Balance in our modern life is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. We are living a more accelerated and fast-paced life in the pursuit to ‘have it all’. From the boardroom to the kitchen, in between juggling being superhuman, mother, wife, partner and lover, there is an unwavering truth … we are paying the price for having it all. And sadly, it’s our health and wellbeing that is suffering.
If we look back through history, women had a close relationship with nature and the moon. Women’s menstrual cycles followed the moon cycle. A new moon signified the start of menses and a full moon indicated women were ovulating. By following the cycles of nature, women could optimise their health and intuition. Today, the modern woman has been thrown into disharmony, forgetting how to live within the cycles of nature, thereby losing connection to herself and her environment.
The endocrine system
A great way to understanding how our body maintains this equilibrium is to look at our endocrine (hormonal) system. Homeostasis describes an internal environment that can maintain balance and it is our hormones that are responsible for this function. Our hormones are chemical messengers that control every function in our body and are intricately linked to our brain and nervous system. It is this very network which allows your organs to communicate with one another while your body keeps humming along. Height, growth, maturation, adaptation to stress, sexual response and reproduction are all determined by our hormones.
Each hormone is like a lock and key system. The endocrine gland releases a specific hormone that then transmits a direct chemical response to its target receptor. For example, prolactin levels rise during pregnancy and the pituitary gland releases the hormone after childbirth to trigger lactation, which enables you to breastfeed. Our endocrine system is so well orchestrated in its timing in which hormones release and suppress other hormones to maintain the delicate balance of life. When our hormones are balanced, we feel like we are on top of the world, or like we are living from our truest potential.
The biggest challenge we face today is living with daily stress, environmental toxins, poor eating habits, lack of exercise and sleep. Our nervous system is in a constant state of flight or fight. Think of your hypothalamus as the regulator between your external and internal environment, trying to maintain homeostasis. If you are stressed, signals get crossed and hormonal malfunction begins to occur. There is a breakdown in communication in our hormonal positive feedback system.
From the very first onset of puberty to menopause, women are governed by their hormones. It is this very thing that makes us different from men. We have our own cyclical hormonal rhythm that mirrors the cyclical nature of the universe. Our cyclical rhythm is controlled by the interplay of five hormones secreted by three organs known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis. The interaction between the hypothalamus gland, the pituitary gland, and two almond-shaped ovaries attached to the uterus, together form a coordinated loop of hormonal messages on which the health and stability of our menstrual cycle depends. When this positive loop system is in balance so to is our menstrual cycle, and our emotional and physical wellness.
Chinese medicine and yoga have long recognised the importance of our endocrine system as regulators of bodily function.
The chakras are like portals for the prana to flow into the body and nourish it. Each chakra corresponds to an endocrine gland and is related to our mental, emotional and spiritual state. In TCM theory, the kidney organ and meridian is responsible for our hormonal system and sexual function. For a woman, the strength and balance of her kidney energy is directly related to the hormonal balance within her body, influencing fertility and menstruation. When our hormones are balanced, our body is in homeostasis. The more we practice yoga, the better we become at observing our own hormonal fluctuations.
While knowing all the facts about how your body functions is helpful, it is also important to support your mind and body. In traditional yoga theory, there are specific postures and breathing techniques that regulate and influence your endocrine system, increase blood flow and vitality to your pelvic region, and improve nutrient supply to your reproductive organs.
Did you know that some of our endocrine glands require an increase and decrease in physical pressure to produce their hormones? Some of these glands are locked away in our pelvic area, a part of your body that might not receive much love if you are sitting in a chair all day. These specific yoga poses not only restore physical and emotional health, they release muscle tension, reduce stress, and increase the blood flow and life force — prana or qi — to your reproductive organs.
Modern research has scientifically proven that yoga reduces the stress hormone cortisol. Yoga works to alleviate stress by triggering a little magic called the relaxation response hormone. This wonder hormone reduces muscle tension, calms your breathing, and slows your heart rate, blood pressure and metabolism. By triggering the ‘relaxation response’, you return a stressed-out body to a more relaxed and balanced state. Bliss.
This yoga sequence will strengthen your connection to the cycles of nature and divine female energy in maintaining emotional stability and hormonal balance.
The second chakra is the seat of creation. It has a separate bija sound or seed sound of Vam. To activate your second chakra repeat “Vam” five times.
PARSVA SWASTIKASANA: A gentle rotation of the spine helps to alleviate lower back pain and abdominal bloating.
CAT/COW: This pose articulates and lubricates the spine. It links mind and body to breath.
HIP CIRCLES IN CAT/COW: This pose articulates and lubricates the spine. It connects to sensuality and non-linear movement. It softens connective tissues which helps increase prana to the entire system. Non-linear movement is feminine in nature. Learning to flow fluidly with non-linear movement and breath is an invitation to the divine feminine.
CHILD’S POSE: This enables the body to seek balance and release tension. It relaxes and calms the mind and body while lengthening the entire spine. Initiating the relaxation response in this pose releases lower-back tension, menstrual cramps, PMS and helps to normalise blood flow throughout the entire body. To activate your pineal gland (third eye), gently turn your forehead left to right.
