YOGA FOR MENOPAUSE
What is menopause: How to harness to the power of Yoga to support your menopause journey: HRT and its herbal alternatives: The importantce of good nutrition
I am a Member of the British Menopause Society and a Yoga Teacher. Every woman is unique and although many menopause symptoms will be common to all women, the way you experience those symptoms will be unique to you. Although you can not control when the changes brought on by the fluctuation in hormone levels will happen to you, you can use Yoga tools and techniques as an anchor to equip yourself with valuable support though this important stage of your life. In this section I describe, how Yoga can help, the four stages of menopause, HRT, HRT alternatives and nutrition.
YOGA TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES
Yoga is a holistic treatment that can be used at all stages of your menopause journey. It is a wonderful way to de-stress and become energised.
Pranayama (breathing) techniques offer a wide selection of tools that can have a quick and effective impact on whatever you may be experiencing. Alternate nostril breathing will balance your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, bringing you into a state of being calm and in control whilst chitale will cool you down when you are feeling hot. You can use these throughout the day as required and at night if you are suffering with night sweats and poor sleep patterns.
The asanas (postures) will strengthen your bones, skin, heart, lungs and muscles. You can use asanas that focus on core strength and those that will strengthen your pelvic floor. Many asanas will help you to balance your hormones. You can practise yoga in a slow and relaxed way to help release any tension build up in your body. Asanas will also help to reduce fluid retention and bloating.
Meditation will bring you peace and help you to deal with brain fog by exercising your ability to focus, manage your thoughts and to stay calm yet alert.
Your yoga practice will create a calm space in your busy life for you to connect with yourself, your mind and your body. It will help you to process how you feel each day and record the changes that you are going through.
Try to do your home practice every morning if you can and or attend a class once a week.
WHAT ARE THE PERIMENOPAUSE AND MENOPAUSE?
Menopause is the stage you reach 12 months after your last period. Your periods stop when your ovaries stop producing eggs and levels of hormones called oestrogen and progesterone fall. The image below shows the typical rise and fall of your oestrogen levels.
THE FOUR STAGES OF MENOPAUSE
1. Pre-menopause: when you do not experience menopause symptoms.
2. Perimenopause: when you experience menopause symptoms due to hormone fluctuations and still have periods which may be changing in nature and frequency
3. Menopause: when you do not have a period for 12 consecutive months
4. Post menopause: The time in your life after you have not had a period for 12 consecutive months.
Although menopause is associated with your periods stopping and developing hot flushes/flashes, you have oestrogen receptors in every cell throughout your body and oestrogen plays a key role in everything from your memory, mood, immune function, heart, muscles, hair skin and bones. Therefore when oestrogen levels start to fluctuate in perimenopause you can feel a wide range of symptoms that you may not associate with perimenopause such as forgetting names, becoming terrified of making a mistake at work, feeling overwhelmed by issues that would not normally bother you, brain fog, itchy skin, painful joints and muscles, hair loss, dry skin, loss of libido, fatigue, sleep loss, night sweats to change in body shape, bladder issues and more…
These symptoms can develop slowly and it is not immediately obvious that the cause is fluctuating hormones. If you feel concerned about your health and well being then make an appointment with your Doctor, explain how you are feeling and ask if it could be fluctuating hormones. Your Doctor can suggest a range of options including hormone replacement therapy. (HRT)
WHAT IS HRT?
HRT - Hormone Replacement Therapy - is a treatment to replace the hormones that you are deficient in, as a result HRT vastly improves your symptoms and protects against long term health risks associated with hormone deficiency including osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia.
HRT always contains oestrogen and can also contain a form of progesterone. The most common type of oestrogen prescribed today is 17 beta-estradiol. It is available as a patch, gel or spray and is derived from the yam (a root vegetable). It is known as ‘body identical oestrogen’ because it has the same molecular structure as that produced naturally by your body. HRT can be started during perimenopause and menopause. The way you take this and the amount you take can be tailored by your GP to what works out as being the best fit for you.
YOGA AND THE FOUR STAGES OF MENOPAUSE
1. Pre-menopause: when you do not experience menopause symptoms. You can do any form of Yoga you wish to. Just make sure you do not do inversions on your moon days.
2. Perimenopause: when you experience menopause symptoms due to hormone fluctuations and still have periods which may be changing in nature and frequency. You may find your energy levels are fluctuating therefore try a slow Hatha Yoga practice on the days when your energy levels are low and increase your weight bearing postures such as shoulder stand, down dog and balance postures, increase your Pranayama to balance mood swings and body temperature. Increase Meditation to balance mood swings and to manage and control your thoughts. Use lots of props, straps bolsters and cushions to support menstrual cramps and heavy bleeding. Avoid inversions on your moon days.
3. Menopause: when you do not have a period for 12 consecutive months. Increase your Pranayama to balance mood swings and body temperature, increase load bearing postures for bone strength and density, increase Meditation to address brain fog, introduce Yin Yoga. Make it a top priority to find quiet uninterrupted time for your daily practice of Anasas, Pranayama and or Meditation
4. Post menopause: The time in your life after you have not had a period for 12 consecutive months. You can return to the Yoga practice that you enjoy the most as often as you wish. If you are new to Yoga you may wish to start with Chair Yoga and Meditation.
ALTERNATIVE HERBAL MEDICINES
In addition you may wish to explore alternative herbal medicines, these can include:
Soy - Increasing your phytoestrogen (plant based oestrogen) from sources such as soya supplements, soya food products include milk, yogurt, tempeh and tofu. This can help to reduce night sweats and hot flashes.
St Johns Wort can help to reduce anxiety, this can be taken as a table, tincture or tea.
Black Cohosh is most commonly used for menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes (also called hot flushes) and night sweats (together known as vasomotor symptoms), vaginal dryness, heart palpitations, tinnitus, vertigo, sleep disturbances, nervousness, and irritability
If you are on any medication is it important to consult your Doctor before taking any herbal medicine.
NUTRITION FOR MENOPAUSE
Although you cannot control when you may experience symptoms of perimenopause or menopause you can control your diet. A balanced diet will help to strengthen your bones, improve your cardiovascular system and regulate your mood. Menopause can lead to significant changes in your metabolism and your body responds to falling oestrogen levels by trying to build up a reserve of oestrogen in the fat cells. What you eat during this stage in your life will have a direct affect on how your body and mind will deal with the challenges of the changes brought on by menopause and will impact on your future health.
Calcium - helps to maintain your bones and 99% of Calcium in your body is stored in your bones. Women aged - 18- 65 require around 700mg of Calcium per day. Good sources of Calcium include milk, cheese, yogurt, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, soya beans, nuts and fish.
Vitamin D - aids Calcium absorption therefore supports strong bones. You need about 10 micrograms per day and the best source is sunlight on your skin, so try to include a walk outside every day for around 30 minutes to 1 hour. Food sources of Vitamin D include egg yolk, mushrooms, meat, animal fat, liver, kidney and oily fish such as mackerel and salmon. People living in the far northern hemisphere have less daylight in the winter and many benefit from a Vitamin D supplement.
Magnesium - is a mineral used throughout the body including our brain and muscles, it also works with Calcium to produce strong bones. Many women find they sleep better when they take a Magnesium supplement. You need around 270mg of Magnesium per day. Good food sources include green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, squash, wholegrains, legumes and pulses. Alcohol, caffeine and antibiotics can all affect Magnesium absorption. Magnesium oral supplements, sprays and creams are also available.
Low Gi Foods - these are foods which are digested more slowly and therefore release sugar more slowly into the bloodstream. This helps to stabilise energy levels, blood sugar and moods. Low GI food include - whole grain bread, brown rice, sweet potatoes, beans and bulgur wheat.
Omega 3 - these cannot be made by your body and therefore come from your food alone, they help with mood, circulation and are anti inflammatory. Good food sources include - oily fish eg mackerel and salmon, vegetable oils such as flaxseed and rapeseed, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and green leafy vegetables.
Good Gut Health - in order to benefit from nutrition our gastrointestinal system must be able to extract the vital nutrients and energy from the food we eat. Because each cell in your body contains oestrogen receptors including those in your gut and brain, when levels of oestrogen fluctuate through your menopause journey it can impact gut function. Ways you can support your gut health include:
Eat foods that promote good bacteria - these include prebiotic food such as onions, leeks, garlic, asparagus, artichoke, chicory, and banana. Fermented foods such as live yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, live apple cider vinegar.
Alcohol - alas this is a trigger for menopausal women and can increase the severity of hot flushes, headaches, poor quality sleep, night sweats and brain fog. As you age your body holds less water and is therefore unable to dilute the amount of alcohol you may have been able to consume in your past without any side effects. Kombucha offers a good alternative to alcohol.