In modern industrialized patriarchal societies, menopause or "the change" is most often viewed as a medical problem. It is treated as a disease with drugs, hormones and sometimes surgery prescribed. In these youth-oriented cultures, women moving into this stage of life are viewed as being over the hill - no longer vital, sensual, sexual and productive members of society.
Other societies such as indigenous cultures of Africa and the Americas embrace older women as healers and sages. The expectation is that women remain active and grow wiser with the years. In these societies, as well as in the wise women tradition, the menopausal years are respected as part of a natural cycle, a passage, and an initiation into becoming a vital wise elder woman. In these traditions, women rely on their intuition, their bodies' wisdom, and their deep connection to Earth and Spirit to guide them on their journey. Women are looked up to and revered as Susun Weed so beautifully writes,
"She Who Holds The Wise Blood Inside." The female energy emerges from Mother to Crone creative, juicy, active and strong.
Along with a healthy diet and herbal allies, yoga and meditation are essential practices that can ease discomforts that arise in menopausal years. It is proven that yoga has beneficial effects on the endocrine system and assists in balancing the hormonal and glandular changes.
Inverted postures such as a restful supported pose with legs on the wall or a more active shoulder stand have a cooling effect on the body and are effective in counteracting and often eliminating hot flashes and night sweats when practiced regularly. Forwards bends are known for their calming effects on the mind and the nervous system. They encourage relaxation and help to decrease mood swings and irritability. Spinal twists and backbends stimulate the kidneys and adrenals and provide alternate sources of estrogen in the body. Pelvic floor exercises tone and increase circulation to the entire pelvic floor. They can help prevent urinary problems and encourage the health of vaginal and urethral tissue.
Stress has been proven to play a part in osteoporosis. Under stress the blood becomes more acidic and leaches calcium from the bones over time. Yoga's stress reducing benefits as well as weight-bearing postures help to create strong bones and can help to prevent osteoporosis. The emphasis in yoga on good postural alignment as well as poses such as spinal twists that hydrate the spine (keeping the discs of the spine supple) help to prevent the loss of height often associated with both stress and osteoporosis.
Yoga helps to regulate and balance metabolism and lets your body's natural wisdom determine your appropriate weight and contour. A natural softening and rounding of the body with age helps protect the bones and also provides a new vision of feminine beauty.
Yoga is an ancient science and an Eastern perspective on health that honors all aspects of our being. It is a practice that encourages us to go within so that we may connect with our innate wisdom, our inner teacher. As we journey inward, we access our inner resources for optimal health and healing. Breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, visualization and deep relaxation are all tools that can be used to help us to get comfortable with change which is inevitable and constant in our lives but intensifies on all levels - physical, psychological, emotional and energetic during the menopausal years. They are all effective ways of learning to remain grounded and centered amidst all of the changes. As Swami Satchitananda said, "You can't control the waves, but you can learn to surf"!
Yoga and meditation teach us to accept the present moment as it is and to accept and honor ourselves just as we are in each moment. As we journey through the menopausal years, we can give ourselves the permission and space to feel the fullness of each moment and know that we are birthing a new aspect of our being.
Menopause offers us an opportunity to experience a newfound freedom, power and creativity. Yoga is a powerful tool that can help us accept and nourish this inevitable change of life. Through the practice of yoga, we can expect to remain active and strong. We can listen to and learn from the cycles of our bodies and embrace the menopausal journey as women of wisdom.
Written by: Stephanie Kristal. Stephanie Kristal, M.A. is a certified and registered yoga teacher and Integrative Yoga Therapist with over 17 years of teaching and professional experience. Stephanie teaches group classes, workshops and works therapeutically with individual clients.
Lasater, Judith, Relax and Renew, Rodmill Press 1995
Sanders, Ellen, "Yoga and Menopause", Yoga Journal, Jan/Feb 1996
Weed, Susun, Menopausal Years The Wise Woman Way, Ash Tree Publishing 1992
Weller, Stella, Yoga Therapy, Thorsons 1995