The Change, Transition and New Chapter of Living
While some women go through perimenopause and some women go through menopause early, the average age for it is about 52. I posted a video on YouTube when overnight I experienced the loss of my period and entry into mental, physical, and emotional changes. I was 52, right on target.
When I was in my thirties my mother, who had a rough menopause, started sending me articles about menopause. I didn’t pay much attention.
When one of my private Kundalini Yoga students lamented that she would fall asleep only to wake four hours later and stay awake until she went to work, I felt bad and tried to help her with yoga. Now that I am 16 years older than when menopause happened to me, I can say from experience that menopause impacted me physically, mentally, and emotionally, and that yoga helped!
Here are 5 ways I used yoga and natural means to cope with my menopause.
1. Yoga helps with Hot Flashes
Some women get hot flashes. I did. A lot. They felt like my Kundalini was rising , no joke! And to top it off I had this immense feeling of anxiety as a forewarning they were coming. It was not pleasant.
Once the heat rose, and my face became flushed, and the sweat hit my brow, the anxiety passed, but the embarrassment did not. I learned to live with it.
Avoiding caffeine and chocolate helped. I don’t drink alcohol, and I am pretty certain that helped too.
There are two yoga breaths that definitely helped me: (1) Left Nostril, and (2) Sitali, where you inhale through a curled tongue — if you are not able to do that, curl the tongue behind your teeth — and exhale long, slow, and deep through the nose
2. Yoga Helps with Painful Sex
Painful sex doesn’t hit everyone, but it did hit me.
At first I thought I might have something seriously wrong, like a disease or tumor. My partner at the time also thought I was making it up. I wasn’t.
My doctor suggested estradiol, which, after some research, I decided was NOT for me. She had also told me about Vitamin E natural suppositories. An informed yoga student of mine told me those were not good. Who to believe?
I opted for a product that uses glycerin and hyaluronic acid, which amazingly made certain yoga poses more comfortable too! One by-product of loss of estrogen is the changes in skin and muscles, including atrophy, so staying active and hydrated are that much more important, so I was happy to be able to continue my practice comfortably.
3. Yoga Helps with Sleep Disturbances
Sleep disturbances were a big problem for me. While some of my menopausal friends sleep through the night, I never did anymore. That said, the yoga breathing I mentioned in #1 above helps me wait until I fall back asleep, usually quickly. I am always glad to sense when my left nostril is more open, as this is the breath that helps me relax. I also use melatonin, which in the United States is a non-drug alternative, to help my sleep be more consistent.
4. Yoga Helps Mentally and Emotionally
Going through changes: This is where sleep is important at any age. I know that if I do not get enough sleep, my brain just doesn’t do well. My mother, on the other hand, developed depression and was prescribed low dose medication for it.
I have used yoga and meditation to deal with the chronic anxiety I have experienced my entire adult life, so I did the same with menopause, facing the feelings and going through them. Kundalini Yoga especially helped me deal with discomfort and to realize that emotions and thoughts are not me, they are simply energy that passes and can be redirected.
5. Last but not least: Yoga Helps with Change in Bones
The more yang (active) forms of yoga, like Iyengar and Ashtanga, automatically help bone density.
However, I found that at a certain age — for me it was 65 — yoga push ups (chatarunga) became a strain and were painful for my menopausal shoulders. Some women develop frozen shoulders, also called adhesive capsulitis. The arthritis that had developed in my shoulders left them unable to do some of the bendier positions behind my back.
So instead of the full Ashtanga practice, I have leaned into Iyengar, which I have practiced for decades. Iyengar is known for its popular “squeezing the muscle to the bone” (isometric) methodology, so it is a form of yoga that protects joints and strengthens bone.
For menopause, it is probably most important to do some form of backbend, even as they may become more challenging with age, because that will strengthen the spine. Forward bends, on the other hand, are notorious for the fractures we hear about in the elderly.
Yoga and other forms of physical activity are important for everyone as they age, and I’ve found that yoga — particularly breathing and isometric exercises — helped me with my menopause symptoms.
P.S. In 2021 I was quoted in Yoga Journal about my experience with menopause.
“After menopause, I lost shoulder flexibility, then arm strength. I struggled to attain steadiness in Handstand. I used props and modifications to make the pose more accessible. But I also engaged in self-study (svadhyaya), which helped me process the feelings around my aging body’s limitations, and to develop a sense of gratitude for what it is still able to do. Making adjustments and coming to terms with the body is part of a mindfulness practice. Refining postures within your limitations is a meditation.”
If you’d like more information about yoga and menopause, or yoga in general, book a few days or a week at Sewall House Yoga Retreat. We are in beautiful Island Falls, Maine. At Sewall House you’ll be immersed in the serene setting of a historic home, and you’ll receive a fully personalized yoga retreat with vegetarian meals and a daily schedule. Our expert yoga instructors look forward to working with you at your level!