Menopause and the years leading up to it can be a challenging time in a woman’s life. It can affect mood, sleep, energy levels, and weight. The body can start feeling like an enemy, a stranger, throwing us off guard, catching us by surprise, not listening, and acting up. Hormones fluctuate and when they do, weird things happen, like weight gain. This brings us to what we will be discussing in this article – can yoga help with menopause weight gain.
The experience of menopause is a deeply personal one. Scientifically, it is defined as going 12 months without menstrual periods. While the average age for menopause is 51, for some women the onset and related changes can begin as early as in their mid thirties or early forties.
Yoga is being increasingly accepted as a way of life, helping us with wellness and prevention. Not just physical health, yoga also helps with creating a shift in attitudes, emotions, approach, lifestyle, and behaviours. Because of this, yoga can be a friend, support, and anchor in this phase, seeing us through and helping us navigate through something we don’t really understand.
While this article specifically focuses on how yoga helps with menopausal weight gain, it also covers other important aspects like why women tend to gain weight at this time in their lives, how yoga can help stay healthy and happy, and things to keep in mind while establishing a yoga practice.
What causes weight gain during and after menopause?
The years preceding menopause is the time most women start experiencing some weight gain. Each body behaves differently and the amount of weight one gains may vary; however, losing this weight can seem to be very hard.
Several factors contribute to menopausal weight gain. Here are the two main contributors.
The impact of ageing
Some weight gain can happen as a result of the natural ageing process, and this happens regardless of changes in hormone levels. With age, we usually get into a state where there is decreased physical activity. We are physically less active than we were in our younger years.
There is also a loss of muscle mass. This reduces resting metabolism, as a result of which weight gain happens more easily.
The impact of hormone changes
Then there are changes in hormones. Estrogen levels begin to fluctuate. While at the onset of menopause, a period known as perimenopause, estrogen levels may increase and become very high, around the actual time of menopause, the reverse happens. Estrogen levels decline and become very low.
Elevated levels of estrogen promote fat gain. At the same time, low levels of estrogen promote fat storage. Hence, the chances of gaining weight during menopause become quite high.
Some weight gain can happen as a result of the natural ageing process.
How does yoga help during menopause
Yoga can help prepare the body and mind for the transition. It helps with both the physiological and the psychological discomfort that can come up at this time of life.
The practice of yoga can also help take away some of the overwhelm that often arises from going through changes that can feel daunting. It helps with instilling more trust in the body and the self.
Yoga achieves the above by helping us pay close attention to the body. It helps us focus on self-care. When we engage with the body, we are more attuned to what it is feeling, how it is changing, and what it needs. It helps us go through the transition with more awareness and acceptance.
Using yoga for menopause weight gain
Not only does yoga help lose weight and build muscle tone, it can also help reduce hot flashes, improve mood, and increase libido.
Here are some postures and sequences that you can build into your yoga routine for shedding those extra pounds from menopause weight gain.
1. Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutations
Surya Namaskar is a complete exercise in its own right. It is a yoga sequence that has forward bends, backward bends, and deep stretches.
It helps in toning the muscles and when practiced at a faster pace, can help lose weight. A vinyasa style Surya Namaskar, which has faster transitions between the poses in the sequence, burns enough calories to lose weight. The intense physicality of the practice is akin to an aerobic workout.
However, it is important to remember that Surya Namaskar, because of its intensity, if not practiced with complete attention, can lead to problems with the back, knees, shoulders, and wrists. Therefore, the speed and number of repetitions has to be in moderation.
Working backwards, if the target is to lose 5kg/11lbs weight, it would take about 25 to 30 rounds of Surya Namaskar in about 40 – 45 minutes, with an every day practice of a month and the necessary deficit in the calories input. Remember that the key to losing weight relies on reducing the intake of calories.
Yoga can help to lose weight, build muscle tone, reduce hot flashes, improve mood and increase libido.
