Yoga and the Wisdom of Menopause: A Guide to Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Health at Midlife and Beyond

Yoga and the Wisdom of Menopause: A Guide to Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Health at Midlife and Beyond

by Suza Francina

Hormone Treatment Is Called Harmful-Washington Post, 7/10/02

Estrogen Use Linked to Higher Cancer Risk-Boston Globe, 7/17/02

31.2 million women facing menopause in America are concerned by these headlines. Most women today will live over one-third of their lives post-menopausal, but what about the age-old solution of hormone replacement therapy? In 2002 the U.S

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Hormone Treatment Is Called Harmful-Washington Post, 7/10/02

Estrogen Use Linked to Higher Cancer Risk-Boston Globe, 7/17/02

31.2 million women facing menopause in America are concerned by these headlines. Most women today will live over one-third of their lives post-menopausal, but what about the age-old solution of hormone replacement therapy? In 2002 the U.S. government halted a major study of hormone therapy because it increased the risk of invasive breast cancer. Now, millions of women are left wondering whether they should approach menopause without hormones, suffering from hot flashes and low sex drive or take hormones and live in fear of being another statistic. Suza Francina has a simpler solution: Yoga.

In this practical book, Francina, a leading yogi and author of The New Yoga for People Over 50, shows how yoga can be a powerful tool to help women turn menopause into a positive and empowering experience, both physically and spiritually. Included are easy-to-follow, indexed photos of yoga poses that alleviate key menopausal problems including: hormonal changes; hot flashes; irregular bleeding; fibroids; stress and anxiety, mood swings, depression and fatigue; bone loss; heart disease and cancer.

Francina delivers a timely and truly heartening message to women: you don't have to get weaker or depressed when facing menopause, it can truly be an empowering, restorative time.

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Editorial Reviews

Yoga Journal

This latest work from Suza Francina -- registered yoga therapist, certified
Iyengar teacher, and author of The New Yoga for People Over 50 (Health Communications, 1997) -- is poised to join the auspicious ranks of The Woman's Book of Yoga, by Linda Sparrowe and Patricia Walden (Shambala, 2002), among the key volumes for women seeking help from yoga in negotiating crucial life passages. Francina provides both how-to practice guidance and encouragement in plentiful portions. "Yoga can help us move joyfully into the second half of our lives," she writes, and her enthusiasm invites the reader to partake in the wisdom that follows.

Francina devotes most of the book to examining the role yoga can play in promoting physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being in the face of dramatic hormonal changes, the potential for and onset of osteoporosis, and even the experience (and possible avoidance) of cancer and heart disease. She thoughtfully presents scientific research and her own experiences as a yoga teacher -- and a woman -- alongside the testimony of more than a dozen radiant "women of a certain age" who embody the vitality that yoga can help cultivate. The rest of the book (about 50 pages) outlines a compact but well-rounded practice that even a newcomer can readily begin exploring.

This practice is divided into several section: restorative poses for "crossing the menopausal bridge," supported weight bearing poses, supported standing poses, simple seated poses and relaxing lying down poses, hanging and backbending poses that require props, and poses "to learn under the guidance of an experienced teacher." Helpful appendixes, including an extensive list of resources and an exhaustive bibilography, are included. Taken together, the many elements of Francina's book constitute a highly readable and extremely helpful guide for women approaching, navigating, or reflecting on menopause,
and those who love them.

Library Journal
Francina (The New Yoga for People over 50) is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor and a registered yoga therapist with 30 years' experience in the field of yoga and exercise therapy. In her excellent guide for menopausal women, she explains how yoga can support one's health and spiritual awakening during the midlife transition. Her theme of yoga's accompanying sense of well-being is woven throughout the text, as she discusses such topics as Hormone Replacement Therapy, osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, and the workings of women's bodies. The yoga poses suggested to relieve the side effects of menopause are clearly described and illustrated with photographs. Many of the recommended poses are restorative, with the emphasis on yoga's nurturing aspects. Most exercises are accessible to beginners, although the author does recommend finding a good yoga teacher. Francina also includes a vast amount of useful information in her "Resources and References" section: listings (with e-mail addresses) of yoga teachers featured in her book; tips on how to find yoga props, videos, and specific programs dealing with heart disease, cancer, and menopause; and a bibliography of books and periodical articles dealing with women's health, spirituality, and psychology (as well as yoga). Suitable for most women's health and yoga collections in public and academic libraries.-Dede Fellrath, East Lake Community Lib., Tampa, FL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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Read an Excerpt

