Follow Up: The Menopause Report

The truth? There’s nothing to report.  A few posts back I was in a bad way.  The hormones were taking me for a mad ride and I didn’t know which way to turn.  But then, in a rare, bright, lucid moment, I decided on a three-pronged attack:  acupuncture, exercise and massage.

The good news?

It worked.  I’m back to my normal, well-balanced, chronically optimistic self.  It’s a great feeling.

Was there one therapy that seemed most effective, or did they work symbiotically?

The acupuncture in combination with the herbs my acupuncturist prescribed and increased cardiovascular exercise were great co-captains.  Body therapy in the form of a few Rolfing sessions and one perfect chair massage became important team players and helped to reduce stress.  I also improved my diet by reducing sugar, caffeine and alcohol in favor of whole grains, fish and vegetables.

My advice?

I wish there was an easy answer that didn’t involve manipulating our body chemistry with Big Pharma.  But the bottom line is, we’re all different.  As we go through this transition the most important thing we can do is stay in touch – with our bodies, our emotions and with each other.  For every woman who claims she “sailed through” menopause there will be one who believes she is lost and alone.  In my case, I felt silly admitting how bad I was feeling.  I’m a yoga teacher.  Shouldn’t I be the poster child for well-balanced good health?  Once I realized that even yoga teachers lose their equilibrium from time to time I became proactive and sought advice from friends and medical professionals.

Be Practical

Acupuncture and massage can stretch the pocketbook but a brisk walk around the block is free.  My symptoms – the raging mood swings and the frightening emotional plummets scared me into taking action.  But I had the time and the freedom to explore options.  I asked for advice and then chose the approach.

Exercise is easy; looking at what you’re eating and then making subtle dietary changes towards wholesome, living food is doable.  We should all be exercising and eating well whether we’re moving toward menopause or not.

But as a peri-menopausal woman, deciding if our symptoms are severe enough to require ‘chemical intervention’ – whether it’s in the form of Chinese herbs or artificial hormones – is difficult.  I must admit to feelings of failure when I finally admitted I couldn’t navigate this passage on my own.  But those feelings disappeared the moment I began to feel better (which was almost immediate following the first acupuncture treatment and the start of the herbs).

The bottom line is, we want to feel our best – for ourselves and for the friends and family we love. I’ve chosen a path that has put me back in touch with the person I’ve always been inside.  What solutions have you tried for relief of symptoms associated with menopause?

The Beautiful Business of Yoga and What I Did in My Spare Time

Ferry Building San Francisco after the 1906 Ea...

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I love the architecture of the Hyatt Regency on Embarcadero.  A cross between Logan’s Run and The Poseidon Adventure (after the rogue wave), it’s all sharp angles, shafts of light and heavy concrete.

The last time I was here greenery trailed from each floor like the Gardens of Babylon.  But this year, in an attempt to brighten a dark winter, a thick fringe of white lights hang from the ceiling ending about twenty feet above the atrium restaurant.  The effect is dizzying.  Seizure inducing if you’re of that ilk.

The good news.  I woke at 5:30 with a new game plan.  Galvanized.  Hopeful.  I jotted down a few ideas before they melted away, drifted back to sleep and woke again to see the red sunrise reflecting off the Bay Bridge.

After a shower I walked over to the Ferry Building, enjoyed a non-fat latte and strolled among the fruit and vegetable stalls.  Yes, I strolled (those of you who know me know that I do not, by nature, stroll).  I sampled fermented carrot (an acquired taste) and pickled okra (yummy even on an empty stomach) from the Cultured Pickle Shop and then made my way back to the atrium restaurant for breakfast.

I may have been a little harsh yesterday.  There are plenty of wonderful reasons to attend the conferences Yoga Journal hosts around the country, month after month, on and on, forever and ever Amen.  Ooops.  I think I meant to say “Om”.

Give me a moment to contemplate these reasons while I dig into a bowl of steel cut oats large enough to provide sustenance into next Tuesday.

