Menopause is an inevitable change for all women and can be portrayed as a negative experience with no upside. And there is no doubt, for many, it comes with great discomfort and letting go, but the shift that happens can be a positive and liberating experience. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually we can move into a new way of being, which is more focussed on nourishing ourselves and becoming the wise woman that we all have within us. And what I love about Chinese Medicine is that it addresses all these aspects when treating. We are not limited to a set of numbers that are our egg count or oestrogen levels (although this can be helpful too) but an intricate being with many variables and relationships that affect and determine our health and wellbeing.
“When menopause approaches, the heart no longer sends blood and essence to the uterus but redirects it back to the heart to nourish the woman’s spirit.” Flaws 1992
But firstly, what is menopause?
The average age for menopause in Australia is around 51 years of age but can happen anytime from your 30s to your 50s. Once a woman permanently stops having menstruation continuously for 12 months, it is considered menopause and signals the end of her ability to naturally have children. There is a sharp decline in oestrogen, which can cause most of the menopausal symptoms.
What is perimenopause?
The lead up to menopause is called perimenopause and as the supply of mature eggs in a women’s ovaries diminishes, her menstruation becomes irregular. Her oestrogen and progesterone decline and she may experience changes in her cycle, including break-through bleeding, flooding periods, brain fog, mood swings, increased irritability, decreased libido, irregular periods, fatigue, insomnia and more.
What are the symptoms of an imbalanced menopause?
Of course, a healthy menopause will have no symptoms apart from the cessation of your menstruation. But unfortunately, most women will have some, if not all of the following symptoms. Everyone will experience these differently with different severities – what is happening in your life at the time of menopause, your general health, weight, genetics and even trauma at an early age (Vandewater, 2022) can influence the symptoms, onset, and severity.
- Hot flushes and night sweats
- Vagina dryness and atrophy
- Sleep problems
- Sore breasts
- Muscle and joint aches
- Mood changes (feeling depressed)
- Brain fog (difficulty concentrating)
In Chinese Medicine the Heart governs blood and through the Bao mai (meridian) sends the blood down to the uterus to nourish the womb in preparation for a baby. When menopause approaches, the heart no longer sends blood and essence to the uterus but redirects it back to the heart to nourish the woman’s spirit. This is a beautiful analogy for menopause and is the essence of what menopause can be – a nourishing of our spirit.
The factors that contribute to an increased predisposition to adverse symptoms during the transition into menopause is dependent on the liver (Gan) to maintain the free flow of qi, on the capacity of the spleen (Pi) to generate sufficient qi and blood and on the condition of the kidney (shen) essence. What does Chinese Medicine mean by this?
A free flow of qi means to have healthy circulation and effective and smooth functioning of our systems (including our endocrine system), a smooth and healthy flow of our emotions and, a strong vagal tone so that we can smoothly regulate ourselves from fight or flight back into rest and digest.
Sufficient qi and blood from our spleen is talking about the amount of energy and nutrients we receive from our food, which is partly determined by how healthy and effective our digestive system is. The amount of nutrients we receive are also dependent on our food choices and how they match our body type and the environment we live in. Our spleen (Pi) also houses our intellect/thought (Yi) and overthinking and worrying can damage the spleen’s function. Practicing meditation and calming the mind helps to promote a healthy spleen and therefore sufficient qi and blood.
The condition of the kidney essence is the genetic inheritance we receive from our parents. Not only what we have inherited from our parents but also our epigenetics – how our behaviour and environment affect the way our genes work. In Chinese Medicine there is a lot of commentary about how we can use up our kidney essence with hard living and they place great importance on practices and lifestyle choices that support kidney essence – this is how in ancient times they observed and understood genetics and epigenetics.
Each person can have a different combination of function and dysfunction of the above three points, leading to adverse symptoms during perimenopause and menopause. Your Chinese Practitioner will carefully go through your history and symptoms, assess your pulse, tongue, abdomen and even your oestrogen and progesterone levels as well as your emotional state and spiritual vitality to determine how to help you to regain your best health. This process richly dives into our whole being to regain balance. At it’s very best, regaining our health connects us more deeply into who we truly are so that even our weakest aspect becomes a vital source in which to understand ourselves. This pivot from nourishing our womb with blood each month to nourishing our heart can provide the impetus to heal and attend to our body, mind and spirit at this vital time in our life. Fifty years of living is a great time to reconnect with what our spirit is calling for us to be in this world. If you are on this journey already or just beginning, I wish you a smooth and rich transition into your wise self.
Pip Atherstone-Reid is the co-founder of Kundalini House and a Chinese Medicine practitioner. Her love of Chinese Medicine has spanned over 20 years and the joy that she receives with working with clients on their health has not waned. Pip is traversing her own journey with menopause and is learning to find her wise woman with the help of her friends and clients.