A Mindful Menopause with Ayurveda
Menopause is a natural transition. When a woman's body begins to age, estrogen production declines and a natural decrease in ovarian function occurs. During this peri-menopausal time, ovulation becomes irregular and menstrual periods can vary for individuals from profuse bleeding to being scanty and shorter in length. Eventually ovulation and menses cease entirely, ending a woman's childbearing ability.
Menopause is considered to have occurred once a whole year has passed without menstruation. This is a big physical and mental change for women. Although estrogen production still continues after menopause, the ovaries no longer function as endocrine organs. The reproductive tissues and organs begin to atrophy. The decline of estrogen levels during the peri-menopausal period may cause fatigue, hot flashes, water retention, anxiety, depression, mood swings, and erratic sleep or insomnia. Other consequences of estrogen deficit are loss of bone mass and rising blood cholesterol levels causing post-menopausal women to be at risk for skeletal and cardiovascular complications. Though many women barely seem to notice this change, others can experience months or even years of discomfort.
Ayurveda's holistic lifestyle which includes a healthy diet, herbs, daily yoga and meditation, can help women alleviate many of the discomforts of menopause and move through this natural stage of life with grace. Although each woman's experience is unique, menopause can be viewed as a time of transformation and even a blessing. Many women view menopause as the beginning of their elder years, a time rich in experience and wisdom.
This powerful life change brings about new ways of thinking and being in one's body and in the world. Dr. Christiane Northrop explains in her book, The Wisdom of Menopause, how the transition into menopause can be life-affirming and even liberating. She writes: "Our brains are changing. A woman's thoughts, her ability to focus, and the amount of fuel going to the intuitive centers in the temporal lobes of her brain are all plugged into, and affected by, the circuits being rewired. After working with thousands of women going through this process, as well as experiencing it myself, I can say with great assurance that menopause is an exciting developmental stage—one that, when participated in consciously, holds enormous promise for transforming and healing our bodies, minds and spirits at the deepest levels."
A vata-pacifying diet will be most helpful to the menopausal woman. Menopause and beyond is the phase of life ruled by vata dosha. Therefore, it is necessary to nourish the body with foods that are balancing to the light, airy and dry qualities of vata. For more information on vata-pacifying diet, please click here.
Because estrogen is necessary for the nourishment and building of bone tissue, menopausal women become more susceptible to osteoporosis. Sunflower and sesame seeds contain a wealth of necessary minerals needed for healthy bones. Bananas are especially good for women as they contain potassium and magnesium. Depending on the individual, a supplement of calcium and magnesium may also be supportive to prevent bone loss.
If iron deficiency is suspected, particularly in the case of excess menstrual bleeding, eating an iron-rich diet is of utmost importance. Include eggs, almonds, watercress, dandelion greens, and broccoli. Fresh greens and fruit containing vitamin C help to boost iron absorption.
Limiting caffeine, refined sugar, and alcohol can aid tremendously in easing the transition through menopause. These substances can create higher stress levels in the body and have the potential to cause more pain and discomfort of menopausal symptoms. Caffeine especially from tea or coffee is a concern for women experiencing iron deficiency. Limiting coffee or tea consumption, taking it at times other than mealtime or avoiding it altogether can greatly improve iron absorption in the body. Numerous studies on coffee, cited in a paper published by the Linnus Pauling Institute at Oregon State, have shown that phenolic compounds found in caffeine bind with iron taken in from foods or supplements inhibiting intestinal absorption. Pomegranate juice with fresh lime or peppermint tea is recommended for the relief of hot flashes.
Regular exercise during menopause is particularly important because it can help to build bone mass, prevent excess weight gain and also alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety. Weight-bearing activity or resistance training can help to both build muscle mass and stimulate bone growth. This strengthens the skeletal system and helps protect against osteoporosis. Regular aerobic activity can help to improve cardiovascular strength, help the body maintain a healthy weight and relieve stress and anxiety.
The best exercise program during the menopausal years is a balance of aerobic activity combined with resistance and flexibility training. Many women experience vaginal dryness as a common symptom of menopause, particularly if intercourse is infrequent. A tampon of non-chlorine, organic cotton soaked in organic sesame oil and placed inside the vagina overnight can help to lubricate the vaginal walls.
Herbal supplementation is a healthy and natural way to support healthy hormone levels and maintain physical and mental well being. Shatavari and vidari, two herbs found in Women's Natural Transition, are most beneficial to menopausal women. These herbs contain phytoestrogens which help to regulate the erratic hormone levels during menopause. Brahmi and shankhapushpi are soothing to the nervous system and help calm mental agitation. This special formula will support and help to tonify and normalize the reproductive system and will help to energize and strengthen the body so that a woman can easily enjoy her elder years.
Yoga poses can help to reduce many common menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, and sleep disturbances. A simple forward bend or Downward Facing Dog are gentle inversions which increase blood flow to the head and heart. These poses are calming and cooling, helping to prevent hot flashes and ease heavy menstrual flow.
Sheetali pranayama is an instantly cooling breathing exercise that can be an invaluable tool to counter uncomfortable hot flashes. Not only does the physiological effect of this breath bring quick relief, but the mental focus is directed toward moving the breath instead of the disruptive sensation of heat.
Find a practice in mindfulness that helps to give meaning to this transformation. Meditation helps to align one's self with spirit and imparts a sense of inner peace. Menopause can bring mixed and sometimes turbulent emotions. It is not uncommon for some women to feel grief, particularly if they have not had the experience of giving birth. Find quiet time to be in nature, or simply sit in a comfortable position and draw energies inward, noticing the breath and all the inner workings of the body. Practicing acceptance and being in the present moment helps to free the body and mind of limiting or negative emotions and move toward a new sense of wholeness.
"May the universe never abuse food. Breath is food. The body eats foods. The body rests on breath. Breath rests on the body. Food is resting on food. The one who knows this becomes rich in food and great in fame."
The information provided in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, but only to apprise the reader of basic Ayurvedic lifestyle information. The advice of a qualified health professional is recommended before making changes in diet or exercise routines.