina, S., (2003) Yoga and the Wisdom of Menopause: A Guide to Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Health at Midlife and Beyond, Health Communications, Inc.
- Hicks, A, and J., (2010) Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture, Churchill Livingstone; 2nd edition.
- Lasater, J., (2011) Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times, Boulder, Co: Shambhala
- Maciocia, G., (2011) Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Chinese Medicine, Elsevier Health Sciences.
- Sanfilippo, L., (2019) Yoga Therapy for Insomnia and Sleep Recovery: An Integrated Approach to Supporting Healthy Sleep and Sustaining Energy All Day, Singing Dragon.