Sunday, April 29, 2012

emotional meltdowns in the yoga studio

A few months ago i attended a 3-day intensive Yoga Therapy workshop with Judy Krupp. A great learning opportunity for yoga teachers who are interested in the therapeutic potential of yoga.

During a lunch break we got a chance to share our experience of treating a wide range of physical and psychological conditions with yoga. One young woman told us of her difficulty at dealing with a middle-age student who invariably broke down in tears during her practice.
Having no idea of the emotional challenges faced by this particular student, she wasn't well equipped to deal with her meltdown.

Besides Judy Krupp, i was the only woman there who had some idea of what the menopause (or perimenoapuse in my case) does to our minds, let alone our bodies. I suggested that maybe this woman had turned to yoga at the suggestion of her doctor who was probably just as clueless about her emotional needs.

I stopped counting the number of newspaper articles recommending yoga to menopausal women as if it was a panacea for all our issues, from hot flashes to osteoporosis.
Well, they are doing a great disservice to both yoga and women because there are very few classes that cater specifically for menopausal women.
Unless our menopausal woman is lucky enough to find one of them, or to be able to afford a private teacher, she would be shortchanged by your typical, multi-level yoga class.
Bursting in tears when faced with a challenging yoga pose, hurting herself by trying to emulate a 25 y/o teacher, fainting in a Bikram yoga class, or running a mile at the sight of pretty young things bending like a pretzel are some of the experiences menopausal women share only in the safe anonimity of internet forums.

I don't want to rubbish the "try yoga, it may help" advice, because yoga DOES help, but my advice would be a lot more specific: try Viniyoga with an experienced teacher who has gone through the menopause herself and benefited from yoga.

Join a "Yoga for Menopause" class if one is offered near where you live, otherwise get a group of menopausal women together and hire a private teacher who is qualified to cater for your physical and emotional needs.

A general yoga class is not the solution. Actually, it can become yet another problem if it dents your confidence and you stop in the nearest bar to order a double Scotch after holding back your tears in class.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A great pose to beat stress

Stress is experienced by many women during perimenopause and menopause.
Ongoing stress is particularly dangerous because it can interfere with the proper function of the adrenal gland. This gland assists in the production of estrogen after menopause, when other estrogen sources are no longer available. Women need this estrogen.
If the adrenal gland becomes exhausted, this source of estrogen is going to disappear.
When the estrogen level is too low, our bone density becomes dangerously low too, making you prone to fractures.
Very low estrogen levels cause our body to respond with ailments like acid reflux, migraine headaches, and irritable bowel, among others, increase back and joint pain, damage our immune function so that we are more susceptible to viruses and infections.
That's why learning to reduce stress is so important at this time of our lives.
Wherever possible try to eliminate stressors altogether. And where you can’t eliminate them, learn how to manage your response to stressful events and keep them in perspective.
Learning stress management will safeguard your health, your sanity and your ability to cope.

A great pose for stress relief is VIPARITA KARANI (Legs up the wall)
It is great for varicose veins, digestive disorders, improves circulation, relieves fatigue in the legs, relaxes tension in the lower back and relaxes the entire body.
It is good for high and low blood pressure, headaches, migraines and insomnia.
Viparita Karani is excellent for reducing tension both in the body and the mind. As it is a mild inversion, it has an overall calming effect. When the energies of the body are balanced so is the nervous system.

Contraindications: Do not hold it for more than 30 seconds if you suffered a stroke and have a heart condition or glaucoma.

INSTRUCTIONS;  Sit on a mat on the floor, facing a wall.
Start sitting sideways and slowly bring the legs up the wall in a vertical position, while lying on your back. Keep the buttocks against the wall.
Torso should be in line with the legs, arms can be resting alongside the body.
For maximum comfort, you can support your lower back using a bolster or a rolled blanket.
Close your eyes. You may want to place a warm rolled up face towel on your eyes (you can steam it to make it warm) to relieve tension in your eyes.
INHALE and EXHALE slowly and deeply in the posture. You may stay in the posture for several minutes.

