No woman will go through their lives without being affected by the rise and fall of their hormones but there are 3 stages in particular when these changes are felt on a cellular level in our entire being - puberty, pregnancy and menopause.
The effects on the mind, body and psychological state of our being at these life stages simply can't be overstated but I am here to tell you that a regular yoga practice can certainly help ease some of the symptoms.
I know I bang on about it but I am doing so in the hope that you will listen and start a practice far sooner than I did and perhaps even pass the gift and wisdom of yoga on to your daughters.
I had a pretty tricky puberty - I suffered from awful spots, had appallingly heavy periods and lived with quite agonising stomach cramps until a doctor finally put me on the pill at 15.
I was a pretty sporty child but these changes really affected my ability to join in - sore breasts meant I hated running at certain times of the month and I can remember lying on a bathroom floor with the most awful stomach ache while the bus was waiting to take the team to a match.
I wish I had listened to my mother then - she kept telling me that I ought to try yoga and that tuning in, stretching and learning to breathe more deeply would ease the aches. But I was pretty stubborn and fairly sure I knew best so I never even tried it!
Fast forward to my university years and exam time. My periods were under control thanks to the pill but my stress levels were through the roof - largely due to the fact that I spent far too much time dedicated to the pursuits of the pubs in Leeds rather than the lecture halls of the university!
Again my mother suggested I find a yoga class to see if would help me control the worry and anxiety. Again I didn't listen so she had to get one of my best school friends, who was at Nottingham University, to travel up and calm me down/sort me out instead!
And so the cycle continued on throughout my 20s and early 30s - stress levels high, partying hard, largely avoiding most sport and certainly never giving yoga a minute of my time.
Then pregnancy came along, the hormone levels veered all over the place and the resulting exhaustion, brain fog and shift in priorities meant that for the first time in many years the idea that I maybe ought to start looking after myself a little better began to nudge at the outer edges of my brain.
I started to exercise and remembered the joy that sport had given me in my early teenage years but I still veered away from yoga. This time my mother didn't even bother trying to get me to try it! Maybe that was what made me relent...!
Eventually a friend persuaded me to come along to try it with her - mainly so she wouldn't be the only inflexible person in the room (how often do we hear that as a main reason for being too scared to try yoga?!). My love wasn't instant but the feeling and sense of calm, followed by the deep sleep I experienced that night piqued my interest and I started a sporadic practice.
Fast foward to my 40s today and I can't imagine my life without yoga in it anymore. It has probably been my favourite discovery in perimenopause! Don't get me wrong, HRT has given me the relief from the debilitating insomnia and the gnawing, crippling anxiety but it is yoga that has filled my soul with joy.
So what benefits can you expect from a regular yoga practice in your peri to post menopause years?
HERE ARE MY TOP 5:
1. BETTER SLEEP
The number one symptom that drives women in perimenopause to the doctor is insomnia. It is experienced by vast numbers of women as their hormones begin to fluctuate and change.
Anyone who has ever been exhausted will know that it is horrible living with insomnia - it can make you lash out at those around you, it can bring low moods and depression, it can increase stress levels and feelings of anxiety and make you reach for unhealthy foods to bring a quick sugar fix.
Research has shown that yoga, particularly a restorative practice, can aid deeper sleep by calming the nervous system and promoting complete relaxation. Try to find a class that encourages breathwork, the use of bolsters, blankets and supportive poses and that finishes with a relaxation or meditation.
2. FEWER HOT FLUSHES
For hundreds of years, classic inverted yoga postures such as plow pose, foward folds, down dogs and shoulder stands have been valued for their cooling, calming effect on the mind and nervous system.
As Hari Kaul Khalsa stated in the American Society for Reproductive Medicine
"Menopause is a time for rejuvenation, and for paying special attention to the body's needs; the heat of transition can be calmed with cooling foods, calming practices, plenty of rest, and conscious activity that nourishes the body, mind and soul"
Over the years many women and lots of research has clearly demonstrated that a regular yoga practice is an effective antidote for hot flushes and other common menopausal symptoms.
3. REDUCED STRESS, LOW MOOD AND ANXIETY
How well we manage the stress in our lives can have a direct impact on the way we transition through midlife and beyond. While genetics may play a role in these biological factors, so too does the way we live our lives.
I have come across numerous women in my work who have had a sister that has struggled enormously with their menopause transition due to extremely stressful jobs, lives and their ways of dealing with it.
This might lead people to assume that genetics may make the women I have met also suffer too. Yet they have all got through it with far less bothersome symptoms - these women all had one thing in common - a regular yoga practice in place!
When we are stressed, anxious and in a bad mood, we often feel it in our entire being. Our breath becomes more shallow, our heart rate speeds up and we can react in ways that we regret later.
A regular yoga practice can teach you to observe rather than always react and you can learn to self soothe, breathe more freely and relax more deeply which all encourages a reduction in stress.
4. BETTER COGNITIVE FUNCTION
The beauty of yoga is that it encourages a deeper connection between your body and mind. We often focus on breath and being present during practice, thinking about how our body is moving and feeling alongside our thoughts and breath.
Brain fog is a very real symptom that many women in the menopause transition experience but yoga has many brain-boosting benefits—it can relax your body, lower cortisol levels (relieving stress), and improve brain-blood flow.
Plus you don’t need to be a yoga expert to reap the benefits—even beginner’s classes can help improve brain function.
5. IMPROVED STRENGTH, FLEXIBILITY AND BUILDS HEALTHY BONES
Joint pain is another common menopause symptom and unfortunately it can lead to many women stopping moving as they think it will exacerbate the pain. But the risk of osteoporosis increases as we lose the protective benefits of oestrogen that the menopause transition brings, so it is very important that we keep moving.
Yoga is the perfect exercise because it builds bone strength evenly in the upper and lower body, it improves balance and coordination which helps prevents falls and breaks and whereas some weight-bearing exercises can lead to injuries due to muscle tightening and shortening of the muscles, yoga helps to lubricate the joints and give them an internal massage.
It can also improve flexibility and our posture, helping us to lengthen our spines which are often rounded from many years of hunching forward. This in turn can reduce back pain, stiffness and other health problems.
So, if you are suffering from menopause symptoms, can you afford NOT to do yoga?! Let me know what you think or if yoga has benefitted you in the comments below.
“The practice of yoga is fundamentally an act of kindness toward oneself”
If you would like access to a FREE dreamy Yin Yoga sequence designed to get you breathing more fully and sleeping more deeply, then sign up to my FREE 3 Day Series here: