Meditation and its importance in 21st century

Most of us have heard about the history of evolution. Charles Darwin had proposed the theory of biological evolution by natural selection. According to his theory, only the species fit physically for the environment had survived. This was true a few centuries ago.

In this modern day with all these advancements in medicine, do you think humans are evolving physically? Maybe very slow mutation in physical aspect is happening. In actual, there is no need for natural selection anymore to survive because human has made modern day living very easy with innovative technologies at least in urban cities.

As long as human species exist, there will be evolution in certain ways. Maybe mental evolution! We can see that in Singapore education system. GEP (Gifted Education Programme) and students are being banded based on their academic results are a few examples of how weightage is based on IQ (Intelligent Quotient). This is the point where there is a survival of the intelligent beings would be the fittest in the society. Intellectual growth is given more importance than ever before. It is growing exponentially.

Life in cities is not about hunting for prey but instead hunting for good jobs that makes us keep going. Studies have shown that there is more and more increase in intelligent and creative people. But the available jobs are not enough to recruit all those people, instead it leads to fierce competition to be the best. This has led to an evolutionary pressure in our mental well-being.

Having higher IQ (Intelligence Quotient) alone is not enough because EQ (Emotional Quotient) is equally important for a person to be sane. There are a number of successful people like Oprah Winfrey practices meditation. Meditation can be practiced by everyone that will have only good side effects. There are a number of drugs that will give us bliss states but those substances affect our nervous system and important organs in our body in a bad way.

There are a number of evidences that has shown that meditation has proved to have health benefits mentally and physically as well. It would be great if people especially who are living in urban cities take meditation practice as everyday norm just like we scroll our social media without fail. Some of the benefits we get by practicing meditation are:

 

  1. Increase in sense of self-worth (which can be received by internal force instead of weighing our self-worth based on the likes and comments given by external force).
  2. We become non-judgemental to the extent that we forgive the people who has done wrong to us.
  3. Fear will slowly disappear and we set ourselves to go with the flow instead of trying to change the circumstances that we have no control on.
  4. We pay attention and be alert with increased memory.
  5. Keep our stress levels on check and increases our immune system.
  6. We get control over impulsive behaviour and instead make decisions calmly.
  7. We become one with universe and attain a sense of meaning in our daily life.
  8. We understand other people’s patterns and become sensitive to our surroundings.
  9. It helps us to restore our sense of wonder just like a toddler would have.
  10. We can recognise our addictive behaviour and get a control over it.

Well, these are only a few benefits that research has shown so far by practicing meditation on a regular basis. We need not complicate ourselves by thinking we should do meditation for one hour every day. Just by practicing 20 mins meditation, we do get enough benefits to start with.

 

 

Meditation is for everyone regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, occupation and location. There are a number of techniques to do meditation. We can try and see which way suits us the best. Happy meditating to all!

Kriya Yoga and its relation to Kapalabhati

Kriya yoga is an ancient type of meditation technique often referred to as the “Yoga of Action or Awareness”, that when practiced smart, accelerates one’s spiritual progress. The book titled “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda is known as one of the modern founders of Kriya yoga which was later introduced as a practice in the West in the 1920s. The practice of Kriya yoga is taught only through a guru-disciple relationship and after an initiation ceremony, most practitioners of meditation spend time in self-study and practice until they are ready to be further initiated into the advanced practices of Kriya yoga. Beginning meditators are advised to use a mantra or word in order to focus their attention and progress into deeper meditation sessions.

Kapalabhati also known as “the skull shining breath” is a pranayama or breathing technique that purifies the front region of the brain and cleanses the respiratory system and nasal passage. It is an intermediate-to-advanced pranayama that consists of short, powerful exhales and passive inhales. This exercise is a traditional internal purification practice, or kriya, that tones and cleanses the respiratory system by encouraging the release of toxins and waste matter. It acts as a tonic for the system, refreshing and rejuvenating the body and mind.

Kapalabhati is invigorating and warming and it helps to cleanse the lungs, sinuses, and respiratory system, which can help to prevent illness and allergies so regular practice strengthens the diaphragm and abdominal muscles and increases your body’s oxygen supply, which stimulates and energizes the brain while preparing it for meditation and work that requires high focus.

