Women hear the word menopause and have all sorts of reactions.
I’m not about to judge – but for some, menopause has been a stage in a woman’s life so “debilitating”, that is was actually used as a defense tactic in a murder case where a woman took her husband out.
She “just lost it” – think ‘Twinkie Defense’. Unbelievable as the above recounts, the symptoms women can and do feel range from mild to downright unbearable. Disclaimer… I’m not a physician, either allopathic or homeopathic, but I AM a woman who has gone through this very natural stage and come out the other side feeling BETTER than I did before. I am also an avid practioner and teacher of Bikram Yoga, and occasionally Ashtanga, when I’m feeling particularly in need of binds.
I refer to menopause as the 3rd stage, with adolescence and pregnancy being the first two stages. Those are natural stages of a woman’s life that bring both challenges AND gifts.
I’m grateful to share that I had my last period at 57, BUT my recognized menopausal symptoms started around 55 with irregular periods, hot flashes, a gradual 10 pound weight gain (which by the way was lost after my hormones stabilized), joint aches, sleeplessness, irritability, and anxiousness. I cannot blame menopause entirely for the above mentioned, but without a doubt, these physical and emotional symptoms had some effect on my performance on running a large Bikram Yoga studio in southern California. Needless to say, I had tons of work to do and I wanted to be all things to all people. I was a single mother of one incredible daughter who was in university during my “3rd stage” years.
There were times I didn’t know my own name, much less the names of my teachers, students, or what I had for dinner the night before.
One of the most gracious gifts I did “receive” during the 3 years of full-blown menopause was my HOT yoga.
You’re probably asking yourself, “what the hell is this woman thinking and saying?”
Who in their right mind would go into a room heated to 110 degrees with 30% humidity for 90 minutes when her own body temperature would rise to nearly 100 degrees for periods of 3 minutes at a time with NO warning of when these 3 minutes would return?
The first hot flash I had in a hot yoga class was the most frightening experience. Already heated and sweating, I was overcome with an intense burning sensation of my entire skin surface. I thought I was going to die. I had no idea it was a hot flash, and at that moment I bolted out of the practice space and sat in the lobby of my studio. My teacher poked her head out the door and asked me if I was ok. I looked at her and said, “I’m not sure.” The burning and needles sensation had passed. I sat for 5 more minutes and then went back in to finish the class.
This first hot flash experience in the room was the start of many to come. Realizing WHAT I was experiencing took the fear away, and what was at first the most dreadful experience became absolutely profound with each occurrence. At times the hot flash in the hot room became comical! “Here comes another one”, I’d whisper to my neighboring student, male or female. I took the opportunity to share with listening male students, whose wives and partners were going through “the change”. It was helpful for these guys to understand this stage of a woman’s life. Think blowtorching your body for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Who finds that “profound”?
The profundity came from knowing that my body was naturally changing, and these surges of hormones manifesting as hot flashes were signs that I was “on track”.
Keeping my yoga practice up was a way for me to cope with the changes, become stronger mentally and physically DURING this time. The restorative benefits of the Bikram series were actually helping with my hormone fluctuations, and these blow torch events became signals for me that all was well. I viewed these experiences as a type of hormone replacement. The yoga was balancing my hormone fluctuations naturally. I did go on bioidentical hormones for a short period of time. But for me, I found that I had to keep increasing the dosage, and my symptoms were not significantly improving to justify taking them. I do know women who take natural and prescription HRT and feel better. I agree that for some women hormone replacement IS helpful. For me, however, hormone replacement sent signals to my body that were not consistent. I preferred to “experience” the symptoms of “the change” naturally.
I did my research on menopause. I educated myself on what my body was going through physically, hormonally and emotionally. I came to terms with the natural fact that this is the “3rd stage” of a woman’s life, and it can be the most incredible time for one to know one’s self.
Changing our views and perceptions surrounding menopause is essential in order to deal, cope and embrace the “change”.
My yoga is a part of my self-care routine along with diet correction, stress management, and social support. The way we look at things in our lives greatly affects how we experience those things.
My body feels vibrant and strong. I have learned to respect it, be grateful for it, and give myself some slack.
Embrace all the stages – “know that this too shall pass”.
Resources for Empowerment
I would like to add a few more suggestions regarding the management of menopause symptoms that I found to be effective.
1) Keep your yoga practice up!!
Consistency is critical to manage the fluctuations of hormones during the third stage. My recommendation is to practice at least 5 days a week. Personally, a daily practice was what kept me physically strong and mentally sound. I understand that many gals do not have the time to incorporate a daily practice into their life, but TRY. Any exercise will help. I am however a big advocate of yoga. The yoga worked for me.
2) ASK FOR HELP.
What do I mean – ask for help??? I mean ask for help for ANYTHING you cannot do alone, or want to. I learned this the hard way – running a business, being a single mother, and trying to be all things to all people. It’s NOT POSSIBLE, so get over the control if you’re a control freak (like me) and surrender to the fact we’re not God.
3) Eat well.
If you’re not sure what to eat and can afford a natural health care provider that has the knowledge to advise, find one. If finances are an issue, educate yourself. The internet is an online university. Google ANY questions you have and read as much as possible. Sometimes you just have to experiment with what works for you and your body. It’s not rocket science – remember that menopause is a natural stage of a woman’s life. Many local health food stores have great in-store associates who can answer questions regarding the use of OTC herbs to alleviate symptoms.
Keep as calm as you can and don’t be shy, embarrassed, in denial, or overdramatic. Help is out there if needed, and at the end of the day, if you cannot manage your symptoms on your own or with the above suggestions, seek professional help. Bottom line, one doesn’t have to suffer.
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Illustration by Valeria Ko.