The Dawning of the Wise Woman
Menopause literally means the “end of monthly cycles” from the Greek word pausis - “pause” and men - “month”
There is a time in every woman’s life that is marked by big hormonal shifts that can greatly affect her quality of life and in some cases cause much anxiety and discomfort. This is menopause or, more accurately, peri-menopause, the 4 -10 years leading up to the end of menstruation. Menopause generally happens to most women in their late forties to mid fifties. (It can sometimes happen earlier due genetic reasons or because of surgery to remove the ovaries or the uterus and cancer treatments like chemotherapy.) There is no exact time that can be pin-pointed for when it stops, rather it is a long protracted process that builds in intensity and reaches peak concentration of symptoms before it gradually subsides. Then one day, a woman realises those bleeding, vexatious times have been left behind her and she has entered a whole new phase of womanhood and maturity.
With every act of self-care, your authentic self gets stronger,
and the critical, fearful mind gets weaker.
Every act of self-care is a powerful declaration: "I am on my side.”
- Susan Weiss Berry
So there are three stages of menopause: peri menopause, menopause and post menopause in a roller coaster ride of significant changes not only to the body but to the mind and spirit as well. Western society’s perception toward the menopausal process has for too long been a signal of the loss of a woman’s youth, beauty and usefulness; possibly contributing to the pain and shame many women feel. Interestingly, women in some cultures seem to pass unscathed from the rigours of Menopause and it is not perceived as a dreaded curse or a medical problem that needs fixing. Western culture could benefit from reframing menopause as a life-affirming and intrinsic process that all women will experience. Indeed, it is a rite of passage that allows women to come into their own as women and enabling the wise woman to emerge.
The allopathic approach
For many in the medical establishment, menopause is simply a physical process that a woman’s body goes through that marks the end of her reproductive years, though any woman who has been through it knows that there’s much more to it. Medical doctors are trained to deal only with physical changes not emotional and spiritual concerns. They mostly treats symptoms of menopause with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) depending on the severity of the case and too often with anti-depressants, while underlying issues are often overlooked. HRT and antidepressants, as we well know, come with a plethora of complications and risks that in reality merely delay the inevitable; eventually the transition will have to happen and delaying it will invariably bring more difficult challenges to confront. If we suppress the body’s inherent functions, we must expect to suffer the consequences.
The prompt to live better
This time of a woman’s life can be a wake-up call to reassess what her body needs and how she is living and a prompt to take better care of herself. If she makes the decision to intuitively engage in the transition of menopause holistically and wholeheartedly and face each challenge consciously and curiously as it arises she will be able to find great healing and acceptance of each biological and emotional change. This will not mean a simple fix-it remedy but employing a multi-faceted management program that involves radicalising the way she approaches her everyday life, modifying how she eats, drinks, breathes, moves and connects to the earth and others. Good quality sleep, adrenal health, balanced blood sugar and a healthy diet are all effective help in fighting disconcerting symptoms like brain fog and moodiness. Menopause demands that a woman attends to the internal changes taking place with quality attention and learn to gently follow her intuitive guidance as well as seek sisterly support from other women.
If she is informed and has a progressive health and personal support system, she will discover multiple holistic choices available to re-establish equilibrium to her body-mind.
In fact, there have never been so many wonderful natural options for women, from herbal and aromatherapy treatments, yoga, bodywork, counselling, acupuncture and meditation; the list is inexhaustible if she takes the time to explore.
Menopause and the Body
Sadly many women have a dreadful time with menopause, while others sail through this phase of life with ease, noticing that their bodies are subtly changing. A woman’s body is designed to adapt to the many changes and hormone shifts it undergoes over the years, but menopause can present particular challenges.
Common symptoms of peri/menopause include: Irregular periods, hot flushes, breast tenderness, vaginal dryness, discomfort during intercourse, decreased libido, increase in urinary tract infections, incontinence, fatigue, snoring, restless leg syndrome. Changed body shape, slower metabolism, weight gain. Skin changes including dry and itchy skin. Thinning hair.
Menopause and the mind
The most common symptoms of peri/menopause are: brain fog, fuzzy thinking and confusion, moodiness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, a quick temper, depression and anxiety. Forgetfulness, low self-esteem, low confidence.
