— Judy, Michigan
Jaki Nett's Reply:
I asked a friend once how she handles hot flashes. The advice she gave me was to find the humor and go on with life. She said, "Child, I'm all dressed up and made up, thinking I'm looking fine, and I get a hot flash and my face washes down onto the front of my dress. What can I do? Got'ta find the humor."
I deal with hot flashes by dressing in layers and carrying a fan. To handle night sweats I sleep in a cold bedroom and I also have a small fan on the floor next to my side of the bed that I turn on when I need direct, immediate cooling.
Each woman experiences menopause differently. Some do not have any symptoms, while others' experiences are textbook cases. Allow your symptoms to help guide your yoga practice. Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose) did wonders for me when in the throws of menopause. Sometimes I would find myself lost, not knowing where I wanted to be, what I wanted to do, or how I felt. I felt like I was standing in a big void knowing I had to make a decision, but could not choose. I would end up in Viparita Karani, and I always came out feeling grounded and with a sense of inner knowing about what to do next.
If you find that you are irritable, do standing poses to release some of that pent-up energy. When the "blahs" pull you down, practice supported forward bends like Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Forward Bend), Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), Upavistha Konasana (Wide Angle Pose), and crossed-legs forward bends. When your heart needs a little lift, practice Bound Supta Baddha Konasana, supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, and supported Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana.
My teacher, Geeta Iyengar, has a set series of poses to soothe the symptoms accompanying menopause. Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand), Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), and Halasana (Plow Pose) are invaluable for hormonal balance. If your balance and equilibrium are disturbed, practice these poses with the support of a bolster or blanket.
Finally, look at your life off the yoga mat to see if there is a correlation that increases or decreases hot flashes and night sweats. I noticed that when I was stressed my hot flashes would increase and intensify. When I would get upset or angry, I would start having hot flashes. Spicy foods, alcohol, and hot drinks would also bring on hot flashes. Rooms with poor circulation—hot flashes. Controlling myself from not speaking my mind—flash and sweat. I decided to stop putting oil on at bedtime. I dressed to accommodate the fluctuations of hot flashes and the chills that followed. I also took my friend's advice and found my humor. When a hot flash occurs I say "it's nature's way of giving me a second chance to have moist skin." After twelve years, my hot flashes and night sweats are getting less frequent. I am starting to miss them.
Jaki Nett is a certified Iyengar Yoga instructor in St. Helena, California, and a faculty member of the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco. She teaches public classes in the San Francisco Bay Area and leads workshops in the United States and Europe, including specialty workshops on female issues.