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The Yoga Sequence Every Woman Needs If She's Going Through a Hormonal Imbalance

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When we’re talking about homoronal imbalanced for women, stress management is a good place to start. This yoga sequence will calm your nervous system and detox your organs.

Acupuncturist and yoga teacher Maria Villella offers up an energizing and blissful sequence, plus calming acupressure points, to find hormonal balance and peace of mind.

Without time for stillness, your hormones (and well-being) can pay a steep price for an accelerated pace of life. Years after a yoga injury inspired me to slow down and study acupuncture, I now help women elude the dangerous cycle of chronic stress. On the following pages, a cautionary tale, a yoga sequence, and acupressure meditations to boost vitality, wake up energized, and find peaceful and calming bliss.

I used to think yoga was too still for me, until I discovered Ashtanga’s beautiful rhythm and grace. Living in Buffalo, New York, in my early twenties, I spent weekends commuting to Toronto for my yoga teacher training and to study with my mentor, Ron Reid. What a pace of life!

But, that rapid pace had consequences. As Reid would say, my energy leaked all over the place. I was flexible and capable, but I didn’t understand containment or how to use my core to support my body. Metaphorically, this theme of overextending without support trickled into my entire life.

Eventually I traveled to India to study with Sharath Jois, Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, Maty Ezraty, and Chuck Miller. But I was overdoing backbends and in pain. I thought I’d be fine; I was young, resilient, and reckless. When I moved to LA after my trip, I had a full-blown back injury.

See also 16 Poses to Ease Back Pain

As I focused on healing, I reflected that I had always intended to study some form of medicine. Acupuncture turned out to be the most effective treatment for my back, so I was inspired to pursue my master’s in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and herbal medicine.

Now my patients are mainly women seeking to overcome fertility issues or balance their hormones. Some of my clients are using assisted reproductive technologies, so I work with their reproductive endocrinologists and offer acupuncture, herbs, and lifestyle adjustments to support medical treatments.

I knew I wanted to work with women, perhaps because I was always frustrated with my gynecologist visits. I dealt with too-frequent cycles and terrible PMS and acne. Birth control pills were my only option, and I didn’t take them. Looking back, my imbalances were all really related to diet, stress, and emotional distress. Once I made significant changes—saw a therapist, got help from friends in the naturopathic and TCM community, and developed a dedicated yoga practice—I was able to bring my body back into balance.

That’s why the integrative clinic I cofounded with my husband Joe Clarke and friend Carla Vidor blends TCM methods with the diagnostic tools of functional medicine. In addition to checking pulse and tongue, we review bloodwork to uncover underlying conditions, like thyroid issues or gut infections, so we can treat the cause of imbalance.

When we talk about hormonal balance in women, I believe stress management is a good place to start. We work at such a crazed pace in our culture, and we value doing—there is no surrender of being. Though we don’t face tigers every day, we live in constant state of fight-or-flight.

See also Yoga for Menopause: Alleviate Symptoms with Yoga

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is a negative feedback loop that regulates stress response. Within seconds of encountering stress, the brain’s hypothalamus secretes cortico-tropin-releasing hormone (CRH), initiating a game of telephone. CRH tells the anterior pituitary gland to produce adreno-corticotropic hormone, which prompts the adrenals to release cortisol.

The “stress” hormone cortisol plays a critical role in quality of sleep. Cortisol and melatonin (the “sleep” hormone) have an inverse relationship, tag-teaming your circadian rhythms. At night, with cortisol at bay, you fall asleep as melatonin peaks. Then, melatonin tapers as cortisol gradually rises until it spikes and awakens you the next morning. Cortisol ebbs during the day as melatonin rises, culminating in bedtime. And so on.

But chronic stress scrambles this process. Cortisol levels skyrocket into the evening, and an overwhelming week can both exhaust you and cause insomnia.

There are other negative feedback loops that signal to the thyroid and ova-ries. If imbalances go on for too long, they can alter or even shut down repro-ductive function, as well as impact your metabolism, immune system, and cardiovascular health.

Getting out of survival mode gives your nervous system a chance to recover. In a resting state, you can stabilize cortisol patterns, regulate your reproductive system, and restore a blissful sleep cycle. Try it for yourself with the calming practices on the following pages.

