Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana for balancing the endocrine system

Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana with a chair is a great pose to balance your endocrine system. But its benefits don't end there. This pose is classified as a chest opener. In yoga, chest openers are poses that create space for optimal lung expansion and target the heart centre, Anahata in Sanskrit.
Anahata, also knows as the fourth chakra, is a vortex of energy situated at the center of the chest. Anahata is the balancing point of the lower three and the upper three chakras. It is where our higher spiritual selves mix and mingle with our lower animal selves in order to produce a harmony between the two poles. This chakra represents love and self love and, when balanced, we experience unconditional love for others and for ourselves

As always, you should practice yoga poses with an empty stomach!
Begin by placing a blanket or a folded mat on the seat of the chair and a block near the wall. Then sit through the chair while facing the wall. You may want to use a belt or a strap to keep your legs together. Draw the sacrum toward the back edge of the chair and gently recline back while holding the sides of the chair. Your spine will curve over the seat of the chair,  your shoulder blades should slide off from the seat as you extend the legs and press the feet against the wall. Draw the sacrum toward the heels to create space in your spine and avoid jamming the vertebrae of your lower back. Grasp the back legs of the chair and focus your breath on the upper spine. If this pose is too intense, you may place a bolster under your head to support it.
To come out of the pose, place feet on the floor, and slide your body toward the wall  by holding on to the back of the chair. Keep your spine long and lead with the chest.

This pose is a great chest opener, and therefore recommended to all those who suffer from depression and fatigue. It stimulates your heart, increases lung capacity and balances your endocrine system (pituitary, pineal, thyroid and adrenal glands). It's very useful to relieve menopause symptoms.

Avoid this pose if you suffer from migraines, eye strain, retinal problems, herniated disk. Don't practice at night as it may aggravate insomnia.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What are your menopause symptoms?

A quick Internet search for peri and menopause symptoms returned hundreds of results.
Though i believe i am experiencing the whole gamut of them, not all these symptoms are unpleasant and unwelcome.

Which symptoms bother you the most? And which ones don't? I would like to know.

As far as i am concerned, joint stiffness, mood swings, irregular periods, fatigue and a sense of doom and gloom are the most troublesome.
What i don't mind is a slight weight gain (i have always been very thin), a yoyo sex drive (i like the ups!), insomnia (i get things done at night when my flat is quiet and then sleep in until i am sufficiently rested)  hot flashes - i usually feel cold when the thermometer falls below 25 C so i  welcome any opportunity to break a sweat and get rid of some toxins through my skin.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The roller-coaster of perimenopause

Never a dull moment.with perimenopause. Perimenopause makes PMS look like a half-hearted rehearsal for the big show: your ovary's grand finale.

Every month your symptoms month your breasts hurt (you can't be pregnant, can you?) the next you have nausea, a metallic taste in your mouth, a few pimples, your belly looks bigger, cannot zip up your jeans. Why is your body playing cruel tricks on you?
One month you have to endure insomnia, feel restless all day, the next you can barely drag yourself out of bed at 10 am. Then you feel horny (or act rebellious) like a teenager, but just before your period is due you become withdrawn, emotional and cry for no reason.
One month your joints are stiff like those of an 80 y/o, your lower back hurts, the next you are doing handstands, bend into a nice wheel and bow pose, feel incredibly blessed at having your old suppleness back.
Your periods become unpredictable like your mood. Your brain is foggy, you forget people's names, doctor's appointments, food on the cooker. For a few hours you are as sharp as you have ever been, then a big cloud envelops you.

You go through all listed PMS symptoms...and back.

If  the perimenopause is a roller-coaster, then yoga is the seat belt that enables me to keep riding.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Breathe to beat the blues

One of the most common and unsettling symptoms experienced by peri-menopausal and menopausal women is anxiety.

You may feel apprehensive and powerless, or may have a sense of impending danger, panic or doom, your heart rate increases, you start breathing rapidly, you may sweat even when the temperature outside hasn't increased, you may experience some trembling. You often feel weak or tired for no apparent reason.

Though yoga is a great cure for anxiety, some people cannot even contemplate attending a yoga class when they suffer from a paralyzing anxiety attack.

Pranayama (Yogic breathing techniques) can help you dispel anxiety and regain balance in your life.
If you can, try and go for a walk in the park or in the forest, avoid busy and crowded places, and when you find a nice spot, sit and practice this very simple and effective breathing exercise.
You can also practice Pranayama at home, but its effect will be stronger if you tap into the primal source of energy, nature. 

Spending 20 minutes a day in the sunlight and fresh air provides your body with vitamin D, a nutrient that affects depression and anxiety disorders, while correct breathing techniques relax the mind and body.

Nadi shodhana, or the sweet breath, is a simple form of alternate nostril breathing suitable for everyone. Nadi means channel and refers to the energy pathways through which prana flows. Shodhana means cleansing.
Nadi Shodhana calms the mind, soothes anxiety and stress, balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain, promotes clear thinking

Sit in a comfortable position. Close the right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through the left nostril. Do this to the count of four seconds.
Immediately close the left nostril with your right ring finger and little finger, and at the same time remove your thumb from the right nostril, and exhale through this nostril. Do this to the count of eight seconds. This completes a half round.
Inhale through the right nostril to the count of four seconds. Close the right nostril with your right thumb and exhale through the left nostril to the count of eight seconds. This completes one full round.

Start by doing three rounds, adding one per week..

Alternate nostril breathing should not be practiced if you have a cold or if your nasal passages are blocked in any way.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Matsyasana (Fish Pose) stimulates your heart, throat and crown chakras

Matsyasana (Fish Pose) is described in classical yoga texts as the 'destroyer of all diseases' and is truly one of the most beneficial among restorative poses as it rejuvenates the thyroid and parathyroids.
Some texts also claim that it can reverse the aging process.
For this and other benefits listed below, i believe that it is an excellent pose to practice during the menopause, unless you suffer from insomnia and migraine.