DOWNDOG: Inversions help to increase circulation to the pituitary, hypothalamus and pineal glands and stretch the internal organs while calming the nervous system.
UTTANASANA (STANDING FORWARD BEND): Forward bends allow your mind and body to literally ‘let go’. Uttanasana is a wonderful pose to get out of your head and awaken your neuro-endocrine axis (HPO). This asana makes us drop our head below the level of our heart, causing blood to flow to our brain rather than our feet. When this happens, it gives our body and cells a rejuvenating boost of oxygen, which calms our mind and, as a result, relieves stress and anxiety.
UPAVISTA KONASANA (Seated Wide-Angle Pose Forward Bend): This is a wonderful asana for activating our second chakra and sacral area. It activates the liver meridian allowing prana and blood to circulate properly around the pelvic girdle. It stimulates and nourishes our ovaries, regulates menstruation and calms our central nervous system.
JANU SIRSASANA: Seated forward bends give us permission to be with ourselves. They calm our mind and allow the body to enter a state of rest. This asana helps maintain hormonal balance, tones our uterus and ovaries and activates all three yin meridians: liver, kidney and spleen.
SUPTA BADDHA KONASANA: This is a gentle, restorative posture that opens the energy of our pelvic girdle, stretches out our inner groin and thighs, opens our heart and calms the mind. The pelvic girdle is a part of the body where we store and hold emotions. There is a lot of connective tissue that forms a web of forgotten memories and repressed emotion. When we release tension in this area with breath, we allow fresh blood to circulate into the pelvic region and reproductive organs.
It’s also the seat of svadhisthana chakra, the second energy chakra. It includes the hips, sacrum, genitals, lower back, womb and bladder. This chakra is associated with the task of allowing emotional and sensual movement into our life. When we learn to open the energy of this chakra and essentially go with the flow, we can experience sensuality, sexuality, emotions, orgasms, intimacy and desire.
As you breathe into Supta Baddha Konasana, you breathe into honesty, space, opening, persistence and commitment.
SUPTA VIRASANA: RECLINED HEROES: This is a pose which alters the flow of blood and releases tension in the pelvic and abdominal region. It helps relieves and soothes menstrual cramps and inflammation of the reproductive organs.
FROG: This pose stretches out the inner thighs, groin and hips. It’s an intense posture that encourages deep breathing to open and release the groin. When the hips begin to release, there is increased and enhanced blood flow to the reproductive system. It opens the heart chakra and connects a direct flow of energy into the womb. Moving energy through the reproductive organs creates space. In traditional Chinese medicine, zi gong is the uterus, which translates to women’s palace. In yoga, the second chakra (svadhisthana) translates to “one’s own place” and relates to the water element. In Frog Pose you can begin to visualise energy flowing freely and smoothly. When energy flows through this chakra, you can bring the sexual energy back into the reproductive organs.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge): This posture allows us to be expressive through opening and stretching the front part of our body. There is duality of yin and yang in this pose and it revitalises and calms. The back bending action tones the kidneys and adrenal glands, while opening the chest stabilises our emotions and boosts our immune system. In this asana we are exposed to see the truth in self. The chin lock gently stimulates and helps balance our thyroid and parathyroid gland.
VIPARTITI KARANI (Feet up the wall): Place your pelvis on a pillow and put your legs up the wall. Viparita Karani is considered the ‘Jewel for Women in Yoga’. This asana is known as ‘inverted lake’ and is based on the belief that the blood and hormones circulate better through the body when it is inverted.
This supported inversion allows the pelvis to be above the heart and pools the energy like a lake into your pelvis, calming your heart and mind. This pooling effect induces the relaxation response, calming your central nervous system and restoring your body. Having your feet up the wall for just five minutes is equivalent to a 30-minute power nap!
PELVIC ROCK AND CIRCLES: The combination of these two poses helps decongest the pelvic organs and gently stimulates the sacral plexus and relieves any lower back pain.
SAVASANA (Dead Man’s Corpse): Savasana or Dead Man’s Corpse is called this for a reason. It’s basically the equivalent of lying down without moving your muscles. It’s the best pose to finish your yoga practice and your day. This deeply restorative pose gives your body and, most importantly, your mind permission to be in a restful state. In Savasana our body and nervous system enters into a state called ‘rest and digest’. As this happens, it allows our central nervous system to destress and restore equilibrium and to our mind, body and spirit.
Understanding our cycle is key to understanding ourselves. By following the natural cycles of nature we can optimise our energy and restore our bodies back to their natural state of wellness and balance with nature’s natural order.
About the author:
Dr. Amanda Waaldyk is the founder of Angea Acupuncture and Yoga (Angea). Amanda’s passion is to help women achieve their dreams of conceiving a baby. From conception to pregnancy to birth and beyond, Amanda and her team of highly specialised acupuncturists are there to help. Along with her work as an acupuncturist and Chinese medicine doctor, Amanda also teaches pre-natal yoga and offers in-person and online classes. Further supporting her love for Chinese herbs, Amanda has developed a range of organic, medicinal teas – Angea Wellness Teas. To find out more about Amanda and the Angea mission log on to: angea.com.au or follow the journey on Instagram: @angea_acupuncture_yoga