Right.  Sorry.  Can’t do it.  Trying to defend these conferences is a little bit like me trying to defend chiropractics.  While I know having regular visits to a chiropractor resonates with plenty of people, it doesn’t with me (for the record, I’m a fan of acupuncture).  And I know there are attendees here who are being opened to new ideas, new ways of thinking, new poses.  New ways of being.  And, with all sincerity, that is wonderful.  But I’m not.  Because in the back of my head there’s a little voice whispering, “this isn’t what yoga is supposed to be.”

I think the epiphany arrived as I worked through a rack of organic bamboo/cotton blend/75% spandex yoga trousers woven by Blind Monks from Tibet.  Or maybe Alabama. The clothing was very beautiful and very, very expensive. The tag suggested that wearing the pants would change my life.  I’d find freedom.  Liberation.  Breathtaking beauty.  Wearing that particular brand of clothing pretty much guaranteed powers of levitation on the way to Nirvana.

I understand that we pay a price for what we love and that in the 21st century Yoga is Big Business.  But can we try to make it a better, more beautiful and honest business?  One of the reasons I support Jason and his Three Minute Eggs (see yesterday’s post here) is because he doesn’t promise Enlightenment.  He doesn’t suggest I’ll be more wonderful than I already am if I use his eggs.  He simply made a good prop better.  You have to admire his ingenuity while slapping yourself on the side of head and saying, “why didn’t I think of that?”

As far as teachers go, that’s why I admire Paul and Suzee Grilley and Gil Hedley.  They teach from the heart, with humility.  Yes, I pay for their teaching the same way I pay for Jason’s blocks.  But they share their knowledge with loving generosity.

My life challenge is jealousy and envy.  So I suppose there is always the possibility that these feelings of cynicism are coming from that dark place.  Would I feel the same way if Yoga Journal asked me to teach?  Am I jealous that I don’t have a book to hawk or a clever prop to demonstrate?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Or maybe the truth is my heart is weary of watching the thing that has given my life depth and character being demeaned by the competitive marketplace in front of my eyes.

And maybe I learned more than I thought this weekend.


Thirty-Six Days

Previously on “Peri-menopause is Not for the Faint of Heart”…Threatened by a raging hormonal surge of epic proportions our heroine Mimm was doomed to a mid-life of surly retorts and bitter regrets.

Trapped in a manic nightmare, could her moods stop swinging long enough for Mimm to find her way back from the edge of reason?

Thirty-six days is about right. My cycle is more or less consistent. Women at my age typically experience the opposite as their cycles become increasingly erratic.  But I’ve always been contrary. So while I was all over the calendar in my twenties, now I can count on a dramatic shift in my view of the world every six weeks or so.

Shortly before Thanksgiving the shift destabilized me to the extent that I sought help through yoga and acupuncture with herbs.  Reminding myself that I am in control of my changing body and my hormones – not the other way around – makes me stronger, and I believed that finding help was taking a proactive step towards health.

One cycle later, how am I doing?

Yoga: There’s no doubt about it.  Yoga makes me feel better.  With the first down dog of the day I experience a dynamic change in energy.  I can step on my mat in the most foul mood and step off the mat with a smile on my face.  My Yoga for Peri-menopause emphasizes supported back bends to open the heart, a slow flow of standing postures for strength with emotional stability and long held Yin floor work to settle the nervous system.

Acupuncture: I knew that in order for my acupuncturist to do her best healing work, I had to be honest about the symptoms I was experiencing. I knew that if I tried to tell her in person, on the day of my appointment, I would gloss over their severity.  We’re all guilty of it.  The symptom that feels catastrophic as it happens suddenly seems silly as described to a healthcare professional.  So instead of telling her in person and risking diminishing their importance, I sent an email. Having a concise list of my symptoms before our appointment supported my practitioner’s instincts and helped her diagnosis and treatment. She suggested herbal formulations and in the past six weeks I’ve had two ‘needle sessions’.  It would be wrong of me, however, to expect an immediate change.  Acupuncture – in fact most Eastern medicine and complementary therapies – is subtle and paced.  And I feel this is how it should be.  Acupuncture is gently encouraging me to move toward balance.

I know what you’re thinking.

