With the increasing life expectancy , women spend one third of their lifetime under menopausal period . Though menopause is a natural phase of the normal process of aging , it is turning into a major health problem in recent years , in the developed as well as developing countries mainly due to lifestyle changes . It is therefore need of the hour to address menopause related diseases and how Ayurveda can help from the preventive and curative aspect .
What is Menopause :
WHO has suggested the definition of Menopause as the permanent cessation of menstruation resulting from the loss of ovarian follicular activity. The diagnosis of menopause is retrospective following a period of amenorrhoea of 12 months . The average age of menopause is usually around 50 years with limits between 45 & 55 years .
Rajonivrittior Menopause is not described as a disease entity in Ayurveda. It is considered as a normal physiology which occurs due to aging .The age of Rajonivritti is mentioned as 50 years ( Jarapakwashariranaam yati pachashat kshayam ) . This is the probable age .
Rajonivritti is made up of ‘Rajah’ and ‘ Nivritti ’ where
Rajah means artava ( menstrual blood ) and stripushpa ( ovum )
Nivritti means end or cessation
Therefore , Rajonivritti can be defined as ‘Rajo stri pushpasya nivrittyasya’ ie cessation of menstruation and ovulation .
Jara ( old age ) and Rajonivritti are manifested due to progressive reduction in the function of Agni ( metabolism ) . During the period of Rajonivritti there is increase in Vata and Pitta dosha and decrease in Kapha dosha . So there is decline in nourishment and function of all the dhatus ( tissues ) of the body .
Symptoms of Menopausal Syndrome :
These can be described under 3 main headings –
1) Disturbance in menstrual pattern
2) Symptoms with Acute Onset : These are
a) Vasomotor : Hot flushes , night sweats , palpitation , headache etc
b) Genital & Sexual : Vaginal dryness , decrease in libido etc
It is responsible for greater incidence of fractures of spine (32%) , proximal femur (16%) and distal radius (15%) .
In Ayurveda , Asthikshaya (ie decrease in bone tissue ) can be compared with Osteoporosis . Strength of bone depends on the integrity of collagen matrix . Decrease in collagen matrix can be understood as decrease in Kapha ( resulting in osteoporosis ) due to increase in Vata .
Asthi is the main seat of Vata . The increase and decrease of Asthi and Vata are inversely proportional to each other ie when Vata increases , Asthi decreases and vice versa . Hence the factors which cause increase of Vata will cause decrease of Asthi .
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women accounting for approximately 45% of mortality .
The incidence of coronary artery disease and myocardial infarction in women which is about a fourth of that in men in premenopausal years rapidly increases in the postmenopausal years to approximately same as men . Atherogenic lipids are also increased .
Decline in ojus and Avalambaka kapha due to increase in Vata causes cardiovascular diseases .
Cardiovascular Symptoms :
* Palpitations and precordial pains .
* Hot Flushes : They vary in number from 1-2 in 24 hours to 1 in every 15 – 30 minutes and often associated with profuse sweating .
They occur by night as well as by day and sleep is disturbed by night sweats which leave woman bathed in perspiration . Vasodilatation is followed by vasoconstriction, so after a flush comes a shiver .
Hormone Replacement Therapy :
Overall compliance with HRT is poor with dropout rates as high as 40 – 60 % . The main reasons for discontinuation of HRT are vaginal bleeding , breast tenderness , nausea , vomiting , weight gain and fear of breast cancer . A study published in Lancet by Tungstal et al in 1998 clearly established that there are no beneficial effects accrued by HRT on Cardiovascular disease .
Following the abrupt , early halt to HRT portion of Women’s Health Initiative , July 2003 , due to findings that HRT’s risks outweighed it’s benefits , headlines now read “ Menopause is not a disease , but a normal part of life ” . ‘Hormone Replacement Therapy has become simply Hormone Therapy ( HT ) ’ in recognition of the fact that replacing estrogen is not natural and brings dangerous side effects , rather than the foundation of youth once touted .
AYURVEDIC MANAGEMENT :
To lead a quality and healthy life , Ayurveda has advocated Rasayana Therapy . Rasayana is made up of rasa and ayana.