In this pose you get extra blood flow in, and around the brain, helping with memory and clearer thinking.
Because it stimulates endocrine glands, it can help those whose weight gain and fatigue is caused by endocrine disorders.

If emotional blocks are hindering your path to freedom and self-knowledge, or have an adverse impact on your relation with others, Matsyasana targets three important chakras, the Heart, Throat and Crown chakras. A blockage in these chakras can lead to self-hate, lack of empathy and compassion, inability to communicate effectively and express your emotions.

Practice with caution if you suffer from:

High or low blood pressure
Serious lower-back or neck injury.

Beginners should perform this pose with their knees bent, back supported on a thickly rolled blanket or a block between their shoulder blades and head resting on a folded blanket or block. Be sure your head rests comfortably and your throat is soft.

Lie on your back with your legs together.
Bring your arms underneath your body with the elbows as close together as possible. The palms should be facing down and as far underneath the thighs as possible.
Inhale and push with your arms lifting your head, neck, chest and back off the floor. The hips should remain on the floor.
Arch your back and try to bring the crown of your head as close to the floor as possible by curving the spine.
In the ideal position, the head should be lightly resting on the floor. The weight of the body should be on the hips and elbows. The legs should be as relaxed as possible, but kept together. The neck and face should be relaxed, shoulders pulled away from the ears.
Once in the proper position, take deep abdominal breaths to help expand the lung capacity.
Hold the asana for 30 seconds at first and work up to 3-5 minutes.

To come out of Fish Pose, inhale deeply and lift your head a little, straightening it out behind you. Lie down and bring your arms out from underneath your back. Relax in Savasana (Corpse pose).

• Opens the chest, heart and lungs and front of the body
• Increases flexibility in the spine (in this case cervical spine in particular)
• Strengthens the arms and shoulders
• Gives energy and is rejuvenating
• Makes the mind alert and active
• Increases circulation
• Combats depression
• Slows down degeneration of the spine
• Stimulates digestion (especially pancreas)
• Stimulates endocrine glands – thyroid, thymus, and adrenals as well as pancreas.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Yoga wisdom for menopause

My article in Asana Journal (July 2012)

Whether you are perimenopausal, menopausal or post-menopausal, YOGA can make a huge difference to your health and well-being. It offers a natural and holistic approach to restore balance to both body and mind at a time when natural hormonal changes occur in a woman's life.

Menopause is not something abrupt as the etymology of the clinical term suggests (cessation of the menses). In fact, many cultures refer to it as a gradual transition where the end of menstruation is just one contributing feature.

For instance, the Japanese call it konenki, literally translated, ko means “renewal and regeneration,” nen means “year” or “years,” and ki means “season” or “energy.” The positive connotation (A time of Renewal and Regeneration) is missing from the purely descriptive term “menopause”, which may have some clinical value, but certainly doesn’t do justice to the physical and emotional complexity of this experience.

The language we speak shapes the way we think, so it may be worth keeping that in mind when we discuss this natural transition and the great opportunities for renewal and personal growth it offers to women.

At the onset of the perimenopause (when periods become different and less predictable, pre-menstrual syndrome and tension get worse, and our FSH levels shoot up) our bodies and minds are already preparing for a new, more introspective phase of our lives. 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; surely we can't be menopausal, can we? Technically not, but the Time of Change and Renewal has already started.

At this stage we should learn to take better care of ourselves, because if our life lacks balance, the transition will be more difficult. Health problems at menopause represent imbalances that were already growing in the body and mind and are finally unmasked by shifting hormones.

How can yoga help menopausal women? The meaning of Yoga is union – the unity of body and mind and, on a deeper level, the Self and the Universe. At a time when you feel most disconnected from your body (some women report feeling “let down” by their changing bodies) yoga shows us a path of integration and healing. Restorative yoga poses performed with a particular emphasis on correct breathing and yogic meditation can help restore balance even when our energy level is very low, or when depression and lethargy make it impossible to challenge ourselves with physically demanding poses.

Each human being possesses a unique combination of the three dosha (Vata, Pitta, Kapha): women may suffer from different menopausal symptoms according to the dosha that is predominant in their constitution. For this reason, yoga for menopause is best taught individually, as poses and breathing exercises can thus be adapted to each individual.

The ideal approach to yoga during menopause is one that encourages development of the continual self-care concept and connects with a woman’s innate wisdom.

But walking the path of Yoga goes beyond what we do on our mats, alone or with the assistance of a teacher. It’s a path toward light, clarity and understanding, a process of reflection, to transcend and liberate ourselves from delusion so that we can see ourselves more clearly as we really are without the underpinning of social and financial status and find a sure footing for our security.

Living in tune with nature, enjoying both movement and stillness, practicing Pranayama and meditation, adopting a Sattvic diet and lifestyle, reducing and, if possible, eliminating stress from our life, cultivating presence instead of seeking distraction, being truthful to ourselves and others, freeing ourselves from the shackles of consumerism and greed, trusting our intuition, acknowledging the spiritual dimension of our life are some of the ways we can attune ourselves to the wisdom of menopause.

The physical and emotional discomfort some of us experience during perimenopause is in effect the labour pains of giving birth to our new selves. Our new self needs to be handled with care, patience and acceptance. Trying to deny change, patching up the old layers of our self 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. But resistance to change creates its own set of problems. Change is the process that allows us to continue living. To not change is to stagnate and die.

During perimenopause we need to discard all that is no longer necessary in our lives, life structures that have fulfilled their purpose in our development as women but no longer serve our growth. It’s a daunting task and many women are paralyzed by fear at the prospect. This fear often manifests itself both in the body, which loses flexibility, and in the mind which tends to hold on to rigid worldviews and thought patterns.

