What if menopause isn't just a sign of decline but actually the opportunity for us to bloom into the best time of life? My teacher, Kaiya Larson, sees elderly women as awesome. She absolutely adores them. Wow..let's live into that! Together, let's shake up our notion of aging and honor our wrinkles as showing the stories of our life and representing the etching of truth and deep wisdom. What if this is our greatest moment and not our weakest that needs to colored over, uplifted, tucked in, or otherwise hidden? Embrace that extra wrinkle Woman, it is your badge of experience and wisdom to pass on to next generation. Gray is in!
How is menopause for you? What does this time mean to you? Are you bucking the tide or going with the flow? Do you have irksome symptoms?
Carl Jung wrote that "what we resist, persists and grows in size." So some of our problems with this time of life can come from our rebellious ego shouting "no, no no." For me at least, it is all the social media suggesting I should be smooth-faced, size 6, with lush, thick hair. What If instead, we say "yes, yes, yes," now I can truly become my deepest self? Often then, the transition can go remarkably better.
Specifically, menopause is a time when our ovaries stop producing Estrogen. We have a very "Yang" society and overwork, over-exercising, over-thinking, worrying, staying up too late and getting up too early, partying and drinking, all exhaust the adrenals. The adrenals are one of the few places in the body that can still produce estrogen along with fat cells (adipose tissue). So we need to cultivate more balanced levels of activity: walking in the woods, lunch with friends, yin yoga or Tai Qi rather than marathons and Crossfit or Hot Yoga and all night parties. And, yes, sex is an important part of the picture we don't talk about which releases a whole cascade of essential hormones into action. So whether you have a partner or partner with yourself, it is part of our feminine health.
Irksome symptoms of menopause:
Night sweats and hot flashes
Grumpy and or irritable
Thickening around the waist, muscle goes to fat (because the wise body knows it needs to get estrogen from somewhere!)
Thinning skin and hair
Sleep less and not as deep but dreams are more prophetic
Metabolism slows and we need less to eat
Things dry up: skin, hair and vaginal secretions
Osteoporosis can arise for some women
Estrogen is a Yin substance in Chinese Medicine and we loose a lot of it at menopause. We literally dry up. But mother nature has a plan up her wise sleeve. Have you noticed that across cultures as women age they naturally thicken up? It just happens and we know it happens and we spend a lot of energy resisting it. Then we feel like we are swimming up stream to eliminate the extra padding. But that fat you wish would go away is actually one of the few sources you have left for estrogen along with the adrenal glands. This much needed estrogen moistens us and helps cool down the night sweats and other symptoms. Estrogen is also necessary for making strong bones and warding off osteoporosis! So within balance, there is some optimum level of "extra padding" we are meant to have as aging women and if we strive too hard to eliminate all of our body fat that we actually enhance menopausal symptoms.
Some Practices to ameliorate symptoms of menopause:
Chill out instead of ramp up: walks, Qi Gong or Tai Chi, easy-going elliptical 4x/week for 20 minutes at an easy-going-not-trashing yourself pace. If you can still breathe through your nose, then that is good and your kidneys are keeping up with demand. This is a huge shift if you are used to uber-exercise like I was. We do need to move or everything stagnates. It is just that we need to move in easy ways that preserve our Yin resources.
Accept a new level of adipose tissue as a helpful friend rather than an evil foe as already mentioned. Some amount helps us. It gives us the missing estrogen. We to achieve some optimum balance so we don't become a withered sack of weak bones! And we don't want to gain too much and not be able to get up out of the chair and get the necessary movement we need to stay health. Moderation, moderation, moderation.
Seek ease in your level of work, stress and life activities. Over-doing consumes more of what we don't have and can exacerbate symptoms!
Eat smaller and more nutritionally dense foods. Lightly cooked vegetables, a bit of protein, bone broth, rice, millet and wholesome grains are our best friends. Soups are awesome. Consume less alcohol and caffeine (which are both drying). Lessen the amount of dairy, sugar, and white carbohydrates which are damp. Really savor and eat what you eat mindfully. A single bite of something delicious and eaten mindfully can be enough to lift the spirit and not overwhelm the body!
Notice when and what triggers your hot flashes and symptoms . They are often related to a particular time of day or something you are doing or feeling which you might be able to modify.
Take a nap if you are moved! It is ok! I'm learning here too :)
Work on your sleep routine And it is ok if it is not as long it is ok as long as you feel good when you awaken and your energy lasts in the day (Naps are good!) But it may also be more prophetic...write them down and see what they say?' Read before bed, put away the electronics and social media. An Epsom salt bath with lavender and some candles is gorgeously nice. Check out a sleep Qi Gong routine here.
Sex releases important hormones and you are not too old: Chinese Medicine considers both "lack of sex" or "too much sex" deleterious to health. For women, too much is the loss of "essence" through many child births. But too little, is really about not getting stimulation and orgasm. And that is because orgasm releases important hormones which help with bone density, drying of the vaginal secretions, skin and all else. With a partner or not, it might be worth considering adding this activity into your weekly health regimen. What is the downside? See Dr. Sara Gottfried on this https://www.saragottfriedmd.com/orgasm-balances-hormonal-imbalance-in-women/ And, if you've got issues about sexuality as I have had, then this piece by Deepak Chopra on sex and spirituality might be quite a paradigm shift on sexual energy being an expression of the creative energy of the universe. Finally, for additional information about postmenopausal sexual dysfunction and tips, see Dr. Laurena White's section below on sexual health.!
