Building bone density is important for all of us, but it’s a fact four out of five people with osteoporosis are women. Hormone changes we experience as we move through menopause are one reason women are more at risk of developing osteoporosis. Having lighter bones is another.
But for everyone, family history, vitamin D levels and life style choices can contribute.
Doctors used to say our ability to build bone mass more or less stopped when we hit menopause, but that’s found to be incorrect.
The good news is you can build bone density at any age – it’s never too late to create change.
Because it’s weight-bearing, yoga has been identified as a great way to strengthen your bones. But it’s also a powerful way to strengthen muscles and improve balance, all of which will improve your wellbeing at any age.
Research published in 2015, which conducted trials with participants diagnosed with osteoporosis or its precursor osteopenia, discovered marked improvements in bone density in 80 per cent of the group.
The average age of those joining the study was 68. Over two years, the participants practiced 12 yoga postures daily, for just 12 minutes.
The research team included Dr Loren Fishman of Columbia University who specialises in rehabilitative medicine and who studied with BKS Iyengar.
Now researchers are keen to conduct more research, to discover whether osteopenia could be avoided in younger people practicing daily.
The 12 postures selected were specifically chosen to impact the spine, hip and femur bone regions. And they all came with modifications to make them highly accessible to trial participants. They were:
- Tree posture (Vriksasana)
- Triangle (Trikonasana)
- Warrior II (Virabhadrasana)
- Side angle pose (Parsvakonasana)
- Twisted Triangle (Parivritta Trikonasana)
- Locust (Salabhasana)
- Bridge (Setu Bandhasana)
- Supine hand to foot I (Supta Pandangusthasana I)
- Supine hand to foot II (Supta Pandangusthasana II)
- Straight-legged twist (Marichyasana II)
- Bent knee twist (Matsyendrasana)
- Corpse posture (Savasna).
‘The new research shows that yoga can outweigh the hormonal effects of age,’ Fishman told Yoga Journal.
An added yoga bonus is several of these postures also develop balance, giving practitioners better stability, as well as agility, should they slip or trip as they go about their daily lives off the mat.
In my next blogpost we’ll look at life style shifts and nutrition for healthy bones.
How’s your journey through menopause going to go? Have you given it a second thought? Do you know what your choices are?
Or are you now ‘through the other side’ and perhaps missing the woman you thought you knew? Do you assume she’s ‘lost’ now, fading into the past?
All women move through menopause sooner or later and that transforming time varies greatly from woman to woman.
Around 13 million women are going through menopause in the UK today, according to the British Menopause Society, and three out of five women say the symptoms they experience seriously impact on their lives (Newson Clinic).
My journey through menopause was no easy ride. But at the time I would have shrugged and said everything was fine.
I hadn’t considered that the exhaustion and the anxiety were related to menopause and I certainly thought everything I felt was due to my ‘lack’.
Back then I thought menopause was just about hot flushes. Now I know that while they are a symptom, they’re one of many you may experience.
There were no leaflets handed out at my doctor’s surgery and it never came up in conversation. I thought I knew the facts, but I really didn’t.
And that is precisely why I am so passionate about Menopause Yoga which aims to empower women, offering pointers to up-to-date facts and knowledge that offers choices and practices that help us to help ourselves.
Because I didn’t have them. My choices were based on what turned out to be old science and assumptions that if menopause was one way for my mother it would be the same for me.
I’m also aware that the changes we go through during this time aren’t always physical; frequently they are emotional.
My menopause symptoms weren’t physically dramatic, but the changes that went on for me during that time were extraordinary.
Between 49 and 53 my life was tipping about so fast I could have been living in a snow globe.
- I was diagnosed with stage three arthritis in my hip that required an immediate joint replacement
- Overwhelm was a frequent visitor and PMT seemed to have moved into my life for good
- I found it really hard to focus on fiddly tasks I would have found a breeze before.