Though I have been practicing yoga for two decades, the gift of Yoga really took on a more profound meaning as I entered perimenopause and relied on it to cope with the tension of transformation (no matter how difficult the journey, menopause can indeed lead to an expanded sense of self and the world!) Yoga taught me patience and gave me the courage to accept change, it fostered self-awareness and gave me the resolve to address imbalances in my life.

In the past, practicing a dynamic form of yoga had provided a sort of distraction from my inner discourse, an escape from upsetting emotions, a safe haven when life became very stressful and complicated. I would just switch off my mind and go through the motions. But as approached the menopause, the focus of my yoga practice shifted. I started to privilege poses that I could hold for a long time while slowing my breath down and observing my feelings and thoughts. The gaze turned inward, and achieving a yoga posture was no longer an end in itself, each posture became a map I relied on to explore the territory, the indissoluble unity of body and mind.

My interest in the philosophical aspect of yoga also grew at that time and to deepen my understanding of yoga I embarked on a teacher training course, with a particular focus on the therapeutic aspect of yoga. The wisdom of menopause, and its tough lessons, created the ideal conditions for the wisdom of yoga to resonate with me and inspire my evolution.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Are we being too impatient?

One of the greatest lessons that yoga has taught me is patience.                                         

I wasn't born with higher flexibility than the rest of mortals. I started practicing yoga as an adult when i could hardly touch my feet. On top of that, i have some congenital muscolo-skeletal problems that make it impossible for me to ever attain 'perfect alignment' in some poses: my legs and my arms are not straight. I had to learn how to accept my body and its deviation from the norm. 
For this reason in my yoga practice i look for function rather than form and whatever progress i make is the product of perseverance, patience and understanding. 

Yoga taught me that there are no shortcuts in life. 
If we avoid certain stages of self-development that lead to our growth and awareness, sooner or later we will pay for it.

I approach the menopausal transition in the same way. I welcome it as an opportunity to learn more about myself and life. I don't look for a magic bullet that would mask menopausal symptoms and give me the illusion that it's not happening.

HRT and antidepressants that are routinely prescribed to treat menopausal symptoms, remind me of the Freisch├╝tz legend: a marksman, by a contract with the devil, has obtained a certain number of bullets destined to hit without fail whatever object he wishes. As the legend is usually told, six of the magic bullets are thus subservient to the marksman's will, but the seventh is at the absolute disposal of the devil himself.

Modern medicine has devised a 'magic bullet' for menopause - a natural phase, by the way: drugs that modify thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that were earlier seen as normal variations in human experience and personality.

Where is the raw authenticity of the human life fully lived through joy and grief, pain, and pleasure, if these states can be chemically short-circuited? What happens to our free will if we can medicate our deepest emotions and intentions as easily as we can treat our athlete’s foot?

The brain is a complex ecosystem, and, as in the case of its counterpart on the earth, inducing changes in one part of the system can produce often-unforeseen changes in another.

Is it desirable, to chemically dampen the experience of menopause for instance, when that experience is an essential part of the readjustments we need to make in order to prepare ourselves, both emotionally and physically, for the latter part of our lives?

Why are we eschewing wisdom for the false promise of eternal youth and ever-lasting happiness?
Do we really believe that happiness comes in a pill or are we fooling ourselves and sweeping uncomfortable truths under the carpet?

It's undeniable that life in our society makes impossible demands on people. There is no time for Introspection, reflection, critical thinking. Self-awareness, doubt are actively discouraged as potentially disruptive. We are expected to conform to a dominant 
idea of success, i.e. economic success, one that serves the logic of capitalism.

The widespread use and marketing of newer antidepressants serves specific social interests, some of which may not be in line with the needs of the people they are said to serve. They have become part of the technologies employed to produce more efficient and productive workers. In doing so, they may contribute to external life conditions that are becoming increasingly damaging to individuals’ well being, such as longer working hours, and increased stress in the workplace (antidepressants become, from an employer’s perspective, the ideal worker’s drug: one that increases motivation, energy, attention, and concentration while decreasing the need for sleep and decreasing anxiety.)

During menopause women need time for themselves, crave introspection and reflection, want to slow down and 'smell the roses'. They have enough wisdom to see through the bullshit of consumerism, careerism and productivism. Some may feel the need to lead a more spiritual life, get to the root of their existence, others experience an increased sex drive that makes them seek younger partners, some develop psychic abilities and trust their intuitive knowledge, many desire a closer contact with nature.  They are inherently subversive because they start to question the kind of lives they have led until then. Hence they are prescribed drugs to keep them in line. 

In medieval times they burnt 'witches' on a stake (women accused of witchcraft were predominantly menopausal women!), today there is no need for this extreme measure, a daily pill would suffice to ensure they conform to the unwritten rules of our society.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Why i practice yoga at home

A friend asked me where i practice yoga and was rather surprised when i told her i usually practice in my living room. She reformulated her question  "i mean, which studio?". At that point i had to explain to her why i prefer the comfort of my home. It is a pretty good question, that deserves a longer explanation than the one i gave her while waiting for a tram.

These days my energy and mood are hugely affected by my changing hormonal levels. During perimenopause estrogen and progesterone levels no longer follow a predictable curve, if someone were to measure them, the weekly chart would look like a roller coaster designed by a madman!

By practicing alone i can select poses that are either calming or energizing, challenging when i feel strong enough for a challenge, restorative when i feel that my energy is depleted, soothing when i suffer from ovulation pain, menstrual cramps, low back pain. I can play classical music one day and Tibetan bells the next, or just listen to the sound of the rain outside. I can lie in Savasana for 30 minutes, or chant 108 OM's.

There are hundreds of poses to choose from, and learning yoga (a lifelong pursuit!) entails using them as a map that leads you to the discovery of your body and its connection to the mind.

