I have kept a copy of this article - Menopause the Yoga Way - since 1996. Must have been saving it for a future date - that's almost ten years ago. I was peri-menopausal then, and now I haven't had a period in 2 1/2 years.
This morning in Yoga class, I was lying on my mat during relaxation pose, and just before briefly drifting off to sleep, I remembered the article, and looked up the benefits yoga can bring to a tired middle-aged body.
"Many prominent yoga teachers agree that the practice of yoga not only alleviates the disruptive physical aspects of the menopausal years, but facilitates a spiritual alignment that inspires women to accept and nourish this inevitable change of life. Menopause, they say, can be profoundly empowering if encountered as a spiritual adventure and opportunity." (from article by Ellen Sander, Yoga Journal Issue 126 Feb 1996)
I am not quite a yogini yet, but I'm interested in whatever offers empowerment. I have practiced gentle yoga for over 10 years and still feel like a beginner. Beginner's mind is what the Zen teachers tell us we need to have, so I guess I'm in the right place. With yoga, I am still a baby, even if my body has turned 52 years old. Yoga is a godsend for my aching joints, stiffening hips and bursitic shoulders, as long as I don't overdo it. That's why I stick to the gentle yoga, not the vigorous ashtanga varieties.
If you're interested in a natural approach to menopause, you might check out the benefits from yoga postures: it's been proven to balance the endocrine system, and smooth out hormonal and glandular changes. Postures such as shoulder stands and forward bends have a calming, cooling effect to counter hot flashes and bring fresh oxygen to your blood. (downward dog, half-dog pose, corpse pose are also mentioned) Joint mobility increases with the gentle stretching of yoga, and yogic breathing and focused meditation can tone and soothe the nervous system. Yoga asanas can lower blood pressure and heart rate, release muscular tension, improve sleep and reduce fatigue. Susun Weed, quoted in the above-mentioned article, suggests menopausal women could benefit from an hour or more of yoga or t'ai chi a week. It is also an excellent weight bearing exercise to help prevent osteoporosis, and stops height loss by ensuring the disc spaces between vertebrae remain supple.
Susun Weed also recommends women in peri-menopause gain up to a pound a year, as a natural protection against thinning bones (you store excess estrogen in your fat cells). Imagine being comfortable with a little more roundness on your figure!
As for me, after my hour-long class this morning, I felt rested, relaxed and calm, my normal restless, anxious state soothed, my head clear and focussed, ready to embark on another busy day of errands, appointments and web site editing (a volunteer job I am currently doing for wordsofpeace.ca, soon to go live).
It made me want to spread the good news - that being grounded in the breath and moving with the body in yoga is an easy antidote to menopausal symptoms. Again, the menopausal message is all about self-care:
"When a child is going through puberty, we're patient with her. In menopause you have to be patient with yourself. Women should realize this change is normal and natural and give ourselves some time to be quiet. It's a time to relook at your life. your life is going to be totally different. You're not as involved with your family: you need to be more involved with taking of yourself." (Yoga Journal article).
So lovely ladies, love yourself, love your bones, love your round curves, your dolphin thighs, your menopausal bellies. Help yourself to a little soft space to breathe in.
What I wish for you as I head off to France for five days of overeating and drinking wine: peace in the belly, as well as peace in the heart :)