As the life expectancy of the average human is longer than ever before, women now spend one-third of their lives in post-menopause. This time during a woman's life comes with a range of symptoms that can disturb health and is marked by a 12-month period of amenorrhea, or loss of the menstrual cycle. Many women turn to using estrogen in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to alleviate their symptoms as the most common method of treatment. A holistic approach utilizing the science of yoga is also possible.
Yoga is an effective tool for the non-hormonal management of menopause symptoms.
The practice of yoga calms the nervous system, which in turn helps regulate mood, sleep quality, and body temperature to help alleviate depression, insomnia, and hot flashes.
Hatha yoga postures can strengthen key areas for women while restorative postures can invite relaxation and stress relief during menopause.
The word yoga means union in Sanskrit and seeks to harmonize the body, mind, and spirit. Yoga is a lifestyle that includes physical postures to strengthen and stretch the body as well as breathing exercises and meditation, which help to calm the mind and nervous system. It is a therapeutic tool that can help anyone with the stresses and changes of life — in this case, the life change being menopause. It is not known exactly how yoga helps menopause.
Symptoms of menopause
The symptoms of menopause include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Mood disturbances
- Weight gain
- Frequent urination
- Vaginal dryness
- Loss of libido
It can be a challenging time for a woman while these symptoms are occurring. For some women, depression sets in as they enter the end of their reproductive years and feel less vitality. However, menopause can also symbolize a time when a woman can find a sense of renewal and self-care for themselves by integrating specific yoga practices to help with the changing hormonal body.
A non-hormonal method for menopause symptoms
The current use of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), while effective, is not without risks, which is why women are looking to natural ways of coping with menopause. Some of the dangers of HRT include an increased risk of uterine cancer, breast cancer, stroke, and heart disease. When it comes to non-hormonal menopause treatment options, doctors recommend exercise, diet, yoga, massage, and stress management.
One study found yoga to be effective in treating the symptoms of menopause and the quality of sleep after 20 weeks of practice. Sleep quality had the most marked improvement for postmenopausal and perimenopausal women followed by improved mood and other symptoms. Yoga has been proven to be an excellent tool for stress management with its incorporation of deep breathing, physical postures, and relaxation that can help alleviate symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and loss of libido.
How yoga helps
There is a number of benefits when comes to yoga, including:
- Calming. Calm the nervous system through breathing and meditation.
- Weight management. Weight management through physical exercise.
- Sleep. Regain lost energy by improving sleep quality.
- Body health. Keeps the muscles strong, joints flexible, and bones healthy.
- Improves mood. Exercise can release endorphins (natural painkillers and mood boosters) and deep breathing improves anxiety and depression.
- Temperature regulation. Regulate body temperature through relaxation techniques for hot flashes and night sweats.
- Sexual health. Pelvic floor exercises such as the bandhas improve libido, urinary dysfunction, and vaginal issues.
Yoga exercises for menopause
Here are the most common yoga drills for menopause.
Mula bandha translated from Sanskrit means root lock. It is essentially a kegel, which is to lift the pelvic floor upward. To perform this as a woman, draw up through the vaginal wall and the perineum (the space between your genitals and anus). Hold for 30 seconds and then release. This may also be practiced as a rhythmic pulsing exercise. Mula bandha strengthens the pelvic floor, which can help libido and incontinence.
Restorative yoga is a calming style of yoga utilizing props that support the body in seated or reclined poses. Postures are held for several minutes at a time and require little to no effort, therefore allowing for relaxation to improve mood, calm the mind, and improve sleep.
Hatha yoga is an appropriate style of yoga for maintaining weight, muscle mass, and bone density. This style of yoga includes many types of standing postures which may include bodyweight exercises to strengthen and stretching postures to open the hips. Opening the hips via stretching helps relieve pain and tension stored in the hips, which are located near the reproductive organs of women.
To perform this exercise, sit up tall and inhale slowly through the mouth with pursed lips or a curled tongue. On the exhale, close the mouth and breathe out through the nose. This will help with hot flashes.
Yoga as a lifelong practice
Yoga as both a practice and a lifestyle is one that can be adopted and adapted during any phase of life. It is popular with both younger and older women alike and is continually growing in popularity around the world. Women who adopted a yoga practice earlier in their lives may find they need to modify the practice to cope with menopause and age, such as taking a slower approach in order to find restoration in the body.
With the increased popularity of yoga with the younger generation, more studies will need to be conducted to discover how and why yoga helps the symptoms of menopause. However, yoga has been proven to be effective for menopause management even if only practiced for a short time period, so even if someone has never practiced yoga before menopause, it is never too late to start.
It is also not necessary to reach a certain level of flexibility (everybody is different and the moves can be modified to suit any body type), so one is never too inflexible to incorporate yoga into one’s life. Do not allow concerns about it being too hard or too late to stop you from giving this method a try.
- Journal of Mid-Life Health. Yoga and menopausal transition.
- Nursing & Health Sciences. Effects of yoga on menopausal symptoms and sleep quality across menopausal statuses: a randomized controlled trial.
- Maturitas. A pilot study of a hatha yoga treatment for menopausal symptoms.
- Journal of Sexual Medicine. Yoga in female sexual functions.
- Menopause. Treating the climacteric symptoms in Indian women with an integrated approach to yoga therapy: a randomized controlled study.