So much is going on
Some women might question their own sanity when they feel the early stirrings of the Change; not realising what is happening as they experience such intense bodily discomfort, mood swings, irritability and anxiety. A woman can be forgiven for feeling vulnerable, uncertain, confused and overwhelmed. There are however sound biological explanations for all of these disruptive complaints. Hormonal fluctuations affect the hypothalamic part of the brain, which mediates strong emotions such as anger. It is notable that the hypothalamus’s main function is to keep the body in a stable state called homeostasis of maintaining daily physiological cycles. It releases hormones, controls appetite, manages sexual behaviour, regulates emotional responses and regulates body temperature. Is it any wonder menopauses’ hormonal fluctuations facilitate perturbing emotional reactions, diminished sex drive, weight gain, hot flushes and much more? Indeed women will need to up the level of their self-care to help assuage discomfort and mitigate the more severe symptoms.
Blame it on the hormones
Tired of producing eggs, the ovaries want to retire and turn hormone manufacturing over to a menopausal woman’s adrenal glands and other organs. Eventually, the ovaries no longer release eggs into the fallopian tubes and the menstrual cycle ends. Women will have a drop in the female hormones estrogen and progesterone, which don’t always decline uniformly as they alternately rise and fall again. Changing ovarian hormone levels affects the other glands in the body, less progesterone is produced but stabilizes at low levels in post menopause, around age 55. Estrogen is related to production of serotonin, a mood-regulating neurotransmitter. Fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels, plus other factors, disrupt serotonin production, leading to more mood swings.
After menopause, the ovaries no longer produce much estrogen and estrogens mainly come from fat tissue. Female sex hormones have a strong neuro (nerve)-protective role and reduction of Estrogens during menopausal transition is associated with multiple neuro-physiological changes. This includes inflammatory changes on the outer nerve covering called the myelin sheath and a decline in the rate of conduction of the nerve impulse between nerves as well as from the nerve ending to muscles. This explains all those weird aches and pains.
The spiritual work
There will not be a better time than the menopausal years for a woman, if she has not already, to develop a solid spiritual practice when she can come to know who she truly is and the meaning and purpose of her life. If she fails to embrace and reintegrate all aspects of her self at this tender time, then those unexamined, disenfranchised shadow parts will surely resurface later, in the winter of her life or at the deathbed engendering more suffering. Menopause is an ideal time for a woman to immerse herself into real self-enquiry; to stop and look at how she has lived her life and ask herself some tough questions. Here is a fine opportunity to examine all the regrets, sorrows and dreams both realised and unrealised, her relationships, loves and accomplishments. Is she happy with the decisions she has made? Is she happy with whom she has become? The benefit of undergoing the arduous journey of self-discovery with discipline and humility will be a grander view of life finding joy in the simple and the subtle and living from the perspective of being a soul with a body.
Perhaps menopause is the body-mind’s way of drawing our attention to unresolved painful issues and an opportunity to heal old emotional wounds that tend to surface. As a woman’s body liberates itself of its reproductive capacity, she is being called to also let go of whatever emotional baggage or burdens she may have amassed throughout the years. The menopausal crucible offers a woman new possibilities of spiritual growth, whereby she can her transform her wounds into portals of compassion, wisdom and higher intuition. Menopause promises healing and empowerment not from striving to fix, control or force outcomes, but from bravely surrendering to the changes and like all things these too will pass. This gives rise to acceptance, forgiveness and deeper understanding of herself. This is what it means to become the wise woman, who embodies her fructifying feminine sagacity and power. A time of self-actualisation
Not only do a woman’s reproductive functions change and eventually diminish, but also her roles change along with her purpose, function, appearance and abilities. When menopause happens, the energy that was used for her life before is now being rearranged to prepare her for the next phase of life. For the first time in her life she might find herself alone with herself facing a chasm between who she has been in her world and who she is to become. Finding herself at the coalface of transition into unknown and unfamiliar territory can be daunting for many women, however it can also become an exhilarating and liberating opportunity for her to experience her own power, passion and choices. Freedom to be herself and not the person that she was expected to be to please others.
