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 sweating...it takes years off my skin in a way that no moisturizer ever did :-)