However, it is important to avoid Kapalabhati if you are currently having high blood pressure, heart disease, or hernia. Women who are pregnant should also avoid practicing this exercise, as well. But as with all breathing exercises, it is important to always approach the practice with caution, especially if you have a respiratory condition, such as asthma or emphysema so never attempt any pranayama for the first time without the guidance of a qualified and knowledgeable teacher and always work within your own range of limits and abilities.

When practiced correctly, Kapalabhati Pranayama will cleanse, energize, and invigorate your mind, body, and spirit. This pranayama requires knowledge of and experience with basic breathing exercises. So if you are new to pranayama, allow yourself time to get acquainted with and proficient at Three-Part Breath (Dirga Pranayama) and Ocean Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama) before introducing Kapalabhati into your practice.

Yoga philosophy and now-ness

Whether your life is punctuated with bouts of joy or sadness, depression or contentment, or longer, deeper experiences of trauma and turmoil, you are not alone. In the Yoga Sutras, yoga is defined to mean, “the yogic experience.” Yoga is often translated as “union” of mind, body and spirit. Classically, yoga is understood as the science of the mind so the yogic experience is that which is gained by controlling the modifications of the mind. Sri Patanjali, considered the “father of yoga,” is credited with compiling the Yoga Sutras (the threads of yoga), which date anywhere from 5,000 B.C. to 300 A.D. In the West, yoga is primarily thought of as asanas (postures), breathing (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana) because many experience relaxation and ease with the practice of yoga, yoga is considered a mind-body exercise. The underlying premise of mind-body exercises is that the physiological state of the body may shape emotions, thoughts and attitudes.

So diving into the world of yoga philosophy will help you in discovering that suffering (known as dukha in Sanskrit) is a part of the process of life. Any sort of suffering can be seen as what is known as a klesha – an obstacle on the path to freedom and enlightenment. Overcoming these obstacles is what a yoga practice is all about, and if we’re going to overcome suffering, all the physical, mental, emotional and energetic tools need to be brought forth.

Calming the ‘Citta’- Chatter

The second sutra of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali reads;

Yogas citta vrtti nirodha

Yoga is the calming of the fluctuations of the mind

These fluctuations of the mind are what cause us to experience momentary joy or sorrow and can cause us to wallow in sadness for months or years, or scatter the mind in all directions so we feel anxious without knowing why. When the mind is in a state of chattering away, fluctuating from attachment to hatred, happiness to sadness, and self-doubt to delusion, all of our mental energy is scattered and figuratively ‘leaks out’ of us. When the mind’s energy is leaky and scattered, this has an instant impact upon how we act physically; the breath will usually become shallow and short, and the muscles held more tense than necessary so all these things send messages back to the mind that it should be wary, scared and stressed, and without interrupting this fluctuating cycle, we find ourselves locked in a state of dukha or suffering.

It is these ‘diverse streams’ or fluctuation and energy – as Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani puts it – that are concentrated and unified into one place through the practice of yoga; “The central theme of Yoga is the golden mean, finding the middle path, a constant search for moderation and an harmonious homoeostatic balance. Yoga is the “unitive impulse” of life, which always seeks to unite diverse streams into a single powerful force.  Proper practice produces an inner balance of mind that remains stable and serene even in the midst of chaos.

If yoga had a ‘goal’, it would be to attain freedom and liberation from all suffering; the practices involved in the yogic process have the by-product of helping us live as healthily and harmoniously as possible, in contentment and peace.  Dr. Bhavanani explains how this harmony is brought about “….right-use-ness of the body, emotions and mind with awareness and consciousness. It must be understood [however] to be as healthy a dynamic state that may be attained in spite of the individual’s sabija karma that manifests as their genetic predispositions and the environment into which they are born”.

Whilst yoga philosophy may focus on uniting the scattered mind, calming fluctuation thoughts, and balancing the amount the mind takes in and processes, nowhere does it actually say that we’re supposed to be happy all the time. This ‘end goal’ of yoga doesn’t translate as happy or joyful, rather Samadhi would refer to the ability to witness and understand reality as it is. Rather than following the scattered thoughts of the mind, believing everything we think is true, holding onto the past or fretting about the future, or getting caught up in the narcissism of ‘I, me, and my’, Samadhi is about being here right now, experiencing the feeling of now-ness, not grasping for a fleeting feeling of joy.

What does it mean to observe your thoughts?

If you’re anything like me, meditation can be a tough activity to approach. Doing and thinking of nothing, how does that even work?

