Psychological symptoms – mood swings, frustration, anxiety and depression – can really throw a wrench in the works of a menopausal woman’s life. For years, women that were experiencing these severe symptoms were simply prescribed anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs to make the “crazy” go away. But, there’s good news! Ageology physicians believe that these drugs are no longer the only option for women looking to reduce the psychological symptoms of menopause.
In 2012, a German integrative medicine team published a meta-analysis – where results from participants in multiple studies on the same topic are pooled together to create a much larger group of subjects – that showed the strong positive impact that yoga has on some of the psychological symptoms women experience during menopause.
Yoga is just one of the many so-called “mindfulness” practices. Mindfulness practices have been making the health headlines these days. People are intrigued by it because at its core, mindfulness is key to settling down an agitated mind and calming a frustrated mood. We all know that stress is bad for health – mindfulness is what equips us to weather the stress-filled storms that life inevitably brings.
Developing the ability to use mindfulness to cope with stress has an incredibly powerful impact on your body. It affects hormone balance, digestive health and heart health. Any integrative medicine program to promote longer life and prevent illness should have a mindfulness component. Put simply, mindfulness is:
- A state of being attentive to the present moment, without judgment.
- A focusing of attention on present experience through noticing thoughts, feelings and sensations.
- Not a state of blankness or even bliss – just being here, now.
Most of us are bombarded by distractions and we mire ourselves in thoughts and judgments about past and future. Most people’s heads are so full of distracting thoughts and unhealthy judgments, and have been for so long, that they do not even realize they can experience a different state of mind. They inaccurately think that’s the norm.
A yoga/mindfulness practice does not have to be another stressful obligation to check off your already long to-do list. It can and should be kept simple. Ageology physicians agree that practicing yoga can have a strong positive impact on some of the psychological symptoms women experience during menopause. Below are some simple postures to help get you started. As you practice, notice the sound of your breath and the sensations in your body. Adopt an attitude of kind, compassionate acceptance, and move slowly and purposefully. As thoughts rattle around in your head, notice them, but do not hold on to any of them – just let them float away like helium balloons into the sky.
- Child’s pose. Sit on the floor on your heels (if your knees don’t like this, sit on a cushion to lift your hips up and decrease the angle of the knees.) Reach forward with your arms and put your forehead on the floor. Take 5-10 slow, deep breaths.
- Seated twist. Sit cross-legged on the floor (or in a chair with both feet on the floor if your knees won’t tolerate floor-sitting). Turn your shoulders to face the right and reach your left hand across to grab the outside of your right knee. Gently press your torso into a twist as you look back over your right shoulder. Take 5 slow, deep breaths, and then take an equal number of breaths on the second side.
- Standing forward fold. Rise to your feet and stand with feet parallel and hip-width apart. Keep your knees slightly bent as you slowly bend forward so that your upper body is upside down, hanging over your legs. Keep your back as flat as you can throughout the forward bend. Let your head hang. Stay for 5-10 breaths.
- Sphinx. Lie on your belly. Slide your forearms in so that the elbows are at 90 degrees and the forearms are flat on the floor, lifting your head and chest up in a gentle backbend. Engage your abdominal muscles, tucking your tailbone down toward the floor as you roll your shoulders back and down and press the center of your chest forward. Breathe 5-10 times.
- Bridge pose. Lie down on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, arms down by your sides. Lift your hips up toward the ceiling. Stay for 5-10 full, deep breaths.
- Legs up the wall. This one is great for relaxing before bedtime. It’s very simple: find an open wall space and lie down on your back with your rear end against the wall and legs stretched up the wall. You can open the arms to the side in “cactus arms” (bent 90 degrees at the elbows) or cross them over your chest, elbows stacked. Tie your ankles together with a scarf or belt if the feet want to slide open. Stay here for 10-20 long, slow breaths.
If yoga interests you as a fitness modality, find a good teacher. A skillfully taught yoga class will combine isometric muscle contractions, stretching, relaxation techniques, and breathing exercises in ways that improve cardiovascular health.
Research has proved that consistent yoga practice has a positive impact on cardiovascular fitness. Slow yogic breathing lowers blood pressure. Yoga programs can promote weight loss, improve body composition, and even help reduce episodes of dangerous irregular heart rhythms. An eight-week yoga intervention even reduced symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) – not an uncommon menopause-related complaint.
Yoga is only one of many mindfulness practices with demonstrated health benefits. If yoga is not your cup of tea, try meditative martial arts like tai chi or chi gong. Maybe you feel most meditative when swimming laps, raking leaves or petting your dog. Whatever works for you, do it consistently. One Swedish study showed that just taking a few moments to turn focus inward and breathe fully cut menopausal symptoms by nearly half.
Whatever propels you to that mindful space, count on experiencing substantial benefits for both short-term psychological symptom relief and long-term health. And keep in mind that on a day when you think you couldn’t possibly fit a moment of mindfulness practice into your hectic schedule, that’s the day you will need it most. Five minutes is always better than nothing.
Cramer H, Lauche R, Langhorst J, Dobos G. Effectiveness of yoga for menopausal symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:863905.
Elkins GR, Fisher WI, Johnson AK, Carpenter JS, Keith TZ. Clinical hypnosis in the treatment of postmenopausal hot flashes: a randomized controlled trial. Menopause. 2012 Oct 22. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 23096250
Foster Wallace, David. This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, About Living a Compassionate Life. Little, Brown and Company, 2009.
Herrera AP, Meeks TW, Dawes SE, Hernandez DM, Thompson WK, Sommerfeld DH, Allison MA, Jeste DV. Emotional and cognitive health correlates of leisure activities in older Latino and Caucasian women. Psychol Health Med. 2011 Dec;16(6):661-74.
Innes KE, et al. Efficacy of an eight-week yoga intervention on symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): a pilot study. J Altern Complement Med 2013 Jun; 19(6):527-35.
Lakkireddy D, et al. Effect of yoga on arrhythmia burden, anxiety, depression, and quality of life in paroxysmal atrial fibrillation: the YOGA My Heart Study. J Am Coll Cardiol 2013 Mar 19; 61(11):1177-82.
Lambiase, Maya J. PhD; Thurston, Rebecca C Physical activity and sleep among midlife women with vasomotor symptoms. PhD POST EDITOR CORRECTIONS, 25 March 2013.
Rioux JG, Ritenbaugh C. Narrative review of yoga intervention clinical trials including weight-related outcomes. Altern Ther Health Med 2013 May-Jun;19(3):32-46.
Photo credit: www.stylecraze.com