Cessation of periods occurs to prevent childbirth at a time when the body can no longer comfortably cope with it. The loss of iron, blood and protein, associated with menstruation, is curtailed at a time when the body needs to work harder to get adequate nutrition.
The body adjusts its hormone levels accordingly and continues to produce estrogen after menopause. Whilst the combination of hormones is different, it is adequate to support the physiology during this transition. Introducing high levels of estrogen to the body therefore, may only upset the body’s natural hormonal backup system.
How easily a woman passes through menopause is a reflection of her overall state of health. Symptoms are the body’s way of crying out for health. Suppressing them with painkillers does not solve the problem and only serves to create side effects further down the track. To experience a natural, balanced menopause it is necessary to understand and adjust lifestyle and dietary habits which are causing the symptoms.
Understanding the influences is the key to good health. A truly holistic approach provides the knowledge of life - not just of diet and exercise. You may have a purely organic, vegetarian diet, free of processed foods and additives - but if your digestive system is weak or your emotional state unstable, you will not be able to transform the food into the nutrients that you need. Similarly you may religiously follow a strenuous exercise program with the best of intentions only to find that it is actually putting you further out of balance.
In other cultures, women are revered for their wisdom, intuition and life experience. In the traditional culture of India for instance, women become teachers of the young and keepers of the knowledge of life. In the Japanese language, there are no words for hot flushes as they are so rare due to the Japanese diet of soy and phytoestrogens (plant estrogens), which mimic the effects of estrogen in the body.
A woman’s physiology is a finely tuned instrument capable of creating, maintaining and sustaining life. Hormonal cycles maintain a delicate balance preparing for monthly ovulation, menstruation, and then when the child bearing years are over, menopause. When balanced, a women’s physiology can experience changes without discomfort or emotional distress. Pain, moodiness, fluctuations in weight and low energy are just symptomatic of imbalance.
THE AYURVEDIC APPROACH
Ayurveda (meaning science of life) is a holistic approach. It treats the physiology as a whole, each woman is treated according to her own unique physiology, and it enlivens the physiology’s healing intelligence.
The Ayurvedic approach incorporates three controlling principles from nature in its philosophy. These doshas include the:
- Vata dosha, which is expressed as space and air. Vata is like the wind and is responsible for all movement in the universe
- Pitta dosha, which is like the fire and is found in all transformation and metabolizing processes
- Kapha dosha, which is expressed as earth and water, and governs all cohesion and structure in the environment
Everything we do, see, hear, feel, touch, taste or smell will increase or decrease the doshas creating balance or imbalance depending on the unique state of our physiology. Walking in the wind, excessive exercise, travel, irregular meals and going without sleep all increase the windy, spacey qualities of Vata. Hot weather, intense activity, spicy food and skipping meals increase Pitta’s fiery qualities, while heavy food, damp weather and inactivity will increase the slow, sticky qualities of Kapha.
Each of us is made up of a different proportion of doshas. Someone who has a lot of the wind like qualities of Vata tends to have a lighter build, is quick in their speech and actions, enjoys change and travel, and when balanced is enthusiastic and full of ideas. Due to their light airy nature, their digestion, sleep and menstrual cycle can be easily disturbed by stress, travel and emotional upheaval.
Someone with more Pitta in their constitution has a medium build, their intellect is sharp, they make good managers and organizers, and tend to be perfectionists. The colours of the fire can be seen in their ruddy complexion or freckly skin, and in their red or blonde hair. Pitta brings strength to the digestive system and warmth to the body’s temperature. Balanced Pitta brings passion however if Pitta’s warmth becomes too much it can give rise to hot tempers and frustration.
A predominance of Kapha will be a bigger build ie. bigger bone structure, thicker hair, larger eyes, and good endurance. People with more Kapha display more earthy, nurturing qualities than the other types. Kapha types are good with people and you often find them in caring or teaching professions. They are slower to speak, act and change, and prefer routines and regularity in their lives. The slower, stable sticky qualities of Kapha, when in excess, can create lethargy, weight gain and depression.
