This is a guest article written by Petra Coveney, a registered yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance Professionals, the leading professional body for yoga teachers and trainers. Petra is the founder of Menopause Yoga and author of the book Menopause Yoga – a Holistic Guide to Supporting Women on Their Menopause Journey’, which is due to be published on October 21st.
What is Menopause Yoga?
Menopause Yoga is a unique combination of yoga poses, breathing techniques and mindful meditation practices that have been specially adapted to help women manage the main symptoms of menopause.
What are the benefits of Menopause Yoga?
Menopause yoga can both help women relieve their symptoms during the transition from perimenopause to menopause when the hormone fluctuations are at their worst, and improve their long-term physical and emotional well-being in post menopause when the depletion of oestrogen can lead to osteopenia or osteoporosis, depleted muscle mass, and the risk of cardiovascular disease increases.
A regular yoga practice can* help to reduce stress, relieve menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats, restore depleted energy levels and maintain muscle mass and bone strength.
Yoga can help alleviate some of the menopause symptoms, but not all, and women are always advised to consult their doctor beforehand.
Menopause Yoga Exercises that readers can carry out at home
1. Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing can give you a sense of emotional equilibrium as it uses the left and right side of the brain. In yoga terms we call this balancing the hot, dynamic (sun) energy and the cool, calming (moon) energy. This is particularly beneficial if you are experiencing sudden outbursts of rage or irritability, which can be a symptom of the menopause.
Touch your first two fingers lightly in the centre of your eyebrows. This is an acupressure point that calms the mind. Take a deep breath in through both nostrils, pause at the top of your breath, then slowly exhale through both nostrils.
Next, imagine that you are only breathing in through your left nostril, pause at the top of your breath, then imagine you are only breathing out of your right nostril. Pause at the bottom of your exhalation. Then imagine you are breathing through the right nostril, pause, then breathe of your left nostril.
Option 1. Continue to imagine that you are breathing in through alternate nostrils, for 10 more rounds of breath.
Option 2. Close your right nostril with one of your fingers and only breathe in through the left nostril. Pause, then close the left nostril and breathe out of the right nostril. Close the right nostril with one of your fingers and breathe only out of the left side. Continue for 10x breaths.
2. Legs Raised Against The Wall
Legs against a wall pose is a great restorative pose that you can hold for up to 15-20 minutes to help your nervous system to fully relax If you feel tired during the day, instead of going back to bed, enjoy an afternoon restorative ‘snack’ break to replenish your energy, or practice a longer 30-40-minute sequence if you want to prepare your mind and body for a good night’s sleep. Lie down on your mat with a bolster or rolled up blanket underneath your knees and place an eye pillow on your forehead or an eye mask over your eyes.
You will need a yoga mat, a wall or chair, a folded blanket or cushion placed against the wall, an eye pillow or mask to soothe your eyes. If you have a yoga belt or a strap this is helpful too.
Place the short end of the mat up against the wall or chair, and the folded blanket or cushion. Lie on your mat, so that your pelvis is raised slightly by the blanket, and raise your legs up against the wall (a yoga strap can help keep them in position). Rest an eye pillow on your forehead or eyes.
Stay in the pose for 5-8 minutes. To come out of the pose, bend your knees so the feet rest on the wall, then roll over on to one side of your body and sit up slowly.
If you feel cold, cover your body with a blanket and wear socks! And, for extra neck support, place a small blanket or pillow under your hear.
3. Reclined Butterfly Pose
If you are having hot flushes, then you need a style of yoga that will help you to cool you down physically and emotionally. Restorative yoga poses, cooling breathing techniques and calming meditation will help to calm and relax you. Reclined Butterfly pose is great for this.
You need a yoga mat, a yoga bolster (or a couple of firm long cushions), two yoga blocks (or square cushions) – and it is helpful to have an extra yoga block (or a thick book) to raise one end of the bolster so that it is slanted at an angle. If you have an eye pillow (or an eye mask), this can shut out the light and help you mind find a sense of stillness and ease.
This pose releases physical heat through your arms, hips and thighs and has a calming effect on our emotions as we let go and relax. Breathe in through your nose and then open your mouth to gently breathe out, making a sighing sound. Notice how relaxing your lower jaw softens your face and tension melts away. After 4-6 rounds of this sighing breath, you may choose to close your mouth and just breathe slowly through your nose.
Place the block (or a couple of books) at one end of the bolster and the cushions on each side of the mat. Lie down on the bolster and bring the soles of your feet together, allowing your knees to drop out to the sides. Place the cushions under your knees to support your legs. Gently place an eye pillow on your forehead or eyes. Rest here for 5-10 minutes, allowing the physical sensation of heat to release from your hips, thighs, and armpits. Enjoy the gentle opening stretch across your chest. Let the tension drain away and notice how the more you relax, the sooner the heat dissolves away.
4. Child’s Pose
Child’s pose is a simple pose for stretching your hips and spine as well as calming your mind. It is a go-to pose that can be practiced for any of the perimenopause symptoms but is especially soothing and calming when you are feeling overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed is a symptom of low oestrogen that affects brain function, but can also be triggered by stress, hot flushes, and fatigue caused by lack of sleep.
Using a bolster to support the front of your chest and even hugging the end of the bolster with your arms can feel comforting – as if you were hugging a cuddly teddy bear. Or at least that’s how it feels to me!
Start kneeling on your mat and separate your knees out to the sides with your big toes touching. Reach your hands forward and slowly lower your chest towards the mat.
Rest your forehead onto your hands, or stack your fists on top of each other, or use a yoga block or chair to make the forward fold is not comfortable for you.
Stay in the pose for 5-10 minutes, turning your head to the other side halfway through.
To come out of the pose, press down into your hands to lift your chest and sit upright.
5. Abdominal breathing
If you are suffering from anxiety and stress then abdominal breathing is the perfect way to still your body and mind.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor, hip-distance apart. Rest the palms of your hands on your abdomen (around your belly button). As you breath in through your nose, allow the breath to travel down into your abdomen so that you can feel your belly rise into the palms of your hands. As you exhale allow your belly to soften towards the mat beneath you. Imagine the abdomen is like a parachute that billows with the warm air beneath and deflates softly as you exhale.
Next, take a deep breath in through your nose and as you exhale, sigh out of your mouth making a ‘haaaa’ sound. Slow down your exhalation so that it is longer than your inhalation. It should sound soothing. This will calm your nervous system.
Continue this style of breathing, focussing your attention on the movement of your breath through your body.
End by sitting in a comfortable position with eyes closed and notice how you feel?
If you’d like to add a meditation, you can practice one of these positive affirmations or a mantra (repeated words) for a few minutes.
Breathe in and out and say to yourself:
‘I am safe, I am well.’
‘I am peaceful, I am calm.’
*Yoga cannot replace the loss of oestrogen, which is the underlying cause of most menopause symptoms, and is most effective as part of a holistic package of self-care that can include: Hormone Replacement Therapy, nutritional advice, complimentary therapies (massage, acupuncture etc), and counselling.