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Empowering Women Through Menopause: The Healing Power of Yoga

women laughing
photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

What is Menopause?

Menopause is the permanent cessation of a menstrual cycle and ovarian function  in women. The word menopause stems from the Greek words, “meno” meaning menses and “pause” meaning cease. Menopause is clinically diagnosed by an absence of a menstrual cycle after 12 consecutive months. The onset of menopause can occur around the age of 50 years, and while all women will eventually go through this transitional stage, changes in physical and mental state can start before menopause and continue for several years after. 

The stage before menopause is known as perimenopause, and can begin in some women as early as their mid-30’s but typically starts in their 40’s. Women may begin to develop menopausal symptoms during this time, such as hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia. The stage after menopause is postmenopause. Menopausal symptoms can continue throughout the duration of this stage. As a woman’s body undergoes reproductive change, all of the other human body systems including skeletal, muscular, digestive, endocrine, nervous, and cardiovascular may also be affected during menopause. As life expectancy increases, women will spend one-third of their life postmenopausal and experience mild to severe symptoms that could impact their daily lives.

Common Menopausal Symptoms

menopause, perimenopause, pms

Menopausal symptoms can affect women physically and mentally. Severity of symptoms can vary among each woman. Common menopausal symptoms may include:

  • Mood changes

  • Bloating

  • Aches and pains

  • Headaches

  • Hot flashes

  • Night sweats

  • Fatigue

  • Insomnia

  • Weight gain

  • Irritability

  • Forgetfulness and lack of concentration

Treatment Options for Menopause

Menopause itself does not require medical treatment, but treatment exists to help alleviate menopausal symptoms. Medical treatments may include:

Hormone Replacement Therapy

Estrogen therapy is an effective option that helps alleviate menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats and may help prevent bone loss. Depending on previous medical history, women may benefit from hormone replacement therapy for a short period of time. Long term use may increase the risk of developing  cardiovascular and breast cancer. Benefits and risks will need to be discussed with your doctor to assess if hormone replacement therapy is right for you as the safety for this form of treatment is still under review. 

Low-dose antidepressants

Antidepressants may help manage menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. Women who may not be able to take estrogen, due to a health concern, or women who may benefit from an antidepressant for mood stabilizing may choose this form of treatment. 

You might be asking yourself, “are these the only treatment options available?” Some women may not be able to, or necessarily want to, manage their menopausal symptoms with the treatment options listed above. Women who might currently be on the medications mentioned might want to explore additional treatment options to help remedy their symptoms. While these forms of treatment have helped women alleviate their menopausal symptoms, alternative non-pharmacological options are being explored, such as diet, strength training, and forest bathing. One lifestyle practice that is currently being researched is the benefits of yoga for menopause.

Yoga Benefits for Menopause

yoga class

A therapeutic option currently being explored to help women manage their menopausal symptoms includes practicing yoga. Yoga originated in India and is a 4000 year old tradition. Practicing yoga aims to improve the body and mind with the most common yoga practices being postures (asana), controlled breathing (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana). Asana in Sanskrit relates to positions of the body and can be practiced by holding yoga poses. 

Different postures are more effective than others when alleviating menopausal symptoms. One study found that restorative yoga poses are an accessible intervention that helped reduce hot flashes experienced by menopausal women throughout the study. Restorative yoga poses are held for longer periods of time with the assistance of props such as bolsters and blocks to help achieve total relaxation. Research shows that restorative yoga may help reduce hot flashes without adverse outcomes. 

Pranayama in Sanskrit means breath, which, in yoga, translates to practicing breathwork or breathing exercises. Evidence shows that practicing pranayama may benefit physiological and psychological changes in the body, especially for those with respiratory diseases. For menopausal women, one study found that practicing paced breathing for 15 minutes twice a day helped reduce the intensity and frequency of hot flashes.   

Meditation is the practice of calming the mind through contemplation and introspection. One study evaluated a mindful awareness program that used meditation exercises in a group of older adults, both male and female, to evaluate sleep patterns. The study showed that the introduction of meditation improved sleep quality including insomnia, fatigue, and depression when compared to the group who had an introduction to sleep education. A second study reviewed the association of introducing meditation to menopausal women and the effect it had on menopausal symptoms. The findings showed women experienced less night sweats, hot flashes, depression and irritability after practicing meditation. 

The exact mechanism as to how yoga helps in various disease states is still being studied. However, research has shown positive associations of practicing yoga and positive health outcomes including reducing menopausal symptoms. One  systematic review and meta-analysis found moderate evidence for short-term improvements of psychological symptoms in menopausal women after practicing yoga. The researchers concluded that, while more research needs to be conducted, yoga can be a safe and natural way to manage psychological issues experienced by women during menopause.

As future studies continue to look at the promising benefits yoga can provide to improve our health, it seems that yoga may benefit perimenopausal and menopausal women physically, mentally, and emotionally, by potentially mitigating symptoms associated with menopause. While yoga may not be for everyone, this holistic treatment can be practiced at no cost in the comfort of your home. If you’re curious on whether yoga can help alleviate your menopausal symptoms, consider starting with the 5 yoga poses below to begin your yoga journey today. 

5 Yoga Poses to Try for Menopausal Symptom Relief

yoga retreat

Reclined Butterfly Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)

Reclined butterfly pose is a great way to start your practice through a restorative pose while focusing on your breath. This relaxing posture can help alleviate aches and pains through the relaxation of tension in your muscles. During this time, you can set an intention for your yoga practice to help guide you throughout your practice. If you are doing this pose while laying on your bed, it may help you unwind to allow for a restful sleep and may even help with insomnia. The reclined butterfly pose helps stretch your inner thighs, groin, and knees. 