Menopause is not the end but rather a time of new beginnings, a fresh start, a time in life when a woman can approach life from her own unique perspective rather than from established roles and expectations. No longer a victim of conditional love, she learns that she cannot truly embrace the love of another until she discovers self-love and reconnection with her core self. She leaves behind the shallow and artificial that no longer holds her in thrall, to immerse into the sublime depths of the Divine Mystery. Under the influence of the sacral chakra
Menopause comes under the dominion of the sacral chakra, located just below the navel and is responsible for reproduction, sexuality and sensual pleasure, among other things. When the energy of this chakra is redirected away from mating and reproduction, the fluid, creative faculties can start to bubble forth. In harnessing and not denying sexual desire, a woman can cultivate and enjoy the simple flow of this chakra’s energy and discover the multiple other expressions of sensuality as she becomes creative in ways she never deemed possible in her younger years. The artist, writer, lover or poet emerges in myriad, expressive and imaginative ways in this exciting phase of life as a woman gets to explore her multi-faceted being, filling her own cup with the sweetness of life. Get dirty with your emotions
Before menopause, a woman’s attention tends to be more externalised, however after this phase of life, the natural flow of her focus becomes more internalised. She now knows it is of great value to observe her life as the silent witness rather than being consumed by it. She learns how to feel her emotions and the physical density where they occupy the body; to taste them completely in a non-reactive and non-preferential way that is sensitive, receptive and free from the need that things must go one way or another. Only by experiencing them without struggle or resistance, can she completely release those stagnant, heavy energies within to set them free. This lifts the lid on the root cause of certain emotional patterns she has dealt with throughout her life shedding light on the inner work required to find inner peace. Menopausal wisdom comes with the realisation that our suffering comes from resisting change, because change is in reality the way of embodied life - nothing is permanent. Suffering is nothing more than the suffering we create for ourselves.Meditation and Menopause go hand in hand
It cannot be overstated how beneficial meditation is for navigating the menopausal years and how naturally post-menopausal women become drawn to practice it as a way of living. To be clear, self-enquiry and meditation are not the same thing. Self-enquiry uses the natural analytical gifts of the mind, our thinking instrument, to examine its own thoughts emotions and motives expanding its circle of awareness. This can occur in quietude and solitude, sitting with the self or walking in Nature in a deeply contemplative state. It can even be sustaining a vigilant state of self-awareness, watching ones own thoughts, words and actions while conducting oneself in the world. Whereas, meditation does not involve any of this because it is all about emptying the mind whereby fixating thoughts, bodily needs and emotional longings can be transcended. When the mind is cleared of such fluctuations and the conditions are right, what was hidden before about our true nature is revealed.
Meditation is not an end in itself or a way to hang out in altered or very relaxed states to escape stress and emotional pain. Meditation is a process to temporarily dispel the repetitive thoughts of the everyday mind and open the psyche to new and unscripted experiences that engage us in uncertainty without fear. The woman with an established spiritual practice that helped her transition through the trials of menopause can now joyfully immerse in experiencing each day afresh. She can respond to life with enlightened actions of compassion and loving-kindness not her emotional programming.
The following herbs can help
The good news is that menopause symptoms can be managed with some excellent herbal help to sustain the body’s natural rhythms and promote a sense of balance. Black cohosh, sage, ashwagandha, rosemary, lemon balm, chaste tree, passionflower, hops, motherwort, St John’s wort, brahmi, dong quai, red clover, ginseng, maca, wild yam, ginkgo biloba, nutmeg, turmeric, liquorice. Ashwagandha Root Withania somnifera
Ashwagandha is especially suited to support menopause and alleviates many unpleasant symptoms, such as hot flushes and urinary dysfunction. It reduces
stress levels, boosts mood and helps with mental clarity and focus as well as help with inflammation and pain. It can benefit women experiencing sexual dysfunction improving arousal, lubrication, orgasm and satisfaction. Chaste Berry Vitex Agnus-Castus
Chaste berry, the dried fruit from the chaste tree successfully treats menopausal symptoms. An adaptogen, it stabilises the body’s stress response and helps the pituitary gland to rebalance estrogen and testosterone during all three stages of menopause. Research on its hormone-balancing abilities shows that it significantly reduces mood swings, breast tenderness, pelvic discomfort and interrupted sleep. Wild Yam Dioscoria villosa
Wild yam is a phytoEstrogen and a good tonic for the female system, with numerous health benefits including a lowered risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, breast cancer and menopausal symptoms. It contains diosgenin, a chemical with a similar structure to one of our master steroid hormones (DHEA) that helps to make Estrogen. (Avoid if you have breast cancer.) Wild Yam boosts digestion by improving the function of the gall bladder and the liver; it is also a powerful anti-inflammatory effect and has a relaxing effect.Black Cohosh Actaea racemosa
Black cohosh is wonderful for menopausal symptoms, including hot flushes and night sweats (together known as vasomotor symptoms), vaginal dryness, heart palpitations, tinnitus, vertigo, sleep disturbances, nervousness, and irritability.Dong Quai Angelica sinensis
Dong quai is sometimes called the “female ginseng” and is a specific for menopausal symptoms including hot flushes and balances hormonal excesses and deficits. It is also a good blood purifier, good for anaemia, manages hypertension and eases joint pain, ulcers and constipation.A homeopathic remedy
Lachesis mutis (Bushmaster) for menopause and hot flushes.