So what about Rolfing? Those of you who keep track may remember that I began seeing Rolfer Michael Murphy – an innovative leader in the field for thirty years.  I have one more appointment with Michael and then an appointment booked in February with a ‘classic’ Rolfer who also happens to be a woman.  I intend to keep these appointments but my instinct is telling me that structural integration is not what I need now.  I also must confess that Rolfing is simply cost prohibitive.  Besides, treating symptoms with a variety of approaches makes it impossible to determine which of those approaches is most effective.  And so, after my appointment mid-way through my next six-week cycle, I’ll let go of Rolfing – although my belief in the importance and efficacy of body therapy is not diminished.  It’s just not the right time for me.

The bottom line is we all have a different set of symptoms and different constitutions.  If follows, then, that complementary therapies will resonate at different frequencies for each individual.  So while a combination of yoga with acupuncture keeps me at a somewhat even keel, it may not be the correct combination for you.

Besides, there are other considerations.  If moods were charted on a bell curve mine would still be considered ‘left of happy’.  While I’ve improved and have gained control, I’m still miles away from my usual perky self.  And so, I have to ask myself:

What am I missing?

Diet and exercise. Why haven’t I worked harder to consider nutrition and fitness?  The answer is simple:  it requires too much personal investment. It requires motivation.  Self-belief.  Faith.   If I want to affect permanent change I need to make a daily commitment to my health.  But am I strong enough?

I won’t deny that the choices I’ve made these past thirty-six days have improved my outlook.  But the next thirty-six days will require a stronger personal commitment. Am I worth the hard work?  I think so.

The First Step:

When I began writing this post at six this morning, I believed asking other people to heal me spoke to my being proactive.  Fourteen hours later and I realize it’s not up to other people to make me well.  They can contribute and guide me, but the only person who can fully commit to my health is me.  And so, with a full day between that first sentence and this last one, I took the first step.  I made a commitment to myself…but more on that in a few days.

Peri-menopause is Not for the Faint of Heart

Looking back, I showed considerable restraint.

“Why don’t you just go to a doctor and get a pill?”

This coming from a man who has never been and is never going to be the poster child for good health.  Besides, what does a man know about it anyway?

Some women flush, some sweat.  Others deal with insomnia while some unfortunate souls juggle all three with swinging moods thrown in for good measure.  For me, peri-menopause – otherwise known as the “Transition” seems to be all about my mood.

Life was so simple just a few short years ago.  How I long for the time when I enjoyed seven simple days of general malaise followed by my flow – and the wonderfully manic high that followed as my hormones swung in the opposite direction.

But my formerly light yet lengthy pre-menstrual tension had, over the past twelve months, boiled itself down like an over-reduced sauce to forty-eight hours of mournful hell.   Seriously. You really did not want to be a bicyclist running a stop sign during those two days if I was on the road.

Yet my body had one more trick up its sleeve.  Just as I was growing accustomed to Mimm’s Evil Twin making an appearance every thirty-days she was traded in for a hormone storm of such ferocity that I could not fathom there would ever be an end.  I fell into Alice’s dark rabbit hole.  I fell and fell for days until a breakdown during my writer’s group (we’re talking mild hysteria, twitches and unstoppable tears) made it clear to me I needed help.  I was losing my peri-menopausal mind, and I wanted to find it again.

This is usually the moment when one of my wonderful, older clients chimes in with, Menopause?  I sailed right through menopause.  Don’t even remember it.” Of course she doesn’t remember.  It was thirty years ago.  While she was peri-menopausal, the rest of the world was watching Dallas and trying to figure out who shot J.R.!

I guess the truth is, some women do ‘sail through’.  But not me.  It’s embarrassing.  I’m a yoga teacher, for Pete’s sake.  Things like a few hormone fluctuations shouldn’t bother me.  I wish. Even though I have a reasonable diet and a daily yoga practice I know that it will take more to manage my symptoms.  But hormone replacement therapy is a last resort.  For now, I have a three-point plan of attack:  acupuncture with Chinese herb chasers, Rolfing and, of course, Yoga.

I have another ten days before my hormones take a swing toward the dark side and so it is too soon to know if my complementary approach is useful.  I can tell you that, for now, the black mood is gone.  This post is proof that I’m writing again – I’m functioning.  But will I crumble again on December 20th?  I’m not planning on it, but the truth is I just don’t know.


And now, the disclaimer.  I’m single and childless and can indulge my whims.  If you’re suffering – see a doctor.