If you’re not quite feeling the Christmas spirit and the thought of New Year celebrations is just too much you may be in need of some ‘you time’. If you’re feeling stretched to breaking point and pulled in all directions you may need to find a corner, both mentally and physically, where you can refocus and breathe deeply. Booking yourself onto a yoga or meditation class may just give you that precious space in which you can reset yourself for the celebrations ahead.
Yoga and meditation are known to improve physical and mental flexibility, ease symptoms of stress and help with weight loss and muscle tone. These are all positive and beneficial, but what can yoga and meditation specifically offer us if we are perimenopausal, menopausal or post-menopausal?
It seems that certain yoga poses may help balance our hormones by pushing fresh blood more deeply into internal organs, such as the kidneys, thyroid, parathyroid and pituitary gland (located at the base of the brain), but without putting any strain on our joints. Since the thyroid plays a major part in how our body temperature behaves it is not surprising therefore that if we can do a form of exercise that affects the thyroid in a positive way, we will be contributing to a healthier and more stable pattern of body temperature. Hot flushes may be eased.
Hot (Bikram) yoga is becoming increasingly popular all over the country, but what does it mean? Not only is the room in which the session takes place heated, but the sequence of moves tends to be more ‘powerful’ and the pace of the session faster. It does seem counterintuitive to go into a hot room when one is suffering from hot flushes, but the heat from the room allows the sequence to work more deeply and quickly, which has the opposite effect on the flushes, reducing rather than aggravating them.
Taking a more detailed look at some of the most beneficial yoga poses for a woman during the menopause, it is apparent that postures such as Half Tortoise, Savasana and Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee are restorative in their effect and can help to relax the nervous system and improve the functioning of the endocrine system. In turn, this will affect the nervous system, so calming anxiety, breaking the patterns of insomnia and soothing aching joints.
There is no denying that it takes a good deal of mental concentration and focus, first, to learn the poses, then to bend and stretch your whole body into the correct alignment, before holding the position (whether it is a balance or strength position), while remembering to breathe and then, finally, to release the pose and gracefully flow into the next part of the sequence.
This concentration is meditative in itself and can leave you feeling drained and exhausted, but in a good way. It is impossible to think about anything else while deep within a sequence, even the other people in the room, so it is no wonder that after an hour and a half of yoga, hot or not, your body feels completely destressed and your mind is in a state of bliss.
So, yoga and meditation will benefit nearly every symptom of the menopause because of the intensity of the physiological and psychological practice required of the participant. It is a low impact, high-intensity form of exercise, which can be practiced within an unjudgemental and supportive group, or, if you prefer, as a solo activity within the privacy of your own home. You can also take your yoga mat, some warm clothes and a drink down to the local park, away to the beach, find a clearing in a forest, or a fine view from a mountainside, wherever takes your fancy. Being within nature will intensify the meditative benefits of your yoga practice and you will find your breathing is enhanced because you are breathing in fresh air.
Meditation should, ideally, be practiced daily, but we don’t always have time to fit it into our busy schedules. Led meditation at the end of a yoga session, or by using a podcast or similar will help alleviate low mood, anxious thought patterns, restless limbs and tense muscles. By calming our thoughts, focusing on our breathing and allowing positive energy to flow through us, we can create a healthier chemical balance within our bodies, so that toxins are released, inflammation reduced (inflammation can cause low mood) and blood circulates more freely and strongly. It is worth finding even just 5 minutes each day to meditate and after a while it becomes a habit, which means the benefits are exponential.
With an increasing number of yoga classes being held all over the country, you should have no problem finding a suitable one near where you live, or perhaps your workplace might be encouraged to hold one during the lunch break as an alternative to a gym or total body workout session? Equipment is minimal, a mat and some foam blocks, which are useful for certain balancing poses in particular. Or maybe there is a ‘quiet’ area within your workplace where you could meditate over the lunch break?
If we build this self-reflective, deeply effective time and space into our daily lives, we will be helping to bring balance back into our bodies and lives, which will have an enormous positive impact on any symptoms of the menopause.