Yoga health benefits may include cooling hot flashes
Can yoga reduce menopause hot flashes?
A very encouraging study of yoga health benefits was done in India in 2008.
Altogether 108 women took part, aged between 40 and 55. Half of the group took part in an integrated yoga intervention, while the other half did regular, non-yoga exercises with an instructor (1).
The results were very interesting for anyone seeking natural remedies for menopause.
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The women in the study group who did yoga got more relief from
menopause hot flashes,
(vasomotor symptoms) than the women who were in the group doing normal, but regular exercise.
But not only did the women doing yoga have reduced hot flashes, they also achieved more relief from stress.
Taking part in
regular physical activity
can help reduce stress, so not surprisingly, women in both groups had improved stress levels as a result of being in the study.
But what was remarkable was that the women doing yoga reported a greater benefit than those doing other exercises.
This study is interesting because:
- it involved a reasonable number of women (54) in each group. Many studies have such small numbers it's difficult to draw firm conclusions.
- the women were randomly allocated by the researchers into the yoga group or the control group. Because the women didn't choose the groups themselves this makes the study findings more reliable.
- the intervention was an integrated approach to yoga that combined physical yoga poses (yoga asanas), meditation techniques, yoga breathing and education on yogic principles and philosophy.
- both the yoga and the exercise interventions were regular, sustained and prolonged - 1 hour, 5 times a week for an 8 week period.
Naysayers may point out that because the women were from India, they might have had a lower risk of having hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms than European or American women(2). But as the researchers point out, the differences in hot flashes were measured before and after the yoga study. That is, the incidence of hot flashes was compared within the same women, so it is irrelevant whether or not they had a reduced hot flash profile compared with other women.
Menopause and culture.
So what's the science - how might yoga health benefits come about?
The main theory is that yoga has its positive effect by working on the stress hormone pathways and reducing arousal in the sympathetic nervous system. There is a school of thought that supports the idea that stress and anxiety are important contributors to menopause hot flashes. The positive effects of yoga and meditation techniques might be explained because of this interaction.
The integrated yoga practice used in this study was designed specifically for the purpose, drawing on the original yoga scriptures (Patanjali yoga sutras and Mandukaya karika). Asanas were the 12 postures included in the sun salutation. These yoga poses were combined with slow, rhythmic breathing exercises with full awareness, chanting, and a cyclic meditation technique that combined active and passive practices over a 35 minute period.
The holistic aim of this intervention was to " 'develop mastery over modifications of the mind' " through " 'slowing down the rate of flow of thoughts to the mind.' " and this is what seems to have created the observed yoga health benefits.
Two other much smaller, non-randomised studies with American women have also found yoga health benefits on menopause hot flashes. In the first of these, fourteen postmenopausal women were taught eight restorative yoga postures, based on deep relaxation and total body support. The majority of women were overweight or obese, and few had any prior experience of yoga. But the results were very favourable - the intervention was acceptable to the women and even more important, it worked in reducing both frequency and severity of hot flushes.
And there were other yoga health benefits: participants also reported improvements in sleep, musculoskeletal symptoms and quality of life(3).
The other study of 12 peri- and post-menopausal women, looked at the effects of a weekly 75 minute yoga intervention including breathing practice, 40 minutes of yoga poses and a relaxation technique(4). This study measured changes, by both asking the women (subjective changes), and by measuring hot flash severity using skin conductance monitors (objective changes). Although there were improvements in womens' perceptions of hot flashes and sleep quality before and after the study, there were no significant changes noted by the skin monitors.
But the important thing was that the women felt better as a result of the yoga practice.
These studies found that women are happy to take yoga classes, but sometimes they need help and support in establishing their own yoga practice at home.
To reap maximum yoga health benefits it's important not only to have a good
but also to practise on your own at home, but only once you've been instructed in correct technique - especially if you are not used to taking exercise.
Once on our way with a good yoga practice, it seems that we women can gain loads of health benefits of yoga at midlife and well into old age.
Yoga empowers us and improves our coping skills. And it offers a great way to increase our serenity as we broach the storms of midlife and the anxieties of aging that tend creep up on us - if we let them - as we journey through our perimenopause adventures.
Chattha R. et al. Treating the climacteric symptoms in Indian women with an integrated approach to yoga therapy: a randomized control study. Menopause 2008;12:862-70.
- Boulet MJ et al. Climacteric and menopause in seven south-east Asian countries. Maturitas 1993; 19: 157-176.
- Cohen BE et al. Feasibility and acceptability of restorative yoga for treatment of hot flushes: a pilot trial. Maturitas 2007; 56:198-204.
- Booth-LaForce C. et al. A pilot study of Hatha yoga treatment for menopausal symptoms. Maturitas 2007;57:286-95.
Published August 2011.
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