Perimenopause—the years just prior to menopause—can be a time filled with some pretty dramatic effects on mood, sleep, and menstrual cycles. In the same way that hormonal fluctuations can wreak havoc during teenage years, the ebb and flow of estrogen in perimenopause can lead to many side effects.
Given the demographics of yoga, there is a good chance that you’ll have at least one yoga student living in the throes of this wild dance at any given time. While different people start perimenopause at different ages, many begin to experience signs in their 40s, some as early as their mid-30s. From someone in the perimenopausal trenches, here are some words of advice, gleaned from my own experience, to help yoga teachers understand what a few of their students might be going through.
Let Us Sleep
A common complaint during this time of life is that sleep is disrupted. Someone experiencing perimenopause might regularly be awake for an hour or two or more in the middle of the night. Or they might wake up at 4:30 a.m. and not be able to go back to sleep.
Maybe it’s the hot flashes, or perhaps it’s the inability to calm our racing thoughts, but a lot of us are simply not getting enough sleep, and we’re exhausted—so exhausted that we may now be one of those students who falls asleep during savasana. Now, I’m a yoga teacher. I’ve learned all the tricks about how to gently awaken a sleeping participant. But...maybe don’t. It might be the first restful moment they’ve experienced all week. And often the body takes what it desperately needs, right? So maybe, just maybe…don’t be surprised if your perimenopausal student nods off during your guided meditation. It’s not that your words and imagery aren’t fabulous. These participants are just oh-so-very tired.
Memory Lapses Happen
Did we fail to show up to a workshop? Not show up 20 minutes early to class the way we used to? To be honest, memory lapses are pretty common during perimenopause. It might be the aforementioned lack of sleep or hormonal changes, or it could be that we are juggling so many things that something has got to go. So, please, go easy on us if we slip up and forget what time class starts. Or fail to manage our time well enough to allow us to get there on time. Or even recall that we signed up for the special workshop.
My mind used to be like a steel trap—and then, first I had kids (mommy brain is real), and then I hit perimenopause (why did I walk into this room again?). So please understand that we hate forgetting things, or being late (or just not early). It might go against our usual hyper-efficient tendencies. But with everything else going on, sometimes our schedules get thrown out the window. And yes—you might have to remind us if we haven’t already pre-registered for class, the way we meant to, because we just can’t remember.
Mood Swings Happen Too
We’re not crying on our mats—our eyes are just leaking. Okay, so maybe we’re crying. Or raging, elated, contemplative, even depressed. With those hormonal fluctuations can come some pretty intense mood swings. Maybe we weren’t the emotional type before now, but there’s a chance that the cathartic nature of yoga will allow us to let go of some of the big feelings we’ve been carrying.
There’s not always a reason that we’re experiencing intense emotion, and we don’t usually need anyone—even a trusted friend or mentor—to launch into fix-it mode. Sometimes all that is required is a safe place and time to sit with our emotions and allow for their expression so that we can slip back into our lives refreshed and refueled.
It Can Feel Like We Have a Whole New Body
With age come physical changes. They might include a redistribution of weight, declining flexibility, a surge in injuries, or less energy. We may be perplexed or exploring what our morphing bodies can and cannot do. We might be used to completing a series of asanas and one day find that such a progression isn’t best for our bodies anymore.
The changes in our bodies may bring about questions, reflection, need for modifications, a desire to try new styles of yoga, or all of the above. Please be patient with us. We may have been previously highly attuned to a body that doesn’t exist anymore. When a yoga teacher says, “Listen to your body,” we may all of a sudden have zero clue what our bodies are supposedly telling us. We might need more insight, answers, patience, and instruction from our teachers as we learn a new approach to living in our new bodies. Changes to them may be gradual, or sudden, but they’re probably slightly confusing for us—we’re new to this perimenopause game, too.
Period Woes Are Common
Another common symptom of perimenopause is menstrual irregularity. Flow may be light or, often, super heavy. Periods that used to appear like clockwork may now come sooner than expected, later than usual, or with no pattern whatsoever. Cramps may be more intense. So there may be times when a trip to the bathroom is in order, and we mean no disrespect to your teaching or sequencing. Not to mention that we may have to pee way more often than usual. That means that while the idea of an outdoor class sounds fabulous, we’re probably considering the logistics of the closest restroom. And while that two-hour restorative class sounds delightful, we may be unsure if our bladder or uterus can hold out that long.
We’re not trying to get bogged down in the mundane details of everyday life, but we’re painfully aware of our biological needs, and they tend to rule the roost these days. So please plan for bio breaks. Consider restroom logistics when offering retreats or outdoor classes. Don’t be offended if we take a bathroom break in the middle of class—believe us, we wish we didn’t have this particular reality to deal with either.
Hot Flashes Are No Joke
And they’re not necessarily confined to the nighttime hours, although they do like to make an appearance then and add to our sleep woes.
This distressing state of affairs means there’s a good chance that we’re not going to be inclined to take hot classes, or even moderately heated flow classes—we’re already all too accustomed with the sensation of being (uncomfortably) hot, flushed, or drenched in sweat. We may even think back fondly to those times when we were always cold, or to how much we appreciated hot yoga or warm flow classes when we weren’t always feeling like a steam room was about to encase our bodies, holding us hostage for who knows how long. You may see us sticking with unheated classes for now. It’s nothing personal—it’s just that we may be experiencing enough sweat for the century.
That’s my personal perspective on yoga during perimenopause. Not everyone will experience the same symptoms, likes, and dislikes. All bodies go through their own unique changes and responses. But perimenopause does tend to be one of the more major changes, affecting mental, physical, and emotional health. And it isn’t discussed as much as it could be, so many of us are slightly shocked by what we’re feeling, and our support network—friends, yoga teachers, family, and even co-workers—may have no idea what is going on.
I offer up this perimenopause primer to try to shed some light on a few of these changes, especially if it’s a condition you, as a teacher, haven’t experienced yourself. Sometimes all we need during this time of life is to have others understand that things are different for us now. And in spite of the changes in what our bodies can do, or what we prefer to participate in, the practice of yoga will probably be a real boon in helping us through what can be a time of upheaval. Thank you for being there for us, and we hope we can do the same for you, if and when the time comes.