Maintaining Balance

The gifts of being a woman can sometimes feel like a curse due to hormonal fluctuations, but Kundalini Yoga can help to redress the imbalance. By Kathryn McCusker.  Photography by Andrew Lehmann.

With puberty, pregnancy and menopause to contend with, a woman experiences vast hormonal change throughout her life and it can be challenging to navigate these different phases. I recall feeling frustrated and insecure during my teenage years, not knowing how to deal with the hormonal transformation.

Since discovering Kundalini Yoga in my 30s, and having practised and taught it now for 12 years, I feel I have a deeper understanding of how my hormones affect my moods and emotions, but more importantly how the connection between the body, mind and spirit play a major part in this.

There is a tendency in our culture to think that hormone levels are fine until menopause, but in reality they start to fall as early as 30 for a woman and can accelerate from there. Some of the signs are irregular and unpredictable menstrual cycles, mood changes, heightened PMS, disrupted sleep and weight gain. Another very sure sign that our hormones are changing is the loss of libido, which can be quite confronting.

Our hormones control the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause. Each of these stages in a woman’s life holds challenges and opportunities for growth. The key is to trust that your body has the wisdom, power and capacity for transformation. Finding balance can create new possibilities, increase creativity and awaken profound change.

Women of all ages, especially those around 35 to 45 years old, have asked my advice about how to cope with hormonal shifts. This can be a transitional time in many women’s lives when they are often questioning directions in career, relationships and having children. Hearing their stories, one of the recurring themes is stress.

STRESS LESS

A woman’s hormonal balance depends on her ability to relax, but the daily pressures of life can make this difficult. Our bodily functions are largely controlled by the endocrine system, a network of glands that secrete hormones. These act as chemical messengers and, when they are well regulated, the body is in harmony, as are our emotions. However, when a hormone is deficient or oversupplied, an imbalance occurs that results in physical and emotional distress.

For example, if you are under a lot of stress your body may struggle to produce enough cortisol, the stress response hormone. This impacts the production of oestrogen and progesterone, leading to a low sex drive, menstrual disorders, weak bones, uterine fibroids, poor breast health and many psychological problems including unwarranted anger, irritability, mood swings and anxiety.

One of the first places in a woman’s body where stress manifests is in the ovaries. You may notice unusual amounts of bleeding during your period, a late period or a missed one. These are all signs telling you to address your stress levels.

Kundalini Yoga is a powerful tool for releasing tension and easing stress. The combination of postures, breath, mantra and meditation help to strengthen and balance the endocrine system, and stimulate the glands. Practising Kundalini Yoga will help you develop a positive relationship with your body.

A woman’s biology is closely connected to nature’s cycles—the waxing and waning of the moon, the changes in the seasons, and the ebb and flow of the tides. All these are reflected in our menstrual cycle. For example, during the middle of your cycle you may notice that you are more receptive to new ideas and people or you may even feel sexier. This is because our hormone levels (LH, FSH, oestrogen and progesterone) are rising, preparing for ovulation. After ovulation, when the moon wanes, it’s normal to feel more reflective, which is a great time to meditate.

Kundalini Yoga will increase your intuitive response to bodily changes, helping you deal with hormonal imbalances, mood swings, menopausal symptoms and pre-menstrual tension.

TAKE TIME OUT

Every woman, whether sensitive or not, experiences fluctuating hormones at some stage in their lives, which can manifest in overreacting, feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope, and projecting negative emotions into a situation or onto loved ones. However, if we allow ourselves some time each day to tune in to the intricate balance of the mind, body and spirit, we can begin to embrace our totality and celebrate the gifts of being a woman.

The positive effects of Kundalini Yoga can be experienced within a matter of minutes, which makes it an effective tool for women with busy lives.

Kathryn McCusker is founder of KMYoga in Sydney and the author of Kundalini Meditation (Watkins Publishing, October 2012). For info, visit www.kmyoga.com.

A practice for hormonal balance

The following postures, combined with powerful breathing, are effective in helping to balance the emotions. You can practise them daily, or when you feel anxious or stressed. Choose one posture that resonates with you, or practise them in sequence as part of your daily routine. They will help to relieve tension in the ovaries and increase the circulation of your glandular secretions. They can be practised at any stage of your life, even if you are a beginner.

TIGER STRETCH

Resting on your right knee with your palms on the floor at shoulder level, extend your left leg straight behind you. Try not to bend your knee. Comfortably let your head reach back in alignment with the arch of your back. Keep stretching up as you arch so that your lower back isn’t compressed. Bend your arms, bringing your elbows close to the sides of the body and your hands at shoulder height. Try holding this posture for 1 to 3 minutes with a long, deep breath through the nostrils.

If you are a beginner, try holding the posture for as long as you can. Repeat this exercise stretching the right leg back. To finish, slowly come out of the pose and rest in Savasana (Corpse Pose).

