By Amely Greeven
As a teen, the onset of my menstrual cycle was not discussed, let alone honored. No ceremony recognizing the rite of passage as I moved through what Chinese medicine calls the first gateway of a woman’s life. When I moved through the second gateway, pregnancy, everything changed. Accompanied this time by other women—midwives, mentors and friends—I felt transformed, expanded and awakened. This made me yearn to move through the third gateway, menopause, the same way.
Though I’m in the right age group, I barely identify with the term “menopause.” It puts all the onus on the cessation of monthly bleeds, but that’s just one physical aspect of a metamorphosis that is a much larger and longer shift, multiple years in the making. Even if I did like the word, guidance into the greater, grander meaning would be hard to find. Sure, menopause “management” and “treatment” is moving out of the old taboo-filled shadows at a clip these days—partly thanks to women taking full ownership of our hormonal health and partly because the demographic is so big, menopause care is primed to be the next frontier of the medical and wellness industry. But what if a woman’s not seeking to “manage” or “treat” herself—not yet, and hopefully, not ever? What if she wants to support a smooth trip through the gateway and fully be with herself—embracing it, not resisting it?
The mainstream conversation still tends to treat menopause, and the perimenopausal years leading up to it, as a medical event, filled with things to monitor or fix. (Kind of like pregnancy.) So I asked my alternative circle to help cast a new light. Women’s health acupuncturist Lauren Curtain recommends an attitude of curiosity about physical symptoms, asking how they may be signposts to places the body needs more support around stress, nutrition and sleep—“the ultimate adaptogen!”—rather than immediately calling them problems requiring drastic intervention. (Acupuncturists and herbalists who encourage gently caring for hormone balance throughout reproductive years and beyond can be great allies here.) The classical texts of Chinese medicine don’t even have a word for “menopause,” but rather describe the gradual emptying of the channels associated with jing and kidney essence in both women and men. It’s a natural, gradual process. And it holds within it many gifts.
Curtain explained, “In Daoism, this time is seen as the ‘second spring’ in a woman’s life. She is no longer giving out vital life force with her menstrual cycle and if she is a mother, she is likely past the time of intensely mothering small children. Instead of so much energy going outward, her energy can shift and go within herself, and her wider community as the wise elder she is, if she so wishes.” Funny how this message doesn’t tend to get the lede in a youth-obsessed culture.
Similarly in Ayurveda, a modality that I lean on in daily life, “This phase is all about quality,” says Vedic meditation expert Yashoda Devi Ma. “You shift into the vata stage of life. Vata dosha needs a lot of balancing”—practices that calm the nervous system are especially key here in the perimenopausal years—“yet the gift of vata is that it brings creativity, joy, enthusiasm, flexibility, intuition and true vision.” She says the gift comes when you embrace your wisdom as your beauty. Spiritual mentor Siddhi Ellinghoven—one of the most striking and inspiring wise elders I know—concurs: “Menopause was a gateway to liberation for me. It was a time of shifting from competing with other women to embracing other women, and it was heaven to move into a new role.”
In archetypal terms, it’s often said a woman’s life has three phases: maiden, mother, crone. “Crone” actually comes from the root word “crown”—picture a crown chakra ablaze with light—but it still sounds a bit shocking if you’re only 50, so I like inserting a “queen” phase in there first to sweeten the deal. My friend Ulrike Sara Talisea, a gifted womb healer and “soul midwife” who delves into the mysteries of the woman’s journey, encourages claiming this queenship fully. “Menopause is an initiation and a call to be true to yourself. The wisdom and the experiences of your life want to be honored and acknowledged and they are ready to be shared with others.” She sees the physical challenges that some experience as stemming partly from how willing they’ve been to express their full selves. From Ulrike’s more esoteric understanding, blood is the fire element in the body, and the cessation of monthly bleeding means a woman keeps that powerful creative and sacred fire within. “If you have struggled to have authentic, genuine, powerful, wild and sensual self-expression, that fire gets distorted, and can express itself in things like hot flashes.” A linear-minded doctor might disagree, yet I like the subtler invitation here. “Menopause is calling you to connect more deeply with your essence, to release what no longer serves you, and to grieve parts of your life that you could not live fully or are coming to an end because something new is coming,” she explains. “It can be very challenging—when you have ignored your core truths they might knock at your door asking to be lived—and it can be very emotional, because the unknown is calling you.” But none of this is bad.
Ulrike’s reframing makes me reconsider the wakeful moments starting to stud my nights—technically a result of lower progesterone levels. Instead of tossing and turning in irritation, could I hear the whispers from my creative fire, asking to be stoked and encouraged for the second half of life? Can I see my occasional hot flashes as a mirror of the stress I’m under—or even secret resentment of the workload causing the stress? Ulrike encourages harboring this possibility. “When you are in your true essence, living fully the life you’re meant to live, menopause can be gentle. You sit on your throne in a place of deep intimacy with yourself, and harvest the fruits of your life, and you become magical, and inspiring.” I recall Siddhi sharing, from her silver-haired position further up the path, “I can say wholeheartedly I have never felt better about myself than now. I wouldn’t trade this sense of contentment and peacefulness for anything!” That’s most certainly worthy of honoring.
Amely Greeven is the co-author of Nine Golden Months: The Essential Art of Nurturing the Mother-To-Be.
A Vital Time
Dr. Linda Lancaster’s advice for those entering menopause.
Renowned naturopath and homeopath Dr. Linda Lancaster taught me volumes about keeping balance when we worked on her book Harmonic Healing: Restore Your Vital Force for Lifelong Wellness. Moving through the perimenopausal and menopausal phases smoothly is, she says, absolutely possible through a moderate and consistent lifestyle of care. “First, we need the liver and gallbladder working well to help ensure balanced, nourished hormones and enough bile to emulsify the fats that make hormones. Our modern environment, full of pollution, radiation and stress, makes the liver’s job more difficult, so doing periodic liver cleansing programs involving diet and detoxifying baths as we describe in Harmonic Healing helps avoid excess heat, sleep problems and adrenal overdrive. It’s also important to take good care of the thyroid throughout your life. A third subtle factor is developing purpose, knowing there is so much good work to be done in the world, even if your kids are grown or your role is changing shape. The endocrine system and chakra system are connected—feeling powerless or purposeless may show itself physically. When these things are in place, I’ve found we can handle most symptoms homeopathically with successful results, and women can easily educate themselves on the remedies they might need.” —A. G.