Menopause used to be referred to as “the change.” It’s hard not to chafe against that term. Like the other code words applied to the functionings of women’s bodies —“visits from Aunt Flo” (periods), “visits from the stork” (pregnancy), “that time of month” (PMS), it feels like one more attempt to cover up what’s really happening and put this transition/transformation behind the curtain.
But, in this case, the idea of change is far more accurate than the clinical word, menopause. Sure, change can be hard. No woman looks forward to hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia, headaches and a rollercoaster ride of emotions. And, there’s a lot of introspection needed to come to grips with moving beyond your child-bearing years — especially if you have children and they’re growing up and, perhaps, moving away.
But, as yoga demonstrates, learning to work through those tough places in order to make change happen can be truly liberating. The shift in how your body functions is a powerful opportunity to reconnect with your mind, body, and spirit. You are no longer tethered to a monthly cycle of weight gain, moodiness, and generally feeling lousy. Nor are you any longer bound by having to serve as a chauffeur, cooking midnight meals for school the next day, or helping with homework.
This stage in your life offers you an opportunity to turn your focus inward. The chaos you might feel in your body demands that you step back from the rat race and take some time to figure out what works for you. What makes you feel good? What does your body need right now? When do you feel most energetic or most ready for rest? In many ways, going through menopause, like puberty, forces you to explore your needs and wants — something a lot of women end up putting on the back burner for much of the time between the two. Jobs, houses, and families leave a lot of women last on their own priority list. Now is a time to redress that balance.
It’s challenging to keep that in mind during the process of menopause. First of all, know that you’ve got plenty of good company for this journey. Also, focus on the fact that the toll menopause takes on your body and mind isn’t something you’re just imagining or that you’re just not coping well with. Over half of women feel some noticeable symptoms during menopause, ranging from mild annoyance to severe discomfort. And, the causes of much of this discomfort are physiological. Don’t let anyone tell you this is “all in your head.”
The hormonal swings that lead up to menopause can start many of the common symptoms. As Yoga Journal explains, the push-pull between estrogen and progesterone in your body creates that quicksilver mood shifts as your body is alternately powered up with estrogen and calmed down with progesterone. Hot flashes, fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety, mood swings and memory problems are all relatively “normal” issues during menopause. And, hormonal fluctuations aren’t unique to this time in your life. From puberty onward, it’s a constant in women’s lives; each month, your body goes through many of the same tensions as you go through your menstrual cycle.
Yoga is a good shelter from this storm. Whether you go to your mat to calm down or energize, you can practice how to focus, how to ask yourself whether a pose is appropriate, and how to determine where your “edge” really is. Twists can help you rid your body not only of toxins but tension. Breathwork is calming and clarifying. If you’re feeling rage, a powerful flow class can burn off some of those high emotions. As you exhale, you let go of the byproducts of that inner blaze. As you come to a seated posture, you might find yourself cooling down as much mentally and physically.
To help ease the physical and mental downside of this life-affirming change, try these poses:
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
Benefits: This pose can help relieve anxiety and irritability by making you calm down.
How to do it: Start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Hinge forward from your hips. Place your hands on the floor in front of you or on a block. Let your head hang between your arms. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release.
Benefits: Yoga teacher Shiva Rea uses this pose to open the heart, which relieves symptoms of depression.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Benefits: This pose helps you calm down, which also boosts memory and focus.
How to do it: Start on your hands and knees. Your hands should be under your shoulders and your knees should be hip-width apart. On an exhale, stretch your knees and lengthen your heels toward the floor. Take a breath there, then try to stretch your heels onto the floor. Stay in the pose for one to three minutes, then release.
Relax. Letting go of tension in your body can help control hot flashes and anxiety. Yoga teacher Patricia Walden suggests trying supported backbends with props. You can also try a restorative sequence.
Stand Tall. Your posture can affect your mood. Open your chest and roll your shoulders back. Notice how much more in control you feel.
Cool Down with Pranayama. Sit comfortably. Inhale through your nose, then shape your lips into the letter “O”. Curl your tongue (if possible) and blow your breath out through the circle of your lips. Enjoy the almost minty coolness that remains in your mouth afterward. Typically, yoga advises breathing in and out through the noise because the air that filters into the body is warm and moist. Exhaling through the mouth sends out that warm air, leaving you feeling cooler and drier.
And, remember, how you cope with menopause is unique to you. This could be a great time to try acupuncture or Thai bodywork. Maybe yoga nidra would help you sleep. Or, new foods, aromatherapy, or new routines could make this change easier. Whatever tools you use, embrace this new time of life.