Rasa primarily means essential seven vital tissues: rasa (lymphatics), rakta (blood), mamsa (muscle), meda (adipose tissues), asthi (bones), majja (bone marrow and nervous tissue) and shukra (reproductive element).
Ayana means the path or channel for the same.
So, rasayanas are the vitalizers ,that bring about proper uptake, growth and improvement and replenishment of the vital tissues.
Rasayana are broadly classified as three types :
a) Achara Rasayana b) Ahara Rasayana c) Dravya Rasayana
ACHARA RASAYANA ( CONDUCT ) :
It is mainly related to lifestyle management . Its two important pillars are Sadavritta ( Good conduct ) and Swasthavritta ( Healthy living ).
Sadavritta : It has been proved that good moral life with hygienic living improves the quality of life .
Swasthavritta : This includes regular exercise , hygiene , sleep and activities . Sedentary lifestyle , cigarette smoking , high intake of salt , consumption of alcohol, aerated drinks should be avoided as they are associated with a higher incidence of Osteoporosis and Cardiovascular diseases .
Muscular exercise is important to maintain strength and mineralization of bones. Yoga helps promotes better muscle co ordination and strength , also improves mental abilities and skills .
AHARA RASAYANA ( DIET ):
Ghrita ksheeradi nityasu muditasu kaphatmasu| Artavam tishthati chiram viparitasvato anyatha || i.e daily intake of ghee ( clarified butter ) , milk , articles which increase kapha can delay the onset of menopause . Ghee is a good source of omega 3 fatty acids . It also reduces atherogenic lipids in serum. Sesamum seeds are good source of zinc and calcium , also have antioxidant property . It is best for balancing Vata . Chick peas , Bengal gram , Black grams are good sources of phytoestrogens .
Phytoestrogens are plant derived substances whose structure results in a chemical nature similar to endogenous estrogens of humans . They are adaptogens also .
All hormones act through receptors on the cell surface . Estrogen has two receptors – estrogen receptor α ( ER- α) and estrogen receptor β ( ER- β) . ER- α is predominant in uterus and pituitary . ER- β is present significantly in ovary , testis , prostate , brain , blood vessels and bones . Recent reports indicate that phytoestrogens exert their effect in a SERM ( Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators ) like manner . They exhibit estrogenic and anti estrogenic activities in different target organs . Phytoestrogens preferentially bind ER- β . So , they act as anti estrogenic in breast and uterine tissue , but estrogenic in bone , brain and lipid metabolism .
There are four groups of phytoestrogens – isoflavones , lignans , coumestans and resorcylic acid lactones . The plants rich in lignans and isoflavonoids are : Soyabean, flax seeds , sunflower seeds , poppy seeds , caraway seeds , wheat grains , oat meal , carrots , garlic , peanuts , black and green tea . Among these flax seeds are the richest source .
Though there is no definite recommendation about the dietary amount needed for prevention of diseases but can be taken in small amounts from perimenopausal period . Lignans and isoflavonoids may have significant inhibitory role in cancer development .
Vegetarian diet helps in mineralization of bones whereas the non vegetarian diet especially containing meats causes demineralization of bones .
The theme of World Diabetes Day 2017 is Women and diabetes – our right to a healthy future.
Pregnant women require improved access to screening, care and education to achieve positive health outcomes for mother and child.
1 in 7 births is affected by gestational diabetes.
IDF estimates that 20.9 million or 16.2% of live births to women in 2015 had some form of hyperglycaemia in pregnancy. Approximately half of women with a history of GDM go on to develop type 2 diabetes within five to ten years after delivery.
Half of all cases of hyperglycaemia in pregnancy occur in women under the age of 30.
The vast majority of cases of hyperglycaemia in pregnancy were in low- and middle-income countries, where access to maternal care is often limited.
June 21 was declared as the International Day of Yoga by the United Nations General Assembly on December 11, 2014.
“Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. This tradition is 5000 years old. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.”—Narendra Modi, UN General Assembly
What Is YOGA :
“ Yoga” means ‘Union’ . Etymologically it is derived from Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’ meaning to bind , join , attach or join . It signifies communion with the Supreme Universal Spirit to obtain relief from pain and suffering . According to Panini grammer it has three meanings : Union (Yujir yoge), Samadhi (Yuj samadhau) and Constraint , Restraint (Yuj samyamana) .