Yoga Poses for Insomnia

Rebecca sent me a message asking what Asanas (yoga poses) i would recommend to treat insomnia, a common complaint during the menopause.
I wish i could help, but without knowing Rebecca's general level of fitness, strength, flexibility and the structural qualities of her body, i think it would be far too risky to recommend poses that often require a teacher's guidance and adequate preparation.

There are four types of asanas: Standing, Seated, Lying and Inverted. Some are common body positions that we are used to in our daily activities, some are unfamiliar to those who have never practiced yoga, and should be performed only with the guidance of an expert teacher.

Health and well-being cannot be enhanced by practicing only one or two asanas. We need to practice a variety of asanas. Before designing a sequence of asanas you need to know where you are starting from and where you are going. Progress is defined by your needs.
Building the attributes of health that we lack - structural, functional or psychological - should be the goal of a sequence of asanas.
Building strength could be the goal for one person. Increasing flexibility could be the goal for someone else. For another person, the goal might be to resolve a structural disorder.
Furthermore, different breathing techniques can facilitate progress, and enhance the effectiveness of various asanas.
I am a firm believer in the benefit of Viniyoga, an individualized approach to yoga, where the methods we use are modified and the very purpose of our practice changed to suit individual needs.

Without knowing whether Rebecca's insomnia is caused by stress, depression, an over-active thyroid, medications, a change in her work routine or diet, hot flashes, or the use of stimulants such as caffeine, it's impossible to address insomnia, which is a symptom.

What i found to be the most effective poses for my occasional insomnia, are inversions such as Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand) Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand) and Halasana (Plow Pose) that require a regular yoga practice, a strong body and should be taught by a qualified teacher.

If you suffer from structural imbalances in your body, such as scoliosis, even a mild form of scoliosis, neck problems, retinal problems, high blood pressure, these poses are not safe for you.

There is a pose that is very beneficial and quite safe to perform: UTTANASANA (Standing Forward Bend) It calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression, reduce fatigue and anxiety. It helps women to relieve the symptoms of menopause.
If you suffer from high blood pressure or low blood pressure, do not hold for more than a breath and come out of the pose very slowly to avoid dizziness. Otherwise just hold it for as long as comfortable, breathing slowly through your nose.

Instructions:
Start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) on an inhalation raise the arms above the head, shoulder distance apart, palms facing toward each other. On an exhalation, fold forward from the hip joints (keeping the knees bent to help protect the lower back).
As you descend, lengthen and open the space between the pubis and the top sternum.
Keep the knees bent as much as necessary to allow the back to hang without tension.
Place the hands beside the feet, fingertips in line with the toes.

Variation: A more gentle version of the classical pose is to take the feet hip width apart and cross the forearms, grasping the elbows and allowing the torso to hang passively.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fragility

During this time of renewal and regeneration, we become acutely aware of our fragility.

Not only our bones lose density and become lighter and more prone to fracture, our ego becomes brittle too.
We feel very emotional, exposed, often fight back tears, insensitive remarks hurt us more than before.

Perhaps it is this awareness of our fragility that prompts some of us to seek a safe place, a comforting place with no surprises. We may withdraw into it and lose our curiosity, become too scared of challenges and just accept the status quo.
And yet this awareness of our fragility is one of the most authentic discoveries human beings make about their lives.
Our fragility is a fact, perhaps the first fact about ourselves that we discover if we look at ourselves naked, without the props of status, money, borrowed or purchased identities.

 How are we to deal with this sobering fact? Yoga shows us the way. Yoga philosophy, like Buddhism, stresses impermanence, interconnectedness, and non-self.

Albert Einstein, not a Yogi and yet perfectly in tune with yogic beliefs, once wrote:
"A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole (of) nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security."

 The “inner security” Einstein talks about comes from seeing things as they really are, and from stripping away the “optical delusion of consciousness.”

Yoga helps us, through a process of reflection, to transcend and liberate ourselves from delusion so that we can see ourselves more clearly as we really are, and to find a surer footing for our security than the shifting sands of misperception.