Studying a pose and its effect requires time, it's not something i can do by holding it for 30 seconds in a group class. I want to hold it until i learn to breathe effortlessly in that pose, until the fluctuations of my mind are stilled. I come out of a pose when i am ready, not when everybody else does at the prompting of their teacher.

In a one-to-one session the teacher can provide useful instructions and adjustments, prepare a sequence of poses that meet your current needs and are suitable for your level, take into account your general fitness level, muscolo-skeletal imbalances or injuries, help remove psychological obstacles that hinder your practice, etc.

A group class may provide the motivation to practice yoga, but unless it leads you to exploring poses in depth at your own pace at home, it may not provide the benefits that you are seeking.

If the higher cost of a personalized yoga session is an issue, you may want to attend a drop-in group class on a day when you feel well, learn some new poses, and then spend the rest of the week working on certain poses at home, selecting those that are recommended for your particular needs.

You can pick up a 'Yoga for Women' or 'Yoga for Menopause' book and learn more about the benefits of each pose.

I use 'The Woman's Yoga Book" by Bobby Clennell, "Yoga, a Gem for Women" by Geeta Iyengar, "Yoga and the Wisdom of Menopause" by Suza Francina, "Yoga Therapy" by A.G. Mohan & Indra Mohan.

If you suffer from low back pain, one of the best videos you can get is "Viniyoga Therapy for the Low Back, Sacrum and Hips" by Gary Kratsow (no yoga experience necessary, the focus is on correct breathing and all exercises are very gentle and slow-paced)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

HRT, very profitable for Big Pharma, very dangerous for women

Some women asked me what i think of HRT, Hormone Replacement Therapy to treat menopausal symptoms.

Here is my opinion, and though i am not a doctor, it is shared by many enlightened doctors and those who believe that we shouldn't regard the menopause as an illness.
HRT is one of the darkest chapters in medical history.

HRT had a long prescription history before the discovery that it doubled the risk of breast and cervical cancer, and other serious diseases. Premarin was introduced in 1942, long before synthetic alternatives existed. It became the most prescribed drug in the USA, and perhaps the most prescribed drug ever. It is a highly profitable drug, and is now being peddled in Asian and African countries where for centuries women treated menopausal symptoms with natural remedies and diet.

Yet whilst HRT became the drug of choice for the menopause, what sort of 'disease' is this? Is puberty regarded as a disease? If not, then why is its reverse, menopause, treated as one?

Germaine Greer once stated that women had passed through the menopause for thousands of years without any significant help from doctors - but that this all changed when the drug companies wanted to sell its HRT drugs!

The risks and side effects of HRT were known many years before 'scientific' research highlighted its dangers.

Martin Walker's book 'HRT. Licenced to Kill and Maim' (2006) questions a health care system that first creates illnesses (menopause), and then creates profitable drugs to 'cure' them.

Are we really that wise to argue with Nature's wisdom and defy it?

Yes it's true that some women are at an increased risk of osteoporosis when their estrogen level drops, but bone density can be increased naturally, without relying on HRT. Moreover bone mineral density varies widely in a population and decreases with age, how can we decide where to draw the line and call it abnormal? When does it become a disease requiring treatment?

My mother was diagnosed as suffering from 'severe osteoporosis' after being tested at 43, when she entered menopause. And yet the so-called 'abnormal' result of the test may have a simple explanation: she has always been very thin, and her bones are small and light.

She was prescribed Fosamax, a drug manufactured by Merck, which incidentally, set up a nonprofit organization called the Bone Measurement Institute, to spread the use of cheaper scanning machines that brought down the price of bone exams. So, here we have Big Pharma 'generously' promoting the development of small, less expensive scanners that could be used on a heel or wrist in a doctor’s office. Unsurprisingly the majority of post-menopausal women tested were found to suffer from "dangerously low bone density", and prescribed Fosamax!

The problem with the smaller peripheral machines is that taking a measurement of someone’s heel or forearm isn’t going to tell you what you need to know about the bones in the parts of the body that, if fractured, increase a woman’s risk of death — the hip and spine.

My mother stopped taking Fosamax due to serious side-effects, and guess what? She has never had a fracture!

Aging is natural, and so is a decrease in our bone density. If we want to lead a healthy and active life well past the menopause, we can do so without relying on drugs. Yoga, weight-bearing exercise, prevention of falls, quitting cigarettes, curtailing alcohol and caffeine, and ensuring adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D are all beneficial.

For symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, Black Cohosh, a phytoestrogen, helps many women manage menopause symptoms. Other herbs recommended as beneficial include Dong Quai, Evening Primrose Oil and Vitex Agnus Castus.

For a treatment plan, one can consult a naturopath, or a Chinese medicine doctor (Chinese medicine has been very effective in treating my friends' symptoms)

It's not natural to eat processed food, nor to forego the important foods that can help balance our hormones. It's not natural to go without physical exercise, live in a polluted environment....and then take HRT and antidepressants to feel 'normal'.

Almost all this "unnaturalness" is imposed from without - from the polluted environment, the stress of maintaining two-income households, eating processed food for convenience, or getting less exercise due to labour-saving devices. But these factors have a negative impact on a woman's hormonal balance and overall health, and may ultimately be linked to her seemingly 'sudden' menopausal symptoms and 'sudden' ill health.

We need to take our lives back.

The menopausal transition is like a big wave: we can learn how to surf it and have a life-changing experience that will empower us and give us the confidence to ride all the waves that bring us closer to the core of our being, or we can resist it, build a big seawall against the wave and live in fear that it may crack or be destroyed..

I think of HRT as that seawall. It gives you a false sense of security as it cannot protect you from life unforeseeable and extreme events.

Overall, a holistic approach to managing menopausal symptoms is preferable. It is important to remember that a seawall is a static feature, it conflicts with the dynamic forces of nature and impedes the exchange between land and sea (that is, between you and the transforming force of menopause).

