My experience of menopause:
I went through menopause early aged 45 (the average age is 52). I remember feeling lost and confused about what was happening when I started missing periods, had hot flushes in the daytime, sweats at night, insomnia (waking at 3am!), headaches (from drinking a sip of coffee or alcohol), mood swings (quick to temper and be tearful), anxiety, digestion problems. You name it - I had it. But I didn’t know what ‘it’ was. And the symptoms didn’t all happen at once....they crept up over several years... then came and went.
Menopause wasn’t discussed openly in public in those days, my older sister and friends hadn't experienced it yet, and my mother had already passed away so I couldn't ask her.
Society has moved on so quickly in the past couple of years that it’s hard to imagine that ‘menopause’ was a culturally uncomfortable word - women didn't talk about it in public.
It was a word associated with the end of menstruation, the end of fertility and, by inference, the end of sexuality. When menopause happens to women in their late 30s and 40s, they may start to question their identity and self-worth in a sexually-driven society. Women can feel an overwhelming sense of loss and grief …on many different levels.
Becoming a detective
Despite its widespread impact on women's health, there was little information available about the menopause, apart from a booklet in Boots Chemist. My GP could offer nothing other than HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) and was reluctant to prescribe this due to a safety scare in the USA that linked HRT with breast cancer. Social media wasn’t as widespread, online blogs weren’t as prolific and there were no support groups. "Why don't you set one up yourself," said my doctor, so I took her advice.
I became a detective and did my own research. I listened in to older women’s conversations in coffee shops; I brazenly asked grey haired women what herbal remedies they had used, and I ordered books from the USA and Europe where women have greater access to gynaecologists and menopause has less stigma attached.
Yoga philosophy & meditation
As a yoga teacher, I naturally sought guidance from the yoga community. I practiced meditation and took a mindfulness course. Yoga and Buddhist philosophy helped me to view life in a more objective way as a natural cycle. It helped me to accept the natural changes I was going through, and to recognise that I was more than the aging body I live in.
I sourced books on yoga for women's menstrual cycle, ayurvedic guidance on nutrition, and other books on natural remedies. I now have a whole library of books ranging from Germaine Greer's feminist perspective, to Dr Rosemary Leonard's Menopause The Answers, Dr Svoboda's Ayurveda for Women, Bobby Clennell's book on yoga for women, The British Menopause Society's handbook.
Some of the books in my menopause library
I became fascinated by the knowledge and wisdom of women in the past that modern women seem to have lost. Women seem to have forgotten this knowledge, that used to be passed down from generation to generation, and allowed medical science to supercede it.
I benefited from the wisdom of other yoga teachers and the international speaker, author and trainer Max Strom whose Inner Axis method helps people to release stress, anxiety and insomnia. I now include his techniques in my workshops.
I wanted to balance my knowledge of Eastern approaches to menopause with Western scientific, so I joined the British Menopause Society – I’m the only yoga teacher who is a member of this organisation for health practitioners.I bring this medical knowledge to my courses so that women can make informed choices about HRT and other supplements.
Every woman's experience is unique
Of course, many women go through menopause relatively undisturbed and are able to manage their symptoms without support. This is because every woman’s experience of menopause is unique and individual. But for every woman who sails through this change in life, I have also seen women having emotional meltdowns: I’ve witnessed women self-medicating with wine; professional women quitting senior jobs because they couldn’t cope with the embarrassment of flushes and anxiety; wives whose relationships with their partners – and themselves – deteriorated beyond repair; girlfriends who were prescribed anti-depressants by doctors who didn’t know what else to offer them. Some women say they feel as if they are losing their minds.
I felt compelled to share what I had learned with other women. So I made it my mission to create Menopause Yoga & Wellbeing workshops. I now deliver these across London and have plans to team up with a doctor to take this into clinics across the country.
These workshops are an opportunity for us to come together to share, laugh, support and learn more about menopause and how our bodies age. Most importantly I hope women come away with a sense that life post menopause doesn’t have to be doom and gloom.
The workshops I run are a unique combination of:
yoga and breathing practice,
insights into Ayurveda, nutrition, alternative remedies and supplements,
the latest medical advice on the use of HRT and other medical interventions,
Love, laughter and treats (there’s a goodie bag for everyone).
Changing our perspective
What if we viewed Menopause differently - as opportunity to nurture and nourish ourselves?
Menopause would be a positive opportunity to take time out of our hectic lives; an excuse to take a pause…a deep breath…enjoy some ‘Me’ time. We could give ourselves time for Swadhayaya (self-study) so that we could check-in with our bodies, hearts and minds…reassess what we want and need, and give ourselves permission to feel healthy and happy.
What if doctors viewed menopause differently and saw it as a chance to help their female patients become healthier and happier? It could save them time and money in the long run - and save women from years of angst and suffering.
What if your GP told you that Menopause was a vital time in your life when you needed to pause, take stock of your life, potentially change what you ate and drank and the kind of exercise you took in order to maintain a healthy body, a calm and stable mind and to enjoy life to the full? Would you want to find out more?
What if practising yoga and mindful meditation was scientifically proven to make your body feel fitter and your mind felt calmer and more focussed. Would you try it out, or say 'nah' that's not for me.
What if the doctor also said, you might also benefit from taking some natural vitamins, and that replacing the hormones that are depleted would prevent osteoporosis, bone fracture and dementia in later life? Would you take their advice?
Women sometimes tell me that they want to be healthier and happier - but they don't have any time. I know personally how difficult it is to juggle raising children and having a career, alongside practising yoga and other forms of exercise. I am not in any way judgemental - I was always putting my family and work first before my own personal needs. But does this self sacrifice help you?
My message is: if we take care of ourselves, the people we love will benefit from our health and happiness.
If we learn how to manage menopause, we can share this knowledge with our female friends.
If we tell our families and friends that we need time off to improve our health, we’ll be acting as role models for our partners, daughters and sons, nieces and nephews, and work colleagues.
So what's holding you back?
Make a commitment today - now - to nurture and nourish yourself, and share your experiences with other women so that we can learn from each other.