Feeling the effects of perimenopause? Hot flashes, night sweats, dry skin, and irregular periods are zero fun. But here’s something to know: doing yoga can increase your low estrogen levels—and help out with all of those symptoms and more.
I thought estrogen was for reproduction. So why does low estrogen cause other symptoms?
Most of us go through life thinking of estrogen in the same way we think about progesterone and testosterone: that sex hormones are responsible for menstruation and reproduction—and not much else. But that’s just not true. In reality, these hormones do that and a lot more. In fact, along with reproduction and sexual development, these hormones help coordinate and control a ton of different body functions.
Once you know that, it makes sense that experiencing low estrogen or low progesterone levels can wreak such havoc on how you feel and your quality of life. Some women start to experience symptoms of declining hormones in their mid-30s, as progesterone begins to drop. But, whether or not you feel changes in your 30s, many women notice at least a few symptoms or changes by their mid-40s. For most, this is the start of perimenopause—when estrogen declines. Perimenopause ends at menopause, or when you’ve been without a period for 12 months.
What kinds of symptoms can I experience from low estrogen?
If your estrogen is low, chances are you’re really feeling it. But the types of symptoms you might experience aren’t limited to hot flashes and night sweats. Symptoms that can happen due to low estrogen are wide-ranging and vary from woman to woman. They include:
- dry skin
- irregular or absent menstrual cycles
- hot flashes and/or night sweats (vasomotor issues controlling body temperature)
- vaginal atrophy or dryness
- breast tenderness
- difficulty with memory or focus
- headaches or migraines
- reduced bone density
- weight gain, especially increased fat around the abdomen
- low libido
- and more
How does yoga increase estrogen?
If you have symptoms of low estrogen, finding ways to increase your estrogen levels is important. One way is yoga. Studies have shown that just one month of yoga practice can increase quality of life for women who are postmenopausal, and the same is true for any woman dealing with low levels of estrogen. What’s more? After four months of twice-per-week yoga practice (at one hour each), women in one study experienced a significant increase in their estrogen levels.
So how does yoga manage to increase estrogen levels? That link is complex. But to put it simply: a yoga class that focuses on body-honoring activity and regular, deep breathing reduces stress. When you lower your stress levels, your stress response (aka cortisol level) decreases too. High cortisol can seriously hinder estrogen production. However, even though your overall estrogen may be lower due to age, the lower cortisol levels allow your body to produce more optimal estrogen levels than when you’re stressed.
What kind of class should I take at the gym or studio?
There’s no shortage of types of yoga classes at your local gym or studio. So what’s best if you’re trying to increase estrogen? Try to work regular hatha, hatha flow (or vinyasa) into your schedule. And don’t underestimate gentle yoga. It’s a great choice too. In general, any class that focuses on breathing and stress reduction in a room-temperature environment is a plus. Whatever you do, don’t decide to hit hot yoga a couple of times per week. While hot yoga is okay for some women, it can be exceptionally hard on your body and your hormone levels. (Read more on hot yoga and hormones here.) If it’s a must for you, make sure it’s only on an occasional basis and not a regular thing. Keep a close eye on how you feel during and up to two days after.
What can I do at home to help increase my estrogen?
Taking a timeout to practice yoga is a fantastic thing to do—whether in a class or at home. You can take time to do a few postures, or asanas, that feel good to your body. Or, you can take the one-hour guided instruction right here on Hormonely, with yoga teacher Shayla Vaughan. One thing you want to be sure to incorporate into your at-home yoga practice is a focus on full breathing. (Want the full scoop on breathwork? We have lots of resources and instructions on Hormonely. Try alternate-nostril breathing and dirgha breath.) These breathing techniques feel incredible, and they’re scientifically proven to reduce stress (and that means help your hormones, too!).