The Yoga of Menopause:
Alternatives to Hormone Therapy

Woman's lives are deeply affected by the ebb and flow of their hormones—those mysterious and miraculous molecules that deliver vital messages via the bloodstream from one part of the body to another. Indeed, our lives are patterned by the cycles of nature, whether these are the changes of puberty, the monthly rhythms of our menstrual cycle or the passages of menopause. These changes have undisputed effects on our whole being. No woman can menstruate, give birth or cross the menopausal bridge without feeling these hormonal influences on her physical, emotional and psychological state.

Yoga's Unique Benefits During the Menopausal Years

Achieving hormonal balance during the menopausal years is essential to good health. Among the many benefits that set yoga apart from other forms of physical exercise is the effect yoga postures and breathing practices have not only on the muscles and bones of your body, but also on your organs and glands. In this book we explain the effect that these postures can have on your hormonal system, and how to use yoga to work with your body as it goes through hormonal and other changes during menopause.

Practicing yoga can help prevent or reduce the common symptoms that affect women specifically during the menopausal years by providing a form of treatment directed at the root causes that result in the breakdown of the healthy functioning of the body.

It's important to bear in mind that all menopausal symptoms are related, and using yoga to ease the unpleasant effect of one symptom generally leads to better health in the rest of the body. Every yoga pose has a multitude of effects on all the systems of the body.

The experiences of longtime yoga practitioners show that certain poses and sequences of poses act as a tonic for the healthy functioning of certain body systems or organs. Equally important for your health during menopause is the overall positive effect of yoga on the body as a whole.

The regular practice of all the categories of poses—standing, sitting, lying down, backbends, forward bends, twists and inverted (upside down) poses—stimulates and activates all the glands, organs, tissues and cells of the body. Yoga's inverted poses are particularly important during menopause, as they have a powerful effect on the neuroendocrine system, allowing fresh, oxygenated blood to flow to the glands in the head and neck. In each yoga posture (asana), different organs and glands are placed in various anatomical positions and are supplied with fresh blood, gently massaged, relaxed, toned and stimulated.

Yoga's approach to health during menopause and beyond is based on the premise that the body should be allowed to function as efficiently, effectively and naturally as possible. Practicing the postures recommended for the menopause transition, in a way that is appropriate for your present physical and emotional condition, will gradually rejuvenate your body and remove the causes of unpleasant symptoms that you may be experiencing.

What Is Menopause?

A woman's life unfolds in three major physical stages that are determined by her reproductive system. In her childhood, before the onset of menses, she is in the "maiden" stage. After puberty, in her childbearing years, she is biologically in the "mother" phase of life, even if she chooses not to have children. At approximately midlife, production of estrogen and progesterone by the ovaries slows down. Menstruation becomes irregular and eventually ends. The years immediately preceding and following the last menstrual period are called the menopausal years, or climacteric or crest. A year or so after menstruation stops is the beginning of the third major stage of a woman's life—the "crone" or "Wise Woman" stage.

The word "menopause" is from the Greek words men or meno for "month" and pausis for "pause" or "stop." Simply stated, menopause is the cessation of menstrual periods, an end to the monthly cycle.

Menopause has three stages. The first stage is perimenopause, which literally means "premenopause," a change in hormonal functions leading up to menopause. Perimenopause occurs typically around age forty, but it can begin in the thirties when the menstrual cycle is still normal. It can last as long as fifteen years, but on average lasts around five years. This is the time during which women notice changes in their periods from lighter and longer to heavier and more frequent. The greatest fluctuations in hormones occur during perimenopause, and this stage is often described as puberty in reverse.

