Women go through more hormonal changes in their lifetimes than men, and yoga can help make these changes easier to cope with. From adolescence through pregnancy and even into menopause, women can benefit from the regular practice of yoga.
But walking into a yoga studio full of women in tight leggings can be intimidating for male practitioners. This is especially true if the instructors are all women.
Women keep many balls in the air – dynamic at work, doting mothers, and often overwhelmed by all that is demanded of them. Yoga helps them to balance life’s responsibilities with ease and grace.
Stress is associated with elevation of a variety of inflammatory cytokines and stress hormones, autonomic dysfunction and imbalance in neurotransmitters. Hence, it is important for all of us to manage stress effectively. Yoga can be an ideal complementary therapy for mental health disorders like major depressive disorder.
Yoga is known to help improve sleep, reduce anxiety and depression, increase strength and flexibility, and strengthen the immune system. Additionally, regular practice of yoga has been shown to lengthen and strengthen the tail-end of genes known as telomeres, which shorten with aging and disease. This is thought to be due to the relaxation and calming effects of yoga. It’s also been linked to an increased capacity for emotion regulation. Combined with proper diet and healthy lifestyle, yoga can be an effective anti-aging tool.
Adding yoga to a weight loss program helps women to control their diet better and lose more weight than those who don’t practice. The reason for this may be because it reduces the amount of mindless eating that can accompany stress and helps people to choose healthier foods.
Women who practice yoga also have a greater sense of awareness about themselves and those around them. For example, it’s not uncommon to see yoginis move within inches of those next to them in a controlled and thoughtful manner. This is a skill many men lack (think the all-too-common man-spreading in yoga class).
In addition, women who practice women’s wellness yoga and women’s yoga are more likely to respect their body and learn that their worth has nothing to do with the person next to them. This is especially important for women who are undergoing transitions in their lives, like adolescence, motherhood or menopause.
Pregnancy & Motherhood
Women are often portrayed as ‘superwomen’ with the ability to multitask, keep up with work and children, and maintain their health amidst the many demands. Yoga can help them to feel balanced and grounded during this time.
High rates of psychological distress and trauma are reported in young pregnant women. They are at high risk of not accessing the antenatal services they need. This study explored the acceptability and benefits of a yoga program for young pregnant women in a busy tertiary hospital setting.
The participants’ experiences of the program showed that it was a good fit for them and was able to address their needs. However, they also highlighted the challenges and barriers of engaging with this psychosocial intervention, including logistical issues. The frequent comparison of highly skilled representations of yoga in the media may contribute to a perception that women’s bodies are not welcome in yoga. This is a shame given that women make up over 80% of yoga practitioners.
The hormonal fluctuations that come with puberty, pregnancy and menopause are a challenge to many women. Fortunately, yoga can help balance hormones to alleviate menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, insomnia and fatigue.
Women tend to prefer a more gentle and restorative yoga practice as they enter the menopause stage of life. This helps them to stay calm and relaxed, a necessity for dealing with the emotional side of menopause. This style of yoga is called women-centred, and focuses on tailoring the practice to the individual cyclical changes in the body.
One great posture to try is legs up the wall (Viparita Karani). This position relieves menopausal hot flushes and is very calming for the nervous system. It also stretches the hip flexors and psoas muscles, which are often tight during menopause. It’s also a good way to strengthen the lower back and ease discomfort from stiff joints. Aim for 10 minutes or longer if comfortable.