The benefits of yoga for mindfulness, flexibility and balance are well-known, but did you know that yoga can also improve hormone health?
Whether you suffer from PCOS, fibroids, endometriosis, painful periods, or other PMS symptoms, yoga is a powerful addition to your holistic healing toolkit.
Here are 5 ways in which yoga can help with hormone imbalance:
#1 Yoga reduces stress
By encouraging diaphragmatic breathing, yoga helps to calm the nervous system, putting us into the 'rest and digest' state, and helps tone the vagus nerve. In addition, yoga pulls us away from unhelpful anxious or stressful thoughts by grounding us in the here-and-now, encouraging us to be present in the moment by focussing on the breath and what your body is doing.
Why does this help our hormones?
We know that stress has a huge role to play in hormonal health. When we're stressed, our body pumps out cortisol (as our mind is telling our body that we're in some kind of long-term crisis like famine or war). It does this at the expense of producing sex hormones (our bodies don't think it's safe to bring babies into a world where there's famine/war). When this has been going on for a long time, or when cortisol levels are too high for too long, our adrenal glands can no longer keep up with cortisol production. Besides leading to adrenal fatigue, this situation causes our body to convert sex hormones, such as progesterone, into cortisol (as it thinks it needs to keep making cortisol to save your life). Low progesterone can not only cause symptoms itself, but it can also lead to or worsen excess estrogen (as progesterone acts as a balancer for estrogen, keeping it in check).
Finding ways to lower cortisol, such as through yoga, can therefore help us maintain good levels of sex hormones.
#2 Yoga helps improve blood flow to our sex organs
Belly breathing and other pranayama ('breath-work') techniques improve blood flow to the reproductive organs, as do certain poses such as squats and inversions. This is important as stagnation in the sexual organs can be a factor in many hormonal conditions, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and in cases of pain or discomfort in the uterus. Improving circulation to the reproductive organs can also help with fertility.
#3 Yoga can help us detox
Poses such as twists help to 'wring out' the internal organs, encouraging fresh blood to enter when we exit the pose. In addition, forward folds and asanas like child's pose and 'knees to chest pose' help to gently massage the stomach and reproductive organs, which can help improve digestion.
All of this helps our hormones because excess estrogen, which is behind many hormonal conditions such as PCOS, fibroids, and endometriosis, needs to be safely eliminated from the body through the faeces. As such, anything that helps support the digestion process, by helping things move more easily, helps us get rid of excess estrogen.
The liver also has an important role to play in helping to transform estrogen so that it can be safely eliminated. Certain yoga poses not only help our bodies detox, but can also stimulate the liver meridian (these meridians, or pathways, are targeted in acupuncture), which, according to TCM, can help support the liver. If you're interested in learning more, I talk about using yoga to support the liver in both of my online webinars: introduction to women's hormones, and thriving during the menopause.
#4 Yoga reduces inflammation
Studies have shown that yoga can help reduce inflammation in the body. This is important when it comes to hormones, because we know that inflammation plays an important role in many hormone conditions, such as endometriosis and fibroids.
Inflammation in the body can come from a number of different sources, such as diet, stress, and environmental toxins, so addressing these areas is important, but we can also add in extra therapies and modalities that help to reduce inflammation, such as yoga and cold exposure, for example.
#5 Yoga can help us connect with our wombs
There can often be an emotional aspect to hormone dis-regulation that isn't often talked about. This draws on the work of feminine psychology, Jungian theory, and the mind-body connection. The idea is that the womb acts as a 'second heart', storing complex and difficult emotions (or trauma) that the ('first', or real) heart is not yet ready or able to process. Each condition (such as PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids, etc.) has its own emotional component, but by connecting more with our wombs we are better able to tune into what we might be storing there.
Yoga can help us to do that through guided visualisations and meditations, and by tuning more into the body in general. You might have to go to a specialised class for this, such as a fertility yoga or women's yoga class. In terms of fertility, connecting with the womb can be hugely beneficial, as, oftentimes, if we've been struggling with getting pregnant for a while, we can begin to see our womb as 'the enemy' or as letting us down (maybe even some shame attached to the womb). By reconnecting to the womb we not only allow ourselves to let go of some of the stress and anxiety surrounding fertility, but we also learn to trust our bodies again, to think of the womb as a safe space inviting in new life.
If you're looking for more ways to balance your hormones, my webinar all about women's hormonal health dives deep into some of the root causes of hormone imbalance and offers loads of practical tips and starting points to help you heal from hormone conditions. Or, if you'd like individualised guidance and personal support, book in for a free consultation to see how coaching could help you.