When I was 42 I was tired. So tired that I became sick.
I had been running on adrenaline for too many years—single-parenting while juggling a demanding work schedule that involved long working hours, a lot of travel, and the mental stress and responsibility that accompanies being the owner of a small, growing business.
And, critically, I was entering the oft-challenging perimenopausal years. Perimenopause could be described as the road to menopause—it’s the lead up to when you stop menstruating and it’s most often a marathon rather than a sprint, because it can last for years!
For me, it was the perfect storm! The ingredients were all there for a health-crisis that shook me to the very core.
I would not wish this combination on anyone!
I suffered a litany of stress-related symptoms that also blurred into hormonal-related symptoms—chronic fatigue, exacerbated PMS symptoms, constant heart arrhythmia, debilitating insomnia and night sweats, and digestive issues— that forced me to pull back on my work and reassess my priorities.
I learnt the hard way that if you embark on the menopause journey in a depleted state the whole experience is ten times more challenging!
At 51, I’m now on the other side—post-menopausal for the last few years. I’m grateful to my body for showing me, loud and clear, what it needed as it traversed the transition into my ‘second spring’.
Once I started listening to my body, I was able to ramp up the feminine yoga and self-care in addition to making some significant changes in my life, including shifting expectations of what my body and energy were capable of during the perimenopause. I only wish I’d responded earlier so that I didn’t have such a big hole to dig myself out of!
So, this is a cautionary tale: if you can help it, don’t enter menopause in a depleted state.
Healthy adrenals: the key to a healthy menopause
Nourishing your adrenal glands during the perimenopause and beyond can play a vital role in supporting your hormonal balance and therefore easing or minimising menopausal symptoms.
Why are the adrenal glands so important?
The adrenals, which sit on top of the kidneys, can over-produce the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, when you are chronically stressed. Over time, if the stress persists and you do not adequately find ways to manage your response to it, your adrenals can become depleted.
This ultimately affects the healthy balance of your whole hormonal system. Ayurvedic women’s health expert Maya Tiwari says that stress can be one of the major suppressors of healthy adrenal function. ‘Anger, anxiety, worry, nervousness, fear, depression, insomnia, exhaustion, chronic pain, long-term illness, and malnutrition are the dominant factors that may contribute to adrenal dysfunction,’ explains Tiwari.
Since the adrenals also produce a hormone called DHEA, an androgenic hormone that can help increase the serum levels of oestrogen, it’s necessary to encourage sufficient production of DHEA for optimal hormonal balance.
Dr Christiane Northrup explains that along with the decline of oestrogen the production of DHEA naturally declines in many women as they age, and if there’s an imbalance in DHEA and an over-production of the stress hormone cortisol—caused by chronic stress—women become ‘susceptible to fatigue and all manner of illnesses, as well as menopausal symptoms.’
Once a woman reaches menopause, her adrenals take on a starring role instead of the ovaries, becoming responsible for the production of not only DHEA but also progesterone.  The androgens (DHEA and testosterone) act as weak oestrogens, and they are also associated with sexual response and libido, as well as general wellbeing.
This all means that if you look after your adrenals you may have a better chance of moving more easefully and comfortably through menopause.
If you’re tired all the time, or if you’re not waking up refreshed and you need caffeine to get you through your day, you may be suffering from adrenal depletion. If left untreated, this is known as ‘adrenal fatigue’.
Complementary therapies such as acupuncture and herbs (specifically adaptogenic herbs that nourish the adrenals) can help in the recovery from adrenal fatigue. It’s also a good idea to give up coffee, alcohol and sugar as these all sap the adrenals. At the same time, take an honest look at your lifestyle as to how you might find better ways to manage your stress and to rest more.
Adrenal Nourishing Yoga for Perimenopause
1. Cultivate self-compassion
The number one way to nourish your adrenals is to manage your stress levels by taking regular, mindful rest, and yoga can be one of your biggest allies in helping you do this.
That’s why it’s so important, just as in any of the other key feminine life events and transitions—throughout the menstrual cycle, pre-conception, pregnancy and early motherhood—to use the tools of yoga to go gently on yourself.
If your adrenal function is compromised, it is not helpful to undertake an overly challenging yoga practice. In fact, if you overdo it with exercise or in your yoga practice, you may bring on an ‘adrenal crash’ in which you ultimately deplete your adrenals further and you end up feeling much worse!
