Yoga is my life, it’s my career, and its my love. So what happens when you can’t get on the mat? What happens when it changes? Are you still a yogi? These are the questions I have had to ask myself in the last year or so. My practice changed because my energy levels dramatically dropped when I started what I now know to be the peri menopause. I was going to write a menopause post and a yoga post, but as they are so intrinsically linked (for me anyway) I’ve put them together in one post.
I’m writing about my experience thus far of peri menopause in the hope it might help you understand if you are going through this time yourself. You are not alone, and I will link to my favourite and most used places of support (hint…it’s not your GP)
About 14 months ago I started to notice my energy levels dropping like they had when I had a B12 deficiency, but also I noticed that I was suffering from increasing joint pain, especially in my knees, which I’ve had problems with for many many years, but weirdly also in my hips and shoulders, sometimes elbows too – basically nearly every joint. After putting up with it for a few months, I felt the anxiety start to creep in. Now, normally I’m a pretty upbeat, positive person and even though I can tend to overthink certain things I have lived my life fairly chilled and have never experienced an anxiety like this before.
After talking with some girlfriends about varies things that woman in their 40s tend to talk about when they get together, one phrase stood out, a friend’s friend had been diagnosed with the ‘peri’ menopause. Huh. Who knew? Certainly not me! I thought menopause was hot flushes that women started to get in their fifties and they stopped having periods. I’ll state right now I’ve only had about 4 hot flushes ever, my symptoms go way beyond this. I felt so stupid that I had not even looked that much into menopause, even though I was heading into my very late forties and probably should have known more.
You see, no one really talks about the PERI menopause. For those of you who haven’t had the joy of hearing about this yet, it’s the bit you get BEFORE you stop having your periods. Yes ladies, you get all the symptoms of the menopause, and as a special treat you get a period every month too! I was listening to a ‘Postcard from Midlife’ podcast earlier and they both said they they didn’t know about the peri until they were in the throws of it either – we need more education!
I knew that this pain, anxiety and fatigue was not right, I couldn’t be expected to just live with this, but still yet not certain if I had some kind of vitamin deficiency or thyroid issues I finally went to see my GP. After many blood tests (I think I had about 12 in total) – I was diagnosed with peri menopause. Now, there is no straight test for peri menopause. I had to be tested to rule out the other things, including vitamin deficiencies, thyroid issues, a bone density test, and oesto-arthritis before it boiled down to menopause or fibromyalgia. My GP offered me to trial HRT, as if this turned out to be effective then we could also also rule out fibromyalgia.
What had happened to my practice during this time? – it became a few sun salutations, and maybe on a good day a few standing postures and then shavasana. That’s it.
And then came the guilt. The anxiety. The inner voice saying because I wasn’t doing a full practice every day I was not a proper yogi…. I struggled with fatigue so badly that I was just happy to get through a day most days.
I started to get terrible brain fog, I mean really bad, like some days I couldn’t even remember the name of body parts, a vital tool for a yoga teacher. Because my practice changed from full primary with all the vinyasa to sun salutations, I put on weight. (Actually the weight gain happens anyway, women put on weight specifically around the waist during menopause and that is sadly just a fact) I kept thinking ‘how can I be yoga teacher when I felt I didn’t look like one anymore?’ I know this is bull shit and we all come in wonderful shapes and sizes, but let’s be honest societies ideal for a ‘fitness instructor’ is skinny white girl. People also expect a yoga teacher to know her arse from her elbow! I’m an anatomy and alignment geek, so I was devastated. I started to feel like I was losing my mind.
Feeling at rock bottom, my anxiety escalated, it affected my sleep, – hello waking up as early as 4am, 5am if I was lucky. I felt like I didn’t fit into any of my social groups anymore, and even if I did, I didn’t even want to socialise. I stopped being my sociable self. I put ALL my social skills into my teaching and felt exhausted after that hour.
I had of course, by this point, done heaps of my own research so that by the time the GP offered my trail of HRT I was practically running out the of surgery and to the chemist to slap the first patch on my butt as quick as you could say ‘salvation’.
And it worked! The benefits of HRT for me are life changing. After 5 days I suddenly had a ton more energy and I woke up to only minimal joint ache, oh the wonder of oestrogen! I found through my research the support network of other women going through this time, I started following other ‘menos’ on Instagram, listening to podcasts and reading books and finally feeling like I was not alone in this crazy hormonal voyage…
I made an effort to get back to practice more, just 30 mins a day, but 6 days a week. And obviously that also helped my mental health as I felt like I started to get control back of my life.
And here I am, 12 months or so on from starting my HRT, coping and starting to really enjoy life again. Some days are a struggle. I still wake up at the crack of dawn and feel shattered most mornings. But I get up, have a cuppa, roll out the mat and breath.
Ekham, Slowly take my arms up above my head, Dwa, exhale and lower down to a forward bend, with knees bent and creaks and groans from my body, inhale, Trini, lift head up extend the spine, draw the expanding belly in….and so it goes.
I spend more time breathing and meditating.
I take a walk in the beautiful countryside with the dog and find gratitude that I am able to experience this simple pleasure. I know this, like everything, will pass.
There are so many symptoms of the peri menopause, and what is annoying is the one most people talk about or associate is hot flushes….they were the least of my problems, but I know many woman do suffer. Other symptoms can include, fatigue, sleep depravation, joint and bone pain, migraines, dizziness, weight gain, mood swings, impatience, itchy dry skin, loss of libido, vaginal dryness, vaginal atrophy, hair loss, memory loss, brain fog, yeast infections, IBS, bloating, painful, heavy periods, anxiety, depression, imposter syndrome, lack of confidence…and on and on. Hopefully your not going to experience all, and there is help out there (see links below) If you think you are suffering, nobody deserves to put up with this, go to your GP, remember there is no conclusive test, if you are mid to late 40’s it’s highly likely you could be at the start of this (some unfortunate souls start in their 30s) don’t leave your GP until you have at least discussed HRT. Get help, get support and know that you are not alone.
I now realise that your relationship with yoga should, and will, evolve with you, yoga will always be there for you but you might not look or feel like it used to. One day you are this lovely slim bendy yogi, and you will enjoy taking pictures of yourself looking slim and bendy making pretty shapes with your body. And then one day you are happy just to get on the mat and breathe, and it’s all yoga, it’s all still your own personal journey.
And that is the yoga. Accepting where you are on the journey, of the self, through the self, to the self. This, and nothing more. Whether you do it by focusing on fancy schmancy advanced poses or by sitting and following the breath, you are still doing the yoga. If some days all you can manage is a dog walk, that is still the yoga.
For information on peri and menopause I found these websites and instagram accounts really helpful: