This year I turned 40. I knew there was something special about this age, and I wanted to prepare for it in the best way I knew how, just as I had prepared for the birth of my children, the first a water birth at a midwife-led birth centre, the second at home in my front room. So, I began to look for role models, women over 40 who were bold, creative and living joyfully.
This is when I came across the book A Glorious Freedom: Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives by artist-author Lisa Congdon, herself an example of a woman embracing her talents, facing fears and finding the courage to be the most authentic version of herself in midlife. Each story in the book was inspiring, from women trying new activities such as surfing to starting new careers in the outdoors. But one quote from singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge struck me in particular:
‘We are getting older, and we are getting wiser, and we are getting freer. And when you get the wisdom and the truth, then you get the freedom and you get the power. And then – look out. look out.’
At the same time as I began seeking inspiration from older women, I also began to experience what I now understand to be symptoms, or signs, of peri-menopause. Peri-menopause is the period in a woman’s life leading up to menopause, which can start in your late thirties or early forties and last anywhere from a couple to 10 or more years. Menopause is defined as the point at which a woman’s periods have ceased for 12 months.
For me, peri-menopause showed up as irregular and scant periods, where my menstrual cycle had always flowed easily, regular, reliable and consistent in its effects of my body and mind, I never knew when they were going, or if they were going, to show up, or for how long. I also experienced levels of anxiety that were unfamiliar, as well as a deep, unsettling sense of uncertainty. During one-to-one sessions with private yoga clients of a similar age, often a little older, I noticed that they were reflecting similar experiences back to me.
I also realised that, like the positive aspects of menarche, menstruation, pregnancy, birth and mothering that inspired me, peri-menopause was not openly talked about. In fact, it felt like there was a silence that women themselves were afraid to break. Peri-menopause was lurking in the shadows between comments about challenges and difficulties in personal or professional lives, explained away as ‘this time of life’.
The more I observed my own ‘signs’ while seeking support from trusted friends, yoga teachers and women’s health practitioners, and to gently question and listen to the experiences of other women, the more I started to understand what Etheridge meant by her quote. When you allow the ‘pause’ to happen, create space to stop and reflect, feed your creativity in new ways, orientate your life around pleasure and what brings you most meaning and joy in your life, then you get the truth, and then you get the freedom, and then you get the power. It comes slowly and silently, like a smile spreading or a forest growing, and with it comes a renewed sense of energy, focus and purpose.
Throughout these early years of peri-menopause, yoga has continued to be an anchor, as well as a practice that keeps my mind and body healthy, free and (mostly) calm and centred. In those moments when I feel the fear, when I don’t know where the path ahead is leading me, yoga brings me back home to myself, and back into the present moment. And, in the present moment, everything is always OK, exactly as it should be, perfect in all its imperfections. Those uncomfortable emotions have something to tell me – whether its simply the need to take more rest or to be more honest, open and boundaried in a relationship – and the easier emotions tell me that I’m doing just fine, that I’m heading in the right direction, that I’m following my heart, taking care of my soul.
This Autumn I will be offering a series of three-hour workshops at Trika Yoga in Bristol, UK, focused on women’s health. The first in the Women’s Wisdom Series celebrates and creates space for women experiencing or with a desire to prepare for Perimenopause. (You can book direct with Trika Yoga here.) I look forward to welcoming you, whatever your experience at this stage in your life. Through sharing knowledge and wisdom, creating space for pause and enjoying being and moving in our bodies, we can embrace and access the power that is inherent in each of these rites of passage in the women’s life cycle.