Massage + Menopause: How Feeling Good Is Good For You

Massage for Menopause in Boulder

Do you have whispered conversations in the corner of parties about your menopause symptoms? Do you wear a fan around your neck for those incessant hot flashes? Are you struggling with insomnia, stress or migraines? Regular massage could help ease your symptoms! With the National Institutes of Health suggesting that up to 76% of women are seeking Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) solutions to menopause through acupuncture, diet, yoga, herbs and exercise, we deserve to know more about the positive benefits of massage therapy. Well Woman Acupuncture specializes in massage for menopause in Boulder. 

 

Despite the increase of women seeking solutions from CAM, there are virtually no evidence-based studies on massage for menopause. Perhaps this is because of the general confusion on how to best approach menopause in general? Menopause symptoms range in complexity: you might not have the same symptoms as your mother, sister or friend; you may start experiencing changes anywhere from age 35-50; you may have other health concerns that get added to the mix. It makes sense that there are not a lot of universal answers. Even in the 1940’s, in some of the earliest published articles about treatment of “The Menopause” as doctors called it, they were unclear in their approach to menopause—Are there possible dangers of long-term hormone therapy? Are medications that help regulate the nervous system better when paired with psychotherapy? 1However, one symptom noted in many studies as significantly debilitating is insomnia…and up to two-thirds of aging women experience insomnia.

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Insomnia In the Summer: Natural Tips to a Better Night’s Sleep

Insomnia can plague all of us at any point in our lives, at any time of year.

At our clinic, we often see a steady uptick in the number of patients who complain of insomnia and poorer sleep during the summer months. Believe it or not, there is actually good reason for this change! And, better yet, there are positive steps you can take to help get a better night’s sleep. 

The reasons for worsened insomnia in the summer are many, but the biggest culprits are longer daylight hours and hotter temperatures. Here is what we know about these things from a scientific standpoint: First, your pineal gland turns on when exposed to daylight and this causes the brain to wake up. So, unless you sleep in a deep, dark cave (ooh, doesn’t that sound great right about now?), you will likely find it harder to sleep as late as you do during the winter months, simply because the sun begins to rise so early in the day. 

As for the hot weather, studies show that there is an important relationship between body temperature and room temperature, which creates a temperature gradient that promotes restful sleep. If the room temperature is too hot, this gradient is skewed and you lose sleep. For menopausal women experiencing hot flashes, this can be even more troublesome because their gradient is already out of balance due to higher body temperatures. This can be very uncomfortable, and that deep, dark cave can sound like a perfect hideaway. 

Interestingly, these explanations find a perfect crossover in Chinese Medicine and go far in explaining how acupuncture can help insomnia. According to Chinese medicine, insomnia is often related to an excess of heat in the body. This heat is then said to rise upward and harass the Heart, which is one of the primary organs responsible for getting quality sleep, thereby causing insomnia. This heat can arise from an imbalance in your body’s internal ecosystem (which is what acupuncture is always seeking to correct) or from exterior influences, such as hot weather. 

Why is all of this so important? Isn’t a summer of less sleep part and parcel for the season? Actually, no. Studies show that sleep deprivation has wide-ranging effects, from physical ailments to decreased success at work. (Huffington, 2016) The occasional night here or there may go unnoticed. But several weeks of poor sleep can take a significant toll on every area of your life. And as our under-functioning selves become habituated to this new way of being, we may not even be aware that we are operating at about 40% of our potential, and so continue in this fashion thinking it is our new norm. Yikes!

So, what do we do to treat insomnia? 

At Well Woman Acupuncture, we utilize acupuncture and herbs to help clear heat and bring the body back to a state of internal homeostasis. But there are a plethora of lifestyle tips that you can follow to help support your body and your sleep cycle:

  • Avoid alcohol in the summer months! As tempting as a cold brew sounds at the end of a hot day, alcohol is actually quite warming and creates unnecessary internal heat. And while its sedative properties lead us to believe it will help with sleep, that plan can backfire later in the night when your body heats up.
  • Avoid eating too late at night. With the longer days, it is easy to have dinner later in the day as well. However, the process of eating turns on our “metabolic fires” and, you guessed it, creates more internal heat during sleep. To prevent this, have your last meal of the day by 7:00 pm.
  • Avoid spicy food and sugar, both of which can cause higher body temperature.
  • Keep your bedroom cool or sleep in the basement. The best sleep happens when your room temperature is between 60-70 degrees (reference #2). You can accomplish this by keeping the blinds closed, adding a dehumidifier or fan, sleeping with a cooling gel towel (I like Frogg Toggs!) or adding a cooling system to your bed.
  • Keep your bedroom dark. Use blackout shades or wear a soft eye mask.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet! Foam earplugs are a blessing. Wear them!
  • Stay well hydrated. Drink at least ½ of your body weight in ounces of water per day, evenly spread out throughout the day.
  • Eat foods that are naturally cooling to your system. These include:
    •  Pear, watermelon, blueberries, lemon, lime, mango (here’s a fantastically cooling Watermelon Soup with Mint recipe!)
    • Tofu
    • Celery, cucumber, asparagus, cabbage, lettuce
    • Mung beans, kidney beans
  • Read this book!
  • Consider acupuncture and herbs to help balance your system and clear any internal heat that may be interfering with your sleep.
Remember to keep your cool over the hot summer months and you’ll find yourself resting and feeling better as a result. And if the steps above don’t do the trick, just let us know. We are always happy to help!
References
1. Huffington, A. (2016). The Sleep Revolution. New York, NY, USA: Harmony Books
2. Osmun, R. (2015, May 22). Retrieved July 17, 2017, from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rosie-osmun/sleeping-with-the-seasons-see-how-weather-influences-your-sleep_b_7269960.html
3. Steelman, L. (n.d.). Retrieved from Real Simple: https://www.realsimple.com/health/preventative-health/sleep/summer-sleeping-heatwave

Woman On The Verge

I am incredibly lucky. And I feel humbled and grateful for that fortuitousness, for being blessed with work that I love. Every day I go to the office and help women find themselves. I’m not saying that I do the finding. I simply shine the light. And often what they find shimmering in that space is fearsome in its power. I see women in the process of becoming.

