A while ago I wrote a blog piece about some of my observations talking with friends about their thoughts on menopause. If you haven’t yet read that piece, I invite you to take a look.
This month, in honour of Menopause Awareness Month, I wanted to delve back into the world of menopause, how we understand (or don’t understand it) and the changes that need to happen to get women to feel really comfortable on their menopause journey.
Let’s start with the data. The most recent data show that global women’s life expectancy has increased from 60.7 years in 1970 to 74.7 years in 2017.
In the United States in 1970 a women’s life expectancy was 74.3 years and that increased to 81 years by 2018. During the same time period in the United Kingdom life expectancy for a women was 75 years and increased to 83 years.
All this shows is that we are living longer – no big surprises there! However, what IS important, is that women are enjoying more post-menopause years then before and that is having a profound effect on how we are relating to and dealing with our menopause and post-menopause experience.
To understand what needs to change, we need to understand where we are with respect to society’s views on menopause. In western culture, menopause has typically signaled the beginning of the end. The end of a women’s usefulness and of her fully functioning body. Post-menopausal life was depicted as being something to survive and endure, with only ill health, achy bones, grey hair (if you had any hair left!) and A LOT of pill popping (blood pressure bills, cholesterol pills, vitamin supplement pills – you get the idea.)
Menopause was something to endure and suffer through. It was a diagnoses that you went to the doctor for, and therefore it was viewed as a “medical condition” accompanied by symptoms, medication, and a lot of shame and embarrassment about the changes going on in your body.
Stereotypical images of women having hot flushes, night sweats, irregular and heavy periods, mood swings and unexpected out-bursts may bring a laugh, but it has only helped to reinforce the perception that menopause was something to endure as a negative experience…. And don’t worry about it too much, because you probably only have another ten years left to live anyway!
This perception is slowly changing – for women themselves and for society, due to the work of some pioneering women, women’s health organizations and Facebook groups, the increased life expectancy of women, and improvements in health and wellness awareness and care.
The idea that menopause is the beginning of the end is impossible to accept any more, as women are living a good 30 years post-menopause. Changes in society, health care, and socio-economic conditions mean that women have many more opportunities available to them after the age of 60.
In her pioneering book ‘The Wisdom of Menopause’, Dr. Christiane Northrup lays out a radical new way of viewing peri-menopause, menopause and post-menopause. Firstly, she states what should be obvious – that the menopause journey is a completely normal biological process for women and NOT a disease to be treated and cured. You may seek medical advice and you may even need medical treatment in some cases, but that approach is very different than viewing menopause as an illness to be cured.
Secondly – and this is seen throughout her book and all her work – the menopause journey is an opportunity for growth, change, learning, connection to your truest self, and discovery. The journey that your menopause experience will take you on will be directly influenced by how you approach that journey and how open and willing you are to listen and hear what your body is telling you.
Dr. Northrup sums it up perfectly in one of her newsletters:
“This transformative life stage is not a burden to be endured or a disease to be treated, but an opportunity for you to flourish during menopause and for many years to come.”
The joy, beauty, excitement, adventure and wisdom waiting for you post-menopause, can only be accessed by going on your menopause journey. Your menopause journey is a necessary transformation or metamorphosis to the next stage of your life – just like your puberty years are a necessary transition into your reproductive years.
This change in language – of viewing your menopause journey as a transformation journey – changes how you experience it, both physically and emotionally.
Now I am not saying that just because you change your language you WON’T experience peri-menopause side effects. Your menopause journey is a real hormonal-changing process and it can have profound effects on you, before you even realize you are peri-menopausal. 60% of women experience peri-menopausal side effects – physical, emotional and cognitive. Another 20% of women will experience extreme to debilitating side effects. These are all real and can be experienced for anywhere between 5-13 years!
However if you are prepared, open and curious about your menopause journey, if you are able to uncover the myths, to really understand what is going on in your body, and be prepared for what is waiting on the other side, your menopause experience can be dramatically altered for the positive.
For me Yoga is a super-important tool for navigated this stage of life for a number of reasons:
Yoga poses can be used as a tool for treating, managing and even preventing many side effects. Specific poses can help manage physical symptoms, improve sleep and balance hormones so that their fluctuations are less intense (and hence the side effects are less dramatic).
Cognitive challenges such as foggy brain, mild depression, and forgetfulness to name a few, can be treated with regular yoga practice. More and more research is being published to show how Yoga changes brain function, improves memory and directly alters brain chemical functioning for the better.
The breathing, mindfulness and meditative benefits of Yoga are crucial for managing the emotional side effects of peri-menopause and menopause.
Yoga gives you the space to strengthen the body-mind connection, to listen to what your body really needs, to give you space to identify and connect with your truest most authentic self, and to find ways to understand and express the journey you are experiencing.
For many women regular yoga practice may be enough to manage their side effects and may make them feel much more like their true self. However, I advise every woman to build her own healthcare team – including conventional and alternative medical professionals. There is a wealth of treatment options available to manage and mitigate these side effects. Having a holistic approach to your health and wellbeing is the only way to ensuring you are empowered and educated about your own body and what it really needs.
I encourage you to embrace your menopause journey, by educating and empowering yourself with information and management tools. Gone are the days when “menopause” was a word to be whispered with fear and dread. Gone are the days when women need to suffer in silence – or suffer at all! Just like puberty, women should see this stage of life as the next step on the journey of living their most fulfilled and authentic life.