Your Acupuncturist can be very helpful with symptoms of menopause by addressing the underlying patterns that can lead to excess heat (hot flashes, sweating,irritability, lack of libido etc).
Postmenopausal Sexual Health Tips, Laurena White, M.D. (Ob-GYN)
First and foremost, please know that postmenopausal sexual dysfunction is common, but not normal. Not all menopausal women experience challenges with sexuality and some postmenopausal women say they have an improved sex drive which may be due to less anxiety linked to a fear of pregnancy. Also, many postmenopausal women often have fewer child-rearing responsibilities which allows them to relax and enjoy intimacy with their partners.
The most common sexual problem that menopausal women report is vaginal dryness-associated dyspareunia (pain or discomfort during or after intercourse, insertion of fingers, or sex toys into the vagina). Reduced levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone result in less natural lubrication that may result in bleeding, tightening of the vaginal opening, and/or narrowing and shortening of the vagina. All of these can make intercourse uncomfortable or even intolerable. Regular sex, either with a partner, through masturbation, or a combination of the two, definitely helps keep vaginal tissues more supple and moist. Extended foreplay before penetration is always helpful. I suggest the liberal use of a water-based lubricant like Slippery Stuff (paraben- and glycerin-free) which is often enough to make intercourse more comfortable. Other brands like Good Clean Love, Yes, and Sliquid Organics work well, also. KY Jelly and Astroglide are not advised for use as these two include glycerin which could lead to increased yeast infections and they don’t last as long. You may need to work up to hours of love-making, but don’t give up. In a few weeks, the vaginal opening can be comfortably stretched using lubricants and successively larger blunt objects such as vibrators, dildos, or even a set of small vaginal dilators (Soul Source, silicone).
Many older women also report slower response to mental or physical sexual stimulation, being difficult to arouse, taking a longer time to become sufficiently aroused, being less sensitive to stroking or touching, and in severe cases, a total lack of interest in or revulsion to sex. If you have a partner, it’s important to talk about lower sexual interest so that he or she does not feel that sexual coolness is personal. Tell your partner what's comfortable and what's not. Get back to touch such as forehead to forehead or back to back touch. To further desensitize yourself, put your own hand on top of your vulva (lips of the vagina) with your clothes on. Then eventually allow you partner to do the same. Have fun with extended foreplay before penetration by giving and receiving sensual massages with Ylang essential oil which is very relaxing and considered to be an aphrodisiac. Jasmine is also very calming to the mind and nervous system while also being a renowned aphrodisiac and sexual tonic. Oral sex (giving and receiving) is always a winner. These activities can make you feel more comfortable and improve communication between you and your partner.
Some women may have limiting physical issues including prolapse of the uterus, pain with intercourse, and urinary incontinence. There are now Physical Therapists who specialize in these types of women's health issues and they are a wonderful resource! And, sadly, all too many women have experienced a form of trauma and here a psychotherapist in conjunction with your acupuncturist can be very helpful.
Some women have confessed to me that even though they’ve had sex before and have kids, they “don’t know what it’s like to have pleasure”. I, then, suggest reading the book Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski, PhD (you can see Emily's TED Talk here). Give yourself permission to feel good without the pressures of cultural, social, or religious constraints. Consider experimenting with erotic videos or books, masturbation, and spontaneous changes to the usual sexual routines. Distraction techniques such as erotic (or non-erotic) fantasies, exercises with sex, music, television, and a little red wine can boost relaxation and ease anxiety. Clitoral stimulation will lead to arousal, so know your anatomy. Also, don’t feel like you need to have an orgasm. Allow yourself to feel good and enjoy what arouses you.
In Chinese Medicine, menopause is the last and longest cycle of life for women and represents a time of spiritual awakening. It is the exchange of our bountiful, fertile and youthful life force for the wisdom and blooming of who we are at the deepest level. Doesn't that sound much more appealing than "menopause?" Today, we live longer and healthier. More than any other era we have the opportunity to truly live fully into this time and relish its gifts. Now is a time to cultivate your sacred feminine wisdom.
Wise Woman Poem
"I knew a Wise Woman
And she said to me
That the river would mold me
And the wild wind would cool me
That the trickster the coyote He would fool me
That father Sun would warm me
Mother Earth would clothe me
Grandmother Moon would greet me
And of the old ways she would teach me
Wise woman, she told me
To always walk lightly
Tread the Earth ever gently
Lovingly so preciously
And take from her sparingly
She said, to share with others
What you have learned from me
Be still and breathe, ever patiently
For the web of life
Has woven what is to be
But you must still chose
Your own path, you will see
And lastly, the Wise Woman said to me
To listen to the Wise one
That dwells within me
To walk my path in balance
Is to be free
Jan Bull, M.A.: I have worked in healthcare policy for 30 years and was recently Lead Specialist in Competency-based Medical Education. I am a clinical acupuncture student seeing patients now at MUIH. My bio is here and I can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org or text or phone, 703.470.1358 (make sure to give your name!)
Laurena White, M.D. (Ob-GYN): Dr. White has over 15 years of service and experience in the field of women's health ranging from birth doula to physician including acupuncture and Chinese herbalism. She has integrated her practice and is utilizing both Eastern and Western medical treatment modalities to bridge the gaps in women's health care. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.