You see, my practice is devoted to helping women find balance. Hormonal balance, emotional balance, the balance between work and rest, between self and family. Often what brings women through my doors is that they are off kilter. The teeter-totter has swung too far in one direction and they are either dangling in mid-air or stuck on the ground, unsure of how to proceed.

When I reflect on who these women are, I find a pattern emerging. Each and every one of them—in this state of imbalance—is a woman on the verge of deep, inner change. They are the adolescent women, struggling with PMS; the women moving into motherhood, seeking hormonal support for fertility challenges; new mothers whose bodies have become vessels for birth and sustenance; and aging women who are neither new mothers nor menopausal, but somewhere in between, grappling with their changing hormones and the milieu of physical and emotional symptoms that accompany that transitional time period.

These women are all on the precipice of leaving what is known and moving into the waiting arms of the void. They are in the process of becoming the maiden, or changing from maiden to mother, from mother to crone. They are on the verge of utter transformation as they embrace new rhythms in their bodies and newly defined roles for living and being in the world.

o-LEAP-OF-FAITH-facebook

When women find themselves at this precipice, it can cause deep unrest, inner turmoil and maybe even the occasional desire to run screaming out of her own skin. But why is transformation so painful for us? I believe it is because, as women, we are inherently rhythmic creatures and any disruption to our internal rhythms can feel like seismic activity on a grand scale. We spend the large majority of our lives in a rhythmic coming and going of hormones. After adolescence, we become a living cycle, at one with the moon, always in a state of waxing or waning, that becomes our very state of existence. It is not even that we identify with our rhythms—we become them. And so when they are in this state of transformation, the balance is lost and it leaves us feeling unsure of who we are and where we fit within our own bodies. It can leave us feeling as though we inhabit an alien body, our internal compass broken and spinning wildly out of control.

Add to this that we are already out of balance with our human rhythms: we no longer rise and sleep with the sun, nor do we follow the dictates of the seasons as our predecessors did. We are a world of do-ers and workers and the very pace of our existence has sped up exponentially in an alarmingly short period of time. Our world is fast, fast, fast and we are in a constant battle to keep up. But it is more than our bodies were designed to do and our inner rhythms simply cannot keep the pace. We have forgotten how to BE. And this skews our ability to come into a new way of being.

What is there to do?

Chinese medicine can help, as restoring internal balance is the very premise of our practice. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are a valuable resource throughout a woman’s life, helping with countless maladies from the common cold to digestive upset. But during times of transition, Chinese medicine is an indispensible ally, smoothing the edges and bringing a renewed sense of structure to one’s changing hormones and emotions. I can personally attest to its power during my own feminine transitions, both as I struggled with fertility and during my transition into menopause. Each time, I found that regular treatment with acupuncture and herbs brought an inner shift that I did not experience with other health modalities.

tree pose on beach at sunset

But equally, if not more, important is the need to honor one’s own rhythms and reach for balance. Sensing that resting point on one’s own teeter-totter is key; and when you find yourself flailing or falling, seek within yourself for what will bring balance to that moment. Ask yourself the following questions (and be willing to hear the answers):

  • Are you tired? If so, how can you bring more rest to your life? I strongly recommend being to bed by 10:30 pm at the latest, as many hormonal functions occur during sleep and begin after 11 pm.
  • Are you overextended or working too many hours? If so, what would prioritizing your time look like? Consider scheduling time in your day that is just for you, or time spent with your children or spouse. When you look back on your life, those will be the moments that count, not the hours spent glued to your computer monitor or hunched over financial reports.
  • Are you depressed or apathetic? If so, how can foster joy in this moment? One exercise is to practice gratitude. List 10 things you are grateful for right now and say “Thank You” after each one.
  • Are you anxious or scattered? If so, how can you tap into your inner well of calm? The breath is an excellent way to get in the here and now. Music is also nice. I like to combine the two, listening to calming music while also watching my breath—this helps me breathe more deeply (it should extend your diaphragm, not your chest), which always helps me let go of anxious, fearful or worrisome thoughts.

To tap deeply into your human rhythms, I highly recommend the book, Rhythms of Change. It is concisely written, poignant in its message and relevant to our busy lives. The author helps us learn practical ways of regulating our own internal rhythms in accord with those of nature so that we can come back to an aligned sense of self. It is powerful in its simplicity and is a modern-day must read. I love this book! Rhythms of Change Mary Saunders

Finally, in the midst of a busy, work-centered, “yang” world, be willing to acknowledge your “yin” feminine self, along with the waxing and waning of your own rhythms. Embracing the coming and going of your own tides will help you leap through life’s transitions occur more gracefully.

~Kandace Cahill, DAOM, L.Ac., FABORM