Qigong, T’ai Chi, and Menopause
Menopause is a natural change in a woman’s life cycle that afflicts all women at some time. And the men that annoy them. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “The symptoms of menopause are caused by changes in estrogen and progesterone levels. The ovaries make less of these hormones over time. The specific symptoms and how significant (mild, moderate, or severe) they are varies from woman to woman…A gradual decrease of estrogen generally allows your body to slowly adjust to the hormonal changes. Hot flashes and sweats are at their worst for the first 1 – 2 years. Menopause may last 5 or more years…As a result of the fall in hormone levels, changes occur in the entire female reproductive system. The vaginal walls become less elastic and thinner. The vagina becomes shorter. Lubricating secretions from the vagina become watery. The outside genital tissue thins. This is called atrophy of the labia.”*
“In some women, menstrual flow comes to a sudden halt. More commonly, it slowly stops over time. During this time, the menstrual periods generally become either more closely or more widely spaced. This irregularity may last for 1 – 3 years before menstruation finally ends completely. Before this the cycle length may shorten to as little as every 3 weeks.
Common symptoms of menopause include:
- Heart pounding or racing
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Skin flushing
- Sleeping problems (insomnia)
Other symptoms of menopause may include:
- Decreased interest in sex, possibly decreased response to sexual stimulation
- Forgetfulness (in some women)
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Mood swings including irritability, depression, and anxiety
- Urine leakage
- Vaginal dryness and painful sexual intercourse
- Vaginal infections
- Joint aches and pains
- Irregular heartbeat.
Women taking hormone Replacement therapy (HRT) see some benefits. But they also increase their risk for breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots. The good news is that you can take many steps to reduce your symptoms without taking hormones:
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods
- Dress lightly and in layers
- Eat soy foods
- Get adequate calcium and vitamin D in food and/or supplements
- Get plenty of exercise
- Perform Kegel exercises daily to strengthen the muscles of your vagina and pelvis. (The Taoist and Tantric versions of these exercises are more developed and so potentially even more helpful.)
- Practice deep conscious breathing whenever a hot flash starts to come on (try taking six breaths per minute)
- Remain sexually active (the extended love making techniques of Tantra and Taoist sexology undoubtedly help)
- See an acupuncture specialist
- Try relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi, or meditation. Dr. Herbert Benson, author of “The Relaxation Response,” suggests that Tai Chi is “…vitally important in PMS, infertility, hot flashes, insomnia,…”** He also says that “Repetition is key to creating the response.”***
- Use water-based lubricants during sexual intercourse.”*
Qigong for Abating Menopause Symptoms
While for most women menopause can be a difficult time, the Taoists consider menopause to be a “Second Spring” of life. It is certainly an opportunity to renew and deepen your T’ai Chi and Tantric Qigong practice.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the symptoms associated with menopause are caused due to the body’s chi being disturbed. By practicing Qigong and T’ai Chi, this disrupted chi can be more evenly distributed and some of the uncomfortable symptoms can be ameliorated.
Regular practice of qigong and T’ai Chi can alleviate the irritability and stress associated with menopause by creating pelvic health and balancing emotional and hormonal swings. It has also found to help increase the bone density in women, thus reducing the chance of post-menopausal osteoporosis.
Qigong may restore a woman’s sex drive, which can be decreased during in menopause. The regular practice of qigong tends to increases the levels of sex hormones thus restoring a healthy sex drive. One study showed that after a year of qigong practice, hormones were restored to near normal levels.****
A study published in the Oxford Journal Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine on eighteen women measured the effects of regular Qigong practice on chromic fatigue symptoms and the menopausal symptoms of night sweats, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea. The results showed improvement in the areas of sleep, energy and well-being. Qigong improved these symptoms of sleep disturbances after three months of practice.*****
Bone loss of up to 2% per year in women may occur after menopause. Prevention of includes optimizing the intake of calcium and vitamin D, exercise, and the optimization of normal menstruation. Stretching, strengthening, impact, and balance exercises are effective. As Qigong raises estrogen levels in women, this can reduce osteoporosis and heart disease. Tai Chi Chuan has proved to be successful in decreasing falls, and may restore bone density.
Kenneth Cohen states that “A wealth of anecdotal evidence suggest that Qigong tends to delay menopause and can extend the years of fertility.” He notes that female qigong masters have even been known to conceive during their sixties.****** One woman in her 50′s began practicing Qigong and after about 10 days said, “I was amazed that my period reappeared…I celebrated it as a clear indication of rejuvenation.”*******
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****Ye Ming, et al. Relationship among erythrocyte superoxide dismustase activity, plasma sexual hormones (T, E2), aging and qigong exercise. Proceedings, Third International Symposium on Qigong, Shanghai, China.. 1990:28-32
*****Naropa J. Mike Craske, Warren Turner, Joseph Zammit-Maempe and Myeong Soo Lee. “Qigong Ameliorates Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue: A Pilot Uncontrolled Study.” Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Advance Access published online on August 1, 2007
****** Cohen, Kenneth S. The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing p33
******* B.G., Los Gatos, CA qinway.org/qigong_testimonial.htm