By Fi Riley
As I came into a deep forward fold, the teacher’s voice invited us to let go of anything we were holding onto, and within seconds my mat was wet with a flood of tears. You could have offered me $1,000 to stop and I wouldn’t have been able to. This thing was bigger than me and I was tired of it. What I had been holding onto was my diagnosis of menopause before the age of 40 and after a challenging few weeks of rollercoaster hormones I was done. I felt flat, broken and I utterly hated my body.
I wanted to be on my sofa, mainlining chocolate. Instead here I was, expanding my yoga knowledge, digging deeper in my physical and philosophical practice, and discovering I had an awful lot I needed to let go of.
This moment comes back to me again and again when I think about how I navigated the two years since my diagnosis. In a way it was the very first step on my journey to acceptance.
At 38 I was diagnosed with Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI), triggering menopause. It was a difficult time for me mentally and physically, as the symptoms that showed up in my body and mind began to change and challenge me daily. Hot flushes, sore joints, nausea, brain fog, feeling weepy, being constantly exhausted… the list went on.
I felt like an entirely different version of myself and didn’t know how to get back to being me.
When first diagnosed, I was living in the UK and there was a wave of information exploding about the menopause. A campaign spearheaded by a menopause specialist and publicised by a TV personality through hard hitting documentaries meant the taboo of menopause (that thing we utter in hushed tones because, you know, women’s stuff) was being dismantled and empowering conversations were emerging. I felt able to share with work, friends and family what I was going through, reducing the shame I felt about my body and this label I struggled to identify with.
Empowerment and menopause was something I would learn more about very quickly. Through exploring my menopause and how yoga helped me, I stopped seeing it as something negative and realised I could be part of the empowering menopause conversation. Yoga made such a difference to how I faced my diagnosis and I wanted to share this with other women going through something similar. Menopause and yoga felt connected and the mission to make yoga accessible to menopausal women felt like a calling.
I applied to train with Petra Coveney, founder of Menopause Yoga™ – a unique style of yoga offering an holistic approach to help alleviate menopause symptoms. I was in a room with like minded yogis, all going through what I was going through and keen to learn how to teach a new style of yoga to empower other women, as they journeyed through their menopause.
This style of yoga was more than just a physical practice – it was also a safe space, breathing techniques, meditation, a restorative reset and a place to journal and reflect.
Yoga means to yoke – to unite – and bringing a group of women together to unite in this way felt like a true reflection of the fundamentals of yoga.
It was an approach that would work for experienced yogis and novices alike. Most importantly, it empowered and educated women so they felt able to embrace the change. It was this shift that was a lightbulb moment for me: I had been managing the symptoms, resignedly accepting the diagnosis, but it had taken me a while to reach the point of being able to embrace the change.
How could yoga help you navigate your menopause?
The five things I found most helpful when I was first facing my menopause diagnosis through my yoga practice were:
- Being in touch with my body. A regular physical practice helped me track what I was feeling. Knees cracking today? Feeling too lethargic for a strong flow? Feeling a flush of energy? Listen to your body and let it take you to your practice. Movement can help us connect to our bodies to learn how our symptoms show up. Personally I found my yin practice was the biggest comfort to me when I was having really strong symptoms as it helped me to sit and reflect on them in the moment.
- Being in touch with my breath. Hello pranayama! Such an accessible way to self soothe and bring calm into your practice. Breathing techniques can help us calm our nervous system and bring about a host of relaxing benefits. If symptoms were overwhelming I would take 5 minutes out of my day to focus on my breathing and use it as a reset.
- Being in touch with my mind. It took a long time for me to realise how angry I was at my body and that I needed to take steps to forgive it. I found creating time to meditate in my day helped me to heal.
- Journalling. Journalling is a brilliant mindfulness technique and complements any yoga practice. I could write an entire blog about the power of bullet journalling, but having a space where I could capture thoughts and feelings helped me to not only be honest with myself about my symptoms and mood, but also the habits helping me manage them.
- Self care. There were days when I wanted to just lie in the bath and read a magazine. There were days when I almost created a fire risk in the front room with the candles I was lighting to create ambience. There are chocolate manufacturers that really owe me some dividends. But that’s ok, because self care is important for our wellbeing. Do something nice for yourself when you feel down or make an inviting space for your practice. Create a lovely experience for your body. Create a soothing sanctuary for your mind. They’re going through a tough time and might need a little love.
Every woman’s menopause journey is unique and navigating it will look different for different people. Menopause yoga ™ workshops are one of the tools we have available to help us to alleviate symptoms as part of an holistic approach to menopause. I’m passionate about sharing these unique workshops with as many women as possible to help kickstart the menopause yoga conversation in New Zealand.
Fi is on a mission to provide balance in a world of busyness. A 450 hour RYT qualified teacher, she offers a nurturing and inclusive space for those who wish to practice. She is passionate about helping everyone access yoga and feel the benefits of having a regular practice. Trained in vinyasa, yin, restorative and specialising in Menopause Yoga ™, Fi creates open classes to allow all bodies and all levels to join in. She was trained in London and is now based in Auckland. Visit www.flowwithfi.com to find out more or follow her on https://www.instagram.com/flowwithfi.yoga/