Meditation is the practice concentrating on something subtle that you fade into the stillness in body and mind. Many preach of its health benefits: it calms anxiety and enables emotional regulation, it allows for introspection, and stimulates creativity and productivity. (Side note: meditation is not a yoga-exclusive practice!)

The most common way to meditate is to sit cross legged with straight spine, with hands resting over your knees, and bringing the focus to a regulated and elongated breath. Then, observe your thoughts.

What are thoughts?

Thoughts are activities arising out of signals in our brain, and to a large extent, arise from the subconscious – which goes to say that they are out of our control. For example, you may look at a clock face showing 12pm and think of lunch time, or hear a bicycle bell ring from behind and step to the side. You didn’t choose those thoughts.

Once you recognize this, it’s easy to note that you are not your thoughts, and your thoughts are not you. They are essentially emergent out of the past many years of your experience, and the countless more before that of people who have shaped your social narrative.

What does it mean to observe your thoughts?

If you are not your thoughts, and your thoughts are not you, then you can watch, observe and study them as you would a textbook. In the stillness of meditation, if a thought pops up, acknowledge it and let go of it.

A common analogy is one of clouds. If your thought is a cloud, sit and watch it pass by, without trying to grab at it.

When you simply acknowledge it, rather than entertaining it or ruminating on it, you break the chains of control that your thoughts have over you.

Of course, it is not easy to learn how to do this. When you realize you have gone down the rabbit hole with a thought, the key is to be compassionate with yourself (think Ahimsa!), gently forgive yourself and return the focus back to your breath.

Why observe your thoughts?

Over time, you will start to note patterns in your thoughts that are a result of your past experiences and socialization. Only when you are aware of them can you make conscious decisions to change them and your underlying belief systems, so that you can live more mindfully and intentionally.

How to cope with restlessness?

Many struggle to even observe their thoughts because of restlessness. For example, you might have grown acutely aware of the strand of fringe lying on your face. Try acknowledging the thought, and then letting it go. You might find that you were not restless because of the hair on your face, but because you were thinking about how irritating and ticklish it will be in the near future (or next moments).

Another way to support restless meditators or ease them into the practice is to try a more active form of meditation, such as the walking meditation. During a walking meditation, one brings awareness to the motions of the feet with the floor, something that happens so automatically to most of us.

Meditative Processes to Increase Well-Being

Meditation is an ancient technique that has been around for thousands of years. It includes the focus of your attention into your senses, such as hearing, vision, physical feelings, taste, and smells to calm the mind of jumbled thoughts. This practice is meant to eliminate stress and enhance emotional well being by immersing yourself in the present moment. Meditation teaches us to ‘notice’ sensational information around us including any information given by the senses, plus noticing thoughts. by just noticing thoughts, we stop any emotions attachment to them. By considering them appearances in consciousness, rather than our true emotions. Meditation can also teach us to feel our emotions physically rather than mentally, this also helps us to detach from any mental emotional feeling related to the thought. The benefits of meditation are amazing! Physically what happens in your brain when you’ve been meditating for a while is that the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for fear and emotional processing actually shrinks in volume, whereas the parts of the brain that are responsible for happiness, increase in volume. These effects can occur with just 8 weeks of daily meditation. Meditation also allows us to see stressful daily situations in a new perspective so as to be able to deal with them better and more efficiently. With the negative emotional feelings out of the way, this leaves space for more imagination, patience, creativity, tolerance and love. There has been some new research found in meditation that suggests that the body actually create antibodies whilst meditating. The impacts that these antibodies may have has not yet fully been discovered, however this could suggest that meditation may be useful in curing diseases and illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep disorders, headaches, chronic pain, asmtha and depression. During meditation, the focus of your mind to one specific body part actually makes the body send more blood to that area, therefore allowing it to heal faster. 

Pranayama is a practice of breath work. It translates to life energy control and includes inhaling and exhaling and holding your breath in specific ways. There are countless techniques within pranayama including controlling the timing, duration and the frequency of each breath. The goal of pranayama is to supply the body with oxygen and remove any negative toxins out from the body. Its benefits include the deduction of stress as it calms down the nervous system and increases oxygen flow to the vital organs including the brain and nerves. One interesting thing we learned in class was that the left nadi is responsible for melatonin, which calms and cooled the body down. The right nadi is responsible for serotonin which energies the body. Pranayama can both calm the body down as well as prepare the body for the day, energise and refresh. Through its stress relieving properties it also improves sleep quality through reaching a state of mindfulness and slowing the heart rate. It has also been found to reduce high blood pressure and hypertension by calming the nervous system. As pranayama includes many techniques that expand and strengthen the lungs, this can aid in lung conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, and helps recovery from pneumonia and tuberculosis. Pranayama has also been found to improve executive function, which are cognitive process that includes everyday skills such as memory, flexible thinking and self control. With these functions working properly in the brain it allows for a more focused mind that is able to handle emotions and daily activities more efficiently.