See also Can’t Sleep? Try These 6 Restorative Poses Right in Bed

A yoga practice that prioritizes stillness can calm your nervous system and harmonize your HPA axis. Remember, if you are pushing full throttle at work and home—and eating processed foods—you can’t push your yoga practice as well.

I designed this hormone-balancing sequence to induce both the relaxation response as well as detox. Our organs are overloaded with harmful chemicals, so twists help clean out your liver, colon, even your ovaries. Plus, once you release abdominal compressions, fresh blood rushes back into your uterus and ovaries to create more cell activity and build (and shed) endometrial lining. All postures below, except Savasana (Corpse Pose), should be done using Ujjayi (Victorious) Breathing.

Finally, the acupressure meditations included here build a heightened sense of awareness in your subtle body. In TCM, it isn’t the pressure or needles themselves that heal us. Rather, they offer an energetic suggestion, creating conditions so your body can begin healing itself. My yoga teacher Ron Reid used to say that energy follows intention, and in my life I’ve seen that to be true.

Ever fall asleep just to jolt awake at 3 a.m.?

Poor blood sugar management may be to blame. After all, stress doesn’t exactly help with healthy eating habits. Plunging blood sugar can trigger an emergency response: hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and glucagon surge to extract glucose from the muscles and liver in order to feed the brain and body. The solution: Eat more wild-caught fish, legumes, nuts, seeds, and avocados. As slower-burning sources of energy, they can prevent spikes and crashes.

See also How Yoga Can Help You Deal with Diabetes

STUDY WITH MARIA

Tired of dealing with mood swings, cramps, or fatigue? In her online course, Maria dives into the physiology of reproductive health and offers yoga, acupressure, meal plans, and more to regulate your cycle and boost overall well-being. Learn more: yogajournal.com/womenshealth.



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Ayurveda

This Kundalini Yoga Sequence Will Make Conceiving a Little Easier

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Conceiving a child is a miracle. This Kundalini practice rebalances the second chakra for the possibility of conception.

Learn how this Kundalini practice rebalances the second chakra for the possibility of conception.

Conceiving a child is a miracle. Sometimes it can take time and nurturing for pregnancy to occur. Kundalini Yoga is a wonderful tool for conscious conception for both men and women. It integrates the spiritual, energetic, conscious, and unconscious aspects of a person, as well as strengthens the nervous system, balances the hormonal system, and energizes the muscles, organs, and joints of the physical body.

While all of the chakras come into play, it is essential to have a balanced second chakra in order for healthy conception to happen. Many men and women feel as though they are running on adrenaline, weakening their sexuality, sensuality, sensitivity, and emotional well-being. They lose touch with the natural balance that comes from aligning with the creative embrace of the universe.

See also A Sequence to Help You Feel Strong and Secure

Here are four Kundalini Yoga practices that help rebalance the second chakra so that creative expression and our natural, robust fertility are aligned with the ripe possibility of conception. These exercises work for both men and women, helping them to open, allow, and drop their resistance to the natural creativity of the universe flowing through them.

About the Author

Teacher and model Karena Virginia is a Kundalini Yoga teacher based near New York City. She is the coauthor of Essential Kundalini Yoga. Learn more at karenavirginia.com

STUDY WITH KARENA

Join Karena for a unique, six-week online course on the incredibly powerful practices that Kundalini Yoga has to offer. Learn more at yogajournal.com/kundalini101.

Excerpted from Essential Kundalini Yoga: An Invitation to Radiant Health, Unconditional Love, and the Awakening of Your Energetic Potential, by Karena Virginia and Dharm Khalsa. Sounds True, February 2017. Reprinted with permission.



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Ayurveda

This Kundalini Yoga Sequence Will Make Concieving a Little Easier

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Conceiving a child is a miracle. This Kundalini practice rebalances the second chakra for the possibility of conception.

Learn how this Kundalini practice rebalances the second chakra for the possibility of conception.

Conceiving a child is a miracle. Sometimes it can take time and nurturing for pregnancy to occur. Kundalini Yoga is a wonderful tool for conscious conception for both men and women. It integrates the spiritual, energetic, conscious, and unconscious aspects of a person, as well as strengthens the nervous system, balances the hormonal system, and energizes the muscles, organs, and joints of the physical body.

While all of the chakras come into play, it is essential to have a balanced second chakra in order for healthy conception to happen. Many men and women feel as though they are running on adrenaline, weakening their sexuality, sensuality, sensitivity, and emotional well-being. They lose touch with the natural balance that comes from aligning with the creative embrace of the universe.