Looking back, I can see my life would have been so much easier if I’d had more facts at my fingertips. But it doesn’t have to be like that for you.
Here are three things you can do to empower your menopause:
- Attend a MY workshop or retreat where you can explore postures, breath works and meditations that can help you manage menopause symptoms and find out lots more info.
- Learn from experts before you talk to anyone – the UK has excellent resources, many of them free. Dr Louise Newson’s website and podcasts are just two.
- Talk with your friends and share your knowledge and experience; or find an online community where you can meet women facing similar issues who understand.
Whichever route you choose, talk to your health professionals from a place of informed ideas about what you want. Your research will help you get clarity on what’s right for you.
And don’t be afraid to write down bullet points when you have conversations with a doctor or alternative health practitioner.
Brain fog moments love to strike when we need to focus and we’re talking about deeply personal issues.
And if you’d like to join me at a Menopause Yoga workshop my next one is Sunday 18 October 2020 at Yoga Life Studio, The Stables, in Eastbourne on World Menopause Day. There are 10 places available.
There’s a new, first of its kind UK yoga teacher training course specifically designed to support women during peri-menopause, menopause and post menopause times in their lives.
Developed by London-based teacher Petra Coveney, Menopause Yoga is accredited by the British Wheel of Yoga (BWY) and is supported by Dr Louise Newson, a leading UK menopause specialist and campaigner for menopause women’s rights.
I’m thrilled to be able to announce I’ve been accepted onto this course and my training takes place next month, February 2020.
I’ll be delivering group and 1-2-1 classes, workshops and day retreats in the South East of England and beyond, just as soon as I can.
When I heard Petra had developed this programme I immediately applied. This CPD course builds on the rigorous yoga teacher training programme I completed with BWY several years ago.
As many of us are fully aware, menopause is a transformative time in a woman’s life. The loss of the hormone oestrogen can cause physical, emotional and mental symptoms that can destabilise our health, work, relationships and sense of self.
An estimated 13 million women in the UK aged 45-60 are currently going through one of the stages of menopause (peri-menopause to post-menopause), and 1 in 4 are experiencing severe symptoms that negatively impact their lives, work and relationships.
There are more than 20 symptoms which can include: hot flushes, night sweats, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, low mood, irritability, depression, midriff weight gain, headaches. There is a growing demand for yoga teachers to support these women.
Specialising in working with midlife women who want to live their best lives, what better way to add to the ways I serve my clients?
What is Menopause Yoga?
Menopause Yoga (MY) includes both a positive approach to menopause and a toolkit of techniques to support you on your menopause journey.
The MY method educates, by providing a trusted information in a supportive and confidential space, plus a tool kit of techniques to take home and use, according to individual needs.
The toolkit includes specially adapted yoga, breathing, CBT and meditation techniques. MY women are also given information about nutrition, natural remedies, supplements and other lifestyle changes you can make to ‘nurture and nourish’ your way through menopause.
While some of the yoga sequences are restorative, others are energy boosting or focus specifically on symptoms such as hot flushes and anxiety.
What is Menopause?
Menopause is a transformative time in a woman’s life. The loss of the hormone oestrogen can cause physical, emotional and mental symptoms that destabilise her health, work, relationships and sense of self.
An estimated 13 million women in the UK aged 45-60 are currently going through one of the stages of menopause (perimenopause to post menopause), and 1 in 4 experiencing severe symptoms that negatively impact their lives, work and relationships. There are more than 20 symptoms which can include: hot flushes, night sweats, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, low mood, irritability, depression, midriff weight gain, headaches. There is a growing demand for yoga teachers to support these women.
While HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) is now prescribed by doctors in the UK and can help with many of the symptoms, this is contra-indicated for many women who have a history of breast cancer or coronary heart disease in their families. Many women prefer to use alternative therapies, and even those taking HRT say they still experience symptoms. Studies undertaken by the British Menopause Society have shown that yoga, breathing techniques, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Meditation are helpful for women in menopause, but until now they have not been drawn together in an easily accessible teacher training.