Mudras are gestures done using the hands which balance the energy within the body. They are usually used in the time of meditation and different kinds of mudras have different effects. They can change the mood, and perception of a person performing them. One type of Mudra is the Gyan mudra which is performed by touring the thumb and index finger of the left hand together. This mudra helps to relax the body and stimulate the brain. The thumb represent the fire element, whereas the index finger represents the air element. together they evoke wisdom, improve concentration and relieve stress. The varun mudra is performed by connecting the pink finger and thumb. The pinky finger represents the water element and through this connection, this mudra helps to promote beauty and health. It can help with dehydration, as it includes the water element, balancing the water within the body. It helps alleviate cramps in the muscles, dryness of skin, mouth, throat and eyes.

Discover Kundalini

As we know, Kundalini is a form of divine energy that is believed to be located at the base of spine, muladhara chakra. Kundalini awakening is way of tapping into a deep and powerful energy that exists within us all. When one experiences Kundalini awakening, he or she will experience a significant boost in confidence. It also gives one a razor sharp intuitive judgement and great enhancement in empathy.

For ages, Kundalini has been represented by symbol of serpent. This is because in Sanskrit, “Kundalini Shakti” means serpent power. This coincides with the energy that is released from the base of spine up to the crown. It is said that Kundalini energy is like a snake coiling at base of spine and waiting to be released to the highest power. Hence, what is the underlying symbol of the serpent? Since in ancient times, the spirit of the serpent represents a rebirth, a transformation and healing of old form since it sheds skin and regenerates a new form.

There are many ways to awaken Kundalini, for example, by mediation, yoga practices and pranayama. During Kundalini awakening process, one can experience tingling down the spine, feeling of deep connection with all living things, relief of any negative emotions and thoughts. It is seemingly tempting to unleash this potential energy in our body, however, there are dangers associated with Kundalini awakening if it is not adopted correctly. Physical symptoms include headaches, hallucinations, fevers and chills while mental symptoms include intense fear, bipolar mood and paranoia.

So what is the scientific explanation for individual’s disorder caused by inappropriate unleash of Kundalini energy? There are many school of thoughts. Researchers refer this as “Physio-Kundalini Syndrome”. Some believe that it is resulted from an electrical polarization spreading along sensory and motor cortices, in turn induced by acoustical standing waves in the cerebral ventricles. While some believe that spiritual evolutionary features are still important part in defining this process. Some doubt the actual activation of Kundalini in the process and believe it is more of profound effect of bioenergy. Although there is no common agreement on the scientific aspect regarding to Physio-Kundalini Syndrome, it is a fact that some people do experience this because of incorrect practice of unleashing Kundalini energy.

Therefore, if one would like to explore the potential energy in himself, it is of ultimate importance that he should be mentally ready for it. It would be better to consult professionals to check if the practice adopted is suitable or not. In the last, I believe that one should not have excessive attachment to the outcome, but the enjoyment of the journey in self-discovery.

Grounding Into Gratitude: Practicing Santosha on and off the mat

Source: PSU Vanguard

Are we forever chasing rainbows?

Oftentimes, we think that if we get a promotion, get more money, lose weight, have better skin, get a bigger house, or get better with our asanas, we will be happier. We humans are in the constant chase for something that we don’t have, and once we do achieve what we wanted, we would aim for something else, something better. Psychologists call this the hedonic treadmill because we’re running after something only to end up in the same place- desiring more of what we don’t have. 

Santosha, the second of five niyamas, is the Sanskrit word for contentment, which, as stated in the Yoga Sūtra, “brings about unsurpassed joy.”  Niyamas are literally translated as positive duties or observances. Together with Yamas, these are recommended activities and habits to cultivate a healthy lifestyle, and spiritual enlightenment. Santosha tells us that we can only truly find happiness from within, and relying on external factors will never bring us peace. This niyama invites us to be content in the present, and know that we are complete and enough the way we are. This is not to say that we should never have desires or goals. The niyama is simply inviting us to stop wasting energy thinking about what we lack. Instead, we should enjoy the journey, live in the present, and be thankful for what we do have. Intrinsic happiness is unconditional. 

