An Ayurvedic Guide to Menopause

An Ayurvedic Guide to Menopause

Over the last few years, menopause has become one of the most talked-about topics in the health and wellbeing world. From a mysterious and lonely experience shrouded in secrecy and sometimes shame, to becoming something many women now feel empowered to discuss openly and help each other navigate. Menopause is not something to ignore or hide; it’s something to explore, prepare for, and help each other with, because sooner or later it will affect all of us.

If you’ve ever dipped a toe into the world of menopause, it’s likely you’ve heard the horrors of hot flashes, night sweats, irritability and thinning hair, but it’s important to know that while these may be common menopausal symptoms, they’re not always severe, and they don’t have to be something we dread the arrival of. According to the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda, an uncomfortable perimenopause or menopause can actually be a sign of underlying imbalances such as poor nutrition, stress, or a lack of balance in life. In this blog, you’ll receive a simple and applicable guide to menopause – you’ll understand how balancing the three Ayurvedic doshas can help bring peace to your body and mind, and the specific dietary, lifestyle and self-care practices than can deeply benefit us throughout menopause.

What Is The Menopause?

The term ‘menopause’ refers to a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period. The years leading up to this point, where women may experience irregular periods, hot flashes, sleep problems, mood changes, changes to libido and fluctuations in weight are all part of her ‘perimenopause’. Perimenopause is a transition from regular menstrual cycles and levels of sex hormones like oestrogen and progesterone, to menopause, and can last anywhere from two years to ten or more. Some women experience many different discomforts throughout perimenopause, whilst others sail through without noticing any changes at all. The age at which perimenopause starts can differ for all of us, but as progesterone starts to decrease around age 35, you might even say that women begin their journey towards menopause at this age. That isn’t to say that at age 35 you’ll notice symptoms or experience fertility changes, but it is an important time to start preparing your body for the next stage of your life, referred to in eastern cultures as the ‘Second Spring’.

Whilst the Western view of menopause can set us up for rather sweaty, angry, wrinkled expectations, the Ayurvedic view of menopause is entirely different. In India’s ancient system of health and healing, menopause is seen as a natural transition in a woman’s life, and actually as a sacred time when she is now able to detach from worldly responsibilities, and share her accumulated life wisdom with younger women. Now, many of us will still have worldly responsibilities by the time we enter menopause, but this Ayurvedic perspective invites us to think of menopause not as a time of suffering, but a time of freedom and honour, and something to work with, not against. Within the world of Traditional Chinese Medicine, menopause represents a renewal of energy and opportunities, when we may be more comfortable in our own skin, more passionate about our beliefs, and less worried about what other people think of us.

The Ayurvedic Doshas & Menopause Symptoms

The balance of the three doshas is a central principle within Ayurveda. The Pitta dosha is governed by fire and water, with characteristics of heat, irritability, sharpness, passion, acidity, intensity and anger. The Vata dosha is governed by air and ether, presenting as lightness, scatteredness, dryness, and cold. The Kapha dosha is governed by earth and water, with qualities of heaviness, dampness, sluggishness, cohesion, softness and stability.

When the doshas are in a state of balance within us, we generally feel balanced too. The thing is, life is a constant dance of change, and so being in balance doesn’t always come easily. What the wisdom of Ayurveda can reveal to us, is that difficult perimenopause and menopausal symptoms are actually a representation of underlying imbalances, and that by balancing the doshas and the root cause, the symptoms are likely to be less, and we feel more balanced. Here are just some of the key imbalances that can result in menopausal symptoms:

Vata imbalance: Dry skin, vaginal dryness, forgetfulness, anxiety, loss of libido, disturbed sleep, loss of bone density
Pitta imbalance: Hot flashes, UTI infections, irritability, anger, night sweats, indigestion
Kapha imbalance: Low mood, depression, weight gain, lethargy.

