WHAT IS MENOPAUSE?
To the MD, menopause is the last drop of blood a woman sheds. A woman can be peri-menopausal (around menopause) or post-menopausal (after menopause) but she can never be menopausal, according to this definition.
To most women, however, the years between the first suspicion of change and the final menses constitute the menopausal years, and we are menopausal throughout that time. This decade of transition is compared by some to non-stop PMS, by others to an extended pregnancy. I see it as a second puberty.
Menopause is puberty prime, and the change from a familiar, known self to new and unknown self is the same: amazing, difficult, rewarding, exasperating, and momentous.
"Do not become alarmed when you experience yourself in totally new ways," sighs Grandmother Growth tenderly. "You are changing, getting ready to be initiated into the third stage of your life. Are you ready for the ride of your life?"
Susun Weed, Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way, Woodstock: Ash Tree, 2002
THE STORY OF MENOPAUSE
The onerous physical/emotional changes that accompany puberty and menopause are strongly influenced - both positively and negatively - by cultural, familial, and personal beliefs.
If we expect our new self to be more powerful, more exciting, more interesting than our old self, we willingly undergo discomfort, pain, sleeplessness, emotional variability, and a host of annoyances and distresses. In America today, this is may be the case when we experience puberty, pregnancy, birth, and lactation.
If we expect our new self to be a weaker, less interesting, grayed-out version of our older self, we will naturally resist changing and find the normal abnormalities of change intolerable. This is often the case when American women encounter menopause.
The purpose of this article is not to examine why this is so, or how it came to be so, but to offer a different view of menopause. I want to share with you the teachings I have received from the Ancient Ones, the ancient grandmothers who tell the women's mystery stories. That your journey may be made richer.
"The joy of menopause is the world's best-kept secret. Like venturing through the gateway to enter an ancient temple, in order to claim that joy a woman must be willing to pass beyond the monsters who guard its gate. As you stand at the brink of it, it can appear that only darkness, danger and decay lie beyond. [But] ... as thousands of women from all cultures throughout history have whispered to each other, it is the most exciting passage a woman ever makes."
Leslie Kenton, Passage to Power. London: Ebury Press; 1995
And let's take some simple herbal helpers with us on our menopausal journey. Their abilities are subtle and far-reaching. They can help us ease symptoms, provide us with optimum nourishment, help us create healthy hearts and healthy bones, and open us to the uplifting power of Nature.
Nourishing herbal infusions provide an abundance of minerals, vitamins, proteins, and phytoestrogens (plant hormones that are similar to estrogen) at low cost and with little effort.
To make a nourishing herbal infusion:
* Place one ounce by weight (about a cup by volume) of dried herb (do not use fresh) in a quart jar and fill to the top with boiling water.
* Cover tightly and allow to steep for at least four hours. Overnight is fine.
* Strain and refrigerate.
* Drink 2-4 cups a day, hot or cold, mixed with other liquids (water, juice, rum, coffee for example) or taken neat.
I rotate through four nourishing herbs: oatstraw, stinging nettle, red clover, and comfrey leaf. Each herb has special benefits for menopausal women. These four herbs, taken one at a time, and infused in water, are completely safe to use. (They may not be safe if taken in tinctures or encapsulated). I have drunk nourishing herbal infusions on a daily basis for more than twenty years.
But before we go further, let's talk about the purpose of menopause.
"She [the postmenopausal woman] is not a sentiment, she is a requirement."
Kristen Hawkes, 1997
THE PURPOSE OF MENOPAUSE
Menopause may be a prime factor in women's greater longevity.
Dr. Kristen Hawkes of the University of Utah reports that Hadza women in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond gather more food than men or women of other ages and they are as important to the survival of their grandchildren as the children’s mothers are.
The postmenopausal woman is the one who has the stored wisdom to help her community survive. She is the Wise Woman, the one who gives us all a survival edge. Dr. Jared Diamond of the University of California at Los Angeles Medical School maintains that menopause is "among the biological traits essential for making us human."
Dr. Hawkes believes that not only did prehistoric women survive past the age of menopause, but that they were instrumental in freeing our ancestors to exploit new habitats, explore new places, and ultimately to spread across the entire planet.
“Kundalini [is] the root [of] all spiritual experiences ....”
RE Svoboda, Kundalini Aghora II. Albuquerque, NM. 1993
MENOPAUSE AS ENLIGHTENMENT
As a long-time student of yoga, I am struck by the many similarities between menopausal symptoms and the well-known esoteric goal of “awakening of the Kundalini.”