I’ll tell you much more about what I learn in coming weeks – stand by!
You go into the book store, there’s the cut-out of Dr. Phil, and then the dreaded women’s health section where every book, instead of the menopause book with the fanged Medusa head on the cover that might be more pertinent, you always see a flower and a poppy and a daisy and a stethoscope.
Sandra Tsing Loh, writer and actor
They say women don’t talk about menopause.
I think that is changing. And thank f*%k, I say.
On Saturday, while shopping in the lovely East Sussex town of Lewes, I ended up in a conversation with the shop owner and her friend about menopause and some of the symptoms. Yes, I know, just like that. It all began with a ‘do you think this shirt is pulling?’ comment from Friend, who had tried on a very lovely silk blouse and was pointing at her cleavage.
Bigger boobs were discussed as a midlife body change, and not necessarily an unwelcome one either.
But the lethargy, and what was described as ‘bleughness’, were a definite ‘OMG so true’. ‘Where’s my energy gone?’ asked Shop Owner Woman, ‘I’m just so tired all the time’.
In menopause and peri-menopause (the time before menopause) plummeting oestrogen can be one reason. This hormone is woven into the fabric of our mind and bodies, as we well know from the mensuration cycle. It impacts on our moods, how our body ‘feels’ how our skin behaves… I could go on.
Along with tiredness, there’s also an anxiety that can set in around menopause and there’s plenty of other symptoms, including the ‘Am I hot? Am I cold?’ dance at night. Duvet on, duvet off. Leg in, leg out.
Yes, I remember the way I could pull off all-nighters in my Twenties; whether at work or play, and still bounce through a full day on just a couple of hours sleep. But now I’m in my mid-Fifties; not so much. Not at all, frankly. If I don’t get my eight hours I know it, the next day. Don’t you?
And given I’ve not seen a period for two years, I think we can safely say I’m on the other side. In that strange hinterland, where tumbleweed blows and men stop calling you ‘miss’ and start calling you ‘madam’, I find ‘the other side’ is a very interesting place.
But if you think the menopause song and dance symptoms suddenly shuffle off into the midnight, leaving you in a state of blissful serene calm…. Well, it’s not been like that for me.
Everyone’s menopause is different. Mine well remembers night sweats, I can tell you. Because they still periodically mess with my love of good sleep.
But one of my advantages as a hypnotherapist and yoga teacher is I can take control of my own menopause symptoms when they ripple back.
HRT is a powerful choice for women, but it’s not for everyone.
Learning self-hypnosis techniques and then practicing daily has been, for me, the way to ease symptoms. With practice, the technique becomes as automatic as tying a shoelace and it’s as relaxing as meditation; very similar if you ask me, so why wouldn’t you want to practice?
You can learn self hypnosis from a book, or book a session, either face to face or online, with a professional like me.
We can show you how to use hypnosis to calm your mind and body and take in positive messages about change, using the power of your imagination to impact on how your body feels and responds to symptoms.
There’s research to show that hypnosis works in alleviating symptoms of menopause, such as hot flushes. The British Medical Journal published a review of various alternative practices last year and recommended hypnosis and CBT as the only two practices it could recommend as reducing vasomotor symptoms – medical speak for hot flushes.
But whether you decide to do that or not, here’s one great way to quickly ease anxiety. You can practice anytime. No one will notice! It’s a basic breathing technique I teach my yoga students and hypnotherapy clients alike, because it’s so effective.
We think if breathing as linear… breath in, breath out. But it actually has four sides:
Breath in – pause – breath out – pause.
You might not notice the pause until you look for it, but it’s there. See?
Focus your mid on making your breath cycle into a square.
Breathe in for the count of 4
Pause for the count of 4
Breathe out for the count of 4
Pause for the count of 4.