By focusing on the underlying imbalances, we can help reduce symptoms at the root. Here are some key ways to balance each dosha:

Balancing the Vata dosha: Consume warm, cooked and spiced meals at regular times throughout the day. Avoid cold food and cold environments. Wrap up warm in cold and windy weather, and favour quiet, peaceful environments. Choose exercise that is slow and strengthening, and create firm boundaries with your time and energy.
Balancing the Pitta dosha: Consume light and cooling foods, and avoid hot and spicy meals, as well as too much coffee and alcohol. Wear cool and breathable fabrics like cotton and linen, and ensure your bedroom is cool at night. Express anger when necessary – don’t hold in, but be kind. Choose soothing, slowing exercise, or swimming, which is great for the Pitta dosha. Reduce stress as much as possible and don’t over-exert yourself.
Balancing the Kapha dosha: Consume warm, spiced and easy to digest foods, and avoid cold damp foods like dairy. Engage in plenty of movement that uplifts your mood, and maintain a regular exercise routine. Be sure to spend plenty of time with people who help you feel happy and motivated, and avoid too many heavy and sweet foods.

If you recognise an underlying imbalance in one of the doshas, see if you can work on bringing it back into balance. Disturbed sleep for example, is mostly related to the Vata dosha, so by balancing Vata, sleep is likely to improve too. Once we enter menopause completely and it has been more than a year since the last period, this is often known as ‘post menopause’, when symptoms may have settled. When we transition into this stage of life, we accumulate much more of the Vata dosha, as post-menopause is the Vata stage of life. Because of this, we may experience many more signs of Vata imbalance (as you’ll have read above) so it becomes even more important to care for this dosha at this stage of life.

For your Ayurvedic guide to balancing the Vata dosha through menopause, use our tips as inspiration:

Prepare For Menopause

We prepare for holidays, work events, birthdays, weddings and meetings, yet very often, we neglect to prepare for one of the biggest events in our lives; menopause. You don’t have to dive deep into the literature, but understanding a little more about the body’s needs, what the symptoms may be and how to manage them, can all make the journey much easier to navigate. Part of the difficulty many women experience with menopause is the shock of symptoms, or not knowing who to turn to when we aren’t feeling ourselves. Get to know your body, the changes you’re going through, the experiences of other women, and how to best care for yourself along the way. Begin a journaling practice using the Petal & Vine handmade journal, noting changes you feel in your body and mind, and expressing your feelings on the page on a daily basis.

We can also prepare for menopause years in advance, by ensuring our bodies and minds are in balance more than they’re out of balance. Caring for brain health through nutrition and lifestyle, reducing stress, and balancing the amount of movement and rest we get can all pave the way to a smoother ride into menopause. For the things you need to know about menopause in your 20s and 30s, read my previous blog HERE.

Reduce Stress

It’s something we hear all the time, but excess cortisol and chronic stress are incredibly damaging for hormones, and they can make menopause much more uncomfortable than it needs to be. Stress depletes our vital energy or ‘Prana’, and years of stress in our younger years often means we’re running on empty by the time we reach menopause. Stress isn’t something to be accepted as ‘normal’; it’s something to focus on reducing as much as possible if we want to feel well in our Second Spring.

To help reduce stress, begin to reduce the amount of stressful things in your life you do just because you ‘have to’ and really don’t want to. Ideally as we reach menopause, we need to be doing only the things we want to do and the things we absolutely have to do, and nothing else at all. This stage of life can come with challenges, so wasting energy on things that bring you more stress is only going to make symptoms worse. What can you let go of? What do you no longer want and need in your life?

To help relax your nervous system and decrease cortisol, engage in regular practices of meditation, using Magical Meditations by Nikki Van De Car, and comfortable props to soothe your body like the Yogamatters Hemp Meditation Kit. Simple pranayama practices can also work wonders for reducing stress. If you’re experiencing a lot of stress or even difficulty getting to sleep, try the 4-7-8 breathing technique: Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, then exhale for a count of 8. Repeat three to five times.