Kundalini is a special kind of energy known in many cultures, including Tibetan, Indian, Sumerian, Chinese, Irish, Aztec, and Greek. Kundalini is said to be hot, fast, powerful, and large. It exists within the earth, within all life, and within each person.
Kundalini is usually represented as a serpent coiled at the base of the spine, but women’s mystery stories locate it in the uterus - or the area where the uterus was, if a hysterectomy has occurred.
Yogis spend lifetimes learning how to wake up their Kundalini so they may experience enlightenment. Success causes a surge of super-heated energy to travel through the body, firing the nerves, dilating blood vessels, and altering the nature of reality. Sounds like a hot flash to me.
If Kundalini is released over and over, as it is during menopause, it causes changes in the functioning of the endocrine, cardiovascular, and nervous systems.
Wise women use nourishing herbal infusions, especially nervous-system strengthening oatstraw, fermented foods, such as yogurt, and seaweed (as a food, not a supplement), to help ensure that these changes add to their vitality and longevity, creating what Margaret Mead called "postmenopausal zest".
MAIDEN, MOTHER, CRONE
When we are children, we exist within Kundalini; it is primarily outside the body. At puberty, a two-valved energy “gate” opens, and Kundalini circulates up from the earth and into the root chakra. The maiden becomes the mother. Kundalini builds up in the uterus and pelvic tissues, ready to create a new life. This stored Kundalini can intensify emotions and sensations, expose powerful feelings, trigger creative outpourings, and generate house-cleaning frenzies. If pregnancy occurs, the Kundalini continues to build for the duration of the pregnancy and is used in the act of birth. If no egg is fertilized, the Kundalini flows out with the menstrual blood, returning to the earth.
At menopause, one “valve” of the root chakra closes. The mother becomes the crone. The open valve allows Kundalini to enter; the closed one prevents it from leaving. When Kundalini collects in the uterus without an outlet, it causes problems including incontinence, broken hips, loss of libido, and excessively dry vaginal tissues.
But if the Kundalini is guided (by thought or by hot flashes, for instance) up the spine, then it confers enlightenment not incontinence, flexibility not fractures, vitality not debility, and abundance not withering. Stinging nettle infusion replaces the nutrients and proteins that Kundalini uses up. By strengthening the adrenals and kidneys, and increasing stamina, nettle helps us surf the waves and ski the slopes of our hot flashes.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a wonderful ally for the woman who is awakened by night sweats, whose hair is falling out or becoming brittle, whose energy is flagging (or gone!), whose vagina is dry, who wants to avoid adult-onset diabetes, for the woman who wants to increase her metabolic rate, improve the flexibility of her blood vessels, strengthen her immune system, and find ease for sore joints.
Loaded with folic acid, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, carotenes, zinc, boron, and iron, nettle is a nutritional powerhouse. One cup of infusion supplies 500mg of calcium plus vitamin D, vitamin K, protein, and special lipids, which contribute to magnificent bone health.
SEVEN ENERGY CENTERS
The root energy center is one of seven main energy centers, each of which corresponds to endocrine glands. In even the healthiest of women, disruption of some sort, in one or more of the energy centers (chakras), will occur for at least a short while during the menopausal years.
It is important to remember that the vast majority of uncomfortable symptoms caused by menopause and the movement of Kundalini will be short-lived (less than a year).
Healthy women who have had one or no children generally seem to have the strongest symptoms as Kundalini arises. Women with low vitality, including women who have given birth to six or more children, may have few or no symptoms at all.
* Menopausal symptoms at the root center include menstrual pain, growth of fibroid tumors, flooding, urinary problems, cervical/uterine/endometrial growths/cancers, brittle hips, constipation, diarrhea, vaginal infections and irritations, and hemorrhoids.
Get help from:
Motherwort tincture (Leonurus cardiaca). A dose of 10-15 drops counters cramps as it eases hot flashes.
Red clover (Trifolium pratense), the world's best-known, best-regarded anti-cancer herb, also improves fertility and helps normalize the bowels. If that weren't enough, red clover infusion (not tincture, not capsules) contains ten times more phytoestrogens than soy.
Whole grains and lentils, beets and burdock are also allies of the root chakra.
* Menopausal symptoms at the navel (or belly) center include bloat, gas, urinary infections, exhaustion, panic attacks, paranoia, and episodes of inexplicable sorrow.
Get help from:
Stinging nettle. It is the specific helper for this chakra.
Additionally, orange foods (especially baked winter squash and sweet potatoes) bring ease and health, improving energy and mood.