Make your square a little bigger. Expand your square until you’re taking a nice deep breath in and out and everything in the square feels comfortable.
E.g. Breathe in for 4. Hold for 4. Breathe out for 8. Pause for 8.
Be mindful not to stress your breath. This isn’t a competition. Lungs are delicate organs. Treat them kindly.
Slowing down the out-breath is a key to shutting off the stress response. That can stop a hot flush episode before it’s got underway.
If you’d like to know more about hypnosis for menopause, get in touch. And if you try the square breathing technique, do let me know how you get on with it. I find it useful at night, and pretty relaxing in supermarket queue too!
Yoga is good for our health and in multiple ways, with age being no barrier to seeing wellbeing results on multiple fronts, according to multiple science research projects.
If you’re approaching midlife, or you’re right in the thick of it, you may well be aware there’s a whole host of physical, emotional and mental health issues that can accompany life now.
Not only is menopause taking us women through a physical, mental and emotional change process but our bodies can be showing a few wear and tear issues.
I had a hip replacement a few months before my 50th birthday. Now in hindsight maybe that kickboxing obsession in my early Thirties wasn’t my brightest idea, but I know yoga helped me in a huge way as I dealt with the 24-7 pain of the arthritis and a joint that needed constant mobilisation attention in the run up to surgery.
Yoga works for you on multiple levels, it’s not just about flexibility and strength. Yoga can help you breathe more effectively, better nourishing your body with the oxygen it needs. It can also support mindset, mental health – the original wellbeing hack!
My advice; I highly recommend going to a yoga class. Although the research projects mentioned here don’t refer to it, as a long-time practitioner (I went to my first class at 14) and now a yoga teacher, I can tell you that from both ends of the room, the class experience is special.
As a student, not only will you enjoy tuition and help in getting the most out of your time, but you’ll be surrounded by people doing the same thing. That collective experience is quite different from solo practice. Yoga friends are very special.
What do you think about the power of community in yoga? I’d love to know if your experience of class v personal practice. Do drop your thoughts in the comments below before you tuck into these science research findings.
Yogic breathing, pranayama, is a whole arm of yoga on its own. Yogic breathing seeks to improve lung function, improving oxygen intake and so better feeding the body’s cells. A 2009 study showed yoga improved the lung capacity of mild to moderate asthma.
Yoga can help reduce pain and improve mobility of joints affected by osteoarthritis and has been linked to improved strength and pain reduction for people with carpal tunnel.
Can cut your health bills
Yoga does so much for your health it cuts medical bills. In the United States, studies show people who do yoga use 43 per cent fewer medical services, and they save anywhere from $640 to more than $25,000, according to Harvard Medical School.
Improved flexibility and balance
Both these body assets are useful at any time of life, but especially as we age. A 2013 study found yoga helped improve the balance and mobility of older adults and another found yoga had lasting results for elderly people, four times more than calisthenics. And 15 to 30 minutes is enough, apparently.
Yoga may reduce inflammation.Researchers have looked at groups of yogis v non-yoga regulars and discovered that after strenuous exercise, the yogis had lower levels of inflammation markers. Inflammation is a normal immune response, but chronic inflammation is linked to diseases like diabetes and cancer.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
A 10-week long study of a 64 women with PTSD, who took part in one yoga session a week, discovered the group reported a drop in symptoms. More than 50 per cent no longer met the criteria for PTSD, their symptoms had so significantly reduced.
Stress, anxiety and depression
Several research studies have monitored groups undergoing 10-12 week yoga programmes and have seen significant reductions in the stress hormone cortisol for those test subjects. We all need cortisol in our lives, it’s an essential hormone, but when it’s too high it’s a health issue, impacting not only your mental state, but potentially your physical too. High cortisol is linked to low levels of serotonin, often linked to depression, but also osteoporosis and weight gain.
