What do you know about menopause? I’ll tell you what I knew until recently – hot flushes (or flashes). That was it.
But it turns out that hot flushes are just the tip of the iceberg. I was a good year into perimenopause (the time leading up to periods stopping for good) before I experienced the drenching heat of a hot flush. What really brought me to my knees were the mental health symptoms.
At first, I thought I’d just been working too hard. My moods were unpredictable. OK, that’s the wrong way to describe it. I was boiling with red hot, barely controllable rage. Pretty much all the time.
Then I thought I might be depressed. I was crying a lot, losing interest in things that normally motivate me and avoiding social events. I couldn’t remember the last time I slept through the night.
Finally, I wondered if I was experiencing early onset dementia. I couldn’t remember names, lost everything from keys and purse to a whole trolley load of shopping (seriously). I couldn’t remember conversations, was adamant I’d never met people I’d recently had meetings with and had no recollection of events that my family assured me I was a part of. It was terrifying.
I wondered how I could carry on working - I couldn’t concentrate and wasn’t able to remember anything unless I wrote it down. Many women end up leaving work, turning down promotions or taking less demanding (and lower paid) jobs when menopause hits. Just when they are seeing the fruits of decades of study, experience and the honing of their skills.
It wasn’t until the hot flushes started that it dawned on me – perhaps this is menopause? If only I’d understood more about perimenopause and its symptoms, I would have understood what was happening to me and taken steps to manage things sooner.
Once I’d figured it out, I went searching for two things:
A GP who was trained in managing menopause
A yoga therapist who understood what I was talking about.
I know, I’m a yoga therapist myself. But I’d reached a point where I’d lost perspective on what I was experiencing and needed help to get back on track. Here’s how my yoga therapist and I supported my mental health during menopause.
She listened. Then she listened some more. Many health practitioners (especially GP’s) don’t have the time (or training) to really listen deeply. A good yoga therapist is trained in micro-counselling skills and knows how to hold space for clients who are struggling.
Together, we figured out a practice that I was able to do – even on the bad days. We worked together because a yoga therapist never assumes they are the authority on their clients’ wellbeing. Yoga therapy is a collaborative process that meets the needs of the client by empowering them to take the lead.
My yoga therapist supported me to set small, achievable goals and then figure out how I was going to reach them. Yoga therapists work with clients to work out what matters most to a client, name it, then develop a plan for getting there. For me, it was managing mood swings so that my rage filled outbursts didn’t impact my family. Oh, and getting more sleep.
Regular weekly yoga therapy sessions were supplemented with a 10 minute daily home practice. Ten minutes doesn’t sound like much, but short, consistent, frequent practice is much more effective than longer, less regular sessions. Yoga therapists are always striking a balance between what the ‘best’ practice for a client might be, and what is going to get the results the client is looking for. And a practice wont’ work unless the client actually does it.
For me, the difference was HUGE. Not straight away, but gradually over several days and weeks I found that my menopause symptoms settled down. The rage subsided and I was able to better manage my emotions.The practices my yoga therapist and I had co-developed helped me to become more mindful, paying attention to the world around me in ways that increased my sense of gratitude and decreased my scatty forgetfulness.
Following a practice that was designed specifically to meet my unique needs, I was able to get my life back on track. But don’t forget that I also found a GP who was trained in managing menopause. For many women Menopause Hormone Therapy (MHT) is the best option - not everybody’s symptoms can be managed without hormone therapy.
There are upward of 30 different symptoms of menopause. Because it is highly personalised and adaptable, yoga therapy can reduce the impact of most symptoms, from painful joints and exhaustion to forgetfulness and headaches. That means people going through menopause can thrive during this powerfully transformative life stage.
Yoga therapy is a complementary therapy. It works alongside other therapies - including medical treatment - to support clients manage their health and wellbeing. Yoga therapists are trained in evidence based practice and work collaboratively with a client’s healthcare team to achieve the best possible outcomes.
Want to know more about yoga therapy? Watch this video about the Yoga Therapy Fundamentals program.