The Big M - diving into the abyss
I am aware I haven't written a blog for some time and I am currently asking myself why that is? I cannot give myself the excuse of not having time, because I do. But maybe its about not feeling I have anything valid to say and finding myself to be a quieter person these days.
I had a birthday recently and, as birthdays often do, it gave me a reason to reflect on the past year, but also to muse over the past few years and the changes that have been evident in my life. I don't really like to label thoughts and feelings and physical changes too much as we tend to attach a story around those labels and indeed live ourselves into the story. However, for the purposes of this blog I can explain the past few years of awkward interruptions to what was my normal existence as being perimenopausal.
Where did I go?
For the world to see, Wendy, yoga teacher living in Ibiza, cat collector and retreat organiser, is very much still here. But in many ways who I was when I set out on the task of running a yoga retreat business and living in Ibiza is no longer here. We all change. Its inevitable, its vital to existence that on a cellular level, whatever is created, dies and then something new is born in its place in order to maintain a healthy system. And so it continues with the reproduction of cells gently slowing down as we get older.
The ageing process is a bewildering thing. The lines on the face increase regularly and with more fervour and the once natural hair colour (other than the self imposed dyes we forced on it) start to be replaced by gangs of grey. The pert parts we laughingly took for granted begin to develop a desire to return to earth and the once smooth thighs get poured into just a bit more stretched lycra - thank god for yoga pants! The maintenance of the vessel holding us has to step up a gear to keep it ticking over, whilst the desire to do the maintenance diminishes into days of procrastination.
And then to add to this development "hello menopause". Why on earth women have been given such a task through life to deal with so many acute changes from puberty to periods to motherhood (for some) to menopause, can only be attributed to the vast capacity of we warriors to be able to cope with shit! And then cope with more shit. Because we can and we have to and we discover we are hugely powerful (even when we just want to fall apart - we don't). So the menopause its just the next stage of development. Some may call it undevelopment, but however you see it, stuff is changing chica! For me the physical changes are a a bit simpler in comparison to the mental and emotional rollercoaster ride I find myself to be on. I didn't pay for the ticket, but somebody in their great wisdom decided to chuck me on it and now I can't get off until its over.
I am sure this is not news for many women my age but I will list some of the physical surprises this time of my life gave me:
Help is at hand
Is there help for any of us in this situation? I know I am not alone - that knowledge in itself is a great help. But being a yoga teacher and practitioner I also know I have a huge tool box of amazing things that I can use to help me navigate what is probably going to be going on for the next few years at least.
I don't believe in halting the passing of time and diving into a pausing of menopausal proceedings (excuse the pun) with chemicals from doctors. This change in women is inevitable and normal and (as uncomfortable as it can be) totally natural.
But I do know there are things that can help us navigate the choppy waters. Bear with me through the nutritional stuff - I am still experimenting with some good advice from other pausees.
Magnesium - is needed for so many things. Bone health, good nerve function, to keep your mood up, for good muscle function and to keep your heart healthy. It’s needed to keep your thyroid balanced, to regulate calcium in the body, which again is really important for your bones. It’s needed for your hormones. Very important in the menopause. It’s needed for sleep. It’s needed to keep your blood pressure level and to give you healthy hair and nails. And it’s also known to help to keep you young - no face lifts are NOT the answer. In menopause magnesium levels plummet and we need around 270mg per day to feel healthy. You can get this in foods like avocado, dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, brown rice and hurrah dark chocolate (not the full bar ladies). I eat pretty much all of those things but noticed my sleeping habits and muscle cramps lessening when I took supplements.
Vitamin B12 - As you age, your body loses some of its ability to absorb vitamin B-12 and your risk of vitamin B-12 deficiency increases. The symptoms of vitamin B-12 deficiency I noticed were: fatigue, balance problems, low mood and confusion. Unfortunately a vegan diet is not great to provide a natural source of B12, but some of the plant based milks and nuts and seed do help. I take a supplement to be sure. I definitely notice the difference in energy levels if I don't have it.
Vitamin C - needed for growth and repair, collagen productions, healthy teeth and gums and helps prevent itchy skin. So many lovely fruits and veggies contain this so a vegan diet is no reason not to consume. But, again, I take a supplement and this helps ward away the higher histamine levels.
Nettle Tea and Green Tea - both are great for urinary tract health and I am very aware of the need to keep my fluids up - yes that does mean more peeing....it never ends. But it also means fewer UTI's.
Yoga - Of course yoga! We all know that yoga is wellbeing for all ages, genders, body types; everyone. It's been my go to medicine for the last 20 years. I don't always want to practice yoga, but I do know I usually feel better when I do. There are occasions when all it seems I do is roll around on the mat, stretching this bit and that bit - but I believe in giving the body what it needs. Sometimes it needs a restorative practice of just lolling around for a while and sometimes it needs a good boot up the bum to crack open some stella moves like those you see on Instagram. But yoga also teaches us to listen and be aware of even the tiniest, some might feel insignificant, parts to the body and adjust and release into and breath around and engage in whatever pose we happen to be in. We learn to feel the intricacies of our energetic body in such a way that we become very sensitive to changes. WIth my practice over the years I have witnessed huge changes and I have allowed yoga to help me over each hurdle with the understanding that my practice is not for just when I feel well and healthy and fit. But my practice is for when I feel ill or old or low (especially that). The benefits to the body by just tuning into it and letting it tell me the story of that day - only that day - are clearly valuable. But the benefits to my mental and my emotional bodies (the vijnanamaya kosha and the manomaya kosha) are truly lifesaving.
The mood swings I have experienced over the last couple of years have been a huge surprise. Not the monthly pre menstrual slump that I and many women experience. But more of a heightened sensitivity that responds as much to videos of cute puppies as it does to frustrations around not being able unblock my drains. All of this can be quite overwhelming. Anger and despair visit me frequently often in surges. But all of these fluctuations (vritti in the yoga sutras) can be addressed with a distracting session of yoga. Once I have finished a practice, however I felt before and during, I feel released from body tension and my nervous system is calmed and I might have a good cry or I might just expel a deep sigh. Its a gift. Yoga has always been a gift.
Meditation - over the time since I began meditating I have dedicated sometimes many long hours. and other times I have spent only 5 - 10 minutes in silence. Either way, just the acknowledgement of sitting and being still and observing is invaluable to any menopause symptoms. Sometimes just being watchful is all we can ever do right? I never beat myself up for not sitting longer. But I do try to focus, even for a short time and tap into my nervous system to dispel any negative thought patterns that have emerged over the day - or sometimes during the night.
Pranayama - simple ujjayi breathing - the basis of most pranayama practices - has brought many scatty-brained reactions to a situation into clear focus and by tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system, this breath alone can calm the beast inside. Its also really useful before meditating and after yoga asana. Regularly I also use "nadi sodhana" (alternate nostril breathing) as a mind calming technique or "sama vritti" as a great pre-meditation tool. All breath is valid. All breath is sacred.
As life changes and life situations change me I know and understand that my yoga practice is and has always been the most effective healer. Once we have dipped our toes into the yogic pool, we know that this vast intelligence - which is n fact our own inner voice - can and should travel with us through life. Remembering that during periods of stress, low mood, physical inefficiencies and tricky situations that arise is the hardest part. The most challenging aspect to yoga is actually just getting on the mat/ meditation cushion. Do that and everything else will follow in pure presence and with peace.
Wendy Buttery - Yoga Teacher, retreat centre facilitator, cat lover, sun worshipper, nature loving meditator.