In one study, 79 people did 24 rounds of sun salutations six days a week for 24 weeks. Both men and women lost body fat and gained strength, endurance and weight loss. (FYI – 24 sun salutations is a lot! Yoga is impressive, but it’s not literally magic!!)
‘What are the most challenging experiences for midlife women?’ they asked.
‘Balance,’ came back the chorus.
If you’re a midlife woman who feels she’s wading through the seven circles of hell – with the thermostat turned up to 1,000 degrees – you are not alone.
Maybe you weren’t aware of that. Here’s why…
Women are highly trained to perform to the ‘everything is all right’ school of public persona. My mother was. I expect her mother was. I know I was and frequently slip into that, ‘everything’s great’ performance when people ask me how I am.
For many of us, our time in our social circles – when we can find the time to escape – are largely spent perpetuating the ‘everything is all right’ myth. Work is great. The family are great. The house is great… It becomes a mantra.
A mantra that’s a lie.
Because here’s a truth, according to research recently published in the United States. Women in their midlife are the most over-stressed, over-stretched, over-relied-upon adult female demographic.
Younger women have no idea what’s coming (and why would they, because we’re running around doing jazz-hands) and older women have us to rely on (more jazz hands – yay).
Midlife women are so overwhelmed the word ‘menopause’ rarely gets mentioned as a major stress factor. Strange, you might think, considering the 40-65 age group are experiencing major physical change, peri-menopause, menopause or trying to adjust to post-menopause life and all that brings physically, psychologically and socially.
But no. Menopause and her two sisters Peri and Post, were not cited as major factors by the group. So either these Midlifers have become so disconnected from their bodies that what’s going on with it doesn’t register or they are battling with much greater external stress factors. Night sweats and brain fog hardly register on the ‘what fresh hell is this?’ scale. Maybe a blend of the two?
Researchers in Seattle have been watching the world of midlife women for years, focusing on women age 40 to 65 and the challenges that present during the menopause years, whether they be biological, psychological or social.
‘What are the most challenging experiences for midlife women?’ they asked.
‘Balance.’ Came back the chorus.
Midlife women wear multiple hats: wife/lover, mother, worker, home manager, carer to aging parent and sometimes grandkids too.
And then we sit at the perfect point where unravelling begins to unfurl – health issues, failing relationships, death, children leaving home.
Dealing with any of those events, or frequently multiples of them, would be bad enough, but there’s the time-sucking, energy-leaching cabaret going on as the stage set for the dramas that unfurl.
So what can you do to get more balance?
Be ok with being vulnerable
Stop pretending everything is all right. Put down the jazz hands and talk to someone. A therapist. A friend. A neighbour you see facing the same or similar issues. As a culture we’re becoming increasingly isolated. Our work is less social and we talk less, looking at something ironically called ‘social media’ more. Loneliness is endemic. Reach out and keep reaching out.
The solution to your problems is not doing more
It’s easy to do more of the same, I get it. It’s familiar. But it is not solving your problems. It’s stoking the fire. Your body needs rest. Rest. REST. Rest can be a yoga class. Pick one that’s restorative and supportive, check it out before you go. Remember; balance is key.
Understand your mental health is a priority
You are no use to anyone if you run yourself into the ground and wind up sobbing in bed. You have to take action and that action is going to get uncomfortable because you need to take care of you first. Not someone else’s crisis. Yours. Because here’s a shocker, no one else will.
Eating and drinking junk will not help you in the long term. Eating real food (the stuff that grows) will. Food that’s got vitamins and minerals in it, the protein that your body needs to help build healthy cells, create energy, balance your brain’s chemistry. More real stuff, less processed stuff.
Look at who you spend your time with
There’s a saying, that you are the average of the five people you spend most time with. If the people you’re constantly with aren’t adding to your life, change that circle to include people who lift you up.
