Hormones headlines are in the news almost daily. Does yoga have any techniques or answers for maintaining happy hormones?
Several years ago, while leading a bicycle touring group and staying at an old inn, I was perusing the bookshelves in a room called the ‘Hodge Podge’ and was distinctly drawn to a book entitled Raging Hormones, the unofficial PMS (pre-menstrual cycle) survival guide. Needless to say, I was attracted to the subject having experienced such a state on numerous occasions. The lead in stated, “Finally! The book for you and your cranky friends, confused boyfriend, bewildered husband, and bewildered ex-husband.” It featured amazing sections such as “The Hormone Hostage Hall of Fame” and “Advice to Hearts and Hormones.” It put forth questions such as, “Do you stock up on ice cream, chocolate, and hollow point bullets every twenty eight days?” “Do telephone commercials make you cry?” “Have you ever lost your car keys and found them in the freezer?” (This one really appealed to me.) The Hormone Hostage was defined as a woman who, for two to fourteen days each month, becomes a prisoner of her own ‘raging hormones.’
I was amused and laughed at the two female authors who delighted in poking fun at this all too often, sometimes not so funny, subject which made me realize that the Hormone Hostage phenomena reaches far beyond just PMS time. Young girls and boys entering the teenage years have their share of roller coaster emotions, as do many women, and sometimes men on the other side of the coin with the male mid-life crisis. How many of us can remember those amazing times when we felt a flood of emotional sensation and acted in ways we didn’t understand ourselves?
However the mind and the hormones affect you and your body, there are some general suggestions you can follow using yoga as your medicine, regardless of your age. Hormone balance, chemically speaking, is a tricky subject and too expansive for this discussion. Yet, for everyday balance of the emotional body, physical body and for mental clarity and calming to maintain equilibrium, the following movement sequence will help bring balance. You can laugh at the hormone hostage jokes and know that you can put out the fires of the hot flashes, calm the heat of anger or irritability, clear the foggy or unfocused mind, be less likely to have cramps, and keep your spirit lifted.
A Daily Practice Sequence
Especially for the Balance of the Feminal Body Mind
Sit quietly in Cross Legged Pose (Swastikasana) and reflect on the smooth flow of the breath.
Bound Angle (Baddah Konasana), the ultimate female pose, tones the pelvic region.
Wide Angle Seated Pose, upright with the belt (Upavistha Konasana).
Belly Prone Stretch (stretching the front side of the body).
Cat Cow Pose (all fours, undulating the spine for emotional balance).
Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) with a block under the head, relieves frustration, stretches the back body.
Extended Mountain, arms up (Tadasana, the good posture pose).
Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana) stretches every muscle group in the body.
Standing Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana) expansive opening, good for the back.
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) calms the brain, relieves stress.
Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana) builds strength, focus.
Wide-Angle Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasa) relieves sacrum and low back, tones abdominal muscles, regulates menstrual flow.
Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) transition to the floor.
Hero (Virasana) sitting on your heels, pelvic tilt with breath for one full minute to stimulate the pelvic bowl.
Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana, active or supported) quiets the sympathetic nervous system, relieves headaches, calms the brain.
Twist (Marichyasana) seated or standing variation relieves tension, stiffness, low back and SI joint pain.
Head Stand or Dolphin (Sirsasana) for balance to the endocrine system, energy building (Do headstand prep/dolphin if you don’t practice headstand).
Chest Opener, Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha) and/or other gentle backbend variations for circulation and depression or melancholy, and to strengthen the pelvis and back.
Plow and Shoulder Stand (Halasana and Sarvangasana) calm nerves, release throat and shoulders, stimulates the immune system, balances the endocrine system, pulls tiredness out, rejuvenates legs and much more.
Corpse Pose (Savasana) relaxation where the works of all the poses integrate into the body at the cellular level.
This basic routine will help support your endocrine, digestive, nervous, and reproductive systems. You can add more standing poses (warriors, side stretches) to build stamina and energy. On days with lower energy levels or during a menstrual cycle, you’ll need to use more restorative poses; avoid upside down poses during bleeding. Some days just choosing a few poses that address your needs in the moment are best. For menopause, adapt the series for your special needs as well, listening to your body daily. Adding more weight bearing poses and sun salutations (especially Salutation C) is great for the female body and managing digestive issues) during menopause. On days you feel tired, focus on restorative poses with a quieter practice and be sure to include headstand and shoulder stand variations. For pregnancy, you’ll need to make special considerations and should consult a highly qualified teacher.
Consult with a well educated herbalist and enjoy supplements like primrose oil, yellow flax, black cohosh, catnip and other supportive herbs. Surround yourself with lavender.
The sequence I’ve outlined here is a preventative application of yoga, a healthy way to maintain hormonal balance and gain relief from common female issues that are a part of being a woman. Even in Raging Hormones, where the authors, Martha Williamson & Robin Sheets in their humor, insist PMS and other seemingly irrational behaviors are unavoidable, they put forth the following inquiry, “Is premenstrual syndrome a real thing or just propaganda? Are you willing to remain a hostage to your hormones or are you willing to enter the demilitarized zone and take responsibility for them?” They even mention the possibility of getting through the imbalances with yoga and a little deep breathing. Imagine that!
If you do your yoga regularly, eat high on the food chain, and make an effort to lead a healthy lifestyle with lots of fresh air and a balance of outdoor activity, the next time someone asks you if you are a Hormone Hostage, you’ll probably say, “Who me?”
Originally published in Healing Garden Journal
Libby Robold, R.Y.T., Yoga Therapist, trademarked Breathercise™, a relaxation therapy system for children and adults in 1992. She is co-director of Yoga for Health Education, Center for Conscious Living in Traverse City. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (231) 922-YOGA.
ARTIST: Diana Altenburg