How Yoga Can Help You Deal With Menopause
Menopause can cause a lot of changes in a woman’s body. Yoga expert Rajvi H Mehta writes on how Yoga can help relieve the worries.
If there is one thing in life that is constant, it is the process of ageing. This process starts from the time we are born and continues till life ends. However, there are certain milestones, which signal major shifts in life. Of the different systems of the human body, the one which clearly shows these shifts is the reproductive system and more so in women. If menstruation marks the beginning of the reproductive phase, the end is marked by menopause.
Along with menopause comes in some major changes in women’s body, the functions of the organs, the brain and even their appearance. As the secretion of oestrogen by the ovaries ceases, many of the problems are associated with the lack of estrogen. A short term ‘treatment’ is to prescribe Hormone Replacement Therapy [HRT]. But, how long can one ‘push’ or turn away from the consequences of a natural process? Studies have shown that HRT for a prolonged period of time increases the risk of cancer. Therefore, it is logical that one faces and cope with the changes that menopause brings.
Problems of Menopause
Nature helps us too. A menopausal woman puts on weight. As the fats cells also produce oestrogen, this maybe nature’s way of giving women some ‘maintenance levels’ of oestrogen even though the ovary does not. However, sometimes, the weight gain can be enormous bordering onto obesity.
Menopause can have some undesirable side effects. Lack of oestrogen causes vaginal dryness and skin dryness. Women become more prone to osteoarthritis of the knees and osteoporosis. Add on to that the discomfort of hot flashes. If you are genetically prone to hypertension or diabetes then this is the time that the disease starts getting established. All these changes are not pleasant and therefore many women find the transition difficult to handle. And, this is the time that ‘medications’ and supplements become a part of woman’s diet.
It is common practice in many parts of the world to start women on calcium supplements to prevent osteoporosis. However, if one were to do a bone mineral density of menopausal women, you would find all the bones do not become weak at the same time. The hip socket and the lumbar spine are most prone to osteoporosis while the other bones remain healthy. Thus, just taking the calcium supplements is not the solution. How would the calcium know that ‘it needs to go to the hip and lumbar?’ How does it get depleted from that area first? If we were to notice, it is the region of the hips and buttocks that often ‘become loose’ and flabby. Physiologically this impairs the blood flow to hip and head of femur bones. And, taking any amount of supplements may not essentially help unless calcium reaches that area.
How Yoga Can Help
This is where Yoga can help. Practice of yogasanas offers relief and often prevents the onset of many of these issues. Guruji Iyengar says, “Yoga cures what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.” But, the problem with asanas is that it has to be done by you and requires effort and time. But, if you rest assured it is a healthy investment. Another important aspect of asana practice is that it has to be done accurately. If casually done then the effects are casual or even ineffective. Guruji Iyengar devised the use of props such as belt, chairs, blankets, pillows and other wooden supports to help people perform the asanas accurately so that they are efficacious. It is advisable to practice these under the guidance of a good teacher. Or in the absence of one, then a good book!
Supta Padangusthasana: One of the problems that surfaces with ageing and in menopausal women is that of the knee. If one finds some discomfort in the knee while going down the stairs, then this is the sign of an impending knee problem. One often tends to ignore or use the escalator or elevator. Bending or sitting on the floor gets painful and one stops that too! Restriction of activity is not the solution to the problem. But, it is the time to intensify the activities but with intelligence and awareness where yoga indeed helps. The two asanas that should be regularly practiced by women to overcome and even prevent an impending knee problem are Supta Padangusthasana and Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. I will describe the former.
Supta Padangusthasana: One lies down on the floor with both legs stretched out. Bend the left leg at the knee and hold the big toe of the left with the thumb and index finger of the left hand. Then, gradually straighten the left leg keeping the right leg straight. If the left leg is not absolutely straight where there is no dent in the knee then the asana is not effective. What if one cannot straighten any further? If they force then they can pull their hamstrings! Here, the ingenuity of Guruji Iyengar comes in. You can loop any belt or rope around the arch of the left foot and then straighten the leg. Stay in this position for 30 to 40 seconds to start with and then gradually increase the duration of stay. Breathe normally. Then, bring the knee down and do the same asanas by taking the right leg up. Repeat this asana 3 to 4 times on both the sides.
How does this Asana help? This asana takes the load off the knee as the leg is inverted. Just lifting the leg without a belt does not have the desired effect and in fact would create pressure on the abdomen. While we are standing or walking, the load of the ‘heavy thigh’ muscle consistently falls on the knee. The poor knee cannot take the load any longer and shows signs of creaking. It’s advisable not to ignore such signals! In this asana, not only is the load taken off the knee but the muscles are extended especially the hamstrings; thus with regular practice over time, the muscles take over the load off the knee. The extension of the muscles brings them closer to the bone. A bone-muscle ‘friendship’ helps calcium in the blood to reach the bones. This is just one asana, imagine if one invests time in doing many more then the issues of menopause would no longer become an issue. If you wish to know more about Yoga asanas that could be effective for menopause, read the book, Yoga: A gem for Women by Geeta S Iyengar.
Featured Image: Supta Padangusthasana (Photograph courtesy author)
To read Rajvi’s previous feature on Yoga for senior citizens, click here