Yoga has it’s roots in the “Yoga Sutras” authored by sage Patanjali , popularly known as Ashtanga Yoga. They are :
YAMA (Restraints) : Non –violence , truthfulness , non-stealing , sexual restraint and self surrender .
NIYAMA (Observances) : Purity , contentment , intense dedication or austerity , study of self and scriptures and self surrender .
ASANA (Psycho-physical Postures ) : It is the ‘sitting posture’ or position of the body which contributes to the steadiness of the body and mind as well as sense of well being .
PRANAYAMA : It is controlled and regulated breathing , which regulates the flow of Prana and mental processes in the body .
PRATYAHARA (Withdrawal of Senses) : The rush of senses into the outer world are held back through an innate awareness of the subtle mental processes happening during the interaction of the senses with outside objects .
DHARANA : Developing concentration through focusing the mind on any chosen thought or object .
DHYANA (Meditation) : Featured by expanded awareness .
SAMADHI : A state of shifting to a higher level of consciousness.
These practices bring about a calm and balanced state of mind & body .
Of all the practices ASANA & PRANAYAMA form the base for other higher Yogic practices.
The word ‘Asana’ is etymologically derived from the Sanskrit root ‘as’ , which means to ‘sit’ .
Asana has been defined as a position or bodily posture which not only conforms to steadiness (sthairya) but which is also equally pleasant and comfortable (sukham) i.e ‘Sthirasukham aasanam’ .
Other two characteristics of Asana are ‘Prayatna shaithilya’ i.e relaxation of effort and ‘Ananta samaapatti’ i.e merger of mind with something ananta i.e infinite .
Asana are classified into three divisions :
MEDITATIVE ASANA : For peace and calmness of mind and mental health.
Asana in this group are aimed to provide a comfortable and a stable position of the body to make the mind steady for the process of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi . Asana included in this group are :
CULTURAL / CORRECTIVE ASANA : For preventive and promotive aspects of health.
Asana in this group are useful for reconditioning of the body and mind as they bring stability , peace and sense of wellbeing . The postural defects , disturbed functions of various systems , improper muscle tone must be corrected in order to cultivate correct mental attitude . Asana included in this group are :
RELAXATIVE ASANA : For lightness , calmness and re energizing energy channels.
Relaxative Asana eliminate the physical as well as mental fatigue/tensions and work at the level of chitta ( subtle aspect of consciousness ) . Asana in this group are helpful for advance yogic practices such as Pranayama and Dhyana . Asana included in this group are :
Balancing Asana : Asana included in this group are:
Mayurasana, Bakasana, Kukuttasana, Shirshasana.
Topsy turvy Asana : Asana included in this group are :
Vaparitakarani, Sarvangasana, Shirshasana.
Asana means to become that you which you are going to practice. It is not make believe, it is not mimicking, it is not performance, it is not rigidity, it is simply any body position in which mind takes a seat, expands and then is redirected towards a specific point which then triggers the extraction of the samskaras, vikrutis, vikalpas, negative thoughts and emotions held there. This allowing helps in peeling the layer of blockages and enter into anandamaya kosha.
Etymologically the word Pranayama has been derived from the combination of two Sanskrit words ‘Prana’ – which means subtle life force which provides energy to different organs and also controls many vital life processes . ‘Ayama’ means expansion , control and extension .
There are three types of Pranayama – PURAKA (regulated inhalation), KUMBHAKA (regulated retention) and RECHAKA (regulated exhalation). During Puraka and Rechaka there is a movement of Prana and thought, while in Kumbhaka the cessation of movement is held to facilitate the stillness and ultimate dissolution of chittavritti or mental modifications.
It is necessary to practice Pranayama correctly and systematically , otherwise more physical disturbances will develop .
The techniques are simply to remove the friction at the various points of entry of the prana into the body. For example: Anuloma viloma to remove friction at the level of nasal septum, nasal floor and sinuses; bhramari at the level of eye and nasal bridge, ujayi at the level of vocal chords, shitali and sitkari at the level of oral apparatus; bhastrika at the level of chest; Kagi at the level of throat and so on.
