Is it hot in here?
Oh, right, that's another hot flash. Whether you're perimenopausal, menopausal or postmenopausal, it's no easy ride. From hot flashes to night sweats to mood swings, you'd think the roller coaster would at least pull into the station now and then. But just when you think you've reached a breathing place where the track is level, you're plunging through another downhill drop. It is exhausting, frustrating and very, very hot.
Ask your physician for advice and he or she may suggest hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. But while lots of women swear by their hormones, others aren't so eager to sign up, especially since they're now recommended to be used only for the briefest time possible.
Is there something we can do, naturally, that combats the heat, weight gain and occasional violent urges? For many women, the answer is yes.
A yoga practice can have a substantial effect on how your body and mind respond to all stages of menopause. According to the North American Menopause Society, combining relaxation techniques and positive thinking is a beneficial part of the transition process. Learning to stay in the moment can reduce stress, worry and anxieties brought on by this significant life change.
Studies performed at University of Virginia Health System and University of California, San Francisco, show improvements in not only intensity and frequency of hot flashes, but mood and sleep disturbances as well among menopausal yoga practitioners.
How to get started? You may try looking for a local yoga class that offers a "cooling" sequence. This may include breathing techniques, restorative poses and long relaxation periods. An experienced teacher can guide you and modify according to your needs.
If you'd like to get started at home, try the following 10- to 30-minute sequence:
Breathing Practice: For cooling the body. Curl the tongue's edges together to form a "straw." Purse your lips and "sip'' the breath slowly. Exhale completely through the nose. Repeat for 10-15 breaths.
Semi-inversions: Poses that lower the head can cool the nervous system and stimulate the thyroid and pituitary glands. Try these three moves:
Forward Fold: Sitting tall, with legs straight together in front of you, tilt forward at the hips only as far as is comfortable. No need to touch your toes; just rest your hands wherever they naturally land. Hold for 8 to 10 deep breaths.
Downward-facing Dog: Start on your hands and knees in a table position; curl your toes under and raise your hips up. Straighten legs to stretch the hamstrings, or keep legs slightly bent. Relax the head between the arms. Hold for 4-6 breaths.
Legs-up-the-wall: Known to reduce stress through its calming and cooling effect. Sit facing a wall with your hips as close as possible to the wall. Roll onto your back and swing the legs vertically up the wall. This pose can be practiced with a pillow or bolster under the hips for additional support. Stay for 5-10 minutes, breathing deeply.
Lifeless Body, or Corpse Pose: For relief from stress, anxiety and mild depression. Lie on your back on the floor, allowing the body to completely surrender. Breathe deeply and evenly. Enjoy for 5 minutes or more. Support with a pillow or bolster under the low back and/or shoulders. If your back bothers you, try slipping a bolster under your knees.
Mindful Meditation: This technique allows you to cultivate awareness for the physical body and calm a busy mind. Begin in a seated position on the floor or a chair. Rest your hands comfortably and bring your awareness to your breath. As you breathe, move your awareness to each part of the body, starting at the feet and working your way up to your head. As you notice any tension or tightness, ease it away with long exhales. Envision a mountain range or evening beach and feel cool breezes washing over your body. Enjoy for 5 minutes or more. If your mind drifts, gently bring it back to your meditation. Never scold your mind for wandering; it happens to everyone.
Diana Reed is a Hernando County yoga instructor. Her website is dianareed.net.