After months of hot flashes, fatigue, and irritability, oftentimes the last thing a woman in the throes of menopause wants is to be touched. Yet, this is exactly when a woman needs to experience touch, especially massage and bodywork. When she most needs to be nurtured, comforted, and reminded of her beauty and inner spirit, is often when a woman's body rebels and begins fighting against her.
Many say touch, and a host of other complementary therapies, can rebuild a woman's trust with her physical self and help her ride through the transition known as menopause. For the 4,000 new members joining the club each day, that's good news.
Menopause -- The Stages, The Symptoms
A natural occurrence in life, menopause usually begins in a woman's early 50s and signals the end of her reproductive years. Just as with pregnancy and childbirth, each woman experiences menopause differently. Some women sail through this time without much trouble, others are debilitated by the laundry list of symptoms that accompany it.
Menopause has three stages, each presenting varying degrees of challenges. Perimenopause is the first phase and usually begins a few years before full-onset menopause begins. Menstrual cycles change and become erratic, while hormone production begins to diminish. Hot flashes and some of the other more intense symptoms can start during perimenopause as well, although they usually occur in the second stage, known simply as menopause.
During this second phase, all the symptoms you're going to have will make their arrival, hormones take an even greater nosedive, and menstruation stops. Symptoms can last as few as two years or go on for a decade or more. Most women hover around the five-year mark.
The final stage of menopause is postmenopause. It's at this time, with all the hormonal changes in effect, that women are especially susceptible to the ravages of osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer.
The symptoms accompanying menopause are both varied and extensive, with hot flashes winning out for the most recognizable of them. Some women will notice slight changes in their body temperature when a hot flash strikes, others will have the full-blown effects of flushed face, intense heat, profuse sweating, even disorientation.
Other symptoms of menopause that don't get as much fanfare include insomnia, irritability, irregular menstrual cycles, night sweats, skin and vaginal changes, fatigue, memory loss, anxiety, headaches, and depression, to name a few. If not addressed, the intense hormonal changes that occur, especially the reduction of estrogen in the body, can lead to more serious problems, such as glaucoma, bone loss, and heart disease.
HELP IS ON THE WAY:
Massage is something often recommended to menopausal clients for a number of reasons. "It helps with the changes they're experiencing at this time in their life, it honors their changes and allows them to nurture themselves for healing."
Bodywork for the menopausal woman doesn't have to end with traditional massage. A personalized selection of treatments can make the transition even more tolerable.
Acupressure has been used to stimulate the adrenal, pituitary, thyroid, and parathyroid glands in an attempt to balance hormone production and reduce the frequency of hot flashes. It can also help get energy (chi) moving to the nervous system, which will improve memory and concentration.
In the same vein, reflexology is said to focus on the health of the pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands, but can also bring balance to the reproductive organs.
Another popular option for women experiencing menopause is reiki. Reiki can balance the systems of the body, including hormonal levels. This self-balancing, maximizes the body's natural ability to heal itself.
In addition to menopause, reiki is said to be effective for most female problems, including infertility. reiki work wonders on women who have very painful menstrual cramps, with relief coming in as little as five minutes.
Yoga has long been prescribed for stress reduction and is said to alleviate other menopausal symptoms including depression, hot flashes, mood swings, and insomnia. The deep breathing associated with yoga works for menopause by improving blood circulation, maintaining muscle tone and flexibility, and increasing the mood-regulating chemicals in the brain. It also massages the internal organs, encourages strong bones, makes the heart work efficiently, and tones the interior and exterior muscles.
Herbal options have been used by women for centuries to help cope with menopause. Dong quai and ginseng are two of the more popular options for calming hot flashes. Experts say these herbs reduce the intensity of hot flashes by adding plant estrogens to the body, offsetting the estrogen deficiency caused by menopause. Still, these same experts would advise not taking an individual herb for the relief of hot flashes without first consulting an herbalist, as plants can be just as powerful as pharmaceuticals. In addition to herbal help, various vitamin and mineral supplementations have shown beneficial to menopausal women (i.e., calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, flaxseed).
Nutrition -- We all know how important a role diet plays in overall health, and the same can be said for the menopausal woman. Most particularly, there are many foods rich with natural plant estrogens, including apples, barley, carrots, cucumbers, flaxseed, licorice, olive oil, papaya, peas, potatoes, soybeans, tomatoes, and yams. On the same note, if taking a "menopause diet" seriously, it should also include the elimination of excess sugar, caffeine, and junk food, as these exacerbate symptoms significantly.
Aromatherapy can offer help to the 50-something woman, too. Here are some examples: Basil alleviates fatigue, lavender works against insomnia, jasmine fights depression, and sage balances hormones while easing tensions.
Exercise -- According to experts at Holistic-online.com, "without doubt, exercise is the most important alternative therapy available to the menopausal woman." They go on to say that exercise helps a woman control her body and emotions by using her internal resources: "Each time you exercise, your adrenal glands are stimulated to convert the male hormone adrostenedione into estrogen. A minimum of four, 30-minute exercise sessions a week will be enough to keep you 'topped off' with estrogen." This, in turn, can reduce the likelihood of severe hot flashes.
Just as there are many faces of the menopausal woman and her condition, there are many avenues of treatment as well. Reminding clients that this is a time to honor their changes will go a long way toward their health and well-being. Tornstrom says, "You do the best you can to educate clients ... to ease some of their stress and tension, to help them cope with what they're going through, and to just be there as a support for them."