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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Treating Menopause Naturally With Acupuncture

Navigating the Menopausal Transition: How to reduce menopausal symptoms and feel better naturally with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine.

One question we often receive at Well Woman Acupuncture is “does acupuncture work to relieve the symptoms of perimenopause & menopause”? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” Many women don’t realize that Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are powerful tools for reducing many of these uncomfortable symptoms in a natural and effective manner, and can be safely done without the use of hormone replacement therapy.

This topic is one that I am very passionate about. Having been in the throes of menopause since my late 30’s, I understand how difficult the transition can be, how uncomfortable the symptoms of menopause are, and I have great compassion for the multitudes of women who find this part of their journey disconcerting at best.

What are the symptoms of the Menopausal Transition? And what causes them?

So, let’s lay some groundwork. First of all, menopause is not just hot flashes and night sweats. And it doesn’t just begin with the cessation of your menses. Perimenopause, or the menopausal transition, often begins years before you stop having periods, sometimes spanning up to ten years. This is why it is called a transition. What many women don’t realize is that during this time, they can begin having symptoms that they don’t even realize are due to this multi-year hormone party.

During perimenopause, one of the first things changes to occur is a reduction in ovulatory cycles, or sporadic anovulation. This is because there are fewer follicles available as the ovaries begin their natural decline away from conception. With the decline in follicle count, ovulation becomes more sporadic, leading to lower progesterone levels and erratic pulsations of follicle-stimulating hormone and estrogen. These erratic hormone levels cause symptoms that often precede the hot flashes and night sweats that we commonly associate with menopause. This is called the “early menopausal transition”, and symptoms can include:

  • Short menstrual cycles, irregular periods or skipped periods
  • More severe and/or prolonged PMS symptoms
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability and/or weepiness
  • Weight gain and difficulty losing weight
  • Hair loss
  • Digestive upset, constipation, bloating
  • Headaches
  • Lower libido
  • And just generally not feeling like yourself…

As time goes on, follicle counts continue to decline and hormone levels become more erratic. Eventually, the periods become more spread out and the above symptoms can worsen. And we can also start to see hot flashes and/or night sweats, which are associated with worsened mood and more severe insomnia. Interestingly, many women often report that these perimenopausal years are often much more uncomfortable than true menopause.

Perhaps even more important than this decline in ovarian hormones is a change in adrenal function. The adrenals are an important source of progesterone and DHEA in post-menopausal women, which helps create regulation in the body as a whole. So, as ovulation begins to go by the wayside, we call on the adrenals more and more to provide the progesterone and other hormones that we need to feel balanced.

However, here is the rub. More and more women in our modern era suffer from some degree of adrenal fatigue related to STRESS. When the adrenals are taxed by persistent, high cortisol levels, progesterone levels fall even further, and hormonal fluctuations are much more pronounced. And when the adrenals are taxed in this way, our stress threshold is lower, menopausal symptoms become amplified, and our bodies respond by becoming even more stressed, creating a vicious cycle of fight-or-flight response.

Menopause sounds like a walk in the park, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, it isn’t. The menopausal transition can leave women feeling like they are on a roller coaster, no longer inhabiting the same body they’ve come to know and rely on for decades. Suddenly what was once a well-oiled machine based on regularity and predictability starts to resemble this:

So, what can we do?

This is the part where I become a bit of a personal crusader against the woes of menopause. I know firsthand how it feels to come apart at the seams and to find tools that help me put the pieces back together again.

How Acupuncture Can Help During Menopause: Steps You Can Take to Regain Control

There are certain recommendations I make to my patients to address the hormonal, adrenal and stress components of menopause. Following these simple steps can make a huge difference in how smoothly a woman moves through these transitional years. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some variation of  “Thank you! I feel like myself again!” after patients adopt these changes.

Acupuncture

Of course, acupuncture is the first thing I recommend. And I’m not trying to make a sell here…I’m speaking from personal experience. At 38 years old, I was having many brutal symptoms. I was still having periods, but they were starting to become erratic—sometimes early, sometimes late. They were shorter, lighter and I lived in a state of perma-PMS. I had my hormone levels checked and learned that my FSH was already in menopausal range. I was absolutely unwilling to go into true menopause at 38 (as my mother had), so the first thing I did was begin a weekly acupuncture regimen. Because I do what I do, I knew that it would make the most sense to start with acupuncture.

Within a few weeks, my periods had regulated and my symptoms reduced. At that point, I felt comfortable decreasing my acupuncture frequency to more of a maintenance level (once every 2-4 weeks, depending on my schedule). I also took Chinese herbs and supplements (which I’ll talk about in a sec) and continued this for 2 years or so.

Then life happened. I got busy, and because I was doing relatively ok, I decided to let the acupuncture sessions go. Weird to say as an acupuncturist, but there you have it. After 9 months without any treatment, guess what happened? My periods stopped altogether, hot flashes came on full force and I stopped sleeping. I learned my lesson and started back over with weekly acupuncture sessions for a bit until I felt things were more under control. I’m now back to a maintenance routine and while I am truly post-menopausal (it has been more than 12 months since my last period), I feel like my symptoms are much more manageable.