* Menopausal symptoms at the solar plexus include indigestion, disturbed liver function, gall stones, a sense of dissatisfaction with one's self, blood sugar and mood swings, adult onset diabetes, anxiety, phobias, and pathological shyness.
Get help from:
Herbs such as dandelion, burdock, or yellow dock roots, or milk thistle seeds, used as tinctures. They strengthen the solar plexus, improve digestion, moderate blood sugar and mood swings, help the liver clear excess hormones, and put you on the sunny side of life.
* Menopausal symptoms at the heart chakra include palpitations, breast changes, excess fat deposits on the back and upper arms, lessening of compassion, increase in blood pressure, unwarranted feelings of guilt, and lung problems.
Get help from:
Motherwort tincture (not capsules). A dropperful stops palpitations in minutes. Regular use helps stabilize the heart, decreases blood pressure, improves blood flow, and eases emotional distress.
Comfrey leaf (not root) infusion (not capsules) is a renowned lung strengthener. Popularly known as knitbone, comfrey leaf supplies lots of bone-healthy nutrients.
* Menopausal symptoms at the throat chakra include thyroid problems, excessive weight gain, incoherent rages, nausea, cough, and sore throat. Menopausal women who have swallowed too much "no" during their lives may find themselves making dramatic and amazing statements.
Get help from:
Seaweeds, the specific ally of the throat chakra. Soak kombu or wakame with beans and cook, add hijiki or alaria to soups, snack on dulse and kelp. I don't use tablets or powdered products, finding them inferior.
* Menopausal symptoms at the third eye center include headaches, eye problems, near-sightedness, sinus infections, depression, thoughts of suicide, obsessions, insomnia, and mental instability (visions and hallucinations).
Get help from:
The mint family. Skullcap tincture strengthens the nerves, eases headaches, and brings deep sleep. Sage infusion makes the mind coherent and clear. Rosemary oil aids the memory and improves concentration. Lavender blossom tea lifts the mood and unkinks wound-up nerves.
* Menopausal symptoms at the crown chakra include hair loss, dizziness, hearing problems, memory problems, dementia, nervous tics, shingles, and unexplained pain anywhere in the body.
Get help from:
Comfrey leaf (not root) infusion (not capsules); it's brain food.
Nettle infusion (not capsules) restores hair and counters compulsions.
Hypericum perforatum (St. Joan's/John's Wort) tincture (not capsules), used freely (a dropperful every 2-4 hours) can relieve the pain of shingles within a day and often cure it within three. Eases sore muscles anywhere; helps prevent muscle aches too.
As we leave our fertile years behind, so we leave behind our identity as "mother" (irrespective of whether we have physically had children or not). Ready or not, we are introduced to ourselves as old women. Yes, we are yet baby crones, not yet prepared to wield the Kundalini that now flows through us toe to tip. Yet we are crones, women of wisdom, women of power.
When menopausal symptoms are understood as energy movement (or lack of it), we can feel more at ease, not so afraid of being out of control. Instead of feeling victimized by our bodies, we can nourish our wholeness. We can view our symptoms as suggestions for improvement, instead of damning evidence of our mortality. We can focus in on areas that need special attention, extra nourishment.
Quiet time alone in nature, or sitting in a comfortable chair listening to soothing music allows thoughts and feelings to arise and opens the way for the flow of Kundalini. Specific exercises, such as those in Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and yoga can also be used to help ease into the increased energy flow. Green allies such as oatstraw, nettles, red clover, comfrey leaf, and motherwort strengthen us for the increased power. Because we know the outcome is worth it, the day-to-day annoyances are easier to take.
After years of practice, Kundalini moves freely up the spine and out the crown. Our symptoms subside, our overall energy is stronger, better. We hold our wise blood inside. We are the wise women. We are the crones.
(This article is taken in part from New Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way, Alternative Approaches for Women 30-90, available from www.ash-tree-publishing.com)
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Legal Disclaimer: This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner with a specific formula for you. All material contained herein is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care. Exercise self-empowerment by seeking a second opinion.
Vibrant, passionate, and involved, Susun Weed has garnered an international reputation for her groundbreaking lectures, teachings, and writings on health and nutrition. She challenges conventional medical approaches with humor, insight, and her vast encyclopedic knowledge of herbal medicine. Unabashedly pro-woman, her animated and enthusiastic lectures are engaging and often profoundly provocative.
Susun is one of America's best-known authorities on herbal medicine and natural approaches to women's health. Her four best-selling books are recommended by expert herbalists and well-known physicians and are used and cherished by millions of women around the world. Learn more at www.susunweed.com