By Saraswathi Vasudevan
Saraswathi Vasudevan draws up a yogic regimen to ease the pain of menopause
I wonder if yoga teachers/therapists two generations ago had to deal with menopause-related issues! Today, if you are lucky, you glide through these years quietly and uneventfully, but most women struggle through various levels of physical, physiological and psychological disturbances. From hot flushes, sleep disturbances, stiffness in joints, exacerbation of pain, migraines, mood swings, anxiety, depression, weight gain, each person’s experience of perimenopause/menopause can be very different, and sometimes highly disruptive, affecting one’s quality of life.
Thankfully through a regular and intense asana-pranayama practice with attention to diet and lifestyle, we can possibly get through menopause with minimal discomfort. When I say intense, please don’t assume it is about doing several rounds of surya namaskar! In fact, during peri menopause/menopause, excessive physical movements will aggravate vata (imbalance in the wind element).
Here are a few guidelines for practice:
Start with some breathing practice like sitali (inhaling through the tongue with sides rolled like a tube/through the mouth like drawing through a straw while raising the head, exhaling through nostrils while lowering chin to the chest). Sitali helps with hot flushes by cooling the system.
Spend 20 minutes with an active standing practice including back arches, twists, lateral stretches, forward bends, sequences like surya namaskar – always moving into and out of postures with regulated breathing. Keep inhalation at least 4-5 seconds and exhalation longer than inhalation. Movements have to be coordinated with the breath.
A short lying rest to relax the spine and legs can be followed by lying postures with extended exhalation and hold after exhalation. If accompanied with active contraction of lower abdomen, it will help regulate functions of the apanavayu and keep the lower abdominal area light and toned. Inversions like viparitakarani or sarvangasana will also help. After lying postures and inversions, back arches in prone position will help strengthen the back and legs and compensate for inversions. Spend at least 20 minutes with forward bends, back arches, twists and lateral stretches in seated/kneeling positions to keep the spine, hips and lower abdomen supple and strong. Again, extended exhalation and holding the breath after exhalation will help improve the functions of the postures.
Eat warm, cooked food that is less spicy and sour and only when hungry. Avoid snacking or binging. Salads and dry foods which have a tendency to increase vata (wind element) will increase many of the symptoms. Walking or swimming can also help with improving your sleep, and keeping a check on weight gain. Avoid any intense physical activity after 8 pm at night.
This is considered important for many menstrual issues as well as during menopause. Sit with your back straight, legs stretched forward. Fold one leg placing the foot against the opposite thigh. Raise both arms from front on inhalation, extending the spine up. On exhalation, bend forward towards the stretched leg and hold the foot, slowing with extended inhalation and exhalation. Try to reach the forehead to the knees. Spine is stretched, abdomen contracted, leg stretched – especially calves and ankle. Stay for 10-16 breaths on each side. This posture helps regulate the apanavayu in the lower abdomen, keeps the organs in the abdomen healthy, and keeps the spine and hips supple. It also stretches the ankles, which will prevent/address heel pain, a common menopause symptom. This posture also checks weight gain around the abdominal area.
About the author : Saraswathi Vasudevan is a yoga therapist trainer in the tradition of Sri T Krishnamacharya. She specialises in adapting yoga to the individual. (www.yogavahini.com).
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