Ways to Bring Ease and Reclaim Your Vitality
Menopause is a process that lasts for many years for most women. And it can be a challenging time emotionally as we move from our productive and reproductive years into years of more self-inquiry and seclusion. Because we live in an age of “have it all,” there may be anxiety. Many women push themselves to the point of exhaustion trying to be the best mom, wife, worker, friend, daughter – and that exhaustion can make this transition particularly difficult as it wreaks havoc on the hormones. // Christine Hoar, The Ashtanga Dispatch Magazine | Issue 2
I was one of those women. And this is my story …
pe•ri•men•o•pause / the beginning of the end
1. the period of a woman’s life shortly before the occurrence of the menopause.
2. confusing AF
2014. The year we were getting ready to move from DC to Montana. But our dog, Toby, would not be coming with us. He got suddenly sick and despite all our best efforts to get him well, he died that February. The grief was overwhelming. Our hearts were broken beyond belief.
In the meantime, my son had SATs and college visits and we had a house to sell. We emptied the house, brought in painters and repairmen, staged the rooms, and lived for an entire year in a house that was no longer a home.
The changes came fast and furious. I stopped sleeping and lost a noticeable amount of weight. I began having headaches and dramatic emotional swings. And my periods went from days of horrible, heavy bleeding – to nothing. They stopped.
Stress. It’s our worst enemy during any life transition and maybe especially during menopause – sometimes even triggering its early onset. Cortisol levels rise as the body prepares for an anticipated emergency – giving the body and mind an unrealistic burst of energy to plow through. Which is, of course, exactly what I did. Complete with a daily advanced series practice and a 9 month-long intensive training I ran on the weekends.
Like a speeding race car, barreling down the highway. I would either crash or run out of gas. Luckily for me it was the latter. When my periods stopped, so did my energy. At the end of that year, I had nothing left.
I made an appointment with my GP who did some blood work, which confirmed what I already suspected. I was transitioning into menopause. Of course, that was all he could tell me. Seriously. It went dead silent in his office. Like he had nothing else to offer me. I asked the only thing I could think of – how long would this last. Oh, he said. This could last quite some time.
And that was it. He said I could schedule a follow-up appointment in a few months if I wanted. I didn’t. Instead I left feeling utterly defeated and entirely alone. I was only 48 years-old. I felt it had to be too soon.
The journal entry above was a turning point for me. Afterwards, I sent Dena Kingsberg – a teacher I’d wouldn’t ever meet until a few years later – a probably desperate sounding email but she was a woman who had practiced Ashtanga for over 35 years. Surely she knew something helpful . She did. She said:
Menopause is not a dirty word.
That was something I needed to hear. And in that moment I realized, menopause was not a dirty word but it was a silent one. And I decided silent I would be no longer.
men•o•pause / the end
1. the ceasing of menstruation
2. moment of change
Finally, around late middle age, we transition to the vata stage of life. We move from a time marked by productivity and activity, to a stage focused on wisdom and contemplation. This stage is lighter and more fragile and must be managed more diligently then the other two stages. So healthy practices are ones that are nurturing and rejuvenating, and require more self-inquiry and solitude. Christine Hoar: The Ashtanga Dispatch Magazine | Issue 2
2015. Just like no two pregnancies are the same, so it seems with menopause. But different from pregnancy, where every mother has an opinion (and is willing to share it!) – most women become surprisingly mum when it comes to menopause. Is it shame? Are we embarrassed? Do we think if we don’t talk about it then it will go away? I have no idea. But whatever it is, it needs to change. (IMHO, of course)
Anyway, if I was going to learn anything, I needed to start with me, within my own practice of self-inquiry – like on my yoga mat.
First by taking a long and uncomfortable look at the way I defined my yoga practice, measuring progress by progression. Oh yeah, I’d tell you different. But deep down, I was still being driven by a somewhat unconscious rigid and linear view of the Ashtanga yoga method. Whats more, I was letting this underlying belief and my response by always pushing forward, rob me of vital energy, time, AND THE SLEEP I desperately needed during this challenging transition. (Remember, I was also moving so really TWO transitions).
