Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Light my fire! Hot and flushed we stand (part 2)

Those who regularly use a sauna or a steam room are well-aware of its benefits: sweating profusely makes them feel a lot better. Saunas and steam rooms are found in many traditional cultures where they serve diverse purposes: from therapeutic, to hygienic, to ritual and even social.
Countless studies show the health promoting properties of sweating.  

Improves your immune system
Improves your strength and vitality
Strengthens the cardio-vascular system (heart and blood circulation)
Helps control your blood pressure
Detoxifies your body
Gives you more energy
Relieves joint pain, sore muscles, arthritis

Hot flushes that are accompanied by profuse sweating  may serve exactly the same purpose: improve our health.

Many yoga poses are designed to stoke our internal fire. As our metabolism slows down during the menopause, that internal fire becomes even more important.

Agni or fire is one of the 5 elements of creation according to Ayurveda. Fire is responsible for all transformation and thus all possibilities.
Agni, the pivotal element of creation is the capacity to digest and transform. As in the macrocosm (universe) so in the microcosm (us), says Ayurveda. Thus, as in the case of food it is what breaks it down into its essential components and then reconfigures them into the consciousness that permeates and nourishes us at the cellular level. Agni is the main source of life and both Yoga and Ayurveda have long recognised its  physiological functions.
Agni is the Fire that warms, nourishes, gives light, burns all impurities and purifies us.

If you want to make peace with your hot flushes i suggest a very simple meditation technique.

Candlelight meditation

Choose a quiet place where you can sit comfortably for 15 minutes without distractions, then light a candle.
As you sit comfortably with an erect spine and eyes focused on the flame, to settle your body first tense and then release the muscles from your toes to your head until  they become relaxed and still.

Follow your breath as you gaze into the candle flame. During meditation your business is simple awareness, nothing else. Distracting thoughts will arise but you will not “hook” to them and follow them. Instead you will gently direct your focus back to the candle flame and following your breath.

When your mediation comes to an end rest  for 3 or 4 minutes before rising.  This transition time is important so do not return to daily activity suddenly, after meditating.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Light my fire! Hot and flushed we stand.

Hot flushes are one of the most common complaints of menopausal women and one of the reasons some women choose HRT despite the risks involved.

Unsurprisingly, the menopausal women i teach yoga to often ask me what poses they should practice in order to rid themselves of hot flushes. My answer is just as surprising to them as their question is unsurprising to me: "Yoga doesn't suppress important physiological functions". They had never thought of hot flushes as anything other than an unpleasant symptom that should be 'cured'.

But they are open-minded about my unorthodox approach to the menopause.
So, you may ask, what can yoga do for women dealing with hot flushes? I  teach them Pranayama techniques that rebalance the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system and remove the anxiety that compounds hot flushes and makes them unbearable.
Once they are free of anxiety, they are ready to embrace their hot flushes. Yogic breathing helps women manage hot flushes, but thank goodness, doesn't suppress them.
The most important lesson we learn from yoga is to work with nature, not against it.

For thousands of years  women accepted this very little understood symptom as a normal and natural occurrence during the menopause. Our ancestors took it in their stride the same way we accept menstruation in our reproductive years: messy, disruptive, often uncomfortable and yet natural, healthy and useful. If we didn't bleed once a month, we wouldn't be fertile. Though one may wish to do without auntie flow, the lack of menstruation would hardly be regarded as a sign of health, unless you are pregnant or post-menopausal. So, why is our attitude towards hot flushes so different that we want to get rid of them?
Could it be that we fail to grasp their function?

The medical establishment has always paid little attention to the important role played by hot flushes in women's health.
Luckily something is changing. A new study revealed that menopausal hot flushes may be very good for our heart: women who experience them have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and death.
The study – published in the journal "Menopause" – reviewed medical information from 60,000 women over a 10 year period to determine the relationship between menopause and cardiac events. The women were grouped into four categories – those who had hot flashes and night sweats at the onset of menopause, later in menopause, during both time periods and not at all.
“We found that women who experienced symptoms when they began menopause had fewer cardiovascular events than those who experienced hot flashes late in menopause or not at all,” said  lead author of the study, endocrinologist  Emily Szmuilowicz.

So, contrary to long-held beliefs, hot flushes are very good news!

If you keep a healthy body weight and follow a vegetarian diet, you won't soak your clothes and the smell of  your sweat won't be too pungent and noticeable.
My tip for odourless sweat is counter-intuitive and based on personal experience. I have completely abolished soap (both liquid and solid)  to re-establish a healthy bacterial flora on my skin. Water and a good skin brush is all i need to clean my skin. If you are a bit self-conscious about your body odour, you can rub some natural flower essence on your neck, armpits and cleavage.

Once we learn to manage hot flushes we will just experience an internal heat that may make us sweat a bit, just as we do during a gentle yoga class. That internal heat  is not totally unpleasant (especially in colder climates) and may have other potential health benefits  that science is still in the dark about.

If you start to sweat excessively, retreat to a quiet and shaded place, and start the cooling breathing exercise that your yoga teacher taught you. In a few minutes you will be able to resume your previous activity. Ride the wave, and enjoy it, don't try to stop it, because that can only increase your anxiety.

I actually like the moist glow on my face when i start takes years off my skin in a way that no moisturizer ever did :-)