See also A Sequence to Help You Feel Strong and Secure

Here are four Kundalini Yoga practices that help rebalance the second chakra so that creative expression and our natural, robust fertility are aligned with the ripe possibility of conception. These exercises work for both men and women, helping them to open, allow, and drop their resistance to the natural creativity of the universe flowing through them.

About the Author

Teacher and model Karena Virginia is a Kundalini Yoga teacher based near New York City. She is the coauthor of Essential Kundalini Yoga. Learn more at karenavirginia.com

STUDY WITH KARENA

Join Karena for a unique, six-week online course on the incredibly powerful practices that Kundalini Yoga has to offer. Learn more at yogajournal.com/kundalini101.

Excerpted from Essential Kundalini Yoga: An Invitation to Radiant Health, Unconditional Love, and the Awakening of Your Energetic Potential, by Karena Virginia and Dharm Khalsa. Sounds True, February 2017. Reprinted with permission.



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Ayurveda

Feeling a Hot Flash? Learn How Yoga for Menopause Might Help Your Symptoms

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Many women have found that yoga, including restorative and supportive poses, can ameliorate the undesirable side effects of menopause, including hot flashes and more.

Gracefully navigate this transition period, and ameliorate hot flashes, mood swings, and more with these yoga for menopause tips.

When Alison, 48, began experiencing intense hot flashes, they often arrived at night and interrupted her sleep. But on the whole, her perimenopausal symptoms were more annoying than unbearable. Then her menstrual cycle spun out of control. “Suddenly, my menstrual flow was really heavy and lasted twice as long as before,” says Alison, who lives in Chicago and requested that her last name not be used. “My periods went on forever.” Her gynecologist suggested that Alison try hormone replacement therapy (HRT), prescription drugs used to control menopausal symptoms. “She told me not to rule it out if my symptoms were really bad, but my feeling was that I’d rather try to just get through them,” Alison says.

She had good reason for wanting to avoid HRT. The treatment regimen, which artificially elevates a woman’s estrogen and progesterone levels, has come under intense scrutiny in recent years. Major studies have linked it to an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, strokes, and other life-threatening conditions.

Soon after Alison’s menstrual cycles became so irregular, she went to class at Yoga Circle, her regular studio, and learned an Iyengar asana sequence designed to help women cope with the physical discomforts related to their cycles. Many of the poses were restorative; they included Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose), Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose), and Janu Sirsasana (Head-of-the-Knee Pose) with the head supported. When Alison’s next menstrual period began, she practiced the sequence every day and noticed that her flow returned to normal. Encouraged by the results, she began to think that she could control her symptoms without HRT. Maybe, she thought, yoga could provide the relief she was looking for. And her intuition proved correct. Many women have found that yoga can ameliorate the undesirable side effects of menopause.

See also Yoga for Menopause: Alleviate Symptoms with Yoga

Yoga for Hormonal Imbalances

Though menopause itself is simply the moment that menstruation stops, the transition generally takes several years. This phase is called perimenopause and typically occurs in women between the ages of 45 and 55. During perimenopause, fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels can trigger a myriad of uncomfortable symptoms. Among the most common are hot flashes, anxiety and irritability, insomnia, fatigue, depression and mood swings, memory lapses, and an erratic menstrual cycle.

Few women experience all of these, but an estimated 55 to 65 percent of them do experience some mild menopause-related problems, says Rowan Chlebowski, MD, of the Harbor UCLA Research and Education Institute in Torrance, California. About 25 percent report almost no disruption to their daily lives, while approximately 10 to 20 percent suffer severe and often debilitating symptoms.

Hormonal fluctuations generally accompany women’s passages into each new biological stage of life; with them often come various discomforts, such as acne and mood swings at puberty, morning sickness during pregnancy, and postpartum depression. “Menopause is no exception,” says Nancy Lonsdorf, MD, author of A Woman’s Best Medicine for Menopause.

Before the onset of perimenopause, a woman’s menstrual cycle is set in motion each month by the hypothalamus, a small structure at the base of the brain that regulates many bodily functions, including appetite and temperature. The hypothalamus signals the pituitary gland to produce important hormones for reproduction, and those hormones in turn stimulate production of estrogen and progesterone in the ovaries. During perimenopause, the ovaries and pituitary gland engage in a kind of tug-of-war. The ovaries decrease hormone production, while the pituitary gland, sensing low hormone levels, continues to spur on the ovaries. This frenetic struggle causes erratic hormonal fluctuations—too much estrogen, which revs the body’s motors, followed by spikes of progesterone, which slows the body.

