Yoga and Hormones – The Benefits of Practice for Women

Yoga and Hormones – The Benefits of Practice for Women

So I have come to the end of a three year process of working on a research trial for women suffering from Endometriosis. I like to reflect on when this trial started. People would often ask me ‘What is Endometriosis?’ And I would have trouble explaining it. Our awareness has come so far in a few years which I hope demystifies the condition and also gets people asking questions about women’s health – and how much the hormonal system dictates the health of our body.

From the Yogic view, hormones are in an ever fluctuating state through different times and stages of life. This is normal. And important. Often it is other factors in life that may cause a ‘tipping of the scales’ and start to reveal unhelpful symptoms arising in the hormonal system. I personally think it is dismissive to ‘blame’ our hormones for what might be going wrong. They are not the enemy but somewhere along the way we have lost awareness of how to support them.

The belief in most Eastern health traditions is that there is an underlying cause driving most conditions and hormonal conditions are no different. Speak to any Endometriosis sufferer and there will be a myriad of other symptoms arising in different parts of the body too.
The view of ‘underlying causes’ stems from the realisation that all elements of our body/mind are linked and affect the other. For example, we come to yoga because we have a sore back but after some time practising simple asana notice that the anxiety we were carrying in the mind has eased too. Always a flow on effect.

It is impossible to do something on the physical level without it affecting other layers of the human system. This is fundamental stuff that we should be learning as kids but we are still often taught about a body that is separate from a mind. 
Compartmentalising and separating illness seems to be the foundation of the allopathic health system. This enforces a situation where healing will never fully take place – only band aids covering the problem. We have to consider the whole person in healing, not one system.
But back to hormones…

They are complex. Each person is complex. Blanket solutions for all are not effective. Finding your own way takes perseverance.

So how does yoga assist us to move though life with grace in honouring the hormonal system?

Firstly, it combats STRESS. Stress is the primary issue when it comes to regulating hormones. The way we live life will dictate our hormonal response. If we can’t learn how to slow down, nurture self or reset a wired nervous system, we set ourself up for health challenges. All of this requires action on our part.

When we begin yoga we are gifting our body the experience of space away from the ‘doing’ – physically as well as mentally. From here arises ‘awareness’. Awareness leads to informed change. 

Then we come to REGULAR PRACTICE. This is where personalised yoga practice can become the foundation for everything. Personal practice gives greater consistency for making internal change. It creates awareness of your own needs and allows for healing in an individualised way.

Thirdly, ADAPTING to your needs.
In the Endometriosis example, the Yoga postures are often so modified or gentle that it may not look at all like a group yoga class. But it is still yoga. Some women will get great relief from a gentle lying twist, others will be in pain. Holding butterfly pose with a focus on breathing softly into the belly may release the pelvic floor – yet for some it may cause great discomfort.
Recognising that we don’t have to be practising to a particular formula opens the way for greater benefit.

Fourthly, Yoga is predominantly working with the MIND. Our greatest ally or biggest enemy – depending on how we choose to use it. As a holistic practice there is a lot of science coming out in support of Yoga’s ability to regulate autonomic arousal, improve vagal tone, and induce a relaxed brain state, that can also improve mental wellness and sleep function. In short, we live better. 

The BREATH will guide the process… intrinsic to yoga practice. When we connect with it, we direct prana (life energy) which in turn connects us with consciousness – something greater within us. Being with the breath is empowering.

When it comes to hormones a multi factored approach may be necessary to carry us through life. Yoga may be just one component of this but it can be a powerful one when you understand that the nervous system takes in the experiences of life. We can begin here.

Pain is a barrier but it is also asking us to pay attention to something and we shouldn’t try to push past it. Learning how to dismantle it – whether via movement, breath work or another focus like meditation means we build tools to arm ourselves when/if discomfort arises. The flow on effect for the mind when we reach a kind of acceptance or understanding of what we need is huge! Self empowerment, confidence to take the next step… 

As women, we often put our needs second which has perhaps added to the problem. Not honouring ourselves or our body enough. But there is always the possibility for change.

Jill x