The Wisdom of Ayurveda: Menopause
by Shama Sara Palmer
Adverse symptoms of menopause surely have never been so widespread, have they? 1 in 3 women are reported to experience symptoms in perimenopause and menopause. 1 in 4 are said to experience extreme and debilitating symptoms.
The finger can be pointed to the hormone-mimicking chemicals in the processed foods we consume, to the hormones in the meat and dairy we consume, and to our unnatural busy lifestyles, which are way out of sync with the rhythms of nature and the needs of our individual metabolisms. All these factors are combining today to make menopause something to be feared and dreaded amongst many women, as if it were an illness rather than a totally natural rite of passage to be embraced and celebrated.
For some, it is not only a case of avoiding symptoms of menopause. Some would like to halt it altogether, or for as long as possible. There was much talk in the press recently on breakthrough medical technologies offering women an opportunity to delay the onset of menopause. The breakthrough was lauded for the promise it offers younger women at risk from early onset menopause and the accompanying dangers of conditions such as osteoporosis and heart disease, but this new medical technology is also being seen by some as an expression of our societal preoccupation with sustaining youthfulness and fighting the course of nature for as long as possible.
There is still a stigma attached to menopause – though lately it is talked of more in the press and this may be slowly changing. However, as women approaching menopause we can start to become fearful when these changes occur. We may not be not as productive in our lives or as quick to perceive, and we may lose the sharpness and endurance we associate with youth. We fear that after menopause, all the symptoms we associate with ageing may start to take their seat in our bodies and minds. We may start to become more forgetful, generally ailing and fatigued, plagued by all manner of aches and pains. Ayurveda tells us these conditions are not a natural part of ageing. If they arise in our later years, they are more likely to be an indication of us having lived against, rather than in alignment with, nature’s rhythms and the nature of each cycle of life. Even if we have not lived the most healthy and balanced life, it is never too late to make changes and reap the rewards of those changes.
As we transition through menopause, we are actually moving into a golden age of life. We can start to give ourselves permission to slow down, be less hurried and less preoccupied with the material in terms of the body, our productivity, and acquisitiveness in the material world. We perhaps feel a natural pull to redefine ourselves. Then, indeed, we can start to shine and blossom more in our post-menopause years. From an ayurvedic perspective, menopause is a call to turn inwards more, to move closer to the soul and our essential nature, and to express that closeness.
In my own case, menopause arrived relatively early as I was suffering with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) at the time. Having been sensitive to cold most of my life, I was suddenly burning up and wringing wet with night sweats, was lying awake wired-tired at night, had brain fog and problems remembering things and focusing, and I was also breaking horrid hot flushes during the day. My doctor recommended that I immediately go on HRT. Instead, I turned to my diet. I was already vegetarian and so mostly on a plant-based diet but I noticed that my symptoms worsened if I consumed sugar, alcohol, dairy, fermented or other acidic foods. I favoured an organic, plant-based alkalising diet and alongside an adapted calming daily yoga practice which included special cooling breath practices, my symptoms dropped away almost immediately.
It can be simple, safe, economical and achievable to reduce and even be symptom-free through menopause. There are no risky side effects in the remedies described below, but great benefits for your long-term health in general. It can take some more effort on our parts to take an Ayurvedic route through menopause than to simply start taking HRT, but it has to be worth it, doesn’t it? A recent NHS research study there is increased risk of breast cancer after only one year of taking HRT, with risk increasing the longer it is taken. That increased risk can last up to ten years after stopping HRT.
Ayurveda recognises that our dietary and lifestyle choices through these transitional years of perimenopause and menopause will have a great impact on our health in the years ahead, through our 60s, 70s, and even our 80s. An ayurvedic programme is doable. You don’t have to do it 100%, which can feel drastic and daunting when far removed from our current eating and lifestyle habits. Even doing it 70% will make a difference. With the support of herbal remedies, alongside an alkalising diet, adjusted by an Ayurvedic practitioner to suit your metabolic type, and a balancing lifestyle programme to combat stress and build stress resilience, our bodies can be returned to their natural state of equilibrium. In a state of balance, we can pass through this most natural phase of life symptom-free.
Alkalising the body
Alkalising the body is an important factor in reducing symptoms of menopause. Acid is hot, isn’t it? It burns. And so acidic foods are going to increase heat and inflammation in the body, aggravating common symptoms of hot flushes, night sweats and joint pain. Additionally, the liver has a lot of work to do during menopause due to the surging hormones, and this places extra strain on this hard-working organ. Not overloading it with processed and acidic foods is therefore very important. Choosing a plant-based diet with a high quantity of vegetables, especially dark leafy green vegetables, will support alkalinity in the body.
In ayurvedic teachings it’s not recommended to eat a raw plant-based diet. Favour cooked foods. In cooking, our foods in effect become partly digested, and so are much easier for our digestive system to assimilate and eliminate waste products from the foods.
Creating the right environment
There are measures that we can take in addition to diet to reduce acidity in the body. Exposure to chemicals in the home and in our food chain can increase acidity. Reducing chemicals in the home environment and choosing organic foods are important choices these days for our general health and well-being, but become especially pertinent during menopause.
Many chemicals mimic our hormones, particularly oestrogens. These chemicals are called xenoestrogens, and they wreak havoc in our endocrine systems by flooding cell receptor sites in our bodies with hormone-like substances. It is another reason why eating plant-based diet is important: not only for its alkalising effects, but also to protect us from the hormones fed to animals and found in meat and dairy products.
Incorporating a yoga practice
Other causes of acidity are stress and worry, which is why a simple balancing and calming daily yoga practice is a great support – always and especially during times such as menopause when the body is under extra pressure. Favour daily practice of a yoga style which is more gentle and steady-paced than fast and heating. This will calm the nervous system to reduce stress symptoms, help to promote better sleep at night, and build and contain energy for the daytime. Plus, many of the familiar yoga postures work specifically with our endocrine glands and, with the support of a proper diet, can help to redress hormonal imbalances which may be aggravating symptoms.
Having passed through menopause recently and come out the other side, I would welcome it as a fantastic rite of passage in a woman’s life. It is a transition into a more mature wise, empowered womanhood, into a golden age of life. We have long years of experience as major forces in our families, our communities, workplace and sometimes society at large, giving us the chance to establish ourselves as the wise elders in our families and communities. We have become more settled in ourselves, more comfortable in our own skin.
Menopause is a time which, if embraced, can be celebrated as a transition into a phase of life where we stand as expressions of the grace, fullness, strength and radiant inner beauty that shines from the archetypal regal woman, the queen. It is a transition into a stage of life where we can stand with head held high as a woman who knows herself, who has met and grown through life’s experiences and all the challenges and blessings it brings. Let’s embrace the wisdom of ayurveda, and make menopause a time to welcome as each one of us becomes queen in our own domain of life.
About the author
Based in Warwickshire, UK, Shama Sara Palmer has travelled around the world, living in various ashrams to immerse in and live fully the teachings of ayurveda and yoga. She has been teaching traditional hatha yoga for nearly 15 years, and has been studying and implementing the teachings of ayurveda into her yoga teaching and daily life for 10 years. More recently, she qualified as an ayurveda practitioner and now offers 1-1 consultations. She teach Ayurveda-Hatha Yoga retreats and Ayurveda Living courses.
Visit www.loveyogahealing.com for more details and to contact Shama.