I became a yoga teacher to refine and deepen my practice and then to share this knowledge with others. As I became immersed in yoga’s history and philosophy, asanas ( postures), pranayama (breath work) and meditation, I felt my body and breath strengthening and my mind calming. Fortunately, this training coincided with a time of hormonal upheaval and I remain grateful for yoga’s practical wisdom in helping me deal with this event.
It’s true that some women exit midlife unscathed. It’s rare, though, for most of us to traverse menopause without encountering at least one of the usual suspects: hot flushes, night sweats, heavy bleeding, mood swings and insomnia. Indeed, midlife for many women is like puberty in reverse.
So, how can yoga, a self-development practice over 4000 years old, help women navigate this hormonal minefield?
Yoga’s been called “menopausal medicine” by yoga teacher Suza Francina and it’s an accurate description. Yoga is a big reason I’ve adjusted to the changes of midlife and, if it’s worked for me, maybe it can for you, too. I maintain that our bodies are able to flow with midlife’s upheaval as long as they’re actively supported by adequate stretching, efficient breathing and regular time-out to calm the mind and rest the body. If we work diligently in these ways, we invoke our own inner resources to smooth the transition to the next life stage.
Just as menopause can be overwhelming, so can finding time to begin a regular yoga practice. My advice is to start small before attempting a more involved yoga routine. To get you going, here is the simplest and safest yoga breathing exercise I know. It’s called, Following Your Inhalation and Exhalation. I found this technique in Dennis Lewis’ excellent book Breathe into Being and it’s been a regular part of my odyssey ever since.
Simply become aware of inhaling through your nose — just noticing and making no judgment or trying to change your breath in any way.
Then, simply become aware of exhaling through your nose. Once again, there’s no need to change the rhythm, speed or depth of your breath. All you need to do is watch: Watch your breath as you inhale and watch your breath as you exhale. Perhaps you also notice your chest or ribs moving with the breath. Perhaps you feel the air as it enters your nostrils. Whatever you observe, don’t think about it, just notice. If your mind wanders, gently return to the breath.
Do this for a few breaths anytime throughout your day, whenever you remember. It will help calm your mind and keep your body grounded.
It will anchor you in the present moment.
Lewis, D. (2009) Breathe into Being, Quest Books, Wheaton, Illinois.