Menopause – its one of those things that is someone else’s concern, until the day it is yours. But the truth is, it doesn’t just arrive and announce itself. The term menopause actually denotes the point at which menstruation stops. But what about all the months, years for many, leading up to this? This time is what’s known as peri-menopause. It is the precursor of the main event, and includes the symptoms of the hormonal changes that take place in a woman’s body, leading up to the cessation of menses.
When people talk about going through menopause, it is usually peri-menopause that they mean. The body and the psyche are going through the biggest changes since adolescence. This is the zone of hot flashes, night sweats, fog head, irritability and depression, disturbed sleep, and a general lack of energy. Sounds like fun right! The good news is, it does pass. And once it does – like childbirth – you tend to forget how bad it was. While you’re in it though, it can be destabilizing and overwhelming. It can feel like you are losing a grip, unable to keep up with the demands of your life. Not only is the physical body going through changes, but because these changes deal with our ability to reproduce – they can also trigger a lot of unconscious “stuff” around our sexuality, our decision to have had children or not, even our identity as women and what that means.
The bad news is – no one offers up any of this information, or tells us what to expect along the journey. My mom’s summary of menopause was “when I turned fifty my period stopped, so did your grandmothers”. I didn’t hear anything about what she went through until I passed fifty, still regular as clockwork, and asked “was there anything else?” Only then did she tell me about a host of other symptoms.
It made me ask why. Is it because women feel a need to show a strong face, to keep handling because we have other people relying on us? Whether it’s a child, a partner or a business – we tend to be the nurturers in the mix. So what happens when we are not able to give, to show up? What does that say about us as women? Peri-menopause presents the opportunity to answer these interesting questions.
As a result of the chemical changes taking place inside, the mind experiences fluctuations of memory, mood, and clarity. The body’s energy levels and metabolism can spike and drop, bringing headaches, exhaustion, hot flashes and all manner of other symptoms. Given this backdrop, the needs of others and the level that we are used to functioning at become highly visible.
At this time, our greatest challenge is to step back, disengage as much as possible from external demands and create space for ourselves as the changes to take place. The practice of yoga is a wonderful way to do just that. It is a practice of letting go, of allowing, and being present with what is. Practice implies a work in progress, which is what our lives really are.
On the physical side, a yoga practice can greatly reduce the symptoms of peri-menopause. At a time when the ovaries and slowing down their production of hormones, a regular practice of inversions stimulates and nourishes the endocrine system – responsible for regulating mood, energy levels and metabolism. Standing poses and back extensions help keep you balanced and open, relieving the depression that can accompany the hormonal fluctuations. A restorative practice allows you to feel rested and present, and give you the feeling of having enough time.
Because of an established yoga practice, peri-menopause snuck up on me. I’ve had no hot flashes, weight gain, moodiness or irritability. The seemingly unrelated symptoms – migraines, low energy, night sweats – were minimal enough to not realize what was happening until the day my clockwork like cycle went sideways. Then it dawned on me that these may in fact be related, and that I was in fact, headed toward menopause. OMG, or maybe more true to tell, WTF?!
The biggest adjustment has been to realize that I can’t keep pushing like I used to. My body won’t let me. I have to guard my energy, accept my limitations, and do more to care take myself than ever before. As a self-employed single mother of a ten year old boy, this is no easy task. But it’s the small things – doing a restorative practice instead of a rigorous one, giving up the one extra thing I would have jammed into the day before, and saying no to extra demands on my time. These are the things that let me feel I have some space in my life, that I step back from the world.
Reflecting upon it, peri-menopause stands as a unique period in our lives. It’s a time for reflection, for introversion. We are at the gateway to the next chapter of our lives. It’s time to consider the past, live in the present, and make way for the future.
Melinda will be offering a workshop on Yoga and Peri-Menopause this Saturday from 2 – 4 pm