For Marie Bushey, 63, a Massachusetts yoga teacher and practitioner, one of the things that stands out most about her passage through menopause was her mental state. “My mind got very busy,” she said. “Yoga helped me to calm down and to get more restful sleep.” Bushey’s experience is no fluke. A recent review published in the journal Maturitas examined the impact of yoga on menopausal women. The findings were clear and consistent across thirteen randomized studies: yoga helps.
The review examined data on 1,306 menopausal women; some practiced yoga, some didn’t receive any treatment, and others tried health education or other forms of exercise. The women who practiced yoga practiced multiple styles, including Hatha, Iyengar, mindfulness-based, yoga therapy, Tibetan, and Integral.
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Regardless of the approach, menopausal women who practiced yoga saw a decrease in menopause symptoms. The study found that yoga was better than no treatment and better than health education at reducing total menopause symptoms. Yoga was also better than other types of exercise for so-called vasomotor symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats.
Improvements cut across four key areas: psychological, somatic, vasomotor, and urogenital. Yoga relieved joint pain, sleep disturbances, night sweats, and anxiety. Better yet, there were no significant adverse effects connected with the yoga practice.
Dr. Sara Gottfried, an expert on women’s hormones and the aging process, said that one reason yoga is effective against the symptoms of menopause is that it functions as a reset for the stress response system, which is also the control system for hormones.
“It’s no surprise that yoga helps with the physical and emotional symptoms of menopause because it is a complete system that is proven to reset the control system for hormones, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis,” Gottfried said.
Since menopause is tied so closely to hormonal changes, it becomes clear that a stress reset can transform a woman’s journey through this transition. Even better, the study’s authors note that yoga doesn’t just help one or two symptoms of menopause. Rather, they conclude that, “Based on the findings of this new review, yoga seems to improve all menopausal symptoms (not just psychological symptoms) when compared to no intervention, and it seems to be at least as effective as other forms of exercise.”
For Marie Bushey, the secret to yoga’s power over menopause lies in women taking control of their lives.
“During menopause, it can feel like so many things are out of your control. When my students leave the studio, they’ve done something to take care of themselves, to take back control. After all, yoga is the practice of self-care,” she said.
If the data in support of yoga’s benefits for menopause has you convinced, Bushey suggests trying several different yoga styles to find the best fit for you.
“Give each style a few tries before deciding,” she said. “Sometimes it takes a couple of classes to feel the benefits.”
Consider picking a class based on your current fitness level, personality, and menopause symptoms. Prefer a more active, fitness-based class? Try vinyasa or hot yoga. But if you’re experiencing hot flashes, these may not be the best styles for you. Are you more interested in a slow-moving class with light stretches and an emphasis on stress relief? Is anxiety one of your menopause symptoms? Gentle or restorative yoga might be the best fit for you.
How has yoga impacted your experience with menopause? What advice would you offer to women curious about starting a yoga practice to ease the symptoms of menopause?