How to do it

Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet touching each other and your knees bent. Your legs will make a diamond shape. Place one block, book, or pillow under each knee. Then, use your hands on the floor to guide you as you slowly come down to your back. You may choose to use an additional pillow or blanket as a cushion under your head. Take several deep breaths here. Feel free to relax in this position for 5–10 minutes if you're comfortable.

reclined butterfly yoga pose

Cat/Cow Pose (Bitilasana Marjaryasana)

Sequencing cat and cow pose helps your skeletal and nervous system simultaneously. The cat pose stretches the body related to the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for “rest and digest”), while the cow pose stretches the body related to the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight” response). This sequence in positions is a great way to warm up your body with intention. The movements in these poses will promote mobility of the joints and spine, while slowly breathing (inhaling while you look up to the sky and allow your belly to move toward the floor and exhaling while you round your back and pull your chin into your chest) will help relax and guide your movements. 

How to do it

Start on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders, and your knees directly under your hips. Point your fingertips to the top of your mat. Place your shins and knees hip-width apart. Center your head in a neutral position and soften your gaze downward. Start by inhaling as you drop your belly towards the mat. Lift your chin and chest, and gaze up toward the ceiling. As you exhale, draw your belly to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. Inhale, coming back into Cow Pose, and then exhale as you return to Cat Pose. Repeat 5-7 times. Once you finish, relax into Child's Pose.

girls doing cat cow yoga pose

Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Downward-facing dog pose is a foundational pose that helps reset your flow while  actively engaging with the muscles in the body. This pose can energize the body while calming the mind. You'll also feel your arms and legs strengthen while in this position. The downward-facing dog pose helps stretch the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands. While in this inversion pose your head is lower than your heart, promoting blood flow throughout the body, which may alleviate headaches and mental fog.  

How to do it

Come onto your hands and knees and bring your hands slightly in front of your shoulders. Spread your fingers wide, press down through your fingers. Tuck your toes under and exhale as you lift your knees off the mat and reach your sit bones toward the ceiling. Keep your knees slightly bent as you lengthen your back. Stretch your heels to the mat and press the back of your thighs toward the back wall. Try to straighten your knees without locking them. Pressing your fingers into your mat, pull your shoulder blades away from your ears and against your back. Relax your neck and keep your head between your upper arms. Take a few deep inhales and exhales as you relax into the position. To finish, bring your knees to the floor and then relax into Child's Pose.

girl doing downward facing dog
photo credit: Nikola Murniece

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

Another pose that may help relax the mind and help minimize stress is the bridge pose. The bridge pose strengthens the back muscles, glutes, and hamstrings. As you lift your hips, your chest opens and stretches creating space for your lungs to expand. The expansion of your lungs not only helps stretch your chest, neck, and spine but also allows for more room to inhale and exhale, calming your body and mind. This pose may be therapeutic for women with osteoporosis because it may help to strengthen bones and build bone mass while in a restorative pose. The bridge pose may also stimulate the thyroid gland, which may help regulate the endocrine system and promote bone health. 

How to do it

Lie on your back with your feet on the mat and knees bent and hip-distance apart. Slowly move your feet as close to your glutes as you can. Bring your arms alongside your body, palms facing down. As you inhale, press down firmly through your feet and lift your hips up toward the ceiling. Continue to press down firmly through your heels and draw your thighs toward one another to keep them hip-distance apart. Continue to lift your pubic bone toward the ceiling as you take a few deep inhales and exhales. On your last exhale, slowly release yourself to the floor.

girl doing yoga, bridge pose

Wide-Legged Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasana)

Wide-legged forward bend is another inversion pose that can help calm the mind through blood flow circulation. While bending forward, the mind may begin to soothe and stress levels may decrease. This pose may help reduce irritability, while strengthening the hamstrings, spine, and abdominal muscles. 

How to do it

Begin by stepping your feet 3–4 feet apart with your hands on your hips. Lift tall through your torso and slowly fold over your legs. Bend from your hip joints instead of rounding your lower back. Try to keep your spine lengthened. If your back starts to round, stop folding forward. Place your hands flat on the floor, or on a yoga block, shoulder-width apart. Begin to stretch your torso forward as you take some deep inhales and exhales. After your last exhale, slowly inhale, lifting your torso back up and over your hips.

girl doing yoga
photo credit: Liveology Yoga Magazine

All poses can be as active or restorative as you need when practicing. The use of props such as blankets, bolsters, and blocks can help you further settle in each pose to help hold the position in a comfortable way. As you enter each pose, be mindful of your limitations and listen to your body. Remember to breathe by inhaling and exhaling for several breaths while in each pose and avoid holding your breath. This will help you go deeper into the pose as well as move deeper into a relaxation state. Consult with your doctor and yoga instructor on how to practice yoga safely for optimal benefits to your menopausal symptoms. 

Do you currently practice yoga and have you found that it helps you manage sleep, mood or weight? 

dietetic intern

Hello everyone! My name is Bruna Sayer. I am graduate student in the Nutrition Coordinated Program at Georgia State University. I am interested in becoming a registered dietitian to help women and their overall health through nutrition. Aside from being a full-time student, I love to explore new restaurants with my husband, play outdoors with our 3 dogs, and practice hot yoga.



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