You don’t officially enter menopause until you’ve missed your period for over a year. But in my opinion, perimenopause, which can start as early as age 40, is a defining period. Perimenopause is the transitional stage before menopause and has characteristics that are similar to the beginning of puberty, including changing bodies, fluctuating moods, and even pimples. Your body is in the middle of a huge transition, but like everything in life, it will pass.
There’s a lot of information about menopause on the internet. You can learn how to deal with symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, weight gain, and more. But what they can’t tell you is how it feels to be menopausal.
My own emotional journey has been about coming to terms with getting older. It’s brought up fear, insecurity, and the sense that if I don’t do things right now, when will I ever do them?
As someone who has practiced and taught yoga for over 30 years, I’ve learned to stay calm in the face of change. When I feel overwhelmed with hot flashes and out-of-control emotions, I head back to basics. In yoga it’s called ‘”beginner’s mind,” which is the concept of dropping what I think I know and surrendering to my body’s natural wisdom.
Yoga for menopause
Yoga for menopause is all about staying cool, calm, and collected. You want to keep your nervous system balanced and use the practice to maintain strength without overheating the body.
The following five yoga poses are my favorite ways to meet menopause with grace and acceptance.
1. Cat/cow pose
The combination of these two poses moves your spine through a range of motion, affecting both the front and back of the spine. When you open the chest in the cow position, you stretch the part of the body that relates to your sympathetic nervous system (what produces the fight-or-flight response). When you round the back in the cat position, you stretch the part of the body that relates to the parasympathetic nervous system (the relaxed part of your nervous system). During menopause, your joints start to dry out. By fluidly moving between these two positions, you massage the joints and tissues around the spine, keeping them soft, supple, and young.
- Start on your hands and knees.
- Line up your wrists directly beneath your shoulders. Line up your knees directly beneath your hips, and spread them apart a distance equal to your inner hip width.
- When you inhale, tuck your toes under and expand your upper chest forward, keeping your lower abdominals engaged and your lower spine in neutral.
- When you exhale, relax onto the tops of your feet, round your back through the lower spine, and completely relax your head.
- Work at an individual pace, coordinating your movements with your breaths.
2. Lunge pose
The lunge pose stretches the hip flexors and the psoas muscles. The psoas muscles connect the lower back to the upper thighs. The psoas can get tight if you spend a lot of your day seated. It also constricts when you get stressed. Menopause and its shifting symptoms can cause shallow breathing. Stretching the psoas frees up your breath and releases pent-up tension.
- Start on your hands and knees.
- Step your right foot forward, in between your hands, so that the heel of your foot is lined up with the heels of both hands.
- Bring your torso into an upright position, and place your hands on your hips.
- Check to make sure your knee is directly over your ankle in a stacked position.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed and gaze straight ahead.
- Deepen the bend in your knee to feel the stretch in the hip flexor of your left leg.
- Open your chest and breathe deeply.
- Repeat on the other side.
3. Fan posture
The fan posture has many benefits. As you get older, your muscles shorten and tighten. The two muscle groups that are most affected are the hamstrings and inner thighs. Fan posture targets them both. Stretching is one way to directly affect the nervous system. That's why we feel so relaxed when we stretch. The fan posture is also an inversion. When the head is lower than the heart, receptors are triggered that lower blood pressure, heart rate, and mental activity. This is a safe and cooling variation to other inversions like handstand or headstand.
- Stand with your legs a distance of one leg’s-length apart with toes facing forward.
- Line up your heels behind the wide parts of your feet.
- Fold forward at the hip crease, keeping your spine long, and hold on behind your ankles, keeping your head and neck long.
- Balance your weight through all four corners of your feet.
- Open through the chest and relax your shoulder blades onto the back.
4. Sphinx pose
Chest-opening postures stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and counteract sluggishness and depression. Stimulating poses like sphinx are both energizing and rejuvenating. Sphinx pose is an easy alternative to more challenging backbends.
- Lying on your belly, extend your legs directly behind you with your front thighs on the floor and all 10 toes pressing into the floor.
- Place your elbows slightly forward of your shoulders, shoulder-width apart or slightly wider, forearms parallel, and fingers spread wide.
- Open through the front of your chest, lengthening and extending your spine.
- Activate your inner thighs and lift them toward the ceiling while relaxing your buttocks.
- Keep your neck in line with your spine and your gaze out in front on the floor.
5. Forward-facing hero pose
This is my absolute favorite pose for menopause, and probably the only pose I would do if I had to choose just one. It stretches the inner thighs, stimulates the front of the thighs, stretches the spine, and, because the head is lower than the heart, calms and cools the nervous system. It also directly rejuvenates the pelvic region. If your thighs are tight or you have knee problems, make sure to place a rolled-up blanket behind your knees.
- Place your knees mat-width apart and touch your big toes together with your heels apart. Sit on your heels.
- Lengthen your tailbone down toward the floor, keeping your spine long.
- Walk your hands forward until your spine is fully extended, and draw your shoulder blades onto your back.
- Keep your arms and hands shoulder-width apart.
- Relax your forehead onto the floor, keeping your neck long.
Rachel was diagnosed with type 1 LADA diabetes in 2008 at the age of 42. She started yoga at 17, and 30 years later, still practices passionately, teaching teachers and beginners alike in workshops, trainings, and retreats internationally. She is a mother, award winning musician, and published writer. To find out more about Rachel, visit www.rachelzinmanyoga.com or her blog http://www.yogafordiabetesblog.com