Menopause: An Ayurvedic Perspective
Menopause can be an exciting transition in a woman’s life - signaling the end of her reproductive years - a time of freedom and letting go. However, the end of fertility and a gradual slowing down in a society that does not hold high regard for its elders can also bring sadness, confusion and a sense of meaninglessness. Traditionally, women would be guided through this transition by other women - elders who had already transitioned through “the change”. If not prepared and guided through this transition, women may encounter fear, discomfort and even depression.
Ayurveda speaks of 3 qualities or “doshas” present in all of us in varying degrees. These 3 doshas: Vata, Pitta, Kapha are present in all living things. There are 3 stages of life characterized by these 3 doshas. During our childhood, as our bodies grow and our mind is eager to learn, we are in the Kapha stage of life (also called “brahmacharya ashram:. As we reach adulthood, we enter our Pitta years - our working and career life - these years are marked by doing - ego leading us towards accomplishments. This time is also called grihastha ashram. From an Ayurvedic perspective, as women enter menopause (unless brought on early), they are typically entering the “Vata” stage of life (men also reach this stage sometime around 60 years). This period is characterized by physical changes in the body that also can affect our mental and spiritual health. As Vata becomes dominant, we need more time for reflection. We slow down. It is time to share the wisdom we have with those around us. We become “wise women”. This stage is also called vanaprastha ashram.
During this stage in a woman’s life, our levels of estrogen and progesterone drop, signaling changes in the body. Ayurveda, or “The Science of Life” teaches us that the key to good health is maintaining balance or homeostasis in the body. Menopausal changes can cause kapha to be depleted, making us less stable and grounded, pitta to become out of balance affecting our digestive fire and our temperament, and Vata to become high causing dryness, insomnia, hot flashes and constipation. To create balance in the body during this transition, we want to look at our nutrition and self care rituals.
It is helpful to do a monthly liver cleanse and/or add liver supporting herbs or a blood cleanser tonic to your daily regimen. Easy to digest foods such as kitchari can be eaten during this time.
Abhyanga rituals - the practice of self-massage with oils to encourage the flow of blood and lymph in the body can help calm vata as well the nervous system, and ease the joints. Oils help to nourish dry skin as well. Hydrate the body from the inside by drinking plenty of water.
Support your digestive fire by drinking ginger tea, or a tea of cumin, coriander and fennel seeds throughout the day. The Ayurvedic remedy Triphala is helpful for keeping the elimination system working properly. Chyavanprash is a classic rejuvenating formula and natural anti-oxident. Herbs that might do just as well include Ginseng and Dong Quai.
Practice slowing down, taking time for meditation and breathing practices that calm the central nervous system. The practice of Restorative yoga and Yoga Nidra can help with insomnia. Be sure to take time each day to relax in whatever way works for you, whether that is meditation, Yoga Nidra, or taking a walk by the water or in the woods. It is important to keep your bones healthy by getting sufficient calcium through food, supplements or herbs. Keeping bones and muscles moving is also important - so find a form of exercise that you enjoy whether it’s dancing, gardening, cycling, yoga or walking. If we take the time to acknowledge this important change in our lives, and are willing to make changes to our diet and routine to honor our bodies and care for our mental and spiritual health as well, we can transition to “wise woman” more gracefully. Namaste.