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Menopause, Anxiety, and Yoga
By Cheryl Acheson, RYT
My brain went wacky around 50. I have a loving husband and great kids, yet I was not enjoying my life. Menopause had bestowed on me one of its gifts—anxiety. The hamster on the wheel in my brain began running in overdrive, especially at night. Are my adult kids safe? Will I have enough money to live on? Why is my dog coughing—do I need to get her to the vet this minute? Did that new sweater hide my back fat? On and on it goes—and most of it is complete garbage.
The topper for me was trying to get out of a repeat family trip to Hawaii, a place I have always loved. My brain was not working properly. Fortunately, my young but wise physician encouraged me to seek assistance rather than go it alone. She encouraged me to continue my steady yoga diet along with guided meditation work to reduce my angst. After six months of consistent practice, I am happier and my relationships are healthier. I sleep better.
Yoga helps me deal with anxiety. Not just any yoga. Not the yoga of a 25-year-old with a Cirque du Soleil body sweating and pretzeling into noodle-like forms. I am talking about the kind of yoga taught by a knowledgeable teacher who creates an environment for students to stretch their physical, mental, and (perhaps but not a requirement) spiritual selves and relax. For those overwhelmed by worry, relaxation is perhaps more beneficial than the movement portion. I also like a class that is fun!
Here is what yoga gives me:
1. I have a new community and friends (young and old) whom I would never have met. There is something about being together and stripping away protective barriers that creates an environment where it is all right to share ourselves. Our common bond is we enjoy gathering together, focusing on our individual breathing, and for a multitude of reasons finding peace and sometimes even grace in moving our physical and mental selves out of our comfort zones. We support each other.
2. I am now physically, mentally, and emotionally stronger from yoga. I have developed confidence that allows me to embrace new challenges.
3. I focus on my breath and slow it down. This allows the body and mind to relax, which is vital to good health. In short, the hamster in my brain stops running, if only for a few seconds. Knowing I can stop the hamster is very powerful. I now have the power to stop the hamster when I am not practicing yoga!
4. A specific physical benefit for me is strengthening the pelvic floor. Why is this important? Leakage—no one wants it.
5. I have a sense of balance—physical and emotional. I have heard that physical balance is something we lose with age unless we specifically work on it. Who on this earth does not need to enhance emotional balance?
So, if taming the stress response sounds helpful, I encourage you to give yoga a try. Find a teacher who is nice and with whom you can relate. Avoid "power" and "heated" classes, as these are code words for an "ass-kicking" class. You can certainly work up to that if you wish. Seek out Level 1 or Beginning Yoga. If your first class does not feel right, find another.
Hope to see you on the mat!
Cheryl Acheson, RYT. Ever the student, Cheryl's training is primarily Iyengar yoga and Anusara yoga based. She has studied with many yoga instructors, including Darren Rhodes, Max Strom, and Seane Corn. She has also apprenticed for three years with Tom Abrehamson, one of the Silicon Valley's most dedicated pranayama and hatha yoga instructors. With well over 500 hours of formal yoga teacher training, Cheryl is always refining her teaching skills and advising her yoga students that through the discipline and devotion of their yoga practice, they are able to calm the mind and dust off the mirror to reveal the true self as the embodiment of the divine. Cheryl enjoys teaching yoga to beginners of all ages.