Hot flashes, night sweats, and a low sex drive are all signs of a major hormonal change. But while our modern culture has accepted menopause as a kind of “drying up” of our hormones and fertility, that doesn’t have to be the case, says Robin Saraswati Markus, a Chinese medicine practitioner and yoga teacher. “Our ovaries can be nourished and replenished, creating a functional fertility that is about more than having a monthly cycle,” she says
Markus, who holds a master’s degree in traditional Chinese medicine and a doctorate in Oriental medicine and acupuncture, is the founder of the Nourishing Life Center for Health in Asheville, North Carolina, where she specializes in women’s health and fertility. From her point of view, fertility includes giving birth to a child, but it can also mean giving birth—at any point in life—to an idea, a movement, or a dream.
The unpleasant side effects of menopause are exacerbated by the pace and stressors of modern life, which can trigger a chronic “fight or flight” response, taxing the adrenal glands and pulling blood away from our digestive and reproductive systems. “As we enter perimenopause, our reserves of life energy become much less, so we are more affected by loss of sleep, poor nutrition, and unrelenting stress,” she says.
During this time of life, she says, it’s more important than ever to prioritize sleep, nutrition, and stress management. Markus has also developed a series of yogic asanas, intended to support the ovaries, adrenal gland, and thyroid while also facilitating mental relaxation and connection through elongated breath and focused visualizations.
“We can turn our systems back on with an approach that is combined in a physical and spiritual way,” she says.
Back in Balance
Move through this 10-minute sequence to support hormonal health, stronger bones, and a robust sex drive.
Deviasana (Goddess Pose)
Intention: Bring yang energy into your roots; ground yourself with the earth.
With a wide stance, extend your arms out from your shoulders, palms up, and take three deep belly breaths. Move hands to knees and apply pressure with your thumbs, pressing just inside and above your knees. Revitalize the lower pelvic tissues with a long, forceful exhalation, followed by a passive inhalation through the nose. Exhale, then take one deep inhalation as you lift your chest, and breathe out with simhasana pranayama (lion’s breath), exhaling with a roaring sound, mouth open, tongue extended, and rolling your eyes up toward the center of your forehead. Repeat three times.
Vrksasana (Tree Pose)
Intention: Connect yin with yang through the body; balance active and calming energy.
Stand with feet together and arms by your sides. Feel your left foot sink as your right foot floats upward to rest at the ankle or upper thigh. Join your hands at your heart center, press them to the sky, interlacing pinkie, ring, and middle fingers. Find a passive gaze at a still point. Here, feel your return to nature and remain for 5 to 10 breaths.
Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound-Angle Pose)
Intention: Bring yin energy up to your mind; calm your mind.
While seated, draw the soles of your feet together and butterfly your knees open. Place a bolster behind you. Take a strap and form a loop, wrapping it around your waist and feet. Slowly lower yourself over the bolster, and tighten the strap until you feel your inner thighs (your hormone meridians) become active. Lie back and rest, releasing all the tension from your face, jaw, neck, shoulders, and heart center. Spread your arms out from your shoulders and rest your elbows and hands on the earth, palms facing up. Cover your eyes with an eye pillow. Rest here for 3 to 5 minutes or longer.
In traditional Chinese medicine, yin and yang are part of a continuum, constantly transforming from one to the other in an effort to find balance. When visualizing yin energy, think of the feminine, the moon, rest, and darkness. For yang, imagine the masculine, the sun, activity, and light.