This is a time of Change and Renewal. It may feel like a storm at times, but we can all become riders on the storm, to paraphrase The Doors!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Chinese medicine perspective on menopause

I live in Hong Kong, and have recently started to compare notes on the menopause with Chinese friends and acquaintances. It seems that for Chinese women, hot flashes and night sweats are uncommon experiences, and very few of them choose hormone replacement therapy. It is an interesting fact that fewer Chinese women experience noticeable menopausal symptoms, compared with the majority of Caucasian women.

What explains the difference between the typical Chinese woman's experience of menopause and the typical Western woman's experience?

Based on my observations, I would say that it is a combination of diet, acupuncture, and Chinese herbal medicine that is the determining factor in maintaining their health through menopause.

In Chinese medicine the physiological stages are defined in seven-year segments.

A woman’s first seven-year cycle is when “kidney” energy gets stronger. In the second seven-year set, a pituitary gland and sexual hormone called Tian Gui arrives, the Ren meridian opens up, and the Chong meridian is full of energy. This brings on menstruation and other changes.

It is in the seventh cycle of seven years when this cycle begins to reverse. A woman’s Ren meridian energy drops, energy in the Chong meridian weakens and the Tian Gui hormone slows or stops production. Timing of all these changes varies because woman with stronger “kidney” energy will menstruate longer.

When a woman arrives at menopause the ovaries stop producing eggs and they stop manufacturing estrogen. During menopause these ‘retired’ ovaries transfer their function to the adrenal glands.
If we accept the 'seven-year stages' theory, we know that nothing happens suddenly. When a woman's kidney qi starts to decline, the yang rises to the surface, causing hot flushes, night sweats, headaches, irritability, dry eyes, vertigo and insomnia. 

The yin-yang balance can be restored with natural remedies, yoga, acupuncture, diet and lifestyle changes. If a woman is already suffering from kidney yin’s deficiency due to stress, constant activity, long hours, irregular eating habits, excess mental activity, etc. with not enough time allowed for the body to rejuvenate, inevitably menopausal symptoms will be magnified. 

Using adrenal gland cultivators such as Dong Quai (Chinese Angelica root), Di Huang (Rehmenia root) and others will let the adrenal glands gain more strength and work smarter over a three or four month period.

 On the other hand if her qi is balanced, a woman may hardly notice the transition.

what's your dosha?

As each human being possesses a unique combination of doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha), women may suffer from different menopausal symptoms according to the dosha that is predominant in their constitution.

For this reason, the ideal approach to yoga during menopause is one that takes into account your current imbalances, be they physical or emotional, encourages development of the continual self-care concept and connects with a woman’s innate wisdom. Yoga for menopause is best taught individually, as poses and breathing exercises should be adapted to each individual's needs.

Since menopause is the transition from the Pitta phase of life to the Vata phase, if a woman already has a significant Pitta or Vata imbalance in the years before menopause, things are likely to get worse during menopause, which is a period when hormonal and other natural changes take place in the body.

So, what's your dosha?
I have found an excellent diagnostic tool online. Take the Ayurveda test and learn more about ways to rebalance your doshas.

Ayurveda teaches us that diet can be a crucial tool in menopause management.

If you are prone to Pitta-based problems, such as hot flashes, mood swings and anger, follow a Pitta-pacifying diet: avoid foods that are spicy, such as chilies, cayenne and black mustard seed, salty foods and foods that are sour, such as yogurt (unless it is diluted and sweetened in a lassi) and sour condiments such as mustard and vinegar.

Favour foods that are bitter, astringent and sweet, as these are cooling to Pitta dosha. Sweet, juicy fruits such as pears and plums also pacify Pitta dosha. Cook with Pitta-reducing spices, such as cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, fennel and small amounts of cumin seed.

If you experience Vata-related symptoms of menopause such as restlessness, anxiety, depression, brain fog, memory loss or vaginal dryness, you'll want to bring Vata dosha back into balance. For this, you'd better stick to foods that are cooked, warm, and unctuous (meaning that they have a small amount of good fats such as ghee and olive oil). Eat foods that are sweet, sour and salty, as this balances Vata dosha.

For both Pitta and Vata imbalances, a breakfast of cooked apples and prunes and figs is a good way to start the day, as it balances the doshas and cleanses the digestion.
Try to eat your main meal at noon, when digestion is the strongest, and eat at the same time every day. Sleep is just as important to balance Vata and Pitta: go to bed and wake up at the same time (so difficult and yet so important for Vatas who are natural night-owls like myself)

Kaphas tend to be rounder and have large frames. Their menopausal symptoms are therefore characterized by weight gain, feeling tired and bloated. Kaphas should watch their diets, eat small portions, avoid cold, oily, sweet and heavy foods. Eat three meals a day, with the lunch being the main meal. Weekly fasting is helpful. Most or all of the daily food should be consumed between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. They should also get plenty of physical exercise.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Crashing fatigue. How to beat it with yoga backbends

Crashing fatigue, or overall weariness is often reported by women who are going through perimenopause.

Doctors may suggest hormone replacement therapy and may prescribe antidepressants and certain other medications to lower this troublesome symptom in perimenopausal women. And yet simple lifestyle changes can help get rid of fatigue without the use of prescription drugs.

Perimenopausal women should follow a healthy and light diet: frequent small meals can help maintain energy levels. Drinking plenty of water and healthy liquids like natural fruit juices, soups, herbal tea, etc. instead of coffee help maintain energy levels.

We know that regular exercise plays an important role in balancing hormone levels, and yet when you are exhausted, and all you want is an afternoon nap, it may be difficult to muster the energy to get off the sofa and drag yourself to the gym or a yoga class.

Despite my regular yoga practice, i too experience fatigue and very low blood pressure on certain days of the month, usually on the third and fourth week of my cycle, when estrogen levels plummet.

