It seems to me that Perimenopause is one of those grey areas, which up until fairly recently was rarely spoken about, let alone have any kind of information or advice available to support women through what can be a turbulent time both physically and mentally.
At the physical level, the hormone progesterone begins to decrease from about the age of 35 – yes, that’s right 35 years old! That gives us somewhere around 15 years of chaos before the next important hormonal change around 50, when both progesterone and oestrogen decrease significantly. The job of progesterone is to balance or curb the activities of oestrogen. Whilst progesterone is steadily going down, women may experience symptoms such as headaches, hot flushes, night sweats, irregular periods, irritability, digestive changes, anxiety, mood swings, depression, loss of libido….the list goes on!
I believe menopause is a pivotal moment for a woman, physically, mentally AND spiritually. It’s like nature is saying: you’ve got to deal with this stuff that has been overlooked and throw out anything you don’t need to prepare you for the next phase, so you can really know yourself and live with integrity.
Samkhya philosophy outlines the Four Stages of Life as follows. Let’s say we are all going to live to 100 years old, just to make things simpler. The first 25 years are the Brahmacharya phase and are the ‘learning’ years – from babies, we learn how to talk, eat, walk and throughout childhood and potentially into early adulthood, we learn about the way of things on this planet. The next 25 years are the Grhsta phase and are predominantly the ‘building’ years when we gather and get stuff – a house, a car, a job, kids, etc. The next 25 years are the ‘Forest Dwelling’ phase (I love that concept!), called Vanavasa, when we take an about turn and begin the journey back towards knowing the source of our being. We take on a new role – whether it is as a grandparent or mentor, we being to step back a little from being in the driver’s seat all the time and it is recommended that we spend more time in quiet contemplation, ready for the final phase which is all about peace and preparing to surrender. Perimenopause begins in the Grhsta phase and ends around the beginning of the Vanavasa phase.
Having an awareness of this life phase and the changes it can bring are key. We can then begin to find ways to help establish balance, adapt our lifestyle to accommodate these changes and support ourselves. Certain yoga asanas, pranayama and meditation techniques can be helpful during this time, since yoga affects all the systems of the body, including the endocrine and nervous systems. Listed below are some yoga poses and breathing techniques recommended for perimenopause:
Supported Adho Mukha Svanasana
Place a bolster, brick or a couple of blocks on your mat and kneel on all fours facing your props with your hands either side. Walk your hands forwards a few inches, then tuck your toes under, lift your knees and your hips up and back into downward facing dog (adho muka svanasana). Rest your head (just above the hairline) on your props; you may need to walk your feet back or your hands forward so that your arms can be straight and the head and neck relaxed. Stay here for 1 – 2 minutes.
Kneel down with your knees apart and your big toes together facing your bolster. Lie the front of your body along the bolster, turning your head to one side and resting your forearms on the ground wither side of you. Make sure the elbows are slightly in fron of your shoulders so your shoulders can relax. After 2 minutes, turn your head to face the other direction and stay here for 2 more minutes.
Kneel down with your buttocks between your feet, making sure you rest the tops of your feet on the floor, with your heels nestled close to the side of your hips. You can sit on a block if you need to. Lift your pelvis slightly and scoop the buttocks under to lengthen your tailbone, then lower your pelvis back down as you lay back over the bolster (if you are sitting on a block, you will need to raise the bolster with either blocks or another bolster on top). Support your head with a folded blanket or cushion. Now sweep your arms alongside your ears, catch your elbows and draw your elbows down towards the ground behind you. After 1 minute, change the clasp of the elbows and stay here for another minute. If you feel comfortable, you could stay in this pose for up to 5 minutes.
Supta baddha konasana
Sit on your mat with your bolster behind you. Bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall out to the sides. Make a loop with a strap, then take it over your head, pulling it down so it rests at the back of the pelvis, over the inner groins, over the ankles and under your feet. It shouldn’t be too tight that you can’t lie back, but tight enough that you feel supported. Place some blocks or cushions under your outer shins. Your legs should not be open to their full capacity. Scoot the buttocks under and lie back over your bolster, supporting your head with a folded blanket or cushion. Rest your arms out to the sides with the palms facing up.
This pose should not be done by anyone with high blood pressure, glaucoma, heart problems, neck injury or during menstruation. Not suitable for beginners.
A yoga chair is best for this, but you may be able to use a regular kitchen chair turned sideways, so there is space for your legs. Set up your blocks as shown with a folded blanket over the top. You can use a bolster, cushion or blocks on the seat of the chair – the height of these props will depend on how tall you are – ideally when you are in halasana, your legs are about the same height as your hips. Lie down carefully on the blocks with your head facing the chair, push your hands into the floor and swing your legs up into shoulder stand. Draw your shoulder blades together, then lower your legs to rest on the chair. Aim to have your pelvis directly above your chest. Take your arms alongside your ears and relax. Stay here for 3 – 5 minutes. To come out of the pose, bring your arms back down by your sides, push your hands into the floor and roll slowly out. Remain on your back for a minute or so before you roll to the side and sit up.
Nadi shodana breathing
Sit in a comfortable cross legged or kneeling position on a block or cushion with your back upright. Prepare your left hand in jnana mudra (tip of the thumb and index finger touch with the palm facing up) and your right hand in shanka mudra (index and middle finger rest in the palm). You will be using the tip of the thumb and ring fingers of the right hand to alternately block off the nostrils. Establish a slow deep breath. Block off the right nostril and inhale through the left, block off the left nostril and exhale through the right, inhale right, exhale left. That completes one round. Continue for between 5 and 15 minutes.
Lucinda Pimlott is a Senior Yoga Alliance Professionals Teacher, director of Lucinda Yoga and co-director of the Lime House Yoga Teacher Training Programme. She runs a programme called Moon Yoga, specializing in women’s wellbeing and including courses, workshops and retreats in both online and in her home county of Cornwall in the UK.