Blog-52 – Yoga and Women’s Health

I thank Veeresh Sir for having given this opportunity to share my views about how yoga is beneficial to women and personally how it has affected me.

To start with, I am sure you will all agree that living in a metropolitan city like Bengaluru is like being inside a pressure cooker. The pressure we feel as women is probably a little more intense and suffocating. Often, like trapeze artists in a circus, we juggle between a world outside the home and the one inside the home. For a working woman, the outside world could mean a lot of things. Transportation and traveling woes, dealing with a tough boss, handling difficult customers, interaction with workplace colleagues, job satisfaction, meeting deadlines, keeping yourself updated with the latest skills and know on and so forth. The outside world would also include paying bills, laundry, grocery shopping, attending your child’s PTM or arranging a play date or taking your child to the hobby class. At home, it is trying to meet the demands of husband, children and in-laws or parents in the form of cooking, washing, cleaning, mopping, laundry, ironing, etc.

The society expects all of us to be superwomen – patient, forgiving, intelligent, indefatigable, good looking, thin, fit, financially smart….the list is never-ending.

And as women, we are inherently trained at multi-tasking and probably do all of the above with a lot of grace. What we don’t realize is the price we pay for overextending ourselves and by trying to juggle all those tasks at a single time.

Western literature has shown that women are twice more likely to suffer from stress-related anxiety disorders. And this happens because of the way we women are wired. Which means when faced with a negative situation… we tend to fixate over the thought and ruminate on it till it grows out of proportion. Men, on the other hand, tend to distract themselves thus substance abuse like smoking or alcohol consumption could be seen. For women, it manifests as depression and chronic anxiety. Anxiety could manifest itself in so many forms which we often don’t pay enough attention to in the humdrum of our daily life.

  1. Emotional distress- anger, irritability, depression
  2. Muscular problems- tension headache, backache
  3. GIT problems- acidity, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome
  4. Sometimes severe enough to cause palpitations, dizziness, chest pain, difficulty in breathing

And when demands are not met, there is frustration and further disappointment and guilt and this becomes a vicious cycle. From acute stress it becomes episodic stress where the individual is constantly overreacting, irritable, angry, always in a rush to do things but unable to organize or meet with the demands and pressures of life. Chronic stress, on the other hand, destroys the stress of poverty, bad marriages, bad jobs, deep-rooted inner conflict. Stress further perpetuates conditions such as depression, heart disease, chronic pain, nervousness, cancer, strokes, and high blood pressure. Deaths from these lifestyle stress-related diseases are increasing among women.

And honestly, I was this close to becoming one such victim of stress in modern life till Yoga saved me.

So how does Yoga decrease this stress? The answer lies in one of the main systems of our body which is the autonomic nervous system, an involuntary system taking care of a person’s breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, excretion basically it takes care of all the major functions of the body which the person is not conscious about. It also co-ordinates body’ responses to various stimuli both internal and external. ANS functions via two arms which are interrelated and which is the fight or flight system and the rest and digest system. In response to stress, the fight or flight gets activated and results in an increase in various neurotransmitters of the body which lead to deleterious effects as mentioned before. What Yoga and meditation do is, stimulate the deep-seated limbic system and the rest and digest system which decreases physiological arousal, thus lowers the heart rate, BP and eases respiration, influences the secretion of various hormones. It doesn’t mean that a person is always in a state of rest and sleep, in fact, our ability to focus and learn increases when this system of rest and digest is stimulated. Our reaction times are quicker, concentration and memory improve and with a flood of mood-enhancing neurotransmitters, we are serene and happy.

With meditation, fixating or overreacting to negative feelings come down. We become less critical and more compassionate towards ourselves which prevents negative feelings from being blown out of proportion. By Meditation, one becomes more aware of one’s emotions and thoughts without judgment.

Most importantly, all this is scientifically backed and it is not just reviewed by people who have been practicing yoga or some random guruji or Swamiji preaching from a falsely elevated pedestal. Pubmed which is a scientific portal for biomedical literature throws up 199 pages when the word Yoga is searched for. “This is no humbug” quoting a Dr. who was the first person to acknowledge the magical effects of anesthesia for surgery in modern times!

