Fitness Magazine

Menopause as a Transformative Experience

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Beth Gibbs

Menopause as a Transformative Experience

Metamorphosis of a Butterfly by Maria Sibylla Merian

Rather than seeing menopause just as the end of fertility and the start of aging, we can look at it as both a life transition and as a potentially transformative experience. Given our modern health care and longer life spans, women in first world countries can anticipate spending close to one-third of their lives in a post-reproductive state. Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of The Wisdom of Menopause, said, "The years surrounding menopause and encompassing the gradual change in ovarian function constitute an entire stage of a woman's life, lasting from six to thirteen years." Without reproductive and care-taking responsibilities, women can use more of their time for personal self-development, healing, and realization. And while this transition is often described as the “change of life” and freedom from social and culturally defined roles, each woman’s menopause experience is like a fingerprint—unique and personal. And the way each woman perceives and moves through this transition can transform her inner and outer experience. 
One way we can view this transition is through yoga philosophy, which says that there are four stages of life (ashramas): the student, the householder, the forest dweller, and the renunciate. As a student (or child) one learns about one’s role in society. As a householder (adult), one raises a family and/or makes a contribution to society through relationships, work, or volunteer efforts. As a forest dweller (mid-life) one begins the preparatory work for personal or spiritual realization, and may finally choose to become a renunciate and turn the final years into an opportunity for spiritual wisdom and enlightenment. For women, the Forest Dweller stage seems perfectly timed to occur about when you enter menopause, and your children, if you has any, leave home to begin lives of their own. This transition can be seen as a moving away from a more active (rajasic) time of life towards a more contemplative (sattvic) time of life. Many western writers and thinkers, such as Marian VanEyke McCain, Christiane Northrup, and Clarrissa Pinkola Estes, support this yogic view of the female human life span. They point to the drive that moves women at this time to begin an inner journey, address unfinished business, and claim the wisdom and power inherent in this time of life. Seen from this perspective, the menopausal process is a natural transition that can lead to transformation. While writing masters project on menopause, I spoke with and surveyed about thirty women about their menopause experiences. In addition, at that time, I worked in a small all-female office, and the three of us shared our experiences openly. In general, I found that women’s responses fell into three categories: Fix and Forget, Menopause as Process, and Menopause as Transformation.Fix and Forget. Many women I talked to perceived menopause and its symptoms as biological events to be fixed or forgotten. When D. talked about menopause, her conversation centered around which therapist she had last seen and what they had prescribed to fix her problems: one pill for headaches, birth control pills for irregular periods, and something else for mood swings. She told us that she wished for a hysterectomy to "get it all over with." On the other hand, V. said, "I don't remember attaching any great meaning to menopause. It came, it wasn't difficult, it went, and I forgot about it in fairly short order.” Both women overlooked the opportunity to see menopause as a catalyst for healing and transformation. Menopause as Process. Menopause often involves much more than physiological changes in the body. This is true even if women are not aware of all the multi-dimensional changes that may be taking place in their lives. This transition has an amazing potential for causing change, as illustrated by the following comments from two women. One said, “It’s a change in my life, an aging process but one I want to control.” The other responded, “I know I’m going to experience many changes and I want to learn how to handle them so I don’t feel so frustrated.”Northrup calls menopause, "the mother of all wake-up calls," our body's way of letting us know the need to do inner work, to heal an experience, conflict or issue in our lives. The increased psychic energy available for this inner work is related to a woman's fluctuating hormone levels that alter the brain chemistry by “sparking” changes to the temporal lobes associated with enhanced intuition, the right brain hemisphere. Northrup states, "At midlife, the hormonal milieu that was present for only a few days each month during most of your productive years to spur you on to reexamine your life just a little at a time, now gets stuck in the on position for weeks or months at a time." K. recognized this. She was experiencing hot flashes and mental confusion, and told me that she no longer felt “normal.” Her doctors advised her to take estrogen, and seek counseling. But she was able to find some relief through yoga. At the time, she was in the early stages of her “waking up” process. She recognized menopause as a process but was not ready to go deeper. Women who accept the idea of menopause as process will find many opportunities for conscious self-healing and change.Menopause as Transformation. Using the metaphor of a butterfly, Marian VanEyk McCain, author of Transformation Through Menopause, describes menopause as a cocoon: "A cocoon is, in a way, a place of rest, almost a place of death, for it is a place where some creatures go in order to die out of their previous form. Thus it is also a place of rebirth, a place from which the new form, in its own time will emerge." Often what dies during this phase are illusions that keep women from examining their deepest dreams and shadow material. And what gets born is a new and different concept of self that can result in an increased energy for life, a “post menopausal zest,” and often a view of themselves for the first time as complete beings who are worthy of existence just because they live and breathe.L., a post-menopausal grandmother, said, “Spiritually, I feel as though I'm free at last to pursue my own preferences in life. No longer young, I have little value in this society. On the one hand that's very annoying, but on the other, my invisibility also opens the door out of the gilded cage of others' praise and approval.”Support from Yoga During the TransitionAlternative and complimentary modalities of health and healing, including yoga, provide you with a range of opportunities to support this life transition. A consistent practice of yoga modified for individual needs and abilities can help you recognize, accept, and integrate your menopause experience. Yoga practices can also help you manage stress levels and many menopausal symptoms (see Yoga for Menopause: The Big Picture).One practice I particularly recommend is the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara), a flow of poses that moves your physical body through an optimal range of motion, brings awareness to your breath, and can calm your mind. Moving through the posture flow slowly can serve to cool and calm. Moving faster with more repetitions will warm and energize. And Sun Salutations are easily adapted to accommodate all levels of ability. (See Featured Sequence: Mini Sun Salutation for information on one of Baxter’s favorite versions.) Other yoga practices that I recommend include:
  • Yamas and Niyamas: Use these tools to examine your values and behaviors (see The First Branch of Yoga: The Yamas and The Second Branch of Yoga: The Niyamas).
  • Asanas: The Warrior poses (Virabradrasana 1, 2, and 3) are good for building strength and confidence, Downward-Facing Dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) and forward bends are good for calming, Legs Up the Wall pose (Viparita Karani) or Easy Inverted pose  for 10 minutes are good for relaxing and calming, Upward-Facing Dog pose (Urdva Mukha Svanasana), Plank pose, and backbends are good for energizing, and twisting poses are good for focus and concentration
  • Pranayama: The 2:1 Breath for calming (see Friday Q&A: Breath Practices for Anxiety), Kapalbhati for energizing, and Alternate Nostril Breathing (see Balancing Your Nervous System with Alternate Nostril Breathing) for balance.
  • Mudras: Adhi mudra for calming, Urdhvam Merudanda mudra (gesture of the upper spine) for opening to new ways of seeing, Hakini mudra for balance, and Jhana mudra for concentration.
  • Relaxation: Use a favorite guided relaxation or Yoga Nidra recording (or see Audio Tracks).
  • Meditation: Either yogic concentration or mindfulness practices.

Menopause as a Transformative Experience
Beth Gibbs, MA, E-RYT 500, is a certified yoga therapist through Integrative Yoga Therapy. She is a senior member of the IYT teaching faculty and directs the school’s Professional Yoga Therapist Internship Program. Beth has a masters degree in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA., and is the author of Ogi Bogi, The Elephant Yogi, a therapeutic yoga book for children with a companion manual for adults who work with children. Most recently, she served on the Educational Standards Committee for the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Her website: www.proyogatherapeutics.com.Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by Email ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook ° Join this site with Google Friend Connect

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