Yoga teaches us how to hold; we practice holding a pose, holding our breath and holding space for ourselves. We practice sensitivity in the way we hold a thought and notice how we hold a note when we chant “om.”
Through holding, we learn the skills of sensitive touch and our abilities to be welcoming, inclusive and filled with grace so that we can move in the world as compassionate beings. But sometimes, holding turns to gripping. You might notice it in your practice off the mat, too. How can we soften — ease the grasping and the need to control?
It’s not easy.
Just ask a yogini going through menopause.
Ayurvedic wisdom considers menopause a spiritual transition. The Sanskrit terminology refers to it as vana prastha (journey to the forest), which speaks to an evolving adventure. “We are going from the pitta time of life, which is all about control, to the vata time of life, which is all about surrender,” says clinical Ayurveda specialist Jill Talve. “That action is the yoga. The practices that we’ve been doing are going to take us through this transition.”
Through her company, Everveda, based in Long Island, Talve counsels clients on establishing healthy lifestyle choices in all stages of life. “Menopause is about trusting and moving forward. We are being called to clear things up, so we can fully realize the rest of our lives. It’s a rebirth, and look who’s being born.”
The practices that are meant to unify body, mind and spirit can especially help women through menopause; yoga and meditation reduce stress, help us become more in tune with our bodies, allow us to get curious and teach us to value how we feel as much as how we look.
“The physical or mental changes that I have experienced in the past 35 years have only been supported and assisted by my yoga and meditation practice,” says international yoga teacher Desiree Rumbaugh, who co-authored Fearless After Fifty: How to Thrive with Grace, Grit and Yoga with Denver-based yoga teacher, Michelle Marchildon.
Rumbaugh’s Wisdom Warrior trainings address how hormonal changes affect menopausal women both physically and mentally. In fact, studies show that many of the symptoms of menopause are beyond the realm of gynecology and stem from our brains. “Rather than complain about it or try to medicate it away, we want to make some adjustments to soothe and smooth our transitions,” Rumbaugh believes.
As all bodies are unique, so is every woman’s experience. Some sail through menopause and others are brought to their knees. Marchildon’s experience “was gruesome. I didn’t have the energy to get my kids to their soccer practice. Every single day when they came home, I was in bed. Menopause made me dysfunctional,” she remembers.
She was in her thirties when her symptoms began, including unmanageable bleeding, severely dry eyes and devastating migraines. What kept her sane was getting on her yoga mat.
Although she still gets on her mat five days a week, Marchildon now eschews the handstand to chaturanga transitions that she once used to enjoy. “The majority of my yoga is very gentle and much deeper than it’s ever been,” she shares. “I go slower and very mindfully into my body, and I’ve had to say goodbye to a few poses.” Find her classes at OneYogaDenver.
For Chicago-based writer and spiritual teacher Tracy Bleier, yoga has allowed her to explore perimenopause on deeper levels. “Menopause is the teacher, bringing us in deeper connection to self and embodiment,” she says. “It’s a saying goodbye — I could cry thinking about it — letting the younger you die so that this other power, the wiser, elder woman, can rise to the surface. If that isn’t yoga, I don’t know what is.
Her writing cohorts offer sacred space for women to talk about their midlife experiences to change the conversation into a celebration.
Like menstruation and childbirth, menopause is a catalyst in a woman’s life, a moment of shift, when nothing that follows will ever be the same. Yet, the media is not kind to menopausal women, and society ridicules our hot flashes, brain fog, anger and night sweats. Companies offer a confusing slew of products from menopause candles to reduce stress, vaginal laser treatments to stimulate collagen production and special teas to get rid of belly fat. Even our own doctors sometimes don’t recognize it, while others warn us of how bad it’s going to be. How could they know? They can’t; we are all one of a kind, with never-again-to-be-repeated bodies and experiences, and our own answers lie in curiosity, compassion and advocacy for ourselves and each other.
“The way we think about menopause is ruining our ability to enjoy it,” says Shirley Weir, who for the past 13 years has been advocating for women as the creator of Menopause Chicks, a support community and concierge platform that gives women the power to make informed decisions about their midlife health.
“Menopause is shining a big, bright light on ‘who I am’ and ‘what I want’ in life,” she adds. “It’s a beautiful unfolding. We need to write the new script and let go of the old paradigms, so we can navigate the challenges and celebrate the positive.”
Originally published in Summer + Fall 2022 issue.
Elyce Neuhauser is passionate about spreading positive energy through the practices of yoga, meditation and movement. Her work helps people amplify their self-care and self-worth so they can live their best lives with more intimacy, less stress and abundant connection. She is continuously inspired by a book that changed her life, The Radiance Sutras, written by her main teacher, Lorin Roche, a revolutionary in the meditation world. A digital nomad and gypsy at heart, you can find Elyce out on the road living simply and remotely in a tiny RV. She’s a breast cancer survivor, a motorcycle rider, a nature lover, a memoir writer, a mama, and a continuous student of living life authentically in love and wonder. Journey with her at elyceyogadance.com and @elyceyogadance