Are you in menopause? Chances are that you sometimes feel that you are not in control of your body! If you are seeking ways to cope with unpleasant menopausal symptoms, you may want to try yoga and other mind-body practices.
Shirley Archer, JD, MA, 2008 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year, an award-winning author and IDEA’s mind-body spokesperson, explains the research and application of mind-body exercise on menopause.
Irritability and Mood Swings
Yoga and other mind-body activities can help you overcome mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and even feelings of hopelessness and sadness coming from hormonal fluctuations. The most recent review of randomized controlled studies on yoga’s effectiveness for menopausal symptom relief found moderate evidence for short-term improvement of psychological symptoms, such as mood changes, anxiety and depression; the review was based on four studies with a total of 545 participants (Cramer et al. 2012).
To date, the most successful intervention for reducing both the frequency and intensity of hot flashes and night sweats is deep breathing as paced respiration—ideally 6–8 breaths per minute in twice-daily 15-minute sessions (Sood et al. 2013). These researchers also noted that since women reported difficulty in finding time for two practices per day, it would likely be beneficial to find a once-daily practice that would still maximize beneficial effects.
Estrogen loss affects the urethra and bladder, resulting in urinary urgency, frequency and incontinence among some women (Kim et al. 2015).
In a randomized pilot study, University of California, San Francisco, researchers found that a 6-week yoga therapy program consisting of twice-weekly group classes and once-weekly home practice decreased incontinence frequency. Subjects practiced Iyengar yoga with an emphasis on alignment, pelvic-floor structures and muscle awareness, prop use for support, and mindfulness—rather than cycling rapidly through postures, deep breathing and relaxation (Huang et al. 2014). Pilates practice, with an emphasis on alignment, core conditioning, breathing and muscle awareness, particularly of pelvic-floor structures, has also been found to help some women with incontinence (Pedriali et al. 2016).
“The stress of menopause is where yoga and mindful exercise can particularly help,” says Maria Luque, PhD, MS, based in Austin, Texas, and a faculty member for the College of Health and Human Services at Trident University. “Not just with the stress, but also with attitude. Menopause doesn’t control your attitude. Attitude controls your menopause. If you let menopause control how you feel, then you have no control over it.”
Luque’s observation is supported by a University of Washington and University of Pittsburgh pilot study of 11 women with hot flashes, who practiced a daily 15-minute yoga routine for 10 weeks and attended one 75-minute class per week that was designed specifically for menopausal women. All participants perceived improvement in their symptoms and enjoyed stronger feelings of well-being. Interestingly, according to journals the subjects kept, the number of hot flashes did not diminish (Booth-LaForce, Thurston & Taylor 2007).
What is significant is that while symptoms did not change, the women enjoyed better quality of life. This outcome may have resulted from learning to reduce the stress response and adopt a more mindful approach to bodily changes.
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