Yoga is not a 'remedy' for menopause - not least because menopause represents a stage of life, rather than an illness. A woman's experience during menopause is completely individual, and yoga is not specific like the drugs of modern medicine. There is no one set series of postures that thus make up a 'remedy' for the symptoms of perimenopause.
Yoga is, instead, an adaptive discipline that can support the body through the myriad of biological changes it is making. Importantly, it can also support our minds and emotions, and allow us to come to a perspective on the inner processes that are happening. Many perimenopausal women have found both the physical and less tangible benefits of yoga helpful at this time.
If you haven't done any yoga before, it would be best to go to a class to learn. No DVD or book can quite replace watching a teacher demonstrate a posture, taking you through the different breathing practices, and offering insight into how your body is coping with the poses. It also helps to have a practical grounding like this if you're reading yoga books, where they will present a number of different poses and variations. Learning yoga first by practicing it in class, gives you the experience to adapt what you read in books to your own needs.
There are some general points about asanas (poses), however. Back bends can be great for improving one's mood and lifting energy levels, and forward bends are good for anxiety and stress.
There are a huge number of forward and back bends in yoga however! And different asanas require different preparatory poses, and what are called counter postures. Counter postures are an important follow-up to doing certain asanas. They can help prevent injury, just as the preparatory postures do.
There is somewhat contradictory advice given to women going through menopause who want to practice yoga. Many books encourage gentle, nurturing poses - restorative poses. But some female yoga teachers who used yoga for themselves when going through menopause found that an over-reliance on restorative postures made some menopausal symptoms worse. This included mood swings and weight gain. They found that sometimes, more activity was better.
Given that quite active physical exercise had been found to help with menopause, this observation is no real surprise. Ultimately, it depends on what is going on for each woman, and this can vary over time anyway. If you're feeling really tired all the time, restorative poses may be best for that period. However, if you've got more energy, there are a number of other asanas that can really help.
For example, inversion yoga poses can be great for the hormonal systems of the body. Inversions include headstand, shoulder stand, standing forward bends, and others. With inversion poses, especially shoulder stand and headstand, it's important to do the preparatory and counter postures. And if you have a particularly tense neck, it may be better to do a standing forward bend than downward dog (and certainly not shoulder stand or headstand), as the angle of the shoulders, combined with the weight on them, can cause tension in the neck.
Other good postures for menopause can be the standing postures - including triangle pose, half moon, and the extended side angle pose. These open up the front of the body, and the hips - which can be an area of stiffness for many women anyway!
Whatever poses you incorporate into your daily life during menopause, remember to be flexible. The needs of our bodies change, areas of stiffness change, symptoms change. Learning to respond to this, like the challenges that life can send our way, is the best way to tailor a practice to suit your needs.
1. Australian Yoga Life, Nov 2006 - Mar 2007
2. A Mohan, Yoga For Body, Breath, and Mind
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Rebecca writes on both yoga and menopause at these information sites.
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