So, the next question why women and yoga..well a woman’s body and mind undergoes many changes throughout her life – in adolescence, pregnancy and motherhood, menopause, and old age. Each stage requires a different level of care, awareness and understanding which Yoga delivers at any age or time.

This Sanskrit shloka from hatha yoga pradipika says

Yuvo, vruddho,ativruddho va vyadhitho durbalo api va,

Abhyasat siddhimapnoti sarva yogesha vatandritah.

Which means, whether young or old or too old, sick or lean, one who discards laziness, gets success if he practices yoga.

Various yoga tools- asanas, breathing and relaxation techniques as well as dietary and lifestyle modification can help us virtually with any health condition, physical or psychological at any stage of life. We just need to ask for it and yoga provides the remedy.

Children, during puberty ie adolescence 11-19 years of age undergo various changes in their body which include physical, physiological, psychological changes due to the surge of various hormones released during this period of growth. As parents or guardians, it is our prime duty to help them understand what is happening to them and their bodies and to smoothen out this rough stage in life.

By regular practice of asanas and meditation or pranayama, children can regulate attention and emotions better so this leads to improvements in other areas like behavior and academics. Additionally, it lays a foundation for the development of a sound mind in a sound body.

Women during their reproductive period greatly benefit from regular yoga practice which not only decreases the physical discomfort experienced during their monthly cycles but also controls insomnia, irritability, the discomfort experienced during this period. Yoga also improves the reproductive functions both in men and women by reducing the stress and balancing neurohormonal profile.

Yogasanas during pregnancy aims to strengthen the uterine muscles and help in the course of normal labor and delivery and increase pain tolerance. Menopause which most women experience during their 50-60 years of life indicates the end of reproductive functions and is again fraught with physical, physiological and emotional changes. Yoga at this stage helps not just mentally but physically as well to lead a happy and balanced life till the end.

Apart from the well-known general benefits of yoga which include increased flexibility and strength, better posture, weight loss, better skin and hair and toned legs.

Central Nervous System-  improves coordination, reaction time, memory, and even IQ scores, better sleep, Decreased anxiety, depression, mood disorders

Respiratory System- Promotes deep breathing and optimal functioning of lungs, less allergy, viral disorders. Yoga also promotes breathing through the nose, which filters the air, warms it (cold, dry air is more likely to trigger an asthma attack in people who are sensitive), and humidifies it, removing pollen and dirt and other things you’d rather not take into your lungs.

Cardiovascular System- Decreases the Heart Rate, Blood Pressure, blood thinning effect so lesser chances of stroke, heart attack and increases Hemoglobin.

Bones- Increases the bone density preventing osteoporosis

Endocrines- improves the functioning of various glands and balances the secretion of hormones – lowers cortisol levels, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance

Yoga lowers blood sugar and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and boosts HDL (“good”) cholesterol. In people with diabetes, yoga has been found to lower blood sugar in several ways: by lowering cortisol and adrenaline levels, encouraging weight loss, and improving sensitivity to the effects of insulin.

Overall reduces the need to consume drugs and other medications for various ailments.

In yoga, it’s what you do for yourself that matters. Yoga gives you the tools to help you change, and you might start to feel better the first time you try practicing. You may also notice that the more you commit to practice, the more you benefit. This results in three things: You get involved in your own care, you discover that your involvement gives you the power to effect change, and seeing that you can effect change gives you hope. And hope itself can be healing.

And finally what role do men play here? I think men have a greater role to play in order to maintain the health of women. As a father, as a husband and as a son and as a brother he has to ensure that he respects a women s health and he has to play an active part in keeping her healthy and happy. One of my colleagues recently joked telling me that a husband is like a movie..produced by his mother and directed by his wife. I had a hearty laugh and totally agreed with him. We all want happy movies so the secret is keep the mom and wife happy and how do you that..obviously enroll them to a Yoga class.

Thank you for your patient reading.

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