In yoga, four stages of life are defined. These are known as ashramas and are roughly 25 years each. The third stage coincides with menopause and it is a significant life transition for women. In the same way that when we moved through puberty, our lives were never the same again, so is the case with menopause. However, a big difference is that when we moved through puberty there was encouragement and support to mature and move into the second stage. The third stage, let’s call it the wise woman stage for the purposes of this article, is less embraced by our culture. It is generally something that is resisted and therefore the transition is often not very smooth or supported by those around us.
The typical symptoms of menopause; hot flushes, erratic menstruation, insomnia, exhaustion, dry skin, angry outbursts, anxiety, depression, foggy brain, erratic emotions – are generally not things to look forward to as our bodies undergo significant physiological changes. But, there is something else going on at this time of life – it can be the most wonderful opportunity for transformation, healing and awakening. It is a significant rite of passage.
At her first period a girl meets her wisdom, through her menstruating years she practices her wisdom, and at menopause she becomes her wisdom
Native American saying
Entering this stage we know that the end of our life is nearer and that we don’t have forever to do the things in life that give us meaning and purpose. In the second stage the focus was on paying the bills, gathering stuff and creating security. For many of us it was about raising the kids. Family still matters but our role is a little different now.
The physiological shifts are accompanied by a subtle, or not so subtle, spiritual shift to find new meaning and purpose in life. This time of life has been described as the “mother of all wake up calls” when anything that a woman has “swept under the carpet” will surface, presenting an opportunity to heal and transform.
I would currently fit the definition of peri-menopausal, given that I haven’t been 12 months without menstruation, which defines menopause. I am one of those women who made radical life changes as I entered this phase of life. I’m told it’s not uncommon for women to leave well-paid corporate careers at this time of life to pursue greater meaning and authenticity. That said, we are all unique and everyone’s experience will be different. It is, however, a wonderful opportunity to embrace our own truths and to realign with what matters most to us. The call of nature is loud and clear during this stage of life and we can turn towards it and listen or turn away and struggle through.
Menopause lasts for between six and thirteen years so it is significant in span as well as intensity. It can be a very uncertain and scary experience. Personally, it has been for me. There have been times when I have felt quite mad and lost and yet driven to make the most of these years; to turn towards the unresolved and messy aspects of my life in an attempt to find some peace and resolution. It has only been recently that I have recognised – yes, I’m very different now, I have entered a new phase of life and I will never be the same again. It felt like the ‘householder’ years went on for a very long time and when I suddenly found myself in this new phase of life there was a great sense of loss, confusion and disorientation.
And yet, there is this power, I can no longer play games just to survive. I’ve had to really inspect my identity and let go of large chunks of myself that no longer were serving me or held meaning. It has been a time of massive readjustment which I know isn’t over yet. But it really does feel like it’s my time now, I am finally living my truth, I can no longer compromise. It’s paradoxical in a way because it is also very much a time about giving back, about serving others – because that’s what gives me meaning. As Nikki Myers (Y12SR – yoga for 12 step recovery founder) says; ‘you don’t get to keep what you don’t give away’. For me, that’s where my truth is leading me – to provide support and companionship for people that are struggling to make sense of what life has presented them with. With renewed respect for the uniqueness of each of our lives. Not to fix or change but to facilitate, if I can, that connection with the wisdom that comes from the inside.
I have discovered that self-care during this time is of the utmost importance. Gone are the days when I could just push through with energy and drive, it is so much more important to honour the messages that I receive to slow down and take care of myself. I have to be very careful to nourish myself with good food to support the physiological changes, otherwise I know about it. I’m also finding that connection with others is critical and different to in the past. People that share aligned values, other women who are experiencing similar transitions. It’s a new type of connection for me. I’m no longer prepared to compromise myself just to fit in and finding those authentic alignments can be challenging.
Menopause is a time to embrace, to listen to those wild urges and calls from within, to find one’s truth and to honour and respect the life that we have led in all its chaos and complexity. To stand in our truth and to know our own power and purpose.