Each of us has a different combination of doshas and therefore needs different advice to suit our unique physiology. A woman with a predominance of Kapha may need to keep up her regular exercise program as she goes through menopause while for a woman with more Vata in her nature, rest may be the key to maintaining balance. Appropriate diet differs also depending on our doshas. Spicy, sour or acidic food will aggravate Pitta dosha increasing the tendency towards hot flushes. The amount of such foods that can be tolerated again depends on your unique constitutional type. Small amounts of spice can be useful in stimulating the sluggishness of Kapha while the sour taste of lemon or yogurt can be quite soothing when Vata is out of balance.
Menopausal symptoms may indicate which dosha is out of balance. (It is important to note however, that anyone can have any dosha out of balance due to the effects of lifestyle and diet - regardless of their nature. It is also possible to have more than one dosha out of balance and this may change due to the season or even the time of day). A pulse diagnosis is used to determine your constitutional type and which doshas are out of balance.
Excess Vata may result in vaginal dryness, anxiety, mood swings, dry skin, constipation, forgetfulness and insomnia. Too much Pitta may result in hot flushes, heavy bleeding, irritability, increased bowel movements and skin problems. Out of balance Kapha may cause excessive weight gain, fluid retention, breast swelling and lethargy.
Knowledge of the doshas can bring simplicity to the myriad of menopausal symptoms. By pacifying the dosha that is out of balance, you are treating many of the problems at once and actually getting to the underlying core. To soothe the dry, spacey qualities of Vata, follow a regular routine, get adequate rest and have an oil massage. Vata is pacified by warm, cooked foods with sweet sour and salty tastes. To cool down Pitta’s fire take time out for relaxation and being in nature. Avoid skipping meals and favour bitter, sweet and astringent tastes. Getting up early, exercising and reducing rich creamy foods offsets the heaviness of Kapha. To balance Kapha eat whole grains and cooked vegetables with a predominance of bitter, astringent and pungent flavours.
By bringing balance to your internal cycles and clearing away wastes and impurities, your body can more effectively absorb the available estrogen. Fatigue, weight-gain, depression and hot flushes are reduced when your physiology is acting at its most efficient.
Judy, a 53 year old consultant in human resources, turned to Ayurveda when HRT failed to relieve her of her menopausal symptoms. For five years she had experienced hot flushes, sleep disorder depression and a declining libido. She had tried two gynaecologists, both of whom had treated her with HRT and then given up when she failed to improve.
Her Maharishi Ayurveda consultation revealed that accumulated wastes and toxins were blocking the channels in her tissues preventing her hormones from reaching the target sites. She was advised to undergo a series of deep internal cleansing procedures and adjust her diet. On following the procedures and altering her diet, Judy experienced significant relief. Her hot flushes and sleep problems improved and her libido and energy normalised. Over three months she was able to gradually reduce her HRT dose to a low-normal range with no increase in the menopausal symptoms.
Ayurveda supports overall health during menopause by strengthening the body’s own healing intelligence and balancing mechanisms. The body is better able to do its job when stress, irregularity of meals, sleep and exercise is limited. If the physiology is constantly trying to adapt to external changes it expends a lot of energy just trying to keep up. Long term irregularities in the internal bio-rhythms such as cycles of hormones, sleep, digestion, elimination and other cyclical functions can influence the timing of your hormonal secretions. If your body is clogged with impurities due to poor diet and lifestyle, the delivery of hormones to your body’s tissues will be obstructed even if your hormone supply is adequate.
Menopause need not be a time of fear and discomfort. By taking a holistic look at your life and making some health promoting adjustments it can be a time to purify and balance your self. Doshic imbalances are often a result of inappropriate diet and lifestyle choices and can be rectified as easily as they were created. Drinking warm water that has been boiled first and getting regular gentle exercise helps with eliminating blockages in the physiology. Support your physiology’s healing mechanisms by regular routines and stress reduction. Indulge in nature’s supermarket of phytoestrogens and vitamins that occur naturally in food. Most importantly enjoy menopause as a transition to an era of greater wisdom, respect and good health.
Wendy Rosenfeldt B.A. Dip Health (M.A.V.H.E.C.) is a Maharishi Vedic Health educator. She is based in Melbourne but travels regularly to the Gold Coast. For further information on seminars, consultations or any aspect of the Maharishi Vedic Approach to Health including Ayurveda visit.