What is menopause?
A woman reaches menopause when she has not had a period for 12 months in a row. This typically happens in her early to mid 50s although this can vary. Occasionally, menopause occurs without any symptoms but more often women experience a variety of symptoms leading up to menopause. The years leading up to menopause are referred to as ‘peri- menopause’. Peri-menopause often begins in a woman’s late 30s and early 40s and can last 7-10 years or longer.
Menopause and the ‘householder’ stage of life
Yoga refers to this stage of life – in both women and men- as the ‘householder’ stage. It ranges from somewhere around the mid-20s into the 60s or so. This is the time of life when you are a pillar of society, caring for the young and the old. Householders make up the majority of the work force and provide the structures that keep families and friends connected. Whatever your householder responsibilities are, it is typically a busy time of life. Because symptoms of menopause occur during the busy householder stage of life, it can feel particularly frustrating and sometimes overwhelming to manage.
Symptoms of peri-menopause
There are a variety of symptoms that can arise during the years leading up to menopause. Symptoms can be physical, emotional, and cognitive. Some of the most common peri- menopausal symptoms are:
Concerns about body image
Yoga’s holistic view
Yoga therapy uses the holistic view of the Pancamaya model which comes out of an ancient text called the Taittiriya Upanishad. Panca means 5 and maya means made from, or consisting of. According to this model the 5 things that make up a person are 1) physical body, 2) breath/ energy, 3) thoughts, 4) behavior, and 5) emotions.
When one part of us goes out of balance the others quickly follow. For example, let’s say you are experiencing weight gain due to peri-menopause. Your physical body might feel uncomfortable because your clothes are a little snug. You might start to have some negative thought patterns around your body image. Now your physical body is uncomfortable and your thoughts have become negative and as a result your energy starts to decrease and you aren’t motivated to do much of anything. Your friend calls and asks you to meet them for coffee but you aren’t feeling good about yourself so you make up an excuse not to go. The discomfort in your body has begun to affect your energy, thoughts, and behaviors. As a result your emotions are affected and you become sad and frustrated.
How can yoga help?
Now let’s say you’ve experienced the same weight gain but when you feel your thoughts become negative you make a decision to do a short meditation. Your meditation is about self- love and when you are done you feel a little better. Your friend calls and asks you to meet her for coffee and you agree, knowing it will feel good to get out to see a friend. You have a nice visit with your friend and when you go back home you are feeling peaceful and content.
Yoga is all about interrupting patterns
As you can see by the examples above, interrupting a pattern with a simple yoga practice, in this case meditation, can shift the course of your day because it influences you on so many different levels. The short meditation that interrupted a negative thought pattern influenced your mind and when your mind was in a better place your behavior changed and you said ‘yes’ to a coffee date with a friend. After getting out of your house and meeting with a friend, your energy and mood improved and you felt better equipped to tackle the responsibilities of the day.
Yoga is a ‘practice’
There are many different ways to practice yoga. Yoga is movement (asana), it is breathing (pranayama), it is meditation, it can be repeating a mantra, it can even be taking the time to smell a flower. Yoga is anything that keeps your attention on something positive that moves you in a healthy direction. It is unrealistic to say you can always be in a state of yoga but a little bit of ‘practice’ every day will affect you in all of your dimensions – body, energy, thoughts, relationships, and emotions. And you will notice over time that those little practices will lead to big changes.
Where does anxiety fit into this?
Menopause is full of change and uncertainty. Change and uncertainty can lead to feelings of anxiety. So it is quite common for women to feel anxiety during the years around menopause. If you have experienced anxiety you might notice it can affect you on many of the levels we talked about earlier. Anxiety can cause muscle tightness in your physical body, it can speed up or constrict your breath, it can lead to thoughts of fear and even dread. When these things happen it will undoubtedly affect your behavior and your emotions in a negative way. Anxiety is particularly tricky to manage because of its ability to take hold on so many levels of our being.
Yoga Therapy for Menopause and Anxiety
By now you can see how menopause can exacerbate anxiety – and how anxiety can exacerbate the symptoms of menopause. Yoga therapy is an effective, holistic therapy to create new patterns in your body, breath, and mind so you can feel better. Simple daily practices like meditations, breathing techniques, and appropriate yoga postures are easy ways you can start to take control over the changes you may be experiencing. Each of these yoga techniques can interrupt old patterns and create new, healthier patterns. Yoga therapy gives you the power to feel better.
Jennifer Brandt is an E-RYT 500 and C-IAYT working in private practice in Minneapolis, MN. She studies and teaches in the Viniyoga tradition at Yoga Well Institute under Chase Bossart where she received her Yoga Therapist training and is currently a faculty member. Learn more at www.bodyandmindyogatherapy.com