I noticed that gentle back bends offer immediate relief when my body refuses to hold more demanding poses. I perform an easy sequence of Cobra and Child pose, holding both for 3-5 slow breaths, and when my energy levels are restored, i alternate Upward-facing Dog and Downward-facing dog.

Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
This pose stimulates the endocrine system, strengthens the spine, stretches chest and lungs, shoulders, and abdomen, stimulates abdominal organs, helps relieve stress and fatigue, opens the heart and lungs, soothes sciatica. Bhujangasana increases body heat and awakens kundalini.

Instructions: Lying on your stomach place your hands under your shoulders, fingers evenly spread and pointing forward. Slide your chest forward and up keeping your hands exactly where they were.
Roll your shoulders back and lift the chest higher, while keeping the low ribs on the floor. 
Keep your neck neutral, don’t crank it back. Breath naturally and hold the pose for 3 breaths first, then relax in child's pose and repeat. Increase the number of breaths only insofar as it is comfortable to do so. Stop if your face becomes flushed and your heart beat fast or irregular.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Age of Enlightenment

"Listen to your body". How many times have you heard a yoga teacher say it?
If you are approaching menopause or already menopausal, this is a great opportunity to follow that advice and tune in to the wisdom of your body.

Those who already practice and study Yoga may be familiar with the concept of Kundalini.
Kundalini is regarded as the root of all spiritual experiences. As a special kind of energy it is known in many ancient cultures, including Tibetan, Indian, Sumerian, Chinese, Irish, Aztec, Greek, though under different names. Kundalini is said to be hot, fast, powerful, and large. It exists within the earth, within all life, and within each person. Psychoanalyst Carl G. Jung called kundalini 'anima'.
It is usually represented as a serpent coiled at the base of the spine, but women's mystery stories locate it in the uterus.

As a long-time student of yoga, I couldn't help noticing the many similarities between menopausal symptoms and the well-known esoteric goal of "awakening of the kundalini."
Indian yogis spend lifetimes learning to activate, or wake up, their kundalini. This is also called "achieving enlightenment." When they succeed, a surge of super-heated energy goes up the spine, throughout the nerves, dilating blood vessels. As kundalini continues to travel up the spine, it changes the functioning of the endocrine, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. Not just in yogis, but in any woman who allows herself to become aware of it.

Menopause has often been described as a kind of enlightenment in many spiritual traditions and one of the best definitions of hot flashes that i have found is "kundalini training sessions".

At menopause you stop losing energy through regular monthly bleeding. If it sits in the pelvis for many years, it can dry out the vagina, erode the integrity of the hips, contribute to bladder weakness, and depress sexual desire.

But if the kundalini is guided (by thought or by hot flashes, for instance) up the spine, then it confers enlightenment. But not all at once.

As the kundalini rises, it must pass through six more energy gates/chakras. At each gate, symptoms relating to the chakra may occur. As may shamanic abilities that could cause the menopausal woman (or her family and friends) to think that she is going crazy. She has never been more sane. After kundalini awakens it becomes impossible to continue believing that external reality is the sole reality.

No wonder old women are honored and feared in many traditional societies.

If the energy centers triggered by kundalini are resistant to being activated, symptoms may get worse. Pain, bloating, indigestion, heart palpitations, thyroid malfunctions, headaches, and memory loss are all associated with resistance to the passage of kundalini.

When menopausal symptoms are understood as energy movement (or lack of it), women feel more at ease. Instead of feeling victimized by her body, the menopausal woman can use her symptoms as a way to pinpoint areas that need special nourishment. Quiet time alone in nature, sitting in a comfortable yoga pose listening to soothing music, and meditation allow thoughts and feelings to arise and open the way for the flow of kundalini.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

"Yoga and the Wisdom of Menopause" - Review

I have recently finished reading "Yoga and the Wisdom of Menopause" by Suza Francina, a book i strongly recommend to any woman approaching the midlife passage.
Suza Francina, a registered yoga therapist, certified Iyengar teacher, and author of several yoga books, provides how-to practice guidance, useful and important information about menopause, fascinating stories of spiritual awakening and bodily awareness from a dozen menopausal women she interviewed for her book (mainly yoga teachers).

"Yoga can help us move joyfully into the second half of our lives," she writes, and her enthusiasm invites the reader to partake in the wisdom.

Topics discussed are hormonal balance, fatigue, hot flahes, pelvic health, osteoporosis, breast cancer, and heart disease.
The yoga poses suggested to relieve side effects of menopause are clearly described and illustrated with photographs.

Menopause is regarded by Francina and others as an opportunity for the fullest blossoming of a woman's power, wisdom and creativity. More psychic energy becomes available to us than at any time since puberty. To embrace this opportunity we need to make time for ourselves, take care and nurture our new self while is breaking the shell of its egg.

Yoga helps us to change our perspective on this mid-life transition, encourages us to broaden our vision of who we are, prepares our body and mind for it, and alleviates the discomfort that any transformation entails.

I found Francina's book very inspiring and useful as a reference - i often go back to some chapters that are relevant to me.

Perhaps a new edition should include a chapter on Pranayama (breathing techniques) and one on guided Meditation, which are just as important as Asana (yoga poses).

Restorative poses

Restorative yoga is sometimes called the yoga of non-doing or un-doing.

The practice focuses on effortlessness and ease, using well-placed blankets, bolsters, yoga straps, and chairs to safely support the body in various postures.

Women who start practicing yoga at a time when body, mind and spirit are undergoing a transformation, may feel anxious, frustrated or insecure at first. Especially if they join a group class that doesn't cater for their needs.
Joining a very athletic group of yoga students when your joints are stiff, your balance is elusive, your blood pressure is like a yo-yo, a couple of sleepless nights and profuse sweating have sapped your energy, can put you off yoga altogether.

