If you're a woman in her 30s, 40s or even early 50s finding yourself more forgetful or emotionally sensitive than usual, you might be in the frustrating period of life called perimenopause
. During this natural run-up to menopause, you also might suddenly awaken mid-sleep and within seconds feel heat overtake your chest and face with a ferocity that makes you panic.
There's a silver lining to all the discomfort: Once the misery leading up to menopause ends, many women report
self-assertion and clarity of mind
that eclipses what they experienced during their reproductive years. To be sure, some women don’t much feel perimenopause’s arrival, while other women continue to experience hot flashes and mood swings after menopause.
So what’s the deal with these intense effects? During perimenopause, women's estrogen levels drop, and that makes it hard for the brain to regulate body temperature, leading to flashes of heat, neuroscientist Lisa Mosconi explains
. Stress eats away at estrogen levels too: When levels of our main stress hormone, cortisol, rise, estrogen levels lower, Mosconi notes
The body also produces less progesterone during perimenopause. “Progesterone produces a metabolite that acts like GABA
. GABA is very calming,” says Dr. Eldred Taylor, MD, coauthor of Are Your Hormones Making You Sick?
“The lack can cause anxiety, irritability and difficulty sleeping in perimenopausal women.”
Many tools ease the downsides of this late-life stage, including mind-body practices such as yoga
, which reduce the body’s stress response
, lowering cortisol levels. This yields a two-fold benefit: balanced moods, thanks to increased relaxation, and reduced hot flashes
. Also, “yoga can fill in for the lack of progesterone-producing GABA,” Taylor says.
Follow this gentle yoga sequence, which incorporates calming breath-work, to ease perimenopausal symptoms.
Daily practice is most beneficial, but if that's not possible, just do it when you can.
Padded but firm surface, near a wall
Lie face down, with your arms alongside your body, palms facing up. As you inhale, press the back of your hands down, lifting your upper body while keeping the natural curve of your neck (don't strain to lift your head high). As you exhale lower, turning your head to the right so that your left cheek rests on the ground. Inhale again, finding the same lift you did a moment ago, and then as you exhale, lower and turn your head to the left so that your right cheek rests on the ground. Follow this pattern for a few rounds, incorporating a lifting and lowering of your arms and legs in time with your upper body, as feels good to you.
Legs up the wall, variation
Flip to your back, and draw your hips about two feet from a wall. Place the soles of your feet on the wall, hip-width apart, and then adjust your hips so that you can bend your knees 90-120 degrees while keeping your soles flat on the wall. Place your arms a comfortable distance from your torso. As you inhale, press your soles into the wall and lift your hips, dropping weight into your shoulder blades (but no weight in the back of your neck).
Adjust your arms; some people need their arms low for support, while others can lift them high. Either way, your shoulders, elbows and wrists should be supported by the surface beneath them. As you exhale, lower your hips. Continue with this pattern, gradually inhaling for a count or two as you lift, holding your breath for several counts while your hips are lifted, and then exhaling for longer as you lower your hips.
Legs up the wall
Maintain your orientation toward the wall and simply straighten your legs so that your heels rest against it. Adjust your hips closer or farther as feels appropriate for you. Find at least five minutes of slow, steady breathing, continuing with your pattern of inhaling for a count or two, holding your breath for several counts and then exhaling for longer. Eventually and naturally let your breath find its own rhythm.
Mitra Malek is a former Yoga Journal editor and has taught yoga regularly since 2006. She is certainly familiar with perimenopause.