 CHILD POSE - Balasana

The physical and emotional discomfort many of us experience at perimenopause is in effect the labor pains of giving birth to our new, best selves. GODDESS POSE - Supta Baddha Konasana

my first "power surge"

The other day i had my first "power surge" as i was sitting at my desk.
It's hard to describe the feeling. I was overcome by a warm wave, my whole body became soft, as if about to melt, my mind underwent the same transformation from hard to soft.

I had no choice but give up what i was doing, staying focused on my task wasn't an option.

I just wanted to lie down and let my body be gently rocked by this wave.
My brain was completely foggy, but i felt perfectly calm because i could afford to feel like that, let myself go completely, and be transported by this mysterious wave to the deepest recesses of my non-rational being.

I could just be (as opposed to think/do), and i embraced this opportunity, didn't fight back, didn't try to "pull myself together".

When the wave subsided, it deposited me in what felt like a cozy cocoon.

I was so excited that i phoned a friend to share this amazing experience, and told her that if this is what the menopause feels like, than i am up for it. She should get used to the new, occasionally out-of-her-mind Laura!
I don't know if i will ever gain any healing powers, but i am certainly more in touch with the non-rational part of my being and happy to ride that wave. Bring it on.

the menopause across cultures

Looking at the menopause across cultures is very enlightening.

The Japanese call it "konenki", literally translated, ko means “renewal and regeneration,” nen means “year” or “years,” and ki means “season” or “energy.”

While translated into English as “menopause,” konenki connotes a much lengthier, gradual transition where the end of periods is just one contributing feature.

If we compare the Japanese term with our own, the cultural differences are obvious.

Menopause comes from Greek roots: men meaning “month” and pausis meaning to “stop” or “cease,” which gives no greater meaning to this life stage than the fact that our monthly bleeding stops.

This word reflects the Western idea of the menopause as something abrupt that’s eventually going to happen to us. It's a descriptive, clinical word that doesn't do any justice to the complexity of the changes that occur in our lives, and fails to point out that with change come opportunities.

Because using a Japanese word sounds a bit preposterous in an English language blog, i will still refer to this time of renewal and regeneration of our feminine energy as "menopause", but my idea of it owes a lot more to the Japanese term :-)

At the onset of the perimenopause (when periods become different and less predictable, and our FSH levels shoot up) our bodies and minds are already preparing for a new, more introspective phase of our lives.

At this stage we should start to shed superficial layers of our identity and look out for those deeper layers of our being, as raw and as sensitive as they may still be when they come to the surface.

Our new identity needs to be cultivated with patience and acceptance. Trying to deny change, patching up the old layers in the vain attempt to hold on to a worn out identity is a very common and understandable behaviour in the face of the unknown, albeit one that creates more problems than solves them.

Some women may be tempted to hold on to their fertility by having a child through egg donation, a few may try plastic surgery, others become addicted to exercise, many more just succumb to depression.

Most of us feel confused, out of balance, no longer "ourselves". We scan the Internet looking for an explanation to our puzzling symptoms. We still get our periods, we can't be menopausal, can we?

Technically not, but the Time of Change and Renewal has already started.

A common belief among traditional shamanic cultures is that women must enter menopause to access their shamanic and healing powers. Since menstrual blood is viewed as evidence of the power to create life in the womb, when women no longer bleed, they cross the threshold into “wise womanhood”: their creative power needs a different outlet. Only at this point they become priestesses and healers — the spiritual leaders of their communities.

If only menopausal women were as revered in our modern society! We worship youth and beauty but don't even know how to recognize and tap wisdom.

Welcome to Yoga for Menopause

Whether you are perimenopausal, menopausal or post menopausal, yoga can make a huge difference to your health and well-being. As a long time yoga practitioner, i have spent several years studying Yoga and Ayurveda. My yoga journey started as a search for a natural and holistic approach to restore balance to my body and treat health conditions that Western medicine offered little relief for. As i entered the perimenopause, i again turned to yoga for solutions and deepened my study of therapeutic applications of yoga with a special focus on the menopause and the natural hormonal changes that occur in a woman's life.