See also The Best Pose and Acupressure Point to Reduce Bloating

“Hormones are very powerful; they affect just about every tissue of the body,” Lonsdorf says. “So it’s no wonder that various conditions can arise as the body tries to adjust to these hormonal shifts. For instance, when the brain is affected by erratic hormone patterns, sleep, mood, and memory may all be influenced, and when the uterus is stimulated by sporadic hormone patterns, irregular bleeding occurs, and so on.”

Typically, a woman experiences the first signs of this hormonal fluctuation about six years before her menstrual periods end. These symptoms generally continue until a year or more after her last period, when the hormone levels gradually stabilize. After menopause, the ovaries produce less of the female hormones. However, the body still needs some estrogen to keep the bones healthy and to prevent conditions like vaginal dryness. The adrenal glands, which are located above the kidneys, play an important role in this by secreting low levels of male hormones that are converted by fat cells into estrogen. Still, the body must adjust to a new, much lower hormone level.

These natural physiological changes and the havoc they can wreak for many women prompted researchers in the late 1960s to seek a solution for common menopausal symptoms. The treatment they ultimately proposed was HRT. Their reasoning was that problems stemming from declining estrogen levels could simply be eliminated if the missing hormones were replaced. Scientists believed that maintaining hormone levels similar to what the body was used to would provide relief.

See also 12 Yoga Poses to Boost Breast Health

HRT was a simple solution for managing menopausal symptoms. But since several major studies have shown that HRT exposes women to serious health risks, many women have begun seeking more natural solutions. Those who have turned to yoga for relief have found that while asana may not directly influence estrogen production, specific postures can help control unpleasant symptoms. Restorative postures in particular can relax the nervous system and may improve the functioning of the endocrine system (especially the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, the thyroid, and the parathyroid gland), which helps the body adapt to hormonal fluctuations.

Walden says forward bends, such as Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), can help reduce irritability and mental tension.

Alleviating the Symptoms of Menopause

Yoga instructor Patricia Walden, 57, knows firsthand how yoga can help temper menopausal complaints. Like many other women’s symptoms, hers arrived like rain: first a sprinkle, then a full-fledged storm. Hot flashes came first, and then—for the next year—she suffered through constant fatigue and insomnia. She often awoke in the night and stayed awake for up to three hours.

On the days when Walden had intense symptoms, she found she needed to modify her yoga routine. She was accustomed to a vigorous daily practice but discovered that unsupported inversions, strenuous poses, and backbends sometimes made her symptoms worse. When that happened, she turned to supported and restorative poses to calm her nerves. She still did inversions, but instead of an unsupported Sirsasana (Headstand), which sometimes brought on more hot flashes, she would do Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) using bolsters or Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand) with a chair. With these modifications, Walden was able to reap the benefits of inversions—relief from anxiety and irritability—without challenging or heating her body.

As Walden’s symptoms diminished, her conviction that yoga could be a potent tool for easing the suffering that accompanies hormonal shifts deepened. She began to connect with other women who were experiencing similar difficulties and has since created specific yoga sequences for women with menopausal symptoms. “I was interested in women’s issues before,” says Walden, co-author with Linda Sparrowe of The Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health: A Lifelong Guide to Wellness. “But after having gone through menopause myself, I am much more sensitive to it.”f

See also Yoga for Women’s Health: The Best Type of Practice for Each Phase of Your Menstrual Cycle

A regular yoga practice can make a world of difference in a woman’s experience of menopause. And a solid practice before this phase can ease the transition, says Suza Francina, author of Yoga and the Wisdom of Menopause. “If you practice yoga before menopause, then all the poses that are especially useful for coping with uncomfortable symptoms are already familiar, and you can reach for them like an old friend,” she says. “If you are familiar with restorative poses, then you have the best menopause medicine at your disposal.”

Yoga Poses for Every Menopause Symptom

Here are descriptions of the most common symptoms and specific recommendations for taming them.

About the Author

Trisha Gura is a freelance science writer and yoga student in Boston. Find her trishagura.com.



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