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Offering an enriching yoga experience to women experiencing menopause

This is an excerpt from Yoga for Menopause and Beyond epub by Niamh Daly.

A) AN OPENING CIRCLE, ENRICHED

Central to a yoga for menopause class is offering women the space to speak and delivering informed, compassionate information in response to what they share. Though these sharings can be long, and you will need to manage time sensitively, they are of immense value to women who have, possibly up until this moment in your care, been staying silent about their experience through shame or a sense that others have not wanted to hear them. Even without then offering information, this sharing with others who are truly interested and share the experience can be tremendously healing.

When you then add “aha moments” where women learn about why they are experiencing what they are experiencing, and suggest informed and achievable ways in which they might address these experiences and look after their health, you open up a world of perspective shifts and support which they may not have known were available.

The kind of advice you give may differ during the different phases.

The late reproductive stage and early perimenopause

During this phase, women often go for medical advice and leave with questions unanswered and fears unalleviated, because when menses is not more irregular than plus-or-minus seven days, perimenopause will not be confirmed. Learning from you about the LRS or build-up to perimenopause may help to normalize their experience and reduce fear. It’s not joyous news to share, but it can be comforting to know they are not, as many report feeling, “going mad” or becoming unwell.

It may also be helpful to know about this phase because it signals that a woman is on the cusp of further change in her system—perimenopause itself. If she can accept what’s going on, it can be an opportunity for her to begin to feel, rather than just intellectually know, that it’s time to look after herself.

On a practical level, we can help with advice for liver health and gut health to help the body process and excrete possible surges of hormones. Supporting these and other health areas, as detailed in Chapter 5, may help her have a smoother perimenopause journey. You can help her see that this is more possible and less overwhelming than she might imagine, and that you are there to help.

It’s also important to let women know that this is a time when getting some tests with their primary medical care practitioner is a good idea in order to rule out other possible issues.

Perimenopause

Offering empathetic, interested, and knowledgeable space for shared conversation or even one-to-one expression of her struggles may be the single most helpful thing anyone can do for a woman in the throes of her MT.

Many women report that, among other things:

  • They hate themselves.
  • No-one wants to listen.
  • They feel they are going crazy.
  • They think they are developing dementia.
  • They feel alone.
  • They are ashamed of their symptoms and changes.

The more they hear that their experience is shared, the less piercing these thoughts may become. All of the above list will be represented in any group gathered for perimenopause support. If you can create an atmosphere of trust where women are welcome to talk (or just listen), repeatedly and at length if your class or workshop allows, your class may become the only space where a woman feels that anyone is interested in what she is going through. Burdens will be released and self-value increased as she feels that you and the other women attending are at least interested and, more likely, fascinated by what she has to say.

Perimenopause is a time when some health challenges may be exacerbated, like issues with digestion or allergies, mental health challenges or hormonal difficulties like PMDD. It’s not uncommon for women to be diagnosed with hypothyroidism or depression around this time, or to be low on iron. You have read that hypothyroidism has similar effects to perimenopause. Low iron can induce fatigue. Depression and chronic stress also share symptoms with the MT. So, it’s immensely important that you don’t assume anything, or tell your student that what she is experiencing is definitely perimenopause.

Along with the tools and perspectives you will offer, and the unique and nurturing way you will hold your students, for your sake and theirs there must always be the disclaimer, ‘This is not an alternative to medical care.’ You would also be wise to find a moment to say, ‘It’s a time when a visit to your doctor to rule out any other possible causes and to get some routine blood tests is a very good idea.’

If we can begin to gently nudge women toward the need to monitor their health, while avoiding overloading them with scare stories at a time when symptoms can be challenging, then we are helping them to create a better outcome for the years post-menopause.

Postmenopause

Along with the information you share in the opening circle, primarily addressing the health of bones, brain, heart, and pelvic floor, you will be helping your students remain social, receive empathetic support, be heard and valued, and to maintain a positive outlook and a sense of purpose.

Ageism, ableism, and the cult of the slim, bendy body are contributing factors to the destabilizing nature of the perimenopause and later life. As you offer the tools that you feel happy to offer (after doing your research!), keep in mind that you want to create a resource that offers achievable practice that feels relevant, available, and adaptable as bodies continue to change. I have heard many women say that yoga begins to seem irrelevant or unwelcoming to them as the years go by. How lovely it would be if in the latter decades of life they could feel as at home in a weekly yoga class as their mothers may have done in a bridge session. Bridge is great, but the addition of research-based benefits of movement, meditation, and breath work, added to the perspective shifting, social and empathetic aspects, is a major plus for yoga.

More Excerpts From Yoga for Menopause and Beyond epub