Bandha is generally considered ‘lock’ as it literally means ‘to bind’, ‘to hold captive’ or ‘to contact’. In Yoga terminology Bandha is an action that binds or tightly holds the Prana. In other words Bandha are psychic locks used to raise the level of Prana and reverse the downward flow of Apana vayu. This reversal causes Apana and Prana to meet at Samana and brings about an awakening of the Prana in that area.
The opposite poles of energy are bound together in this technique. Through contraction of muscles and organs in physical body, the Shakti is accumulated into a particular center.
The Bandhas are three in number:
Abdominal Lock or UDDIYANA BANDHA
Anal Lock or MULA BANDHA
Chin Lock or JALANDHARA BANDHA
Yogic viewpoint of Disease:
It can be seen that psychosomatic, stress related disorders appear to progress through four distinct phases. These can be understood as follows:
1) Psychic Phase: This phase is marked by mild but persistent psychological and behavioural symptoms of stress like irritability, disturbed sleep and other minor symptoms. This phase can be correlated with vijnanamayaandmanomaya koshas. Yoga as a mind body therapy is very effective in this phase.
2) Psychosomatic Phase: If the stress continues there is an increase in symptoms, along with the appearance of generalized physiological symptoms such as occasional hypertension and tremors. This phase can be correlated with manomaya and pranamaya koshas. Yoga as a mind body therapy is very effective in this phase.
3)Somatic Phase: This phase is marked by disturbed function of organs, particularly the target, or involved organ. At this stage one begins to identify the diseased state. This phase can be correlated with pranamaya and annamaya koshas. Yoga as a therapy is less effective in this phase and may need to be used in conjunction with other methods of treatment.
4)Organic Phase: This phase is marked by full manifestation of the diseased state with pathological changes such as an ulcerated stomach or chronic hypertension, becoming manifest in their totality with their resultant complications. This phase can be correlated with the annamaya kosha as the disease has become fixed in the physical body. Yoga as a therapy has a palliative and ‘quality of life improving’ effect in this phase. It also has positive emotional and psychological effects even in terminal and end of life situations.
Benefits of YOGA :
Yoga aids in a physiological process of rebalancing the endocrine system where by the individual relaxes and inner balance gets restored.
It improves intra organ space and hence the physiological functions in the body . Each organ gets proper blood supply . It cleanses the accumulated toxins through various shuddi kriyas and generates a sense of relaxed lightness through vyayama type activities. Free flow in all bodily passages prevents the many infections that may occur when pathogens stagnate therein. After removal of toxins, nutrients are absorbed properly and metabolism of body improves.
Abdominal muscles become strong and accumulation of fat on belly is reduced.
Regular practice of Pranayama reduces the workload on heart in two ways. First –deep breathing leads to more efficient working of lungs . More oxygen is brought into contact with blood sent to lungs by heart . So , heart doesn’t have to work hard to deliver oxygen to the tissues . Deep breathing leads to a greater pressure differential in the lungs which leads to an increase in the circulation , thus resting the heart a little .
Pranayama helps to increase the vital capacity and strength of the respiratory muscles , resulting in efficient breathing .
Co ordination among various functions is brought about by nervous system . The nervous tissue is highly sensitive to lack of oxygen and excess of carbon di oxide. Moderate practice of Pranayama and yogic exercises help to supply enough oxygen and remove carbon di oxide .
Nasal passages have many nerve endings and breathing techniques can stimulate calming centers of brain .
Yoga integrates body movements with the breath thus creating psychosomatic harmony. In Yoga the physical body is related to annamaya kosha (our anatomical existence) and the mind to manomaya kosha (our psychological existence). As the pranamaya kosha (our physiological existence sustained by the energy of the breath) lies in between them, the breath is the key to psychosomatic harmony.
The Thyroid and parathyroid are pressed in Jalandhar Bandha . The Thymus and Adrenals are influenced by the pressure changes in the thoracic and abdominal cavities while the Gonads are influenced by Uddiyana Bandha and Mula Bandha . All these glands are kept healthy by Pranayama .
Rejuvenates the skin . The skin becomes smoother and reduces the facial wrinkles .
