Twenty years ago during a particularly stressful period of work, I began taking a yoga class as a non-pharmacologic antidote. I was running a center for reproduction and women’s health, working 24/7 and needed a way to relax. I had the good fortune to enroll with a yogini named Hari Khar Khalsa, and I took classes from her for a period of time. One day after class I asked her if she would be interested in teaching a yoga class to my patients to lower their stress. We began a series of yoga classes with the first hour consisting of us sitting on mats on the floor with my patients and discussing a health topic. I called them “Mat Chats.” The second hour was devoted to yoga with a focus on the medical topic we had just covered.
Over time, I not only received the benefit of lowering my own stress level through yoga, but also the benefit of Hari’s friendship and ultimately collaboration on A Woman’s Book of Yoga, a book that combines Eastern and Western medicine to help women at different stages of their lives. Since that time, I’ve suggested yoga to many of my patients. One group that I find it particularly useful for is women in and around menopause. They often tell me it helps them deal with their symptoms. Because many women either can’t or won’t take hormone therapy, finding an effective alternative is really important.
I was delighted to discover that the February 2012 issue of the journal Menopause, finally proves yoga reduces menopause symptoms, hot flashes and improves sleep. This is the first study to do so. The article studied women between the ages of 50 and 65 with no yoga experience and who were not taking hormones or antidepressants. The study lasted 4 months and included two one-hour yoga sessions per week, which combined stretching exercises and breathing techniques. Compared to a group of women who only did stretching, the yoga group improved their sleep and their mental health, and also their menopausal symptoms. The researchers believe this is because yoga increases levels of the brain hormone -aminobutyric acid, which calms the brain. Yoga also seems to increase levels of the sleep inducing hormone melatonin.
Another benefit of yoga is that it amplifies the parasympathetic tone in the body, which aids relaxation and reduces the sympathetic tone – the so-called fight or flight hormones. This may be an important part of why sleep patterns improve and hot flashes are reduced. Most women observe that when they are stressed, their hot flashes increase.
As more and more women question whether or not to take HRT, and women with breast cancer are typically not able to take HRT, finally getting proof that an alternative approach reduces symptoms of menopause, lowers hot flashes and improves sleep is a great thing. So if you are looking for an alternative to HRT, or even if you are taking HRT and just want to help your insomnia, improve your mental health and your menopausal symptoms, grab your yoga mat, enroll in a yoga class with a good instructor, practice several times per week, and sleep tight. Namaste.
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Machelle (Mache) Seibel, MD is one of America’s top health communicators. Whether speaking, consulting, writing or composing he teaches people the health information they need and the perspective they require to stay well. His passion is to help America stay well. “It’s better to stay well than to get well.” Professor and Director, Complicated Menopause Program, University of Massachusetts Medical School 2004-Present Founder of HealthRock®, reshaping health education with music and entertainment Harvard Medical School faculty nearly two decades Past Medical Director, Inverness Medical Innovations (now Alere) 2008 Recipient, Ashbel Smith Distinguished Alumnus Award, the University of Texas Medical Branch’s highest honor Multiple national awards for research, writing, music and patient education received Author/editor 14 books, over 200 scientific articles, past editor-in-chief of the medical journal Sexuality, Reproduction & Menopause Advisory board of Dr. Mehmet Oz’s HealthCorps initiative to fight childhood obesity Repeatedly voted into Best Doctors in America Hosted PBS and NYC TV episodes, frequent media expert http://www.doctorseibel.com/
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