The secret to the law of attraction is to believe that we already have what we want. To manifest the best version of ourselves, we need to be grateful with ourselves and be happy where we are. Yoga is an amazing practice to work on changing our self-harming thought patterns for the better. 

 

How to practice santosha on the mat: 

  • Don’t compare yourself with other yogis. All of us have probably fallen prey to this: a difficult asana comes up in class which we’re not confident of doing; instead of practicing, we look around and compare ourselves with others. Or when we’re stuck in our phones, we tend to look at all these yogi Youtubers and sulk about not being as strong and flexible as them. Santosha tells us to shift the focus back to improving ourselves for the sake of personal growth instead of spending time wishing we had someone else’s physical abilities. Give yourself freedom to enjoy where you are in your practice.
  • Be compassionate to your body. We often forget how much our bodies provide for us: it gets us to walk, run, and perform our daily activities without much thinking. The fact that we can breathe, show up in our mat, and do asanas when we want to is amazing in itself. The least we can do is be thankful by not bringing physical harm to it and to stop saying hurtful words to it. 

Also understand that your body will be different each day depending on what you eat, how well you sleep, the quality of air you breathe, your mental state, etc. Some days you’re stronger, other days you’re very tight. Accept it for what it is at the present and know that your body will always evolve.  

  • Be present in your practice. What makes physical yoga distinct from other workouts is its mind-body-breath connection. It’s normal to get distracted with thoughts of the future or past when you’re practicing. When that happens, acknowledge the thought and try your best to bring yourself back to your movement through focusing on the breath. Being present makes your poses and breathwork more precise too. 
  • Always start and end your practice with namaste. Deciding to show up for yourself on the mat is an excellent practice of self-care. Acknowledge that you are alive, breathing, and your body can perform these asanas for you. That’s already a lot of things to be grateful for. 

 

How to practice santosha off the mat: 

 

  • Start and end your day with gratitude. In the morning, list three constant things in your life that you are grateful for. It could be the presence of your friends, family, a steady source of income, a roof on top of your head, a place to sleep, food to eat, a body that works hard for you, the fact that you’re still alive. When you start your day focusing on these things instead of what you don’t have, you will attract more things to be thankful for. At the end of the day, think about what happened in the day that you’re grateful for.

 

  • Let go of what you can’t control. Oftentimes, the source of discontentment is from things we can’t change or influence such as those that happened in the past or others’ opinions of us. Don’t sacrifice your bliss and headspace for these moments. Instead, focus on what you can directly control which ultimately is yourself- your breath, your attitude, your reaction to things. You can choose to be disappointed or accepting of events. 

 

  • Let go of expectations and perfection. Practice remaining calm in success or failure. Find ease in whatever you’re doing and completely enjoy the process. If you focus on the progress instead of the result, you are directed back to the present and appreciate how far you’ve come. Expectations often leave you frustrated with how far you need to go. Completely surrender to the moment and let life surprise you. 

 

  • Go outside and appreciate the world around you. If you’ve been taking the blue sky, tall trees, or building murals for granted, marvel at them today. Look at all their details and relish the fact that you get to live with all these beauty. Allow yourself to be moved by the wonder of nature. You can keep the state of Santosha by disconnecting from technology so you can really stay in the present.
  • Take yourself in on a date.  To find santosha, you must spend some time alone to truly rid yourself of external validation. You must be content and accept yourself for who you truly are. Yes, your relationships are important and without others, you probably won’t survive but you must be careful on making others the source of your happiness. Sustainable contentment only come from within.

Setting an intention in yoga and beyond

It’s not until recently that I no longer thought “setting an intention for our practice today” is just one of those things yoga teachers say.

It happened when this connects internally for me what intention means, not just for my yoga practice but beyond that in life as well. Let’s look at it from both perspectives.

  • In our yoga practice, an intention is not a goal, it’s a mindset to achieve balance by keeping in mind what I need most at that time, helping me stay present in the moment. An intention can be manifested through a word, a quote, or a feeling. Sometimes it can be dedicated to someone or something outside of myself, which is a great way to increase a positive flow of energy.
  • The true beauty behind an intention is that we will manifest into our lives, that we’ve set in our heart. By returning to the energy of this focus no matter what is going on, we can train ourselves to stay committed to that intention, on and off the mat. 🙂

We were discussing this in class today with Master Ram, having intention is quite different than making goal. It does not aim towards a future outcome. It is a path that is focused on how we are “being” in the present moment, intrinsically and extrinsically. We can achieve this by practicing Dhyana, Dharana and Pratihara.