2. Back bending asanas that stretch the abdomen
Poses like Bhujangasana or Cobra pose, Natarajasana or Dancer Pose, and Dhanurasana or Bow Pose, are back bending asanas that help stretch the abdomen and thorax. They also help build power and tone the muscles of the legs, arms, and back.
When practicing backbends, it is important to first warm up so that your spine is mobilized. You can also warm up and open the shoulders and front of the chest before getting into backbends.
While sequencing, core work can come before backbends as they act like counter poses to the core stretching. Back bends can be followed up with forward bending or even resting in corpse pose to create a counter stretch.
Back bending asanas can help to tone the muscles of the legs, arms, and back.
3. Spinal Twists and side bending asanas
Spinal twists and asanas that involve side bending help with reducing the excess fat in the abdomen area. Some asanas to include in your practice are Ardha Matsyendrasana or Seated Half Spinal Twist, Parivrtta Trikonasana or Revolved triangle pose, Parivrtta Parsvakonasana or Revolved Side Angle pose, and Utthita Parsvakonasana or Extended Side Angle pose.
Other than cutting down on belly fat, these poses also help with improving digestion by activating and strengthening the muscles of the digestive system.
These poses help with improving digestion.
4. Pranayamas to increase metabolism
These pranayamas are recommended to be practiced only if you are not experiencing hot flashes as they are warming for the body.
Certain pranayamas or yogic breathing techniques can help increase metabolism. This helps the digestive system to burn calories faster, which in turn helps with losing weight. At the same time, they also help with detoxifying the body and generating heat in the body.
Bhastrika is one such pranayama. It involves rapid and forceful inhalations and exhalations.
There is also Surya Bhedana Pranayama or Right Nostril Breathing. It involves closing the left nostril and breathing in through the right; then, closing the right nostril and breathing out through the left. Repetitions involve breathing in through the right nostril and breathing out through the left. It can be practiced for 1 to 3 minutes and creates a warming effect on the body.
While practicing these pranayamas, it is important to keep in mind that the breathing is not forced and that you are not suffering from high blood pressure or a heart condition.
While practicing it is important to keep in mind that the breathing is not forced.
Some points to remember when using yoga for losing fat from menopause weight gain
- Yoga needs to be complemented with the right diet and lifestyle, including sleep, to effectively lose the menopause weight gain.
- During perimenopause, if there is excessive bleeding or there is any discomfort in the body, intense yoga is not recommended. At such times, depending on how you feel, you can either take a break from your yoga practice or choose a more restorative style of yoga.
- The much talked about ‘listen to your body’ that yoga teachers often mention in class, might not feel very applicable. As your body goes through shifts, you might feel that your flexibility and energy levels have also shifted. Feel free to modify your practice and be patient. Changes might come gradually or all of a sudden. Showing up on your mat could be an outcome in itself.
- If you are experiencing hot flashes while you are also trying to lose weight, not just hot yoga classes, but even intense yoga classes that create heat could feel uncomfortable. Keeping yourself well-hydrated and taking breaks when you need to can help.
Menopause is the last major transition in a woman’s life. Having a daily routine for self-care is a great way to be in touch with the body and to stay healthy and well. A daily routine is also empowering when it comes to taking care of the self.
Menopause is a normal process and the more gently it is embraced, the more it can be celebrated as the phase of life that leads to freedom, connection, and a new experience of time and energy.
Yoga, when practiced without an outcome-based approach, can help maintain a loving and compassionate relationship with the body. It also helps create more acceptance for the body and the changes it is going through.
What yoga also does is that it helps you with menopause weight gain. If you are looking for a yoga sequence to support the transition into this phase of your life, this is a great one.
Nidhi @thebigbindu is a practicing yoga therapist and an advanced yoga teacher. Her writing is inspired by her experience of yoga and her study of Ayurveda, Yoga philosophy, and Yoga psychology.