The short answer is, yes. But it’s nuanced of course. Yoga has well-established, researched and wide-reaching benefits. BUT!
We do not have enough evidence to say that any one Yoga pose alleviates any one symptom or health issue, in menopause or anywhere else!
Yet I see claims made by teachers & in articles all the time.
Whose fault is it? Many of these claims have been made for decades, even centuries, and handed down in a Guru-style tradition where questioning the teachings is not on offer.
A teacher may then take what they have been told, and disseminate it further, not inclined to dive into the research that might support what has now become her claim, which she wants to believe. In a faith-based system, she is being a faithful Yoga teacher.
But we know more now. We have the opportunity to research if we choose to.
But the world expects more now. So when we mix the unthinking claims with a culture that wants quick-fixes… this trend will only grow.
If a trainee on my Teaching Yoga for the Stages of Menopause Certification writes in her assignment that, say, Warrior I improves osteoporosis, or Baddakonasana (Cobbler pose) regulates menstrual bleeding and reduces menopause symptoms, I’ll be sending that assignment back with a request to show me the study (not an article in a Yoga magasine) that shows this!
Why am I so hardline about this?
1) If a student tries a posture for relief from a certain issue & it doesn’t work she may think she’s just rubbish at it and judge herself, or give up doing Yoga at all.
2) In making unsubstantiated claims, we are adding to the barrage of false promises women are navigating in wellness culture, at a vulnerable time in their lives.
3) If a woman Googles “Yoga for Hot Flushes” and in her need tries some of the postures that pop up, she may do damage. Examples I have seen:
😳Janu Sirsasana “helps symptoms of menopause”. She’s more likely to have osteoporosis than in pre-menopause & this would be contraindicated, and it can be hard on changed and challenged cartilage, collagen, soft tissue & joints.
😳Shoulderstand “relieves symptoms of menopause”. (Show me the evidence!). A risky pose to be in and to exit, and difficult to achieve. Also that neck position has contraindications for osteoporosis.
😳Reclining cobbler. “relieves symptoms of menopause & stress.” no evidence of either for the pose in isolation.
😳 Downward dog “helps reduce osteoporosis”. Oh god, SO much more needs to be done than just making this shape! Any shape!
😳Marichyasana. “Applications for obesity”. Yes ladies, do a twist and lose weight! I want to cry. Also contraindicated for Osteoporosis.
4) We know Yoga in general can improve lots of things. But positive results are when it’s used INCLUDING meditation and breathwork, not just one pose or series of poses.
5) Many positive results using a sequence or style have also had positive results for the same benefit in many different sequences and styles: it’s Yoga, not the posture or sequence! For instance in a Meta Analysis (studying all the studies) on Yoga for menopause symptoms found: “Yoga seems to be effective and safe for reducing menopausal symptoms. Effects are comparable to those of other exercise interventions.”*
6) Some studies have shown Yoga to relieve the EXPERIENCE of hot flushes, but not frequency or intensity. And NOT ONE POSE OR SEQUENCE, but a whole practice. And some have shown no improvement.
So why the hell do you teach Yoga for Menopause, Ms Daly & what’s in it that makes what you teach so flippin fancy? You are wise to ask!
Yoga IS great at addressing areas which, when improved, really alleviate symptoms, and protect future health.
There are convincing studies for Yoga benefits regarding SO MANY important areas like Diabetes, neurotransmitters, grey matter, mobility, strength, mood, stress, and more…
These are all relevant to the menopause experience, and improving them will improve comfort and outcome from perimenopause and menopause (unless issues with the woman’s health, rather than hormonal changes, are the cause). But studies around menopause are few and, though some are positive, some are contradictory.
Also, many women’s bodies are more vulnerable in perimenopause and post menopause, and so is their mental health and self-esteem. Complex postures may be more likely to injure, and being unable to “achieve” certain shapes, or even complex breathwork may shatter already impoverished self-esteem, and injury or low mood can lead to loss of movement potential or inclination. This is the opposite of supporting menopausal needs!
And, none of the studies included anything other than a standard Yoga practice (though each trial may have used different styles or selection of practices, none was enhanced by elements that are specific to menopause).
Yoga for Menopause improves on Yoga! How?
- It drops the bits that may injure or stress beyond positive stress, a priority during and after the changes of menopause.
- It’s about how you do, and what you add to your Warrior and your Downward Dog, if you want to make them more bone and muscle supportive.
- It prioritises varied Yoga practices that support physical & neurological concerns, & adds from exercise, breath & health science OUTSIDE of Yoga (For instance, there is some positive evidence for Yoga for osteoporosis, but nowhere near as convincing as research around the need for resistance training and bearing additional weight, so in Yoga for Menopause we add things like resistance bands, or weights, and isometric stretching to that Warrior pose. We know physical novelty is good for the brain, but Yoga can be a bit samey, so brain-stimulating movement challenges are added. Pranayama can be difficult for many, and/or triggering to the vulnerable, so we add easy, menopause-researched breathwork like “paced breathing” etc etc…).
- AND it unpicks how the promotion of Yoga, with false/unrealistic claims, ageism, ableism & the cult of the slim bendy body can destabilise a woman’s experience of menopause & later life.
Of course, science doesn’t have all the answers. But at a time when women can be desperate for solutions, we must KNOW that what we are claiming is true. We should be sure that what we are offering is truly valuable, at least for most people, rather than hope or guess, or worse, repeat what someone else has claimed. Until we know more.
I’m not fancy, just don’t want to make false promises to my beloved mid-lifers. To you.
If you would like to find out more about Yoga for Menopause for you, or as a Yoga Teacher, please contact me, or have a read here.
Read this article from the reputable well researched resource thehealthline.com to see how to responsibly write about Yoga for any particular issue. I’m not crazy about the title of the article, but the content is excellent, evidence-based and no promises.
Meta analysis referred to above: *https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3524799/