Friday, May 20, 2011

Yoga for Menopause: 7 Reasons Why You Need Yoga More Than Ever. (Part 1)

Yoga is a wonderful anecdote for healing and transformation during the (seemingly unending) season of menopause.  I am still in my season of motherhood, personally, getting ready to give birth to my third child in the coming weeks. However, I am no stranger to woman’s needs. 

Being pregnant in the third trimester (three times) has given me the strange aches, hot flashes, mood swings, fatigue, weight gain, and dryness (what is that about?) that menopause brings.  In fact, just sitting here at the computer composing this article I am breaking out into constant sweats – which still somehow leaves my skin dry and itchy and my hands and legs simultaneously puffy.  Ahh – the joys of being a woman we all know too well.

Additionally, as a women’s health physical therapist, I have taught yoga for menopause to multitudes of beautiful women for over 15 years now.  I have much empathy and experience, as a therapist and woman, as to what a woman’s body needs. 

This is the first in a two part series of how you deserve yoga that fits you, as a mature, informed woman who won’t settle for substandard health care or substandard yoga. 

Seven Reasons Why You Need Yoga During (any stage of) Menopause

  1. Yoga can address your medical concerns.  Yoga, when used as therapy, has been shown to help in weight management, with hot flashes, mood swings, and other menopausal phenomenon.1,2 
  2. Yoga used as therapy is more effective when it is combined with Ayurveda. (This is what I’ll discuss and teach you how to use in Part Two.)  The combination of yoga and Ayurveda can better individualize your daily (and your yoga) routine through identifying your physical and mental constitution or makeup through the five element theory.  Ayurveda not only looks at your health, but also the health of your home and environment.  Additionally, the study of Ayurveda makes you a more educated consumer of yoga in general.
  3. Yoga can improve your lung capacity and increase your energy levels instantly, through breath training.  Yoga focuses on avoidance of use of “secondary muscles of respiration” while maximizing alveolar ventilation (important in lung capacity).  A good yoga teacher will know what these secondary muscles are and how to teach you to turn them off and use the proper muscles to breath.  A good teacher will also use methods like biofeedback and balancing of hemispheric action in the brain in order to teach you to breathe.  
    Notice your breath, even during a regular day – or in times of stress (say, a hot flash) – is it ragged, irregular, choppy, broken, chesty – or is it smooth, flowing, even on the inhale and exhale, and deeply abdominal?
  4. Yoga can improve your posture, spinal alignment, and even help you regain some of your lost height through postural focus and thoughtful movement. 
  5. Yoga will improve your strength, flexibility, diminish depressive feelings and help manage mood swings, help manage your weight, and even improve your eating habits and life choices.  I use yoga postures that bring coolness to the mind and body and also incorporate creative use of motivational readings and music in class to achieve overall improved health and well being. 
  6. Yoga can teach self-soothing and calming strategies through meditation, body scanning, and other methods. 
  7. Yoga can build bone density and diminish the risk of osteoporosis and other chronic diseases.3 In addition to building bone mass, yoga can also prevent and treat incontinence through lock, or bandha, work.
Yoga postures for menopause should focus on:
  • TATD breath to focus on safe and effective yoga posture performance and core, pelvic floor, and respiratory diaphragm strengthening and stability training. This is a non-traditional yogic breath developed through combining the science of the physiology of respiration with research in spinal stabilization.  It strengthens the core abdominals, prevents low back injury (and subsequently pain), and it prevents and treats incontinence of bladder or bowel through pelvic floor strengthening and organ positioning.  This breath is essential for practicing safe and effective yoga.  Download the entire Breath Practice for Women free, which includes the TATD breath.
  • Biofeedback
  • Avoiding breath holding (valsalva). Valsalva increases blood pressure and can cause heart problems or even a heart attack or stroke.
  • Meditative flow with cooling postures focused on postural/spinal realignment.
  • Protecting fragile connective tissue. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments tend to fail (tear) more easily in older women (and men). 
  • Retaining shoulder and hip range of motion. Women can suffer from conditions like frozen shoulder and loss of mobility in the arms without realizing it.  A physical therapist trained in yoga is best suited to prescribe yoga to prevent and treat these conditions. Additionally, hip range of motion and strength loss is strongly associated with low back pain.  Therefore, it is important to address hip flexibility, strength, and range of motion in a yoga program.
I have been using yoga and Ayurveda as medicine successfully with women throughout my 15+ years of clinical practice.  I encourage you to use this post and the next one to follow, to become a discerning consumer of yoga – built just for you as a woman.  Because you deserve nothing less than the best yoga has to offer.

Part two of this post will empower you to be a discerning consumer of yoga and arm you with the knowledge to craft a yoga practice (and health practices) that will best suit your body and its needs using Ayurveda (sister science of yoga).

Sources: In addition to the plethora of research I have compiled in my 10 years of writing and developing PYT and medical therapeutic yoga which support the TA and ave TATD breath theory and other points listed in no. 1-7:
1.    Chattha, R, Raghuram, N, Venkatram, P,
2.    Vaze N, Joshi S. Yoga and menopausal transition. J Mid-life Health [serial online] 2010 [cited 2011 May 19];1:56-8. Available from:
3.    Phoosuwan M, Kritpet T, Yuktanandana P. The effects of weight bearing yoga training on the bone resorption markers of the postmenopausal women. J Med Assoc Thai. 2009 Sep;92 Suppl5:S102-8.

1 comment:

  1. Please share any comments on how yoga has helped you or your patients or clients. I'd love to hear your stories! Thanks!