Feed your mind
Read what inspires you, not what depresses you. Look for books by women you admire, or fiction with strong female characters who make you smile. Who you can relate to. Here’s three I love just now, featuringwomen who hold strong and are not ‘pleasers’:
Jayne Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gayle Honeyman
Dare to dream
This is the planning time; according to other cultures this midlife time is where we consider what ‘the big work’ is going to be. It can be. If you carve out the time for it. You have the wisdom now. You’ve seen enough as an adult to know what’s right. In your heart and mind. When you’re walking, lying in bed at night not sleeping, think about your big dreams. Where would you like to be in five years time? Let your imagination run riot. No problems from today’s stress maelstrom. What could that look like? Daydream like you did as a kid. Where would you be? Who would you be with? What would you feel? Put some flesh on the bones of your ideas.
If you’ve got questions about any of the above, fire them into the questions below. Or message me. I’ll help where I can.
And if you’ve got great ideas for inspirational books, do share those. Books are inspiration magic we can all enjoy.
Image by: Victor Rodvang at Unsplash
‘I realised that I and others in our culture were being methodically starved of substance, that something was awry in some of the “wisdom” of our culture, that it did not have our best interests at heart, that it saw those who are “menopausal” as somehow less. It is not so, we are instead more. Much, much more.’
Clarissa Pinkola Estes, psychoanalyst and author.
‘Oh she’s menopaual.’ Read those words and consider their emotional undercurrent. Positive? Negative? Does the voice sound excited? Does the voice sound amazed or say these words with deep reverence?
Or do these words come delivered in a tone that suggests ‘she’ is a bit batty’ or ‘lost her marbles’. Should be excused and ignored.
In our culture we’ve a long way to go in our attitudes to women’s transition from her childbearing years. What lies beyond them? A barren wasteland? Decay and decline? Regret?
You may think I’m dramatising and, yes, we see progress. Older women (albeit famous, physically attractive personalities) are now seen on magazine covers and reclaiming their place in make up advertisements. If I were cynical I would suppose that’s because marketers have woken up to how much spending power our generation have, but we are more visible, certainly, as consumers.
Midlife women make themselves heard on social media as a vibrant, intelligent, vital energy (at least the ones I’ve found do) and long may that flourish. But there is a long road to travel before we are celebrated in these years and for women as a whole to anticipate a joyful connection with this time.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes advocates we reverse cultural diminishing and see ourselves in a ‘more than’ moment. She takes the years between 49 and 56 as a time for choosing. A time to go deep inside our selves and consider what the great work to come might be.
Easier said than done within the symptoms of menopause, I know. But they are not forever. Like puberty, they pass and we emerge.
Yes our ability to physically give birth and child rear may be past, but with that comes freedom and that energy can be redirected into a broader connection with our world’s need for our vision. It’s no coincidence that environmental activists include women like the designer Vivienne Westwood, pouring their creativity into their cause.
So where’s yoga’s place here?
As Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, author of Yoga Shakti, so succinctly expresses this: ‘Part of the freedom that the practice of yoga brings to us as women is the capacity to accept ourselves.’
If life were a play, this is your third act. Time to review and consolidate where you’ve been, what you’ve seen, what you’ve learned, sort yourself out (or find someone to help you do that) and decide what comes next – because everything is coming.
The yoga practice that may suit you now is not rigid. There is no specific ‘yoga for menopause asana sequence’. You choose the practice you need.
You may consider that you need a stronger practice. I do although my students may be grateful I don’t inflict mine on them. I’m mindful of their needs, and my needs are not theirs. You may decide you need a more restorative experience.
Certainly there are sequences that serve. Warrior sequences are a fine expression of our feminine strength and power at this time and are very popular with my class.
But this is your time to explore. May your travels be happy and enlightening.
References and further reading
The Joyous Body: Myths and Stories of the Wise Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Yoni Shakti: A woman’s guide to power and freedom through yoga and tantra by Uma Dinsmore-Tuli PhD