The second stage, menopause itself, is actually the cessation of menstruation (menses). Menopause is considered official twelve months after the last period. The average age of women whose menstrual periods have stopped is fifty-two. Although a woman may no longer be having any periods, her emotions can still fluctuate. Hot flashes, or "power surges" as many women prefer to call them, may still be present, and the body is still adjusting to the change in hormone levels. This period can last several more years.

The final stage, which lasts the remainder of a woman's life, is postmenopause. At this point, a woman's body is generally comfortable and has adjusted to its hormone levels.

Hormones 101

Women crossing the menopausal bridge today are living in the midst of an unprecedented, mass scale hormone experiment. Observers of the menopause industry predict we will look back on this era, when millions of women swallowed a drug derived from the urine of pregnant mares, as one of the biggest medical fiascos ever. While I was in the midst of writing this book, news was released that a branch of the Woman's Health Initiative Study had been stopped earlier than anticipated. Their research established that women taking PremPro, a combination of Premarin and Provera, were found to have increased risk of invasive breast cancer, heart attack, stroke and blood clots in the lungs.

Many experts still claim the risk is minimal. Women considering hormone replacement therapy (HRT) need to educate themselves about the different types of hormones available. There are many excellent books listed in the Resource section that provide in-depth discussions of hormones. Among the ones I recommend for their holistic approaches to women's health are: The Wisdom of Menopause, by Christiane Northrup, M.D.; Dr. Susan Love's Hormone Book, by Susan M. Love, M.D.; What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause, by John R. Lee, M.D.; Hormone Heresy, by Sherrill Sellman; and Menopause: Bridging the Gap Between Natural and Conventional Medicine, by Lorilee Schoenbeck, N.D.

Yoga poses that turn the body halfway or completely upside down, such as Standing Forward Bends, Downward-Facing Dog and various inverted poses, stimulate the endocrine system, especially the pituitary gland. This small gland in the center of the brain is involved in the regulation of blood-sugar levels and body temperature, and controls the changes in the hormone levels that occur in menopause.

Menopause as Metamorphosis

Susun Weed, in her book, The Menopausal Years: The Wise Woman Way, describes menopause as a metamorphosis, a complete change at the cellular level, where a woman changes from one person to another, similar to the dramatic change that occurs during puberty. Susun Weed and other holistic healers who have studied the ancient women's mysteries remind us of the power and initiation potential of these two unique life events: menstruation and menopause. She views the menopausal years as the years of transformation from a potential mother to Wise Woman elder or crone.

Forward bends also gently compress the abdomen, massaging the uterus and other abdominal organs. When we come out of the pose and release the compression, the organs are bathed in freshly oxygenated blood, and we feel refreshed and rejuvenated. This alternate squeezing and soaking enhances the functioning of the ovaries and the hormones they produce. Forward bends also soothe the nervous system and have a quieting effect on the mind.

2003. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Yoga and the Wisdom of Menopause by Suza Francina. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.

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Meet the Author

Suza Francina is the author of The New Yoga for People Over 50 which has been published in several languages and reviewed on dozens of health-related Web sites, including She is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor and registered yoga therapist with thirty years' experience in the field of yoga and exercise therapy. Francina teaches internationally and conducts workshops for the Yoga Journal Convention, the annual Prevention Magazine's Walker's Rally and the Omega Institute. She has written for many publications, including Prevention, Yoga Journal and Herbs for Health. Some of her books and contributions include Women's Health Care: A Guide to Alternatives, The Holistic Health Handbook , American Yoga and Living Your Yoga. She has appeared on numerous radio and television shows including Fit TV: Healthy Living (Body by Jake Productions) and the AARP Maturity Broadcast News. Her work with older students will be featured in an upcoming issue of AARP's Modern Maturity magazine. She is based in Ojai, California.

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