What's relaxing, good for you, and may help reduce hot flashes? It's yoga.
The practice of yoga is an excellent way to stay fit through middle-age and beyond. Even better, research from the Mayo Clinic finds that practicing yoga can reduce hot flashes by 30 to 100 percent! That's very good news, considering that 75 percent of women experience hot flashes.
The key is that yoga activates the parasympathetic branch of the autonomous nervous system, the branch that governs relaxation. Most of us exist in a state of sympathetic activation — the sympathetic branch being the one that enables us to react to stresses and challenges in our environment. It's not good for our bodies (or our minds) to be in such a constant state of alert. Yoga teaches the body to relax: Breathing and heart rate slow down, circulation improves, and a feeling of relaxation sets in. It's a more conducive environment in which the body can function effectively.
By tuning in to your body's responses, you can minimize hot flashes. You learn to recognize when you feel one coming on and intercept it. Though nervous system responses are considered involuntary, the practice of yoga teaches you to change your body's way of responding. It's a combination of mind- and body-control that, over time, reduces the severity and frequency of hot flashes.
Yoga also has many other healthful benefits. It can be a great way to de-stress and get centered after a hectic day at the office. Yoga differs from other workouts because it calls for a connection between the mind, body, and spirit. When you are on the treadmill, you can still keep a running monologue in your head of your to-do list and your stressors. But when you are engaged in yoga, your mind must be focused on the task at hand. With each deep cleansing breath, you release some of that stress and tap into your inner power and your inner peace. The movements will stretch and strengthen your muscles, while the meditative aspect will stretch and strengthen your mind… allowing you to dump all that excess “fat” (the stress, the negative thoughts, the self-doubt) from your psyche.
Many people believe that yoga has life-changing qualities. It can awaken you to the importance of being at one with your body, and drive you to make positive changes in your life. Yoga might encourage you to start eating healthier—such as choosing real, whole foods over processed fare that makes you look (and feel) heavy and lethargic. You might find yourself walking more, sleeping deeper, and taking a little bit more time to stop and smell the roses. It’s all part of the mind-body connection that is crucial for happy and healthy living.
Don't worry if you've never done yoga before. Everybody begins as a novice, and yoga is not about twisting yourself into a pretzel. It's about harmonizing body and mind for a new level of well-being — and fewer hot flashes!
Yoga statistics are from Yoga Journal.