Menopause: yoga practice (no.1)

I’ve been looking at different ways yoga is discussed in relationship to menopause and also looking at ideas about the menopause itself (I’ve listed my readings/listenings at the end of the blog). I’m ashamed to admit how little I knew about something that I am having a personal experience of. For some this experience is an amazing one (honestly), for others anywhere between a minor irritation to turning their world upside down. For me, I am coming to terms with insomnia, the power of hot flushes and exacerbated aches and pains.

This first blog considers the idea that Menopause is a retrospective diagnosis. The first signs that you are moving towards menopause begin years before: this is the perimenopause (peri = around). You might be really lucky and float through this time serenely but for many women this is not the case.

The first symptoms often include hot flushes (flashes) usually at night but not always. Some women experience cold flushes. Then you might have some of the following: palpitations, migraines, insomnia, irritability, fatigue and anxiety. This can lead to brain fog and memory loss. You might also experience aching muscles and stiffening joints. And just to make you feel really great vaginal dryness, in fact dryness anywhere can be an issue, as well as urinary tract infections. Periods can remain unaffected but as we progress along our path, periods are often erratic, heavier and last for longer. All of this can affect our interactions with our partners, family, friends and most importantly ourselves. (It’s odd to reach 48 and be given a new internal landscape.)

The symptoms are not always in this order and is perimenopause missed or misdiagnosed. Due to periods not being affected, women begin to believe something is seriously wrong. Your GP may take a blood test to check hormone levels but as our hormone levels are changing all the time, particularly from the age of 45, a one off test may return a result that your levels are normal (on that day). Some women end up having tests for dementia or cancer. Some women are put on anti-depressants.

The average age of menopause is 51 years with perimenopause beginning for most women in their mid 40s. You are said to be menopausal when your periods have ceased for one year. You are post menopausal at the end of the second year. The periomenopause deserves as much, if not more, attention than the menopause. The symptoms for perimenopause and menopause are the same. A third of our lives is experienced after menopause. This time deserves more attention.

At this stage I want to say that I have a mixed reaction to labels. They are not always helpful. We can live to a label and we can confuse our identity with the label. For example, if you have an illness, you are not that illness; you are still you. My reason for listing possible symptoms is to inform and to question if you experiencing symptoms of peri/menopause but thinking they are due to relationships, work demands or illness?

One of the most upsetting facts I read about this time is women do not talk about it. That is what I have read, is it true? During my lifetime what we talk about has changed, I had no idea that the menopause was a taboo subject; perhaps that explains why I didn’t know much about it. I thought it was because it was on a ‘need to know basis’ like childbirth and losing your virginity … One podcast I listened to said that the Me Too movement opened yoga studios up to accept yoga classes that focused on menopause. Was a movement really necessary for half the world’s population to be given permission to talk about this huge transition they go through or is this an English thing?

If you have teenage beings in your life, you will know the impact of puberty. The importance of giving these adolescents space to find out about themselves, to be out there but also to retreat. They have excess energy at times but also need time to rest and sleep. What if we reframe perimenopause/menopause and give ourselves and other women the possibility of space, freedom to explore and rest? The issue with menopause being a retrospective diagnosis is that it is possible for as many as five years of disruption to occur before we give ourselves permission to step into a new phase of life. Menopause is the culmination of a lot of changes and challenges including forty years of a monthly hormonal journey. I’ve always been lucky with my periods but the last couple of years I have needed to give myself a day to be weary rather than soldiering on.

In a podcast hosted by Dr Louise Newson, Petra Coveney explains that in Traditional Chinese Medicine Spring relates to our youth, Summer to adulthood, Autumn is the perimenopause and Winter the menopause. We are then ready to step into our second Spring. This presents a rather lovely image.

The common thread through my reading/listening has been that women need to give themselves permission to stop. To stop multitasking. To stop pushing themselves to finish the list of jobs. To stop. So here is your first peri/menopause yoga practice:

Daily afternoon/early evening practice: lying in supported savasana for twenty minutes (I was given this practice by wise woman and yoga teacher, Gail Charlton)

I think it will be the most challenging practice. I can hear all of your excuses not to do it because they are my excuses too and they can be summarised as one: I don’t have time.

M a k e t i m e

I have seen women brought to their knees because they did not feel they had time. The nervous system is involved in all of the symptoms listed and it demands respect. The hormones and nervous system work together and when they are compromised, we crash. Fatigue is no joke. Fatigue is not the same as tiredness. It will rule your life. Give yourself permission to stop. Give yourself permission even if you think you are in control … in fact particularly if you think you are in control.

And finally, let me know how your practice goes. I will be sharing more information and more practices soon

Enjoy, Yvonne x

Published by Yvonne Cattermole

bodyworker and yoga teacher, mother and friend

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