November is ‘exercise month’ and that’s why I’m here at New Zealand’s first conference for Yoga Instructors … where re-connecting with Jason was insightful!
How do you cope with stress and your feelings of anxiety with your busy life? Do you eat more? Do you get frustrated, impatient? Maybe you turn to lots of exercise because it helps you release your tension. But now that you’re in menopause, your joints, tendons and muscles feel sore … and you feel exhausted. All. The. Time.
Hi Everyone – I’m coming to you today from Auckland University of Technology where I’m attending New Zealand’s first Yoga Instructor Conference. Now I’m not a qualified yoga instructor, but as you know, I always like to challenge myself on new experiences that might benefit all of us with our knowledge as we transition through mid-life, so that’s why I’m here. And I’m so pleased that I am. Because if you are feeling tired, grumpy, sore, overweight and frustrated, then maybe you need to take some time to have some quiet time. Maybe, as I did today, you need to have some mindfulness time.
I’m not very good at slowing down – having come through the New Zealand fitness industry, exercise to me always meant ‘go, go, go’. Lots of pick-me-up aerobic classes, movements that mimicked athletics, loud music and the ‘go hard or go home’ mantra. Those of us teaching and doing these classes, loved the endorphin hit and loved the instructors. Jase was one of these instructors. He personified the strength, power and athleticism of the modern group fitness instructor and for years, trained instructors for global fitness giant Les Mills World of Fitness. It was during these years that I enjoyed so many of Jason’s classes, so how excited was I meeting him today at New Zealand’s first Hauora Yoga Conference?
This three day educational event is where the professional yoga community in Aotearoa New Zealand connect, discuss, learn, innovate and practice together. Jason was there to educate, empower and inspire yoga teachers.
I’m not a Yoga teacher, but I’m here at the conference to learn more about this ancient art, as I explore different strategies that women going through menopause can utilise to help them to feel calm, cool and confident as they go through this powerful life stage. You see, as Jason and I chatted briefly this morning, we reflected how when you are always turning to exercise that hypes you up, your cortisol levels go through the roof. If you ‘ve been following my newsletters for a while, you’ll have heard me speak about cortisol. This is one of our stress hormones and when our adrenal glands are continually producing cortisol during our menopause transition, our heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety levels, irritability, hot flushes and muscle soreness increase. Some cortisol is good for us. Too much is bad. The reason too much cortisol is bad for us, is because when our adrenal glands are always pumping out cortisol all day long, we stay in flight or fight mode. We always feel hyped. But for women in menopause, there’s another problem too.
When cortisol stays high, calming, healing progesterone is ‘stolen’ from the adrenal pathway to keep making cortisol. What this means is that progesterone levels can crash in relation to oestrogen, widening the gap between these two powerful hormones that are wanting to work together to keep you transitioning through menopause in the way that our biology intended. If progesterone goes too low, too quickly, then oestrogen can become the ‘dominant’ hormone and for many women, this means that weight stacks on (as it did for me too) or for thinner/ leaner women, progesterone which goes too low too quickly, can cause heavier bleeding, sore breasts, sore joints and increased anxiety.
Producing too much cortisol is some of what Jason and I were talking about this morning. The fact that our ‘past-life’ always doing lots of exercise, from Pump/ Barbell classes to high-intensity group fitness classes, often sent our cortisol levels through the roof. On some days, Jason was teaching 3-4 classes a day. And ‘way-back’ I was the same.
We had no idea that this increases cortisol throughout the day, leading to chaos with blood sugar regulation, joint pain, insomnia and a general increase in fatigue. Jason found yoga. I found swimming. But today we both found each other! 😊 We both understood that as we aged, we needed to balance up the intense exercise with something a little less intense, so that we could preserve ‘the body’ not always do activities that caused additional inflammation. As I said to Jason,
“We are the first generation of instructors to head into our older years in the context of all the exercise we did, and for women especially, we are the first generation to head into menopause in the context of all the messages that have emerged from the fitness industry. Our brains still want to train and exercise hard, but often our body is telling a different story.”
That’s why I also attended a session this morning run by Katie Lane. An experienced Yoga Teacher and Practitioner, Katie was talking about Yoga and Emotional Health. Oh, where was all this information when I went into peri-menopause?! The nervous system changes so much as we get older (and don’t forget that menopause is your transition into your next stage of life – your older years, so I’m always looking at the changes in the body through this lens of ageing) – as oestrogen declines, our nervous system tissue loses some of its ability to fire-up our nervous system. This is why some of you get forgetful and your reaction time goes down a notch or two. It’s also partly why we feel more anxious and irritable, especially when we can’t sleep.
I loved how Katie shared her own story with us, explaining that she felt pretty highly strung and “high-arousal” for years. When she started practising yoga, this helped to calm and centre her, drawing on its holistic, embodied philosophy. As she said, “When we experience embodiment, we are drawing on the moment to moment processes by which human beings allow awareness to enhance the flow of thoughts and feelings. Yoga is just one way of enabling us to be more in tune with our thoughts and feelings as we go about our busy lives. ”
When I was researching our menopause symptoms as part of my women’s healthy ageing studies, I learnt myself, how important it is to have tools and strategies to manage stress in our lives, and I’m not just talking about emotional stress. Physical inflammation causes greater oxidative stress and because of the importance of knowing how to turn around stress in our menopause, transition, I put it into a module in the 12 week online Circuit-Breaker programme called ‘RE-address Stress. That’s why I was so pleased that this learning module supports what Katie was telling us as well, Taking us through various yoga and deep-breathing poses, Katie explained how important it is to harness your “internal resources”. She gave us three things to focus on,
- Deep breathing
- Grounding our feet into the floor i.e. being aware of planting our feet strongly and equally as we stand (barefeet is best)
- (Re)Connecting to our posture and balance.
I’m not much of a yoga person, but I totally ‘get’ the necessity to have strategies and practices which enable us to stay calm and in control, especially when menopause can create so much mayhem. That’s why in both of the MyMT programmes – ‘Circuit-Breaker’ for thinner/ leaner women and ‘Transform Me’ for women wanting to lose their menopause weight, I have a bonus module to share with you, simply called ‘Mind your Mindfulness’.
This powerful module teaches you how to use mindfulness strategies to re-frame your mind during the day when symptoms and fatigue get on top of you, and it takes you through some beautiful yoga poses too. That’s unless you live in Wellington in New Zealand and can get to Awhi Yoga & Wellbeing.
I love how Jason has set up AWHI ~[ pronounced “uffy” (verb), meaning to embrace, hug, support, cherish] within the context of hauora/wellbeing. This is what I’ve done with MyMT Re-Build My Fitness too – both Jason and I, know that for any person to ‘thrive’ in life, rather than just ‘survive’, then the mind, body and spirit must be supported, nurtured and cultivated no matter what stage of life we are at.