I believe with true intentions, we can become more effective in reaching our goals to overcome materialism and insecurities. Goals could help us be an effective professional, but being grounded in intention is what provides true purpose in life.

Let’s live our intentions everyday 🙂

The beginning of my meditation jouney

2020 should have been a year when we take everything slowly and pausing for longer. However, I realized that this has been one of the most productive years of my life. I’ve never spent so much time learning about myself, checking in with myself to see how I felt throughout the day.

This is also the year when I decided to give meditation a try and have the discipline to turn it into a habit. My main motivation was: I wanted to be more disciplined in my lifestyle and have more control of my mind. I struggle a lot in focusing on 1 thing and I get distracted very easily – which is affecting me negatively on my daily productivity.

I joined a WhatsApp group from friends to give it a try the abundance challenge for 21 days from Deepak Chopra. 

I started off really motivated and each day I was really looking forward to receiving the daily task and meditation recording. Yes, every day we would receive a daily mantra with its explanation was not only just the 10 min meditation but also a daily mantra as well as some assignment around the theme of the day.

All the way to the 10th class I started to be very distracted also by external factors, unfortunately, by the 12th class, I gave up completely. 

After a couple of weeks, when my routine came back again, I felt the need to pick the meditation back again. I realized that even without seeing much results, I quite enjoyed the journey each day. My thoughts were still hard to be controlled but when there are even a few seconds of that inner quiet and emptiness, it makes it worth it. 

My second attempt is with headspace the APP, this time I created my own routine. Since I was working at home, I needed a morning good habit routine before opening my laptop. 

I would start with a 15/20 min warm-up yin yoga practice, just 3 or 4 poses to stretch and wake up the body. This would help me to focus more also during meditation. As I tried the other way around and it was much harder for me to focus. 

Following the warm-up I would play a 10 min meditation with Mid body and it’s a great tool for beginners as it does guide you through the different techniques on maintaining the focus throughout the session. Some examples that I would recall: focusing on your breath, shifting your focus from the top to the bottom of the body, making sure to check-in on different points of the body.

From time to time I’d also attempt a silent meditation without any music, voice-over to help, and surprisingly It was much easier than I thought. 

This habit lasted for 3/4 months until I started my YTT and came across pranayama practices.

I cannot say that I established a pranayama meditation habit but it’s definitely on my to-do list. 

As you can see, this is just the beginning of a very long road into the meditation journey. I think I’m definitely committed to improve, even by reading back my notes I can see that I made some baby steps forward. 

To sum up, from this experience. The outcome is really not important, as long as you enjoy this journey, no need to stress yourself of the target/ result. It will come.

I hope this was even a little encouragement for you to take on the meditation challenge. Don’t give up!

How can yoga help with menopause?

Symptoms of menopause vary significantly in duration and severity from one woman to the other. They are generally linked to declining levels of estrogen and other hormones. It takes time for the body to adjust to those changes. And during this transition, symptoms can be quite debilitating both physically and emotionally. They commonly include hot flashes and night sweats, irritability and mood swings, insomnia, fatigue, weight gain, bloating, palpitations, reduced libido and vaginal dryness, joint aches and pains (joint, back, neck), problems with memory and concentration, reduced muscle mass and increased risk of osteoporosis.

Hormone replacement therapy is now widely used. But it has been linked to an increased risk for certain health conditions (cardiovascular risks, breast/lung/colon cancer, urinary incontinence…) and comes with side effects. Therefore, health practitioners and patients alike have been looking for healthier and natural alternatives to support this transition. Those include lifestyle changes, diet, exercise… and of course yoga! Research has shown that specific regular yoga practice is bringing significant relief to several menopausal symptoms.

 

How can yoga relief menopausal symptoms?

  • Yoga helps building mental resilience

Regular yoga practice helps to quiet the mind and body. It has been associated with an increased tolerance for pain over time and may help reduce the discomfort. Yoga, and specifically pranayama, have also been shown to relieve stress and quiet the mind. Hence, insomnia can be improved, overall mood is more balanced leading to less irritability and mental calm can help going through menopausal aches and pains. Finally, mental focus required for yoga practice and meditation exercises can improve memory and concentration issues.