Do not despair. Look for an experienced teacher who understands your needs, book a private lesson if you can afford it, or join a gentle yoga class, one that focuses on restorative yoga poses, Pranayama and meditation. If you cannot find a suitable class where you live, there are plenty of good videos on youtube.

You can start by practicing at home, all you need are comfortable clothes, a mat or a rug, some blankets or a bolster, a block, and a well-ventilated room where you will not be interrupted or distracted.

After a long stay in restorative poses, you will feel and look like you’ve had a massage. Your face and whole body will feel smoothed and soothed, from the inside out. Your eyes will look clearer and brighter. You will look at your world as if from the top of a mountain.

The deep rest, peace and quiet you experience with restorative yoga is a doorway to meditation. In all poses keep your abdomen soft, your chest open and your breath flowing.

Melissa West has a good video on youtube that is ideal for those who have never tried yoga or are looking for restorative poses

Rites of passage

Many traditional cultures have rites of passage. Although they vary greatly in intensity, specific form, and social meaning, rites of passage primarily serve the purpose of resolving life-crises; they provide a mechanism to deal with the tension experienced by both individuals and social groups during ambiguous occasions including, but not limited to, birth, puberty, marriage and death.
By facilitating these transitions, rites of passage hold considerable emotional importance for both the individual and society. To take on a new social identity, the individual must negotiate a status passage that is often difficult.

Although rites of passage are used to accomplish a wide variety of different social transitions, the European comparative sociologist Arnold van Gennep (1873–1957) delineated in "Les rites de passage" a structure for transformative ritual practices he considered universal and common to all cultures. Van Gennep found that they typically involve a tripartite structure involving three sequential stages. During rites of SEPARATION, initiates are removed physically from the social group. TRANSITION or liminality rites accentuate the often-profound changes an initiate undergoes. The debutant undertaking transition typically experiences a condition of liminality, a marginal status that is socially in-between the former status and an uncertain future. Often during the liminal stage, the human body is itself the object of ritual process. A young person, for example, may be required to undergo painful surgical procedures such as body piercing, scarification, tattoos, etc. The healed wounds permanently signify the status change. The third stage is that of INCORPORATION or reaggregation. This phase involves the reintegration of the transformed individual into the social group, albeit in a new capacity. Van Gennep underscored that this tripartite pattern of human transitions mimics the pattern of nature and the cosmos, a continuous sequence of BIRTH, BEING, REBIRTH.

Even in our secular society we still observe many rites of passage (birth, marriage, legal age, academic achievements, death) and those who belong to an organised religion may mark the moment boys and girls enter adulthood and thus become responsible for their actions (i can think of the Jewish Bar and Bat Mitzvah and the Catholic Confirmation).

And yet, unlike many traditional societies, we have no rite of passage to mark the moment a woman enters the menopause. Germaine Greer writes in her book The Change: "Women need to devise their own Rite of Passage, a celebration of what could be regarded as the restoration of a woman to herself". In a society which often regards ageing as useless, it is no wonder many women see Menopause as fearful and confusing. We need to be conscious of our own strengths, self worth and wisdom.

Menopause is not a disorder but, like puberty, is a period of physical and emotional metamorphosis which affects all women (menopause is often described as puberty in reverse). Recognizing its great importance in a woman's life and celebrating the beginning of a new creative and wise phase of our life rather than passing it under silence would be a good start.

Seeking the company of other women who are experiencing the same metamorphosis, finding positive role models (or becoming one), getting in touch with our Spiritual self, learning to trust our intuitions (our inner vision becomes stronger at this time of life) embarking on a life enriching journey back to our deeper self, metaphorically shedding old skin we don't need anymore are some of the paths that are available to us.

It is through letting go that we can finally give birth to new forms and move forward. Cutting through old binding patterns allows us to let go of the old and give birth to the new or unexpressed parts of ourselves.

During peri-menopause we start to confront the changes in our body and transformations in our lifestyle, many of us realize that our old identity is indeed dying. We discard all that is no longer necessary in our lives, our relationships, worldly possessions, and life structures that have fulfilled their purpose in our development as women but no longer serve our growth. Change is the process that allows us to continue living. To not change is to stagnate and die. It is important for us to listen to our body, mind and soul.

A regular yoga practice helped me dispel fear, mastering new poses restored trust in both my physical and mental strength. The gift of Yoga really took on a more profound meaning as i relied on it to cope with the tension of transformation. It provided an avenue for me to accept the necessary change that would be responsible for my future happiness in life.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wide-legged Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasana)

This is a great pose to calm the mind, while actively stretching and strengthening the muscles in your inner and back legs. It also stretches the spine relieving mild back pain.

Never force yourself into this pose, let gravity do the job :-)
Be careful if you suffer from lower back pain, especially if this is the result of over-stretching muscles in that area.
If you aren't able to easily touch the crown of your head to the floor in the last stage of this forward bend, you can support your head on a block padded with a folded blanket, or a pile of cushions.

While your legs are challenged to be strong, steady, and well rooted, the heart and head are soothed and calmed. It's therefore no surprise that this asana is often used as a balm for frayed or anxious nerves.

This pose is an inversion, and shares many of the health benefits of inverted poses: our head clears with the increased blood supply, improving our mental stability and concentration, defeating lethargy and a tired body.

 Inverted poses also balance the hormones of the body, bringing a fresh supply of blood to the thyroid and parathyroid glands, the pituitary and pineal glands. Anti-gravity clears toxins from the tissues, cleansing and nourishing, and improves circulation.  Because the heart must pump stronger, they also have an aerobic affect.

A word of caution, it is not recommended to practice inversions while suffering from headaches.