I realized, the practice wasn’t failing me. My body wasn’t failing me. I WAS FAILING ME!
You know that moment when you come face-to-face with yourself? The moment you find out who you are when you CAN’T? That’s the moment you can finally be free. Liberated from all the bullshit, the shame, the ridiculous primitive black-and-white views. Once they are all out in the open, these damaging beliefs lose their potency. This, in and of itself, was reason enough to roll out my mat each morning.
Anyway, for the sake of time and space, I’ll try and walk you through the shifts I made to move from anxiety and exhaustion to a healthier ease and a greater sense of vitality.
• Practice: I reconstructed my morning practice to include the foundational postures along with parts of primary series. Longer breaths and fewer vinyasas. That seemed to help, especially while I was preparing to move. This changed to all of primary once I moved to Montana and sometimes with full vinyasa between postures and no vinyasa between sides – this felt more settling and steady for me so when I had the time. Eventually, my energy shifted as did my needs. And accordingly, I made changes in my practice – and I continue to.
*If there was one change I would make if I could go back, it would be to have substituted some of the beginning postures of intermediate for those in primary as I believe now, they provide a more uplifting energy as well as core support – something women need very much as they mature.
• Meditation: I got serious about my seated practice. I had already begun working with a meditation teacher (John Churchill) and I made this quiet, focused time a non-negotiable. I won’t lie, I was really bad at it. Though in looking back I realize, even sitting badly was a really good thing. I have recently added a regular pranayama practice which I do right after my seated practice, which (you’ll be happy to know) has come a really long way.
• Reflection: Something else I got serious about was journaling. Some entries like the one above, but also on a more practical side – I noted my sleep and eating habits, when headaches occurred, and noted other symptoms as they happened like the dreaded night sweats. Some things that seemed random turned out to be more predictable than I’d realized, and therefore – avoidable. But I wouldn’t have known that unless I wrote it down.
• Nature: One of those AHA moments that came from my time journaling and reflecting was how critical it was for me to spend time in nature. This turned out to be a life-saver. It was almost the ONLY thing in my daily life that actually GAVE me energy. It was remarkable, actually. In fact, the more active I was outside on any given day, the better I slept that night. So it was like the gift that kept giving. Today I can tell you, both gardening and hiking do more than keep me as healthy and sane as my yoga practice – they bring me immense joy.
• Sleep: Sleep was the single best predictor of how I functioned during my day. On nights I couldn’t sleep, or basically woke up every hour, the days were miserable and headaches were more severe. I’m actually still like that now. And why I am so so strict about what time I go to bed and my whole bedtime ritual which includes a cup of tea and the supplement Benesom (Magnesium + 3 mg of Melatonin) an hour before I retire.
• Nutrition: With the help of my NEW doctor – a Menopause specialist in Virginia – who spent considerable time getting to know me and my symptoms (and orders regular blood work), I made some nutritional changes to my diet including adding fish, something my Ayurvedic doctor also recommended. And I take the following nutritional supplements from quality companies. I am listing them not as recommendations but as a reference point and something to possibly explore.
- E-400 Selenium (Metagenics)
- EPA-DHA 1200 (OmegaGenics by Metagenics)
- Iron + Folate (Hemagenics by Metagenics)
- D3 5000 IU (Metagenics)
- EstroDIM (Ortho Molecular Products)
- DHEA (Douglas Laboratories)
- End Fatigue Daily Energy Infusion – Vitamin B complex + protein (Integrative Therapeutics)
- MygranX (Biotics Research) – I actually haven’t had a migraine since taking this supplement.
- HANAH ONE – An Ayurvedic superfood supplement that includes turmeric, ashwagandha, malawi, and shatavari. I began this one on my own this past year and have found it particularly helpful with afternoon energy levels and keeping me regular and healthy. It has taken the place of an afternoon coffee so that says something.
• Oils: As estrogen levels decline, there is a real drying effect. I noticed it in my skin, my hair, and even my eyes got drier. Plus I live in Montana, the land of 0 humidity. I eat an avocado every day. Drink lots of coconut water. And basically oil up every day – and every night. It’s part of that strict nightly regimen I mentioned above.