Feminine yoga tools for a self-compassionate, menopause-friendly practice might include Restorative Yoga, gentle sequences like my Feminine Pawanmuktasana, the Adrenal Turtle Breath and Yoga Nidra practices.
2. Promote blood flow and energy to the adrenals
The other way that yoga can balance and nourish your adrenals is by promoting healthy blood flow and circulation of energy (prana or chi) to the adrenal glands. Tools to do this are movement, breath and visualisation (as in my Adrenal Turtle Breath).
Adrenal nourishing yoga poses include:
- All of the Restorative Yoga postures. They support the adrenals because they work to bring about parasympathetic nervous system dominance—the ‘rest, repair and digest’ or ‘relaxation response’—giving the adrenals a break from pumping out the stress hormones.
- Twisting poses. They work to activate then pacify the adrenal glands. The gentle, heart-opening nature of Bharadvajasana is a good choice.
- Supported Backbending postures like the Supported Bridge Pose. These poses nourish the nervous system and have the effect of gently activating the adrenal glands.
- Forward bends like Pascimottasana and the Supported Child Pose can also be beneficial.
- Inversions are a tonic for the adrenals, particularly Supported Inversions like Viparita Karani. According to Iyengar Yoga teacher and research scientist Roger Cole, Viparita Karani, with the pelvis raised up on a bolster or folded blankets, stimulates the blood pressure sensors (baroreceptors) in the neck and upper chest. This, in turn, triggers reflexes that reduce the nerve input into the adrenal glands and slows down the heart rate and the brain waves, and relaxes the blood vessels, all serving to reduce the adrenal stress hormone, norepinephrine, in the blood.
*This blog is an excerpt from Ana Davis’s book, Moving with the Moon: Yoga, Movement and Meditation for Every Phase of your Menstrual Cycle and Beyond.
Christiane Northrup M.D., writes, ‘If your adrenals are depleted from chronic overproduction of the stress hormones norepinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol, you are much more likely to suffer from fatigue and menopausal symptoms’. See: Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, p.551
 See my book Moving with the Moon: Yoga, Movement & Meditation for Every Phase of the Menstrual Cycle & Beyond, particularly the chapter on menstrual anomalies where I go into depth about the connection between a healthy nervous system and a healthy hormonal system.
 Maya Tiwari, Women’s Power to Heal, p.232
 Northrup, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, p.554. Among a number of its benefits, Dr Northrup explains that healthy levels of DHEA ‘reverses many of the unfavourable effects of excessive cortisol’, and that DHEA is also a ‘precursor for testosterone’, which is associated with libido.
 ‘Going into menopause with SNS dominance sets you up to have poor adrenal production of progesterone, the hormone with significant anti-anxiety and anti-depressant properties’, writes Dr Libby Weaver in Rushing Woman’s Syndrome, location 5598 (Kindle Edition)
 See Northrup, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, p.551, for a detailed definition of the symptoms that comprise adrenal dysfunction. Dr Libby Weaver in Rushing Woman’s Syndrome, location 1995 (Kindle edition), also discusses adrenal fatigue.
 See the online article, ‘Which Poses Treat Adrenal Exhaustion’ by Roger Cole at: http://www.yogajournal.com/article/practice-section/treating-adrenal-exhaustion/
Ana Davis, Founder and Director of Bliss Baby Yoga, has a passion for a feminine approach to yoga, and supporting women with yoga through all ages and stages of their life. Ana is the author of the popular book, “Moving with the Moon – Yoga, Movement and Meditation for Every Phase of Your Menstrual Cycle and Beyond” which is available as a soft-cover book or Ebook, with 22 x accompanying audio tracks.
Ana has collaborated with Bliss Baby Yoga fertility specialist yoga teacher Rosie Matheson to create our Online Level 1 Yoga for Fertility Teacher Training. She is also the lead trainer on our popular Online Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training Course and Online L1 & L2 Restorative Yoga Teacher Training courses, and offers private mentoring and yoga sessions online, and online yoga classes.
Further Reading related to this topic:
- The Matriarch and the Maiden: Slowness and Creativity by Ana Davis
- Restorative Yoga for Busy Women by Star Despres
- How Mindful Self-Compassion is Saving my Relationship with my Teen by Ana Davis
- Self Care for All Phases of your Menstrual Cycle by Ana Davis
- Top Tips for a More Easeful and Enjoyable Period by Ana Davis