Essential oils for menopause
Aromatherapy is the perfect modality for the menopausal woman to explore, offering myriad ways to support and uplift her while helping her endure the difficulties of menopause. She will have an innate aptitude for blending essential oils to suit her needs and that of her family. In truth all essential oils will be enormously helpful, however listed below are some stand outs.Clary Sage
Clary sage helps to slow the development of osteoporosis for which menopausal women have an increased risk due to a decline in estrogen and bone breakdown overtakes bone development. Clary sage really relaxes and sedates muscles, easing cramping. Massage the legs with clary sage and sandalwood or chamomile oil before bed in a St John’s wort oil base to prevent restless leg syndrome. It helps sedate the body and mind; it’s also a good primer for sleep. Peppermint
Peppermint oil may also reduce discomfort of hot flushes, add just a few drops to a tissue and breathe slowly. This oil may also help relieve any cramping. Add a drop or two with lavender to a hydrosol like rose water and spritz the body and face to cool temperature.Lavender
Lavender helps balance hormones and soothes discomforts. It promotes feelings of relaxation and helps improve the quality of sleep so add it to your nightly routine. Lavender has also been known to soothe vaginal tissues and the perineum, dilute six drops in 30 ml of coconut or jojoba oil. Lavender oil is a natural refrigerant and lowers the body’s basal temperature. Dilute in a hydrosol like rose water or orange flower water and spray on the face and chest. It also lowers blood pressure and superbly reduces stress. Geranium
Geranium with its phyto-Estrogens helps menopausal women manage hormonal changes and supports estrogen levels while elevating the mood. One to two drops inhaled can bring immediate stress relief (combine with bergamot), for its anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects. Geranium is also helpful for dry skin; add a few drops of the diluted oil to a relaxing, hot bath and skin creams. Basil
Basil helps to increase Estrogen levels, clear brain fog and elevate the mood. Basil can help relieve hot flushes when diluted and applied to the feet or rubbed across the back of the neck.Citrus oils
Citrus oils have multiple health benefits for menopausal women. Research showed that postmenopausal women who inhaled citrus oils experienced fewer physical symptoms and an increase in sexual desire. As well as a decrease in systolic blood pressure, an improved pulse rate and estrogen concentrations. Citrus oils have anti-inflammatory properties, helping with any aches and pains.Sandalwood
Sandalwood oil calms both hot flushes and heart palpitations. Put a few drops in the palms of the hand and rub it on the centre of the sternum to immediately cool down. It is grounding, cooling and quietening; providing relief from depressive symptoms.Neroli
Neroli is an ideal tranquilising nerve tonic for menopause yet it also lifts the spirits. It is emotionally reassuring, calming anger, fear and depression. It is regenerative for dry mature skin, improving its elasticity. It is also analgesic and eases inflammation. Rose
Gorgeous rose helps us to release the past and embrace change, fortifying our heart chakra to feel love, compassion and forgiveness. Dilute rose absolute in jojoba oil and rub it into your hair, to envelop your face so you can delight in its sweet scent.