• Bio-Identical (Natural) Hormone Therapy (BHRT): Which is not the same as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). There’s lots of conflicting research out there from conventional scientists so all I can tell you is that in my subjective, study-of-one, I found BHRT really helpful. Btw, Oprah agrees.
post•men•o•pause / a new beginning
1. the period of a woman’s life following menopause
2018. Lots of things have transitioned in my life over the past few years. Moving to Montana was like the exhale I needed. I didn’t fully understand the city’s effect on me, the frenetic pace along with a more competitive nature. We are not separate from our environment though it’s easy to forget this from within the concrete constructs most of us call home. It’s no wonder I failed to recognize menopause as part of nature and instead, as just something else to control or overcome.
Which I could not, by the way. No amount of will, determination, strength, and grit was going to help me with this one. Those skills may have gotten me through graduate school, out of an abusive relationship, and to the end of the advanced series – but menopause wasn’t something I needed to survive or beat. Because menopause wasn’t the enemy. And it certainly wasn’t the end. In fact, this has been beautiful and joyful beginning.
Truth is, menopause tenderized me. When I finally allowed it, menopause helped soften and free me to becoming the kinder and (hopefully) wiser woman I am growing into today.
Right now, I’m watching my new seedlings break through the dirt. They are so small and delicate that it amazes me the genuine ease in which they move upward, through darkness and into the light. Interestingly, when we first glimpse these baby plants, their stems are more straight and upright – giving the illusion that this is how they emerged. But it’s not. It’s actually more of a tender uncurling they move through first. Like all new life, it begins softly. Quietly. So much so, one barely even notices. And that’s a shame. Because we can go our whole lives and never get to truly behold the wonderful strength and resilience that comes through softness.
I tell you my story not because I have any answers. I don’t. But what I DO have is joy. And so I share that you may uncover within my words, the seeds of hope for your own journey – that you may find in my story a longing to contemplate and unfold your own.
Below is a list of inspirational books, magazines, podcasts, and articles that I hope you’ll find meaningful during this transition. Feel free to share. Much love. xx – peg
The Ashtanga Dispatch Podcast
- Episode 7 // Christine Hoar // If you’re a woman in Ashtanga yoga, this podcast featuring Christine Hoar is part of a conversation we all need to be having. We just happened to meet on a beach in Costa Rica – or perhaps, destined. For just when I needed her, she showed up and we end up talking about everything from menstruation to menopause.
- Episode 22 // Cathy Louise Broda // Listen in as Cathy Louise Broda and I discuss menstruation, childbirth, and menopause – all cycles only experienced by a woman. And why we need to make time for rest, room for recovery, and space for these meaningful transitions.
The Ashtanga Dispatch Magazine
- Issue 2 // Including the article: Through the Years – An Ayurvedic Perspective
- Issue 3 // If you want to dig deeper into practice, beyond the physical, you will especially appreciate this issue.
The Ashtanga Dispatch Blog
- The Call of the Wild // I don’t know about you but I remember the moment I heard that call. It was a turning point. It felt like I might break but instead, I made a break. I heard something deep, call my name. And in that moment, I knew I deserved better. I deserved my Self. And I wouldn’t stop searching until I found her.
- Women in Ashtanga: A Lineage of an ‘Other’ Kind // Women are judged harshly for aging and our yoga world is by no means an exception. How can we, as women, embrace who we are collectively, through the years?
- Cultivating the Feminine Through Meditation // How I learned to cultivate feminine energy through yoga and a meditation practice focusing on Tara, the Bodhisattva Healing Mother.
- Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype // Clarissa Pinkola Estés
- If Women Rose Rooted: The Power of the Celtic Woman // Sharon Blackie
- No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters // Ursula K. Le Guin
- Milk and Honey: Poetry and Prose // Rupi Kaur
- The Women’s Practice Focus Group // Take the survey for your invitation.
- In Gratitude // A spacious soundscape for meditation, yoga, resting, grieving, healing, rejoicing, living and dying // Dena Kingsberg & Friends