The relationship between stress and menopause is a complicated one. If your sex hormones are on the decline, your stress hormones naturally increase — unless, that is, you’re intentional about soothing your mind and your body in the process.
A low-impact workout that combines the power of deep breathing with physical movement, yoga is one evidence-backed way to stave off the physical and mental effects of stress during the peri/menopause phase and, hopefully, keep annoying symptoms at bay.
Don’t feel like working out? All the more reason to strike a yoga pose. While some forms of exercise can increase stress on your mind and body, these gentle movements have been shown to reduce it. One randomized control trial from 2016 found that women who practiced yoga reported less stress and depression during menopause compared to women who didn’t exercise, and also possessed lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Even an hour or two of yoga each week (yes, Yoga With Adriene counts) can encourage relaxation at all times. Not sure where to start? Here are four yoga poses to add to your routine as you head toward menopause.
The Easy (Seated) Pose, or Sukhasana, really is an easy pose for beginners. It’s best for meditation, as it allows you to let your mind and body relax and reach a state of awareness and mindfulness. Start by sitting with your back straight and legs outstretched. Then cross your legs in such a way that you place each foot under the opposite knee. Place your palms on your knees facing upward, or place them in your lap.
Every day that you practice this pose, alternate your legs for the most benefits. Practice the Easy Pose in the morning and at the end of the day — it’s a good way to relieve stress. One of the physical pluses of the Easy Pose are that it lengthens the spine and broadens the collarbone. It’s also great for your posture, as long as you sit with a straight back while in the pose.
If you spend a lot of time during the day seated, this pose can be beneficial for stretching the psoas muscles connecting the lower back and the upper thighs. But what makes the Lunge beneficial during menopause? Symptoms like hot flashes or mood swings can cause your breath to become shallow and uneven. Lunges, or Anjaneyasana in yoga speak, release muscle tension and give your breath the freedom it needs.
To perform the Lunge Pose, start in a pose called Tabletop, on your hands and knees. From Tabletop, step one of your feet forward between your palms, aligning the heel of the foot with the heels of your palms. Then straighten your back, place your palms on your hips, and look forward. In this pose, try to make sure your knee is positioned directly above your ankle. You can make the stretch more intense by bending the knee more deeply. Once you are done, repeat the same steps with the other leg forward.
A decrease in estrogen can increase inflammation in your body and trigger muscle pain, and menopause-related stress only makes the problem worse. The Cat-Cow Pose can soothe pain and encourage stress reduction by massaging your spine and opening your chest to promote deeper breathing.
On all fours, round your back up to the ceiling as you exhale and move your belly button toward your spine. Then align your spine and head in a neutral position. Move into the Cow Pose by inhaling and tilting your pelvis, sticking your tailbone up toward the ceiling. Your abs should hug your spine in the process.
The Warrior II Pose, or Virabhadrasana II, has therapeutic benefits for people with back problems. It offers a nice stretch for your back muscles, hips, legs, and ankles, oftentimes relieving pent-up stress and menopause-related joint and muscle pain. The Warrior II is also a pose for practicing balance, which is especially useful when you’ve got disorienting hot flashes to contend with. This pose is harder than it looks, so it may also improve your stamina.
Start from standing position by taking one of your legs back and bending the front leg at the knee. Raise both of your arms to the side on the same level as your shoulders while turning your gaze to the front. Make sure your hands are parallel to the ground and your front foot is parallel to the side of the mat. Place your back foot parallel to the front of the mat, and rotate the palms face down. Repeat with the other leg.
Hold this pose for ten seconds at a time, and increase the amount of time as you get better at it. After mastering Warrior II, try more Warrior-type poses for menopause symptom relief.
Stretch a little, gain a lot
You don't have to a former member of the American Ballet Theater (or even be that flexible) to start dipping your toes into the world of yoga. A few moves and deep breaths can go a long way to cooling down your nerves and strengthening your body.
Looking to connect with a community of women who know what you're going through? Check out The Hot Spot!