You asked: What does yoga have to do with hormonal health?
Yogi chickadee, if you are of a certain age it won’t be much of a surprise that between the ages of 35 and 50 us girls experience our worst psychological wellbeing due to hormone issues. Hands up if that’s you. Mine’s up there too.
What’s happening here? Let’s take a quick lesson in biology.
Hormones are chemical messengers that are jettisoned into your body by your endocrine system. And get this… they influence:
- Your emotions
- How you eat
- How you fight off illness
- Your reproductive cycle
- Your sleep cycles
- Your behaviour
- How you react to stress
There’s a loonnng looooong list of symptoms of hormonal imbalance – anxiety, depression, join pain, hot flashes, low back ache, irregular cycles, irritability, low libido, fertility issues, PMS, cramps, weight gain or loss.
Hormonal imbalance, is so, so, so common, we think of it as a normal aspect of being a woman and that’s just the way life rolls for us. This, my gorgeous yogi friend, is not true.
With a mindful lifestyle and a regular yoga practice you can help prevent hormones from hijacking your health, wellbeing, love life, the whole ‘shebang’.
What to know more? Of course. Come with me.
First, let’s cover some basics.
- Chemical messengers in the body
- Produced by endocrine glands
- Released into the bloodstream to carry out certain functions
- Regulate metabolism, reproduction, sleep wake cycles, immunity, sex drive, balance blood sugar and help us get out of dangerous situations.
We have stress hormones, sex hormones, sleep hormones, bonding hormones and thyroid stimulating hormones.
The kind of stuff that throws this delicate system off balance are our lifestyle choices.
So ask yourself. Are you doing any of this stuff?
- Going to bed with your mobile/device. Think twice, blue light blocks the release of melatonin (your sleep hormone).
- Eating badly and on the run. This can cause nutritional stress.
- Sitting for long periods. There are no pumps in the lymphatic system so unless we move, hormones build in the body.
- Too much of the wrong exercise. Cardio training and strenuous exercise can increase the production of stress hormones.
- Weight training. This is known to produce higher androgens (dubbed the male hormone).
- Exposing yourself to environmental factors? Chemicals that mimic the hormone oestrogen (female hormone) can be found in your cosmetics, drink bottles, mattresses, clothes and other products. (That’s a whole other blog post).
Of course, there are biological factors too. Genetics, natural aging and tumours can also be responsible for hormonal imbalance but the biggest threat my friend is…unmanaged stress
And here’s the thing.
Whatever the cause of the stress. Whether it’s too much work, eating on the run, being late, or getting stuck in traffic. Whether you are over-training, or missing deadlines, it all gets treated the same way…danger. The body begins to respond by secreting the hormones – adrenaline and cortisol. It does this because a message has been sent from your brain to your adrenal glands that something’s up, and you need to prepare to fight this threat or get the hell out of its way.
All your body’s resources go into responding to the threat. And this is what happens
- Your heart rate increases
- Your breath rate increases
- Your blood pressure increases
- Your muscles contract
- Your pupils dilate
- Your mind gets alert/you become hypervigilant
- The blood diverts to the arms and legs away and from your vital organs
This response makes you more alert, ready to deal with whatever’s coming, to be ready to run, and be physically stronger. Great? But wait. Don’t be seduced. This fight or flight system called the stress response is very cool and necessary, but it wasn’t designed to run and run and run. Spend too much time in the stress response and you rob your body of its ability to restore, repair and recover.
Having too much cortisol and running off adrenaline is a highway to hell in the body. It is not where you want to be – and you’ll know it because your body will begin to wave red flags in one, or more of these areas.
- Your body temperature
- Your metabolism
- Your menstrual cycle
- Your sleep wake cycle
- Your immunity
- Your sex drive (or lack of)
- Your blood sugar balance
- Your blood flow to the brain
Left unchecked, these can lead to more serious health problems like diabetes, infertility, stroke, mild depression and anxiety, obesity, insomnia, or contagious diseases.
Now before this blog simply serves to add to your stress, let’s give you some good news.
The downright delicious practice of yoga can get you back to balance.
Yoga, as I keep banging on about, is not just about poses and shapes and flexibility and chanting. A big part of the practice is awareness and tuning into your inner wisdom.
Carving out time on your mat will allow you to find the space and time to witness the lifestyle choices you’re making off the mat, to pay attention to the red flags your body keeps waving at you, and help you to course correct before any imbalance leads to a potential health crisis.
Choose the right practice and poses, you also get to switch off your stress response and switch on your sister response system, the rest and digest response. It’s called the parasympathetic response and is responsible for calming everything down, bringing you back to balance and increasing your ability to recover, rebuild and repair.
The key ingredients of a hormone balancing practice are:
- Poses that calm the nervous system and reduce the secretion of stress hormones. Gentle forward folds, held for several minutes are a great place to start.
- Focused breathing.
- Working with the Chakra system – energy centres in the body which align with the major glands in the endocrine system.
- Working with twists that help clear out excess hormones in the blood stream and stimulate the kidneys, liver and spleen.
You can also manage your stress off your mat by:
- Spending time in nature
- Avoiding toxic situations, friendships, arguments
- Eating healthy food
All these things put the body’s systems back in the direction of health.
- Blood pressure drops
- The mind calms
- Digestion comes back
- Muscles relax
- More blood reaches the glands
Find your balance on the mat and you start to feel your best self off the mat.
Yoga truly rocks and I would love to teach you more. Come right this way to join me in class.
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Keep well my yogi friend.