BENEFITS: This pose encourages circulation to the reproductive organs by releasing pressure through the lower back. It can prevent painful menstrual cramps, and support the functions of your ovaries and kidneys, as well as cleanse your liver. Balancing the hormones, this pose will prepare you for the changes that occur during menopause. Include this exercise in your daily yoga practice, so you can experience the benefits now and later.

HALF-WHEEL POSE

Lie on your back and, holding your ankles, bring your heels to your buttocks about hip width apart. As you raise your torso off the ground, tighten your buttock muscles and arch your spine, bringing your pelvis up and your navel pointing towards the ceiling. Maintain this position for 1 to 3 minutes with long, deep breaths through the nostrils. Alternatively, you can repeat this exercise 26 times, inhaling as you stretch up and exhaling as you come down. To finish, slowly bring your spine down to the ground, stretch out your legs and rest in Savasana.

BENEFITS: Half-Wheel Pose will help to strengthen your lower back, which can ache during your period. It will invigorate the digestive organs, and is excellent for strengthening the ovaries, uterus and kidneys, restoring hormonal strength and balance.

COBRA POSE

Lie on your belly with your hands under your shoulders and your elbows close to your sides. Inhale through the nostrils as you lift up your head and shoulders. Press your hips into the floor and tighten your buttock muscles. Let your hands support you as you arch your back, keeping your feet as close together as possible. Stretch your neck up gently and focus on a point above you, breathing long and deep through the nostrils or with Breath of Fire for 1 to 3 minutes. Breath of Fire is a continuous breath through the nostrils, in which your navel pushes in toward the spine when you exhale and expands naturally as you inhale. It strengthens the nerves and cleanses the blood, mucous linings and cells. This breath also rejuvenates brain neurons, creating a calm, focused and positive mind. Practise only a lighter version of Breath of Fire on the first three days of menstruation.

BENEFITS: Cobra Pose stimulates the ovaries and reproductive organs. It helps to maintain healthy circulation around the pelvis and lower back, as well as stretching your spine. This pose will also massage the kidneys and is particularly beneficial if you suffer from headaches. If practised after Half-Wheel Pose, Cobra will stretch your entire spine and increase circulation.

CONTRAINDICATIONS: Pregnancy.

BOW POSE

Lie on your stomach with your chin to the ground. Bend your knees and reach back to hold your ankles. Press your hips into the floor as you arch up, raising your head and thighs off the floor. Try to maintain this position for 1 to 3 minutes with long, deep breathing through the nostrils. If you are experienced and Bow Pose is relatively easy for you, try rolling forwards and backwards on your stomach at least 26 times, counting aloud. This is a powerful variation that will massage your reproductive and digestive systems.

BENEFITS: This pose is great for adjusting your mood within a few seconds. Feel the stretch through your belly and chest as you arch up. Stretching the entire spine, it will stimulate the flow of spinal fluid, which invigorates the brain, making you feel calmer and clearer.

CONTRAINDICATIONS: Pregnancy.

SAT KRIYA

Sit on your heels in Rock Pose. Stretch your arms up over your head, elbows hugging your ears. Interlace your fingers with your index fingers pointing up. Cross your thumbs to lock the hands together. Keep your elbows as straight as you can and stretch the spine. Close your eyes and focus on your third eye, between your eyebrows. This will stimulate your pituitary gland and awaken your intuition.

Chant “Sat Nam” (meaning “truth is my name”), pulling your navel in and up on “Sat” (rhymes with “but”) and releasing it on “Nam” (rhymes with “mum”). “Sat” is chanted powerfully, but not loudly and “Nam” is a short, barely audible, syllable. The breath will automatically adjust when you bring your attention to the sound and rhythm of the mantra. Chant 8 times per 10 seconds. Concentrate on the mantra and the steady pulse at your navel. Continue this for 1 to 3 minutes and, as your strength and endurance increases, gradually build to 31 minutes. To finish, inhale deeply and apply Root Lock, pulling in the anus, sex organs and navel. Focus your vision on the third eye and hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then exhale. Repeat this sequence two more times and then rest in Savasana for twice as long as you practised the exercise. This will help to integrate the energy into your mind and body.

BENEFITS: It’s said that if you only have a few minutes to practise Kundalini yoga, do Sat Kriya. It increases your focus and concentration, and directly stimulates Kundalini energy. Your internal organs and pelvic floor muscles will benefit from the rhythmic pulse at the navel, and the flow of sexual energy will be strengthened. The circulation of spinal fluid strengthens the nervous system and prolongs the life of brain neurons; this will have a positive effect on your mood. It will also synchronise your mind, body and spirit, which helps to balance the hormones and release tension around the ovaries. It can also help to regulate the menstrual cycle.

CONTRAINDICATIONS: During heavy menstruation; pregnancy.

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