Embrace The Change!
In this discursive and thought provoking piece Estelle Birdy discusses women's experiences of 'the change' which she argues can ultimately lead to contentment in changing circumstances. She also shares her Yoga tips for hot flushes.
Yoga and the Menopause
When I was asked to contribute to this blog, it was to be in the form of a piece about Yoga and the Menopause. First though, as always, I must digress. What’s with this‘menopause’ lads? When I was a teenager, (admittedly not a recent condition), no one ever mentioned this menopause thing. No normal woman would have uttered the word menopause before 1999, as far as I remember. There was something back then that equated to this new-fangled menopause. It was called The Change of Life. Women, when discussing a friend’s indisposition would exaggeratedly mouth, sometimes behind an upheld hand, ‘The Change’. So comical was this overdone discretion, that, in our late teens, a friend of mine began to act out ‘The Change’ scene, every time one of us did or said something a tad odd. You might trip up, perhaps having over imbibed. Upon regaining your composure, you would find her turning around to anyone who was watching, eyes popping, loudly whispering, ‘The Change’, while nodding in your direction. We used to laugh at how dramatic and secretive those women were but now I see it differently. They weren’t pretending to keep it a secret, they meant to protect it. They meant to protect ‘The Change’. ‘The Change’ was not a matter for men or children or even we, soon to be but not yet, women. ‘The Change’ was a matter for adult women alone. Women of understanding and depth.
So, more recently, when things began to change in my own body, I began to ponder the terms ‘menopause’ and ‘peri menopause’ and their very clinical nature. I began to wonder why the shift in vocabulary happened. Let’s face it, when have you ever heard anyone say “I’m menstruating today, I shan’t move a finger lads” or “I’m having terrible trouble with my menses, pass the Solpadeine?” Yet, suddenly it’s menopause this and peri menopause that and these terms are seen as the correct ones to use. During my musings on the importance of words, I remembered a story that we were told during Pregnancy Yoga Teacher Training about the evolution of midwifery. Of how, for as long as anyone could remember, the midwife had been a woman of some standing in the community, so important was her experience and knowledge. Of how childbirth had been a women’s only activity. All knowledge of it was held within the community of women. Then, in the seventeenth century, two French doctors decided they’d take a look at what went on in the birthing chamber and were horrified to find women on all fours or squatting, hooting and howling, breathing heavily and generally behaving in an unbecomingly animalistic manner. The two shocked doctors decided that they needed to put a stop to this. So women were put in beds, on their backs and suddenly the forceps delivery was not only desirable but necessary. The power of the midwife was gone, at least amongst the higher levels of the society. Childbirth was medicalised across the board. It’s base, animal nature needed to be cured. Tools and medication were now required. Doctors, all men, now held the power in the birth chamber. I realised that the ‘Change of Life’/’Menopause’ situation was probably similar. There is no controlling a natural process. Ultimately, there is no profit in a natural process. No profit in a natural process being accepted and even being considered empowering. However, if you make that process seem undesirable, then stopping, or at least slowing that process, could seem like a worthwhile pursuit. If something is deemed ugly, we try to change it or destroy it.
So, since when was change an ugly word? The facts are simple; everything is in a constant state of flux. Nothing remains the same. Everything passes. Try to think of a single thing, animate or inanimate that remains entirely the same. Think of institutions that try to remain exactly the same in a changing world. What happens them? Yet, change has indeed become a dirty, ugly word. If we accept the constantly changing nature of all things, then we accept a lack of control. In this increasingly masculinised world, acceptance of change, is now seen as weakness. Especially in the West, the denial of change is almost absolute. We are lead to believe that we should have control over nature, over the weather, over our feelings, over other people. It is now acceptable to paralyse your face in order to show control over aging. As women, we are being told, that in order to be successful, we mustn’t change. Not only should we remain thin, we should remain smooth, full haired, full lipped and be constantly gagging for it. Lack of libido? “Not on our watch!” says the Stamp Out Change Brigade. In our hearts, in our souls, in our very being, as women, we know that’s wrong. Every human being is just a mass of constantly changing cells. So continuous is the change that every eight years there is not a single cell in our bodies that was there eight years before. We are literally, entirely new people, every eight years. We, as women, understand this at a deep level. We go through monthly changes for up to 40 years. If we have children, our bodies and minds change, immeasurably, in just nine months. Any mothers out there know, that those nine months are necessary for your body and mind to cope with the change. Think then, how long the change from monthly menstrual cycles to full menopause takes. Sometimes ten to twelve years! And why? Because it is a Change of Life! So life changing that, according to nature, it requires ten times more time than growing another human being inside you. More life changing than having a child, nature seems to think. You have spent perhaps those 40 years getting used to various changes, including your monthly changes and now this enormous change takes place that ends those fluctuations and begins different processes. Women, you know this. You know change. You feel it every day.
So, how do all of my musings connect to yoga? Well, first a few questions. Will practicing yoga tone your body? Yes. Help with mood swings? Hot flushes? Joint Pain? Hormonal balance? Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes. Improve libido? From personal experience? Oh yes! The list of things that yoga can,(or might), help, is endless. That’s not what’s important, in my view. What yoga really does is draw you closer to reality. To your real power. Real power is not in overcoming, controlling or battling change. Real power is in being change. Accepting that you are a mass of constant changes. That truly is power. I don’t see the sea trying to turn back time, freeze itself or pretend to be the sky, do you? And who, given recent events in Ireland, can deny the power of the sea? Yoga can get you to the core of who you truly are. When you get there, you might find that you are indeed a nineteen year old sex bomb. And good for you, you go girl! But when you get to that core, however fleetingly, realise that’s you, in that present moment and in the next moment you may be different. The moment, when you realise that, is a profound and freeing moment. To move and flow with the changes, is true power. So, how does all this new agey blather translate to practicalities? Let’s bring it back to that old chestnut, the dreaded hot flush. No stranger to the phenomenon myself, I sympathise. However, I now realise that I don’t dread the dreaded hot flush. The hot flush is, dare I say it, my friend. There follows some free yoga advice:
Yoga Tip For Hot Flushes:
You feel the flush starting. Stop. Pause. What’s your predominating sensation in this moment? And now? And now? And now? How about now? Flush over? Congratulations you have just been fully present over the course of several present moments.
The hot flush can be your friend because, if you stop seeing it as something you need to control, something you are suffering, something you want to end, and simply experience it as a sensation arising in each present moment, well hey, you’ve just seen reality for those few moments and that’s kinda cool. I’m mindful here also, of studies of menopausal symptoms in various cultures and across various socio economic groups. Worldwide, it appears, poorer, busier, more rural women experience less agitating symptoms than richer, less occupied, city dwelling women. Could be the diet, could be the not getting real ladies. No one’s saying that night sweats are a whole pile of fun. Believe me, I know. Equally, no one can say that a huge change to a new and empowering way of life, is going to be a bed of roses.
So, in the end, where did my mental ramblings and all my yoga get me? To joy. To contentment in changing circumstances. To a realisation that there is always a ‘me’ in there somewhere that is connected to all women, past and present, through our shared experience of change. Next time you see a woman, obviously experiencing a hot flush, smile sympathetically but inwardly, mouth knowingly, ‘The Change’. Sisters, we are all in this together.
Estelle Birdy is a 43 year old mother of 4. She has been a Yoga Teacher for the past 10 years and is owner of The Olive Tree Mind/Body Studio, 15 Grantham Street, Dublin 8. She runs classes and workshops specifically for Menopausal Women.
Email: email@example.com.Telephone: 086 794 16 24.