The Yoga of Menopause Alternatives to Hormone Therapy

Susun Weed maintains: “Menopause is not a ‘pathology’, but a passage to power. Like puberty, menopause is a natural – and healthy – change. Wise women the world over herald menopause as a health-promoting event. They see hot flashes as ‘power surges’ and menopause as an intense spiritual journey. Most treatments – including ERT, HRT, isoflavone, and progesterone creams – disrupt this process and can do severe damage to a woman’s health.”

MENOPAUSE IS ENLIGHTENMENT

The energy aspects of menopause are of special interest to me.

As a long-time student of yoga, I was struck by the many similarities between menopausal symptoms and the well-known esoteric goal of “awakening of the kundalini.” Though the ideas presented in this section may seem strange or difficult to comprehend, they contain powerful messages about menopause, which lie at the heart of the Wise Woman approach.

Kundalini [is] the root [of] all spiritual experiences … Kundalini is a special kind of energy known in many cultures, including Tibetan, Indian, Sumerian, Chinese, Irish, Aztec, and Greek. Kundalini is said to be hot, fast, powerful, and large. It exists within the earth, within all life, and within each person.

Psychoanalyst Carl G. Jung called kundalini anima. Kundalini is usually represented as a serpent coiled at the base of the spine, but women’s mystery stories locate it in the uterus – or the area where the uterus was, if a hysterectomy has occurred. During both puberty and menopause, a woman’s kundalini is difficult to control and may cause a great number of symptoms.

East Indian yogis spend lifetimes learning to activate, or wake up, their kundalini. This is also called “achieving enlightenment”. When they succeed, a surge of super-heated energy goes up the spine, throughout the nerves, dilating blood vessels, and fueling itself with hormones. As kundalini continues to travel up the spine, it changes the functioning of the endocrine, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. Not just in yogis, but in any woman who allows herself to become aware of it. Menopause is a kind of enlightenment. Hot flashes are kundalini training sessions.

TAKING HORMONES? THESE HERBS ARE FOR YOU

More and more American women are using herbal remedies to help them with menopausal problems. Those who do take ERT (estrogen replacement) or HRT (hormone replacement) may be surprised to discover that herbal medicine has a lot to offer them as well.

Herbs for women on ERT/HRT include those that alleviate side-effects as well as those that counter problems caused by the hormones.

Herbal Helpers Counter Side-Effects

Water retention is the symptom most often cited for dissatisfaction with hormone replacement. Herbal tinctures and tea, such as dandelion or cleavers, and ordinary foods can not only relieve the distress, they will go to the root of the problem and help prevent recurrences.

Dandelion root tincture (Taraxacum officinale) strengthens the liver and helps it process out the excess hormones you are taking. When the liver works well, the kidneys work better, and tissues no longer bloat. A dose is 10-20 drops in several ounces of water or juice 2-3 three times a day. If you have any digestion problems, take your dandelion before meals; otherwise, anytime is fine. You can safely take dandelion daily for months or years if you need or want to.

Cleavers herb tincture (Galium molluga) tells the lymphatic tissues to get moving. Relief from edema is usually rapid when 20-30 drops are taken in several ounces of water or juice.

Repeat up to six times at hourly intervals if needed. Cleavers is especially helpful for easing swollen, sore breasts.

Foods that relieve water retention include (in order of effectiveness): asparagus, nettles, corn (and corn silk tea), grapes, cucumbers, watermelon (and watermelon seed tea), parsley, celery, black tea, and green tea.

Headaches are the second most common side-effect of hormone use. Unfortunately, they are common among menopausal women not taking hormones, too. Herbs that help relieve headache without a drug-like action – such as dandelion, yellow dock, milk thistle, burdock, garden sage, skullcap, and St. John’s/Joan’s wort – are generally considered safe to take with hormones.

Chinese herbalists say headaches are caused by liver stress. My favorite liver-strengthening herbs are dandelion, yellow dock, milk thistle seed, and burdock. I use one at a time, a 15-25 drops of the tincture several times a day, for two weeks. If symptoms continue, I switch to a different herb.

A strong tea of garden sage leaves (Salvia officinalis) offers immediate relief from headaches and helps prevent future ones. It also reduces night sweats. Tinctures of skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) and St. Joan’s/John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) ease pain and relieve muscle spasms. Use 5-20 drops of skullcap and a dropperful of St.J’s at the very first sign – no, the very first thought – of a headache.

Repeat the doses every five minutes until pain free. Skullcap can be quite sedative, especially in large doses.

Herbal Allies to Prevent Problems Caused by Taking Hormones

Breast cancer risk is increased 20% in women who use ERT for five or more years. Use of HRT for five or more years increases breast cancer risk by 40%. Each five years of continued use increases the risk. In addition, women who take ERT are far more likely to get uterine or endometrial cancers. All women on hormones increase their risks of lung and ovarian cancer, too. Nourishing herbs such as red clover, and foods such as beans and yogurt, offer easy ways to stay cancer-free.

Red clover blossoms (Trifolium pratense), when dried and brewed into a strong infusion (one ounce herb steeped an a quart of boiling water for at least four hours) prevent cancer by providing phytoestrogens that counter the cancer-promoting effects of oral hormones. Usual dose is 2-4 cups a day. The infusion tastes like black tea and can be flavored with mint if you like.

Since uncooked beans and unfermented soy contain anti-nutritional factors that may promote bone loss and dementia, soy “milk” and tofu are not recommended. Miso and tamari definitely help to prevent breast cancer but soy isoflavones may promote it.