Menopause is a time for ‘pause’ in a woman’s sexual journey. A woman is born and by sexual maturity, she has about two million immature eggs, each wrapped within an estrogen-producing follicle inside our ovaries. We release these eggs monthly to allow for fertilization, but only about one percent of the original two million are ever used. As we near the end of our reproductive or ‘fertile’ years, our sexual system undergoes a process called ‘atresia.’ The little follicles within the ovaries reduce their production of estrogen until there is no longer enough to inspire either an egg release or a menstrual flow. This transition from fertility to non-fertility is perimenopause. The full stop is called menopause. Fluctuating estrogen is the main ingredient for perimenopause, and these same hormonal fluctuations cause many of the other symptoms of both perimenopause and menopause.
Most women begin to experience the symptoms of menopause around their late forties, but perimenopause can begin as early as thirty. The age-range for these transitional phases in a woman’s life varies, but they are marked by similar symptoms. In perimenopause, a woman begins to experience irregular menses and slight mood swings, anxiety, irritability, and depression. She can also loose interest in sexual intercourse, experience vaginal dryness, have hot flashes, night sweats and coldness, feel a sense of incontinence, loose hair and have dry skin. She can also experience heart palpitations and have difficulty sleeping. Sometimes, she can experience joint pain and forgetfulness. (If you are having any heart problems, please consult a physician right away.) Menopause happens when a woman’s ovaries stop releasing eggs. The levels of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone drop, causing the menstrual cycle to end. From this point on it is no longer possible for a woman to conceive a child. Perimenopause is the transitional stage when a woman is preparing for menopause.
Some women pass through these stages with no problems at all, and others experience the entire host of symptoms. There is mounting evidence that uncomfortable and exaggerated symptoms of both perimenopause and menopause are caused by toxins in our food and water supply, as well as health products that we use (such as creams, moisturizers, make-up). As ever, stress also plays an important role. Curiously, the Harvard School of Public Health and Brown University School of Medicine found that women who have undergone economic hardship undergo perimenopause earlier than women who have experienced economic security. The World Health Organization defines perimenopause as the phase during which hormonal, biological, and clinical changes begin. Early signs include cycle length variability, changes in blood flow, and mid-cycle spotting; later signs include missed periods or extended time between periods. Studies have shown that up to 90 per cent of women may experience perimenopausal changes, beginning as early as age 36.
Many women have treated their perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms with synthetic and naturally occurring hormone therapy, at the suggestion of their medical doctors, but there is little research on the long term effects of these hormone replacements, and it is suspected (in research now being conducted) that some hormone replacement therapies can cause breast and cervical cancer, especially when using biosynthetic or bioequivalent hormones. It is for this reason that many women are turning to yoga and alternative health therapies to solve the problems of menopausal symptoms. A further problem with menopause is the thinning of bones, which leads to osteoporosis. There is a link between stress and the development of this bone disease as well. The stress hormone, Cortisol, inhibits new bone growth. Weight bearing postures in yoga greatly reduce bone loss, and add to bone strength. Yoga also significantly reduces stress, thus limiting the amount of Cortisol being released into the blood stream. So it is no surprise that, yet again, yoga can help to cure problems associated with a woman’s maturing body.
Other health issues related to menopause are muscle density loss, poor posture, arthritis, and an increased risk of falling and breaking the hips. In addition to building bone density, weight bearing postures help to increase muscle mass, while balancing postures completed in yoga practice help to reduce the chance of falling, thus eliminating injury, and possibly early death since many elderly people do not ever recover fully from broken hips.
There are numerous studies concerning the benefits of yoga for women experiencing perimenopause and menopausal symptoms. The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that pranayama helped women decrease the frequency of hot flashes. At the University of California, a study involving thirteen women who practiced restorative yoga poses several times a week. They reported a 31% decrease in hot flashes also. A Harvard Mind/Body Medical Institute study showed that mantra practice helped to reduce symptoms such as hot flashes, irritability, depression and disrupted sleep patterns. Furthermore, some studies are showing that the excess estrogen levels many women face during perimenopause can be regulated with consistent yoga practice.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of yoga for women undergoing this great life transition is that the practice helps to instill peace of mind and equanimity of emotion. Many of the mood swings involved with menopause may simply be a general annoyance with the other symptoms one has to endure. With yoga, a grater sense of peace and acceptance is generated which in turn, reduces the symptoms themselves, but also makes it easier for a woman to deal with the symptoms when they do arise. Also, there are Ayurvedic herbs which also help to eliminate menopausal symptoms. They can be found by visiting an Ayurvedic doctor or simply conducting a search on the internet. The Himalaya Company produces herbs for a number of ailments including menopause. No one likes to be drenched in sweat one moment and feeling weak and tired the next, but yoga practice consisting of meditation, pranayama, asana and chanting can help to restore balance in the body even while it is undergoing this tremendous shift.
About the author:
Christina Sarich runs http://www.yogaforthenewworld.blogspot.com