Improves joint function and mobility:
The Asanas promote better muscle co ordination and strength. Scientific studies on yoga demonstrate that yoga improves dexterity, strength and musculo-skeletal coordination of the practitioners. Postures assumed during yoga practice are mainly isometric exercises which provide optimally maintained stretch (https://www.yogajournal.com/teach/what-s-in-a-stretch) to the muscles. Series of asanas involve assumption of the pose followed by counter pose i.e. it involves co-ordinated action of synergistic and antagonistic muscles which brings increased steadiness, strength, stamina, flexibility, endurance, anaerobic power, better neuro-muscular coordination and improved orthostatic tolerance. Body weight is itself used to provide load to the muscles and bones. This load bearing strengthens the bones and prevents age-related weakening, thus helping in prevention of osteo-porosis. A properly selected set of exercises stretches nearly all joints and joint capsules without much danger of injuries and exhaustion.
Bera & Rajapurkar have reported significant improvement in ideal body weight, body density, cardiovascular endurance and anaerobic power as a result of 1 year yoga training in children aged 12-15 years. Clearly, yoga practices should be started at an early life.
Yoga improves cognitive functions (Improves mental and emotional health) :
It reduces Anxiety levels. Cognitive functions are intellectual processes by which one becomes aware of, perceives, or comprehends ideas. These functions help us to focus on the problem, process the required information, arrive at the logical conclusion, make decision and then execute the task. Studies show that practice of yogic techniques cause improvement in aspects of perception, thinking, reasoning, and remembering the task. Yogic techniques especially dhyan and shavasan improve attentiveness. Increased attentiveness decreases response time or reaction time. Reaction time is an index of the processing ability of central nervous system and a simple means of determining sensory-motor performance.
Effect on pregnancy:
Narendran et al found that yoga practices including physical postures, breathing, and meditation practiced by pregnant women for one hour daily resulted in an increase in birth weight, decrease in preterm labor, and decrease in IUGR either in isolation or associated with PIH, with no increased complications.
Beddoe et al found that women practicing yoga in their second trimester reported significant reductions in physical pain from baseline to post intervention. Women in their third trimester showed greater reductions in perceived stress and trait anxiety. From this it is clear that yoga can be used to prevent or reduce obstetric complications.
Yoga affects every cell of the body. It brings about better neuro-effector communication, improves strength of the body, increases the optimum functioning of all organ-systems, increases resistance against stress and diseases and brings tranquilty, balance, positive attitude and equanimity in the practitioner which makes him lead a purposeful and healthier life.
Scientific research in recent times has showed that the physiological, psychological and biochemical effects of Yoga are of an anti-stress nature.
Yoga has preventive, promotive as well as curative potential and that a yogic lifestyle confers many advantages to the practitioner. Since lifestyle related diseases are alarmingly on the rise in our modern society, yogic lifestyle that is cost effective and relatively safe, should be given a special place in preventing and managing these diseases.
“A little practice of Hatha Yoga (Asana & Pranayama) will give you good Health. Raja Yoga will steady your Mind. Upasana & Karma Yoga will purify your Heart and prepare you for the practice of Vedanta. Sankirtan will relax your Mind and Inspire you. Meditation will take you to Liberation.” – Swami Sivananda
It is that time of the year again where we stop and reflect upon the days we are leaving behind, so we may move into a New Year – ready for new beginnings.
Whether you celebrate New Years or not, most of us do feel motivated to make new changes and to try and live our lives in a better and more purposeful manner.
So what have you envisioned for the 2017?
My spiritual teachers often taught us about the importance of having a strong single-pointed focus:
The ability to focus on a goal, without being distracted by other things.
Just like when you meditate, the thoughts may flow around, but you shouldn’t let them distract you, but just allowing them to flow past you. When we fully focus on something or whole-heartedly and consciously send out thoughts – it can make a huge difference in our lives.
Always remember, no one can open the door of Opportunities for you. Don’t wait around for life to happen, but make it happen.
Know that you have got all it takes to transform your life – as long as you stay focused and manage your thoughts and energy. So take charge of yourself, and of your life. Don’t let it happen accidentally.
Focus on mindfulness, manage your thoughts and move forward with strength.
Moreover, remind yourself that New Year is every day. Every single moment of our life – is an opportunity to end a cycle and make a new beginning.