Adopt A Vata-Balancing Diet

As the Vata dosha is likely more out of balance throughout the menopause, we may experience more dryness, irregular digestion, bloating, anxiety, and feelings of being ungrounded. A Vata -balancing diet aims to bring warmth and nourishment to the body, calm the mind, and care for our The term ‘ojas’ refers to our ‘vital essence’, and when we reach our menopausal years, ojas may be depleted due to a life of excess stress, over-working and under-nourishment. By focusing on a warming, Vata-balancing diet, we can help maintain and feed our ojas too, which can in turn help maintain healthy bones, skin, joints, immune health and vitality.

Some of the best Vata-balancing foods include warm, cooked root vegetables, porridge, soups, stews, the Ayurvedic dish ‘kitchari’, and broths. Add warming spices to your meals like cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, clove, black pepper, cumin and cardamom. Naturally sweet foods like dates, honey and cooked fruits also calm and ground Vata, and healthy fats like ghee, organic butter, olive oil and coconut oil particularly care for our ojas. Remember that how you eat is just as important as what you eat. Sit down to eat in a quiet, peaceful environment, take a few slow breaths before beginning your meal, and chew well to improve digestion.

For more inspiration on Ayurvedic cooking, read The Ayurveda Kitchen by Anne Heigham, and Living Ayurveda by Claire Ragozzino.

Use Adaptogens And Herbs When Needed

Adaptogens can help the body and mind adapt to stresses, as well as helping us feel more resilient and calm. Traditional Ayurvedic herbs that may be given throughout menopause include Shatavari, Ashwagandha, Liquorice, Chasteberry, and Black Cohosh, as these can provide support for symptoms and balance hormone health. It’s important to work with an expert when choosing the right herbs for you, but simple preparations at home can work just as well for bringing the body into balance; a tea of equal amounts cumin, coriander and fennel is a traditional blend to support digestion and natural detoxification, and a grounding golden milk can help nourish the tissues and calm the mind. Try Wunder Workshop’s Golden Mylk Classic Turmeric Latte, a soothing alternative to coffee, with black pepper and coconut milk to ensure the benefits of turmeric can be properly absorbed by the body. For herbal help with relaxation and sleep, try Pukka Herbs’ night time capsules; an organic blend including valerian, ashwagandha and gotu kola, to relax the nervous system and encourage restorative sleep.

Practice Abhyanga

Perhaps one of the best self-care practices for the Vata dosha, for the menopause and for all women in all stages of life, is the practice of abhyangha or ‘self-massage’. This method of mindfully massaging the body with warm oil can help improve skin elasticity and appearance, protect the joints, reduce dryness, improve circulation and enhance positive body image. The very act of massaging the body can be incredibly calming for the nervous system, and the Ayurvedic term for oil (‘sneha’) even translates as ‘love’, so with each massage stroke you’re truly showing yourself the love and care you deserve.To practice abhyanga, use an oil such as ede post shower nirvana body oil for soft and luminous skin, or Olverum’s dry body oil, which is super light and fast absorbing. You can practice self-massage after a bath or shower, or practice beforehand, so that the warm water of the bath or shower encourages the oil to sink deeper into the skin (if you choose this option, ensure you do not have oil on your feet so you do not slip!). Gently warm the oil, or rub the oil between your hands to warm it, then begin by massaging from your feet upwards in long, smooth strokes. Massage in circular movements on the joints, stomach and chest. When you reach your arms, massage towards the heart, remembering to move slowly and mindfully, and finish by massaging your head. Wrap yourself up in a towel and relax in savasana for a few minutes to allow the oil to sink into the skin. Practice regularly to show your body some love!

Whether you’re in your 20s, 30s, 40s’; if you’re in the midst of perimenopause symptoms or settling into your post-menopause Vata years, use our Ayurvedic guide to menopause to help care for your body and mind, and share the wisdom with other women who would appreciate this guidance too.

The post An Ayurvedic Guide to Menopause appeared first on Blog – Yogamatters.

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