Yoga for Perimenopause

From time to time, I share postures included in published yoga research. I’ve used such lists to inform my own sequencing, both in group classes and when working privately with clients. Today’s share is a list of asanas that were included in a yoga protocol for a study of perimenopausal women. I’m not providing analysis or evaluation of the research, just the poses. In this study, 216 women were assigned to either a yoga group or an exercise group. The intervention was practiced for 45 minutes every day for 12 weeks.

Perimenopausal women have been shown to have increased blood sugar levels and may be at higher risk for diabetes and metabolic syndrome. It should go without saying that perimenopause is a stressful physiological state in women. Thus, the study measured blood sugar and stress hormone levels before the intervention period and again, after 12 weeks of intervention.

The study found yoga to be as beneficial or better than exercise at improving fasting blood sugar and stress hormone levels, with participants reporting calming effects of yoga practice and a general feeling of wellness.

And here, as promised, are the postures practiced in the yoga group. I’ve provided a visual of each asana using Yoga Stick Figures from Justine Aldersey-Williams. I’ve been using her clever illustrations in my teaching materials for several years now. You can download over 200 images from her Etsy store for just $5. Inconsistencies in naming & spelling of yogasana across yoga styles & teachers is to be expected, but these illustrations capture the basic shape of each pose. You’re welcome!

Asanas & approximate time held

Swastikasana (auspicious pose) 2 min

siddhasana

Vajrasana (thunderbolt pose) 2 min

virasana

Suptavajrasana (reclined Thunderbolt Pose) 2 min

supta-virasana

Tadasana (Mountain pose) 2 min

tadasana

Trikonasana (Triangle pose) 2 min

trikonasana

Parsvakonasana (extended side angle pose) 2 min

parsvakonasana

Paschimottasana (seated forward bend) 2 min

paschimottanasana

Purvatanasana (seated back arch) 2 min

purvottanasana

Janushirshana (head to the knee pose) 2 min

janusirsasana

Pavanamuktaasana (wind relieving pose) 2 min

apanasana

Bhujangasana (cobra pose) 2 min

bhujangasana

Shalabhasana (locust pose) 2 min

salabhasana

Dhanurasana (bow pose) 2 min

dhanurasana
Vakrasana (twisted pose) 2 min

marichyasana

Padottanasana (wide-legged forward bend) 2 min

pras_padottanasana
Shavasana (corpse pose) 5 min

savasana

Pranayama(breathing exercises)

Anuloma-viloma (alternative nostril) 5 min

Suryabhedana (right nostril) 5 min

Sheetali (through tongue) 2 min

Bhramari (honey bee sound during exhalation) 2 min

Namaste, Michele

When alignment points are biomechanical

After my first yoga class with an Iyengar-certified yoga teacher, I was hooked. The  placement of body parts at precise distances from each other, the bewilderingly colorful cues like “pull your skin up from your heels to your waist,” the blankets, and bolsters, and straps, oh my! Increasingly nuanced alignment combined with meditation-inducing long-held postures resonated like no other practice I had experienced. And, later, as a teacher, those unwavering alignment cues provided me a hook, something to cling to, in those first years months, when I hadn’t a clue what I was doing or talking about in yoga.

In the intervening years,  I’ve learned muscle anatomy – which muscles are contracting, stretching, and stabilizing in which yoga poses from smart guys like Ray Long. I’ve been exposed to passionately informed writings on the latest research in stretching and muscle physiology via the likes of Jules Mitchell. I’ve dabbled in the writings of the great Tom Myers on the endlessly fascinating and surprising subject of fascial tissue; practicing and teaching in the style of those who try to apply this evolving fascial knowledge to the Yin style of yoga, namely Paul Grilley, Bernie Clark, and Sarah Powers. All of these body thinkers school and inspire me and are constantly confirming and opposing each others wisdom. It’s maddening! Enter the fray Katy Bowman. She updated my understanding and practice of Iyengar’s culturally-based yoga alignment with an alignment based in geometry, physics, and engineering. Her circular theory, via her Restorative Exercise™ program, goes something like this:

There is one position of the body that ensures optimal flow of electricity (nerve impulses), blood (oxygenated cell food), and lymph (cellular waste removal). This position also happens to minimize friction in the joints and compression in the vertebral discs. Using 25 bony markers to align joints relative to each other, and in the case of multi-articular joints like the spine, relative also to itself, you place your muscles in the optimal position for strength and yield, which equals the greatest amount of electrical flow, which equals the greatest amount force generation, which equals the greatest amount of blood flow to those muscles. The greatest amount of blood to the tissues equals the greatest amount of tissue regeneration. Tissue regeneration equals tissue health. Biologically speaking, our bodies have one, and only one job, and that is to make cells. Our muscles must be at the correct length for strength, yield, flow, and ultimately cellular regeneration. It is through alignment that we get our muscles to the correct length and so goes the circle.

What I like about Katy’s alignment markers is their universality. Everyone is distinctly shaped and sized but can use the same markers because the bony points are yours and are relative to yourself. This is infinitely more objective and discriminating than cues based on distances. To ask a class of 20 differently shaped/sized students to “jump your feet four feet apart”  is not an appropriate cue for most of the bodies in the room. My “four feet apart” at a height of 5’8 is going to look and feel very different from someone who is 5’1, who is going to look/feel very different from someone who is 6’4. The RE alignment points are based on Katy’s understanding of muscle force length or the length-tension relationship, whereas cues in the Iyengar  style, and subsequently most styles of yoga practiced in the US, were developed for another culture with different tissue loads, anthropometric dimensions, and very specific environments that are quite different from the way most Westerners spend their waking (and sleeping) hours.

So, have I abandoned Iyengar altogether? Absolutely not. My copies of Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika and B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health are dog-eared and consulted anytime I want to reference how the man, who is arguably responsible for the way Hatha yoga is practiced in studios worldwide, cued and presented a posture. But then, I use my filters of current body thinkers and that of my own body experience to update what I practice and teach.

Namaste, Michele