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How to Embrace Menopause Mindfully

by Mary Beth Janssen

The “M” word is definitely out of the closet. From menopause yoga classes and the Broadway musical Menopause to hot-flash cookbooks and night-sweat pajamas, it has fast become part of the pop culture landscape. There’s even the best-selling book, Is It Hot in Here or Is It Me? We have experienced The Joy of Cooking and The Joy of Sex, and now I propose The Joy of Menopause.

But first, a little clarity: Menopause is not a disease, but a natural process where ovulation slows down, eventually coming to a halt, accompanied by a fluctuation and decline in our reproductive hormones. The one constant through it all is the shifting, swirling dance of our hormones. Depending where we're at on this journey, we may be experiencing less cool, calm, and collected versions of ourselves. If your mind has floated off into the ether, if your emotions have taken to swinging high and low, if your body is trying to put out fires or quench its thirst, the natural approaches, therapies and “secrets” I'll share here in recurring blog posts may serve you well.

If we “embrace menopause,” instead of letting it scare the bejeezus out of us—this acceptance can rock our world! Menopause is not the end of womanhood, but rather a profound life passage that every woman will experience. The Wise Woman sees this time as an initiation into newfound values, exceptional creativity and social consciousness.

Now that we are beyond giving birth, we can focus on our own rebirth: a new assertiveness and commitment to protecting ourselves, our loved ones and all of life. It’s time to enjoy the wisdom that has grown within us over the years. This wisdom, effervescence, vitality and humor—this soul—is our most powerful “secret” of all. This inner beauty is what captivates, hypnotizes and turns heads when superficial beauty begins to fade.

Along with the spiritual manifestations of menopause, hormonal changes are causing physical changes in our body, as well as mental and emotional upheaval. It can be a little unsettling—or a lot unsettling—to experience puberty in reverse. But it can also be cathartic, mind-bending and awe-inspiring. Trust that you’ll get through this beautifully. Say to yourself, “I’m going to be fine.” And keep on saying it. Because with the right attitude, you will!

This is our time to infuse our lives with rejuvenating practices that leave us feeling soothed and smoothed, energized and glowing, and balanced—inside and out. Because it is stress that precipitates many menopausal “sensations,” we’ll begin there.

Coping With Stress

Stress is at the root (make that root-squared!) of our hormonally challenged selves. It can throw off our natural balance of the five major hormones: estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol and DHEA. It's irrefutable that uncontrolled emotional stress causes oxidative stress, or cellular aging. Science has proven that stress damages our DNA and can be the culprit behind wrinkles, gray hair and those hot flashes—but also behind all forms of disease.

What to do? One “prescription” is to put yourself at the top of your own to-do list. Meditate, get to the yoga mat, or breathe deeply—and create a shift in your attitude. You may need to look at your life and determine what needs to give. You may need to end a bad relationship, or switch jobs, or get rid of your cell phone or get your finances in order, or take any number of other steps in order to take your life back. Another action step, ask yourself: Where can I let go of some attachments in my life in order to live a simpler life? This kind of soul-searching can mightily deflect stress.

Most stress begins with our thinking (often untrue!)—that we don’t have control over a situation, or the skills or resources to overcome it. When faced with a difficult situation, how we think about it may be as important, or more so, than the actual situation. So remember that when a stressful situation occurs, we may not be able to control the situation, but we can control how we react to it. This is where nurturing beliefs and practices, especially meditation, can dramatically release and shift stress responses in our mind-body physiology and lessen or stop the flow of detrimental stress hormones into our system—which ultimately can upset the entire hormonal apple cart!

Meditation Is the Key

Studies have shown that women who did 15 to 20 minutes a day of some form of meditative activity reported a 58 percent reduction in menopausal symptoms, including significantly reduced hot-flash intensity, and 90 percent were able to reduce or stop using sleep medications. They also showed more positive attitudes (acceptance--an important spiritual practice) toward their changing bodies—along with less anxiety and fewer negative thoughts.

Meditation refers to any practice where you deeply focus or reflect on something—like Spirit, your breath, a prayer, a mantra (a chosen word such as love orpeace), music, a candle, and so on. Meditation elicits the “relaxation response.” As thoughts come into our mind, we, non-judgmentally, let them come and go like migrating birds, and gently come back to the object of our attention. This practice brings us to a deep inner silence where great healing and relaxation take place. We release tension in body and mind. We become calmer, clearer, more focused in our life, and more available to others. Meditation helps us to live from our heart, cultivate acceptance, let go of judgments, of ourselves and others, thus putting distance between events and our reactions. Research has shown that meditation alleviates not only hot flashes, but also medical conditions ranging from hypertension to clinical depression to asthma. Meditation’s tremendous rejuvenative powers become most profound when practiced every day. Give yourself this tremendous gift.

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