Yoga for menopause: The best poses to strengthen your body and mind

Senior businesswoman working in office, menopause

From hot sweats, to forgetfulness, to a leaky bladder, the symptoms of menopause can have monumental effects on the daily lives of women. 

With a staggering 48 symptoms and over 13 million menopausal women in the UK, it’s time to break the silence this Menopause Awareness Month and help women feel more confident.

One of the most ‘taboo’ symptoms of the menopause is how it affects your bladder. You may be finding that you’re running to the loo or leaking when you laugh, run, cough, or sneeze.

Urinary incontinence affects one in three women (and one in ten men) and can be caused by a loss of oestrogen. 

Ruth Maher, co-inventor of pelvic floor experts INNOVO, explains that during perimenopause and menopause, our ovaries begin to produce less oestrogen, the hormone that controls and influences the menstrual cycle, the reproductive system, the urinary tract, and your bones and heart. This is a very natural part of aging, but it can cause a host of physical and mental symptoms, ranging from mild to debilitating. 

Oestrogen is a vital part in making your pelvic muscles and bladder tissues strong, which can lead to a weakness in the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles act as a supportive hammock to the bladder. As the pelvic muscles weaken, it makes it harder to hold onto your wee and this is why you may leak when you cough, laugh, or sneeze.

So how can we rebuild those muscles and help lead a leak-free life? 

The good news is there are lots of exercises that will help you engage this core set of muscles, including yoga. 

Yoga and your pelvic floor 

Yoga is a calming, meditative practice that can fit easily into your busy schedule and can provide a great support to your pelvic floor strengthening regime. 

Here are some of the best yoga exercises to help strengthen your pelvic floor and keep you leak-free:

Mountain pose, YogaMountain Pose (Tadasana) 

To do this exercise: 

  • Stand with your feet hip distance apart and your hands resting at your sides
  • Place a yoga block (or a thick book or pillow) between your thighs.
  • Engage your inner thighs and try to lift the block upwards.

Chair Pose (Utkatasana)

To do this exercise: 

  • Chair Pose, Utkatasana, YogaStand with your feet hip distance apart and your hands resting at your sides
  • Stretch your arms upwards, lengthen the tips of your fingers towards the ceiling. 
  • Bend your knees, keeping your back as straight as possible, and push your hips back into a squat, as though you’re sitting down into a chair. 
  • Keep your heels connected to the floor, without your hips dipping any lower than your knees. 
  • Hold the posture for a couple of breaths. 
  • Try to lift your pelvic floor upwards, as though you were trying to hold in a wee. 
  • Straighten up again slowly. 
  • Repeat.

Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II), yoga poseWarrior II (Virabhadrasana II)

To do this exercise: 

  • Stand with your feet hip distance apart and your hands resting at your sides
  • Step your right foot forwards (with your front & back foot about 1 metre apart).
  • Lift your arms straight out to the sides so they are parallel to the floor.
  • Keep your right foot straight, but turn your left foot out slightly so that your toes are pointing away from your body.
  • Bend the right knee over the right ankle, keeping your left leg straight.
  • Tighten your tummy as though you are pressing your belly button to your spine, and pull up the pelvic floor
  • Hold for about 30 seconds, then straighten the right leg.
  • Repeat.
  • Try on the other side.

Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana)

To do this exercise: 

  • Place a yoga mat or thick towel down flat on the floor.
  • Lie on the mat on your back, and draw your knees in towards your chest.
  • Hold on to your knees, inhale deeply & exhale.
  • Grab the outside edges of your feet, or wrap your index and middle around your big toes, and pull your knees (bent) out to the side.
  • Try to pull the knees as closely to the floor as you can without causing any discomfort.
  • Pull your feet back with your hands.
  • Tighten your tummy
  • Rock from side to side to give your back a lovely massage.
  • Hold
  • Release your legs straight to the floor gently, with your arms at your side to relax.

Locust pose (Salabhasana)

Locust pose, yogaThis posture works both the glutes, buttocks & the pelvic floor – 3 for the price of 1!

To do this: 

  • Lie flat on your tummy on your mat, with your legs together and your arms at your sides.
  • Rest your nose & forehead gently on your mat.
  • Inhale and lift your head, chest, arms, knees and feet off the floor.
  • Squeeze your tummy muscles, glutes & buttocks to help lift everything up off the floor.
  • Keep your legs straight out, hold for about 30 seconds, and then gently release back down.
  • Repeat.

Boat pose (Navasana)

Boat pose (Navasana), yogaTo do this: 

  • Start sitting on the floor with both knees as close as possible to the chest, hands behind the knees.
  • Point the toes, feel the ground with both sitting bones, take a deep breath in and push the chest towards the knees, keep the shoulders away from the ears.
  • Exhale and lift both feet up until parallel to the ground.
  • Keep pushing the chest towards the knees.
  • Stay for 5 breaths.

Options: You can keep your hands behind the knees for support or extend both arms forward. You can keep the knees bent or straighten both legs.

Watch out: do not curve the spine and fold in, keep pushing the chest forward trying to reduce the gap between the chest and the thighs.

Yoga squat (Malasana)

Yoga squat poseTo do this:

  • Start in your forward fold with both hands down, shoulder distance apart and feet hip distance apart.
  • Turn the toes to face out 45 degrees angle.
  • Bend the knees and lower your hips toward the floor.
  • Lift the chest.
  • Lift both hands and press the palms together in front of your chest.
  • Push the elbows into your inner thighs and lift the chest a bit more.
  • Remember to keep your spine long, keep your shoulders away from the ears, shoulder blades towards each other, and the neck is long.

Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), yoga poseTo do this: 

  • Start lying down on your back, arms alongside the body with palms facing down.
  • Bend the knees and place the heels as close as possible to your sitting bones, feet hip distance apart.
  • If you have a block, place it between your knees.
  • Turn the toes slightly in.
  • Take a deep inhale and on the exhale tuck the tailbone under, engage the glutes and lift your hips and chest up.
  • Squeeze the block between the knees.
  • Think about elongating your spine and start actively pressing the palms and the forearms down on the mat to find more lift.
  • Look up at the ceiling.
  • Five breaths.

The breath is king!

To breathe efficiently the pelvic floor must be involved, and to exercise your pelvic floor efficiently, the breath must be involved. Your pelvic floor moves in a dance with your diaphragm when you breathe. When we breathe in, the diaphragm moves down, and so does the pelvic floor; when we breathe out, they both move up. Start observing this connection and then start bringing the focus on your pelvic floor. Inhale and keep your pelvic floor relaxed, exhale and engage your pelvic floor by lifting it – How? Imagine you are holding a wee. With a bit of practice, you can begin to accentuate each end of the breath cycle, relaxing and engaging, relaxing and engaging,

If you are interested in learning some more pelvic floor exercises, check out Innovo’s invisible workouts – a series of podcasts which can help you strengthen your pelvic floor no matter where you are. 

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