Helpful things we can do
Engage in regular exercise
Walk, dance, anything, just move a lot, the body needs movement, just as the mind needs stillness. When we pay attention to our movement, our minds and bodies become integrated. We relax and become calm, concentrated and as a result, joyful. Commune with Nature and witness how she can heal, comfort and pacify. Gut health is paramount
Hormones and gut bacteria affect each other, leading to changes in metabolism and brain function. This relationship is key for treating menopausal symptoms. Eat fermented foods, like sauerkraut, tempeh etc. and consume broad-spectrum probiotics regularly; including lactobacillus acidophilus. Feed those friendly florae by eating foods containing prebiotics. Take Zinc carnosine and use liquorice root. Magnesium helps the heart muscle and the peristaltic movement of food along the gut as it gets digested stimulating sluggish bowels. Upgrade your diet
Eat high quality, plant based food; lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, avoid processed food, lower sugar intake and consume healthy fats (omega oils). Take evening primrose oil Choose lean sources of protein and minimise dairy products. Choose quality over quantity. Don’t become a diet neurotic, have yummy treats now and then.Eat phytoEstrogen-Rich Food
PhytoEstrogens, found in many herbs and plant-based foods, have a similar structure to oestradiol, which is the strongest of the estrogen hormones. Upon entering the body, phytoEstrogens are recognized by estrogen receptors and mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. Although their effects may be milder than pure estrogen, phytoEstrogens help the body function better during times of estrogen deficiency. PhytoEstrogen-rich foods include soybeans, flax seeds, chickpeas, dried apricots, raisins, dates, sesame seeds, garlic, peaches, berries.Take B Vitamins
B vitamins play a vital role in the production of healthy estrogen levels, Vitamins B2 and B6, in particular. Studies show that taking 200-800 mg of vitamin B6 per day may increase progesterone levels and curb peri-menopausal symptoms. Research also revealed that women with higher levels of B2 and B6 had lower risks of breast cancer.Sleep - the Holy Grail
Eight hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep every night is the Holy Grail for a lot of menopausal women. Insomnia occurs when the adrenals become fatigued, as women enter midlife and their hormones shift; the main stress hormone cortisol and sleep disruption go hand in hand. Follow sleep hygiene protocols to get consistent, high quality sleep.Absorb some safe sunlight
Vitamin D in the body improves the production of estrogen and reduces the risks of cardiovascular disease. Research shows women with high levels of vitamin D have higher levels of oestradiol, than women with lower levels. Spend time in the sun (when it is low) with naked skin. A vitamin D supplement would improve estrogen production. Start a cold shower regime
Regular dips in the cold sea are the perfect antidote to menopausal blues. Cold showers are the next best thing. They can help reduce inflammation, relieve pain, improve circulation, lower stress levels and reduce muscle soreness and fatigue. Research has shown that cold showers (and exposure to cold in general), in addition to increasing metabolic rate directly, stimulate the generation of brown fat. White fat stores energy while brown fat uses it.Cultivate the inner smile
Smiling triggers the release of serotonin. A genuine smile distributes the cosmic current, prana, to every body cell. The happy woman is less subject to disease, for happiness actually attracts into the body a greater supply of the universal life energy. Be Joyous in thought and action and celebrate others because life is our mirror that will reflect joyousness back to us. Transform your “to do” list into a “to be” list.Keep up the Yoga
Yoga is enormously helpful to intelligently navigate the minefield of menopausal symptoms; such as hot flushes, joint and muscle aches. It increases parasympathetic activity rebalancing emotional instability, assuaging anger, anxiety and depressed mood. It restores depleted energy caused by insomnia and fatigue. It reinvigorates a sluggish metabolism, tones and strengthens muscles, builds bone density, balance and boosts heart health. Flexion with forward bends will certainly calm the central nervous system, but do lean into extensions - moderate backbends to counteract gradual concaving of the spine.Helpful Poses
Cobra Pose, Locust Pose, Bridge Pose, Camel Pose, Wide Stance Forward Bend, Half Moon Pose, Cobbler Pose, Reclined Cobbler Pose.Conscious Breathing
Conscious awareness of the breath will be the reassuring, grounding and calming refuge when in the throes of menopausal flux and can help to gently redirect breathing into new and better habitual ways that lead to greater vitality and calm. Pranayama or breathing exercises will increase awareness to harvest, distribute and assimilate Prana, the life force improving everything. Cooling breath Seetkari Pranayama
The most common symptom of peri-menopause is hot flushes, due to hormonal fluctuations. This cooling pranayama practice naturally lowers body temperature and reduces hot flushes. It should ideally be practised regularly, sometimes thrice a day. Whenever you feel the hot flush coming on, control it with this pranayama.
Soften the facial muscles and relax the shoulders. Clench or bind your teeth and stick your tongue behind them. Inhale through the mouth and immediately close it. Hold for a few moments and then exhale through the nostrils. You will immediately feel pleasant and experience a cooling sensation.Legs up the wall Vipareeta Karani
This is a wonderfully restorative practice that increases circulation to
the entire body, releasing stress and tension as well as calming the mind.
This asana helps with insomnia as it grounds the body’s energy promoting deep rest.
Sit facing the wall, with the hips a few inches away from it. Lie down and raise the legs up on the wall. Make sure that the lower back is touching the floor and if it is not then place a bolster under the hips. Keep the arms a few inches away from the body and open the palms towards the ceiling. Relax the entire body and stay in this pose for twenty minutes.Quick hot flush remedy
Hot flashes are an uncomfortable sensation of heat that pulsates throughout the body. Try rubbing three drops of diluted clary sage oil across the back of your neck or all over your feet. For even quicker relief, consider adding a few drops to a cloth and inhaling and exhaling softly to let the oil to enter your body through your nose. This process can also produce antidepressant-like effects.