  • Yoga supports a strong physical body and the flow of energy

Yoga has been associated with good joint health and joint pain relief. It helps strengthening joints and increasing flexibility. Yoga practice is also energizing and can help with menopausal fatigue. Finally, it will help counteract reduced muscle mass commonly observed with menopause.

  • Yoga helps regulating body functions

Blood pressure may increase after menopause and a consistent yoga practice has been linked with reduced blood pressure and better blood circulation and oxygenation. Yoga is also linked with better weight management which can assist in menopausal weight changes due to hormonal imbalance. Similarly, it can help with hot flashes.

 

Which specific yoga practices are recommended for menopause?

Regular practice of specific asanas, pranayama and dyana have been shown to be all beneficial to relief menopausal symptoms.

Specific Asanas

While asanas may not directly influence estrogen production, specific postures can help control unpleasant symptoms. Restorative postures, in particular, can help relax the nervous system and may improve the functioning of the endocrine system.

Hot Flashes

This is the most common symptom of menopause which is characterized by sudden increase in body temperature and pulse rate. And stress or any tension in the body can make it worse. Hence, recommended poses should be cooling and restorative poses. Supported reclining poses are interesting such as Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle), Supta Virasana (reclining hero) and Supta Padmasana (reclined lotus) which will soften and release any tightness in the chest and belly. Ardha Halasana (half plow) with supported legs and Janu Sirsasana (head-to-knee) with the head supported, can also help to calm nerves.

We should use props, blocks, or any other support that will help to relax. Supported postures can help relief from anxiety and irritability, without heating or stressing the body. It is important to note that unsupported inversions, strenuous poses, and backbends can sometimes make hot flashes worse.

Anxiety, Irritability, and Insomnia

Hormonal imbalance imposes continual stress to the sympathetic autonomous nervous system and the adrenal glands which exhaust themselves. Forward bends, such as Uttanasana (standing forward bend) Padangusthasana / Pada Hastasana and Prasarita Padottanasana (wide-legged standing forward bend) are helpful to relax those by calming the mind. For insomnia specifically, inversions then followed by restorative postures can help such as Salamba Sirsasana (supported headstand), Salamba Sarvangasana (supported shoulderstand).

Fatigue

Also, a very common symptom, it is likely due to low levels of progesterone and/or exhausted adrenal glands. Gentle supported backbends can help to reenergize: Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle), again, is recommended. Standing poses like Virabhadrasana I and II (warrior I and II) help feeling strong and combat the fatigue.

Depression and Mood Swings

Regular yoga practice is associated with better regulation and control of your thoughts and attitude. It helps to feel strong, healthy and grounded. Backbends, especially if supported, are recommended bringing a sense of lightness into the body and opening heart and lungs such as Ustrasana (camel) and Chakrasana (wheel). Furthermore, chest opening poses energize the body by improving breathing and circulation such as also Dhanurasana (bow), Bhujangasana (cobra). The same inversions as above, can also help to improve mood. All those positively affects the mind.

Memory and concentration

The same postures that counter depression, such as backbends, chest openers, and inversions, can help increasing cognitive abilities. Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) and Ardha Pincha Mayurasana (dolphin) can also improve mental alertness. And Savasana soothes the nerves and can help with better concentration after.

Pranayama

Regular practice of pranayama has also been shown to be beneficial in treating a wide range of stress disorders. It develops a steady mind and strong willpower. It slows down mental chatter and infuses positive thinking. Practice can help, in particular, with menopausal symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, depression and mood swings.

Some cooling pranayama such as sitali and sitkari pranayama can be very interesting in menopause. Both are activating the parasympathetic autonomous nervous system, relaxing the body whilst also cooling it down. It is important to note that in the case of hot flashes, other more regular pranayama such as Ujjayi or Kapala Bhati are not recommended as they are also heating up the body.

Dhyana

Meditation or dhyana is known to help still the mind and regulate the nervous system. It will similarly help for all stress related and mental imbalance of menopause, with no contraindication. It has been also found to be associated with increased melatonin level leading to improved sleep quality, particularly if done in the evening before sleep.

As a conclusion, we need to highlight that every woman is different and will experience different symptoms. Those will also evolve over time and may not be the same from one day to the other. So, it comes down to each of us to experience and adapt practice accordingly to smoothly ride through this life transition!