INSTRUCTIONS: Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) take your feet apart (anywhere from 3 to 4 1/2 feet depending on your height).
Rest your hands on your hips. Make sure your inner feet are parallel to each other.
Lift your inner arches by drawing up on the inner ankles, and press the outer edges of your feet and ball of the big toe firmly into the floor. Engage the thigh muscles by drawing them up.
Before bending forward (folding from the hips, never the waist) inhale and stretch your torso and arms upward. Your chest will feel expansive, your heart uplifted, and your front spine long.
Maintain this feeling as you exhale and bend forward.
If you can comfortably reach your hands down to the floor while still keeping your front spine long and supple, place both hands onto the ground directly beneath your shoulders, with fingers facing forward.
If the ground is too far away, place two blocks or a chair on the floor in front of you and rest your hands there.
Bend your elbows and let your head reach effortlessly for the space between your hands.
To come out of the pose, place your hands on your hips and then root strongly through your feet, as your tail swoops toward the ground and your heart lifts to bring you to standing on an exhalation.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Take care of your knees

As we age our joints become stiffer and less flexible. Fluid in the joints may decrease, and the cartilage may begin to rub together and erode. Hip and knee joints in particular begin to lose joint cartilage.

A gentle form of yoga practiced after a good warm up, is perfectly safe, but some yoga postures are not recommended.

An Indian orthopedic, Dr Ashok Rajgopal, recently revealed that he has performed knee replacement surgery on a number of leading yoga gurus. His warnings are a serious challenge to those who say yoga, which is now a multi-million dollar global industry, can ward off the effects of ageing and leave devotees feeling fitter, stronger and at peace with the world.

 According to Dr Rajgopal, "the extreme stretching exercises at the heart of the discipline cause severe stress on joints, leading to arthritis." He has seen a higher incidence of joint and bone ailments among yoga followers.

"Extreme postures like acute deep knee bends are definitely harmful to them in terms of the abnormal stresses, and damage to cartilages. Anatomy is key when you are teaching yoga because everybody has a different body and build. We have to be very careful how we could keep up from one posture to another without injuring them. Everything has to be done according to what your body can handle. With proper alignments and training one can avoid these injuries," he said.

Poses that can damage our knees are: Virasana (Hero Pose) Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose), Padmasana (Lotus Pose). Our knees were never designed to bend at the angle shown in the picture (Supta Virasana) and if you have strong and therefore short and tight quads - sporty people do- this pose is bad for both knees and lower back.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Weight gain during the menopause. Why I recommend gentle yoga

I practice a gentle form of yoga and must say it is very effective to keep my body healthy and my mind calm. I am not looking for the fountain of youth, i just want to age gracefully and be able to keep doing what i am passionate about. Looking like a 25 year old at 50 was never one of my affirmation mantras :-)

On the other hand, i have a few acquaintances who are true yoga junkies and believe that yoga is all about burning excess calories: they attend Power yoga and Fast Vinyasa classes every day, go running at 6:00 am and..... look older than me. Why? The answer is very simple: very intense aerobic exercise, the kind of exercise that makes your heart rate increase beyond what is comfortable for your body and leaves you gasping for air .

If your breathing becomes irregular, you are no longer following any sound yogic principles.
Yoga was never intended to make your breathing irregular and make your heart race.
If anything, traditionally yogi have always tried to slow down their heart rate through meditation and controlled breathing.

The intense yoga workout that many people swear by is a Western aberration, invented by people who want to burn more calories than your body is designed to burn naturally.

A vegetarian Yogic diet is based on fresh ingredients, and portions are small. Eating more than your body needs is regarded as a form of greed that is bad for both your health and the planet. People who eat moderately do not need to burn extra calories!

Burning these extra calories through an intensive workout is also extremely unhealthy. Just take a look at professional athletes. Their skin looks old, their bodies do not age gracefully, and most of them die relatively young. All that excessive internal combustion can't be good for you!

When your burn calories, the oxygen molecule undergoes a change, is stripped of an electron, which means there are free radicals floating in the body. Free radicals do damage: they react intensely with other molecules of the body and leave destruction behind them.

I live in China, where people believe that we should conserve our energy (Ch'i) rather than dissipate it. It sounds logical. As we age our metabolism slows down for a reason, and we should limit our calories intake, instead of burning them on some internal pyre! That’s why Tai Ch'i is regarded as a better activity for the elderly than any intense aerobic activity.

A Chinese acquaintance is 85, does Tai Ch'i every day and looks a lot younger than some 60 y/o Western guys who push themselves too hard in order to stay fit…I bet he never jogged, run or signed up for a fast Vinyasa class!

My recommendation for keeping weight gain at bay is very simple: watch what you eat, stick to fresh, unprocessed, wholesome food, preferably adopt a vegetarian diet, eat moderately.

If you are putting on weight, it means you are eating too much for your metabolism.
If you eat for comfort, then maybe it's time to take a look at the underlying psychological causes that make you reach for the food your body doesn't need.
Meditation is a very effective way of balancing your mind, much more so than an intensive yoga workout that depletes your body of energy and doesn't allow you to break the vicious circle of accumulating fat and burning it. An unbalanced mind and an unhealthy body go hand in hand.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Janu Sirsasana, Head-to-Knee Pose

This is a great pose to stretch your body when you get out of bed and start the day on a positive note.
I also find it very effective after a long day, when my body is tired but the mind is still over-active.
It calms the brain and helps relieve mild depression.
It also stretches the spine, shoulders, hamstrings, and groins. It stimulates the liver and kidneys, relieves anxiety, fatigue, headache.
It's therapeutic for high blood pressure, insomnia, and sinusitis.

You should hinge from the hips, not the waist. Make sure that the spine is long and straight, as you don't want to exacerbate the curve of your spine. If you can't comfortably reach the extended-leg foot, sit on a folded blanket, or use a strap. 

Don't sacrifice comfort in an attempt to bring your head to the knee. Rest your head on a chair and a cushion and you will still get all the benefits of this pose.

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.

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


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.