So, for women are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms, I recommend a series of weekly acupuncture sessions for menopause. This is because we are trying to reestablish a sense of equilibrium in the system and the body thrives on the regular input from acupuncture. We are building up a reservoir tank of internal resources, if you will, and spreading those initial treatments out too far can keep the tank from filling. Once improvement is noticeable, then we spread sessions out to a maintenance level, which will vary from patient to patient.

Herbs & Supplements for Menopause

Acupuncture is just a piece of the puzzle when it comes to treating menopause effectively. Chinese herbal medicine is another piece that, when combined with acupuncture, offers a powerful one-two punch. We house a full herbal pharmacy in our clinic and custom blend herbal preparations for our patients based on symptoms and where they are in the menopausal transition. We find that using both acupuncture and herbs helps them feel better much more quickly.

In addition to herbs, we recommend a few key dietary supplements. There are aimed at regulating hormone fluctuations, improving mood and reducing hot flashes. Some of these are:

  • Evening Primrose Oil
  • Vitamin D3
  • Fish Oil or other EFA’s (if vegetarian)
  • Adrenal Support

Nutrition in Menopause

Diet also plays a key role in determining how smooth the menopausal transition is. Adopting dietary changes is certainly individual and there is no one-size-fits-all regimen that we recommend. But there are some basic changes that are helpful, some of which are based on Chinese medicine theory. These include:

  • Avoiding processed foods (especially those containing high sodium and that are laden with processed carbohydrates)—these foods contribute to bloating, water retention and weight gain, as well as increasing systemic inflammation, none of which help your hormones—and mood—be regulated.
  • Have the majority of your meals consist of protein, fats and vegetables.
  • Consume organic food as often as possible.
  • Avoid sugar in all forms, but especially processed, refined white sugar. Sugar increases inflammation, causes hormone dysregulation and taxes the adrenal glands, all of which have negative consequences for Perimenopausal symptoms.
  • Reduce alcohol and caffeine to no more than 2 alcoholic drinks per week and 1 serving of caffeine per day (if at all)
  • Reduce intake of acidic foods, as these contribute to hot flashes.
  • Drink 80-100 ounces of water per day.

 Exercise during Menopause

Regular exercise is an imperative part of any perimenopausal regimen. Exercise does all of the following:

So, what kind of exercise is beneficial? Studies show that all exercise is beneficial for menopause symptoms, but that the most benefit comes from 45 minutes of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise 3-5 times per week, coupled with moderate strength training (a total of 2 ½ hours of exercise per week)

However, it is important to add that Chinese medicine views the menopausal process a bit differently than these guidelines suggest. In our thinking, it is important to honor the “yin” aspect of the self as you move through menopause, which is important for bringing balance to your reproductive hormones. Yin is represented by slowness, gentle breathing, quiet introspection. So, while exercise is absolutely imperative, it is also good to incorporate more “yin-style” exercise into your daily regimen. Things like gentle yoga, walks in nature, qi-gong, tai-chi are all types of exercise that fit this description.

Moving through Menopause with Grace, Humor and Ease

Finally, we come to our final point for helping make this time one to celebrate, rather than one to hate. And this may be the most important tip of all. It is this: do what brings you joy and allow time for creativity and communion (with self, with others, with nature, with Spirit).

This could be a blog in and of itself (and, in fact, is interconnected with the theme of this one. It is so deserving of more air time that I may well expand on it at some point. But here is the basic introduction for now.

As our internal resources move away from procreation, there is more available for a different kind of creativity—personal expression, connection to beauty and sharing the wisdom we have accumulated through our lives with next generations. In response to this shift, our physical/mental/emotional energy becomes more inward-focused and our rhythms become slower. I believe that much of our suffering through menopause comes from being out of rhythm with ourselves, trying to keep up with the fast-paced nature of the world (which is continually gaining speed), while our bodies want to tune in to our natural processes. The more we resist these internal cues, the push-pull creates internal chaos, manifesting in worsening symptoms.

In essence, it is important to do more of these things:

  • Spend time in nature
  • Take up creative projects
  • Commune with other people who share your vision and dreams
  • Watch funny movies. Laugh. Dance.
  • Embrace joy and share it with others!

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is important to know that, yes, you can move through menopause with yourself intact. It is possible! By adopting these simple strategies, you can feel more alive, more yourself, and enjoy the next stages of your life in a way you didn’t even know was possible. Think about what lies ahead: a you that is present and aware, guided by the wisdom of all of your previous versions of Self. It can’t get any better than that!

Interested in exploring acupuncture further? Contact us for a free consultation!

 

Pathway to Pregnancy, Part III: Postpartum & the 4th Trimester

by Julie Johnson, L.Ac.

 

In this final installment of our series, The Path to Parenthood, we will discuss the POSTPARTUM period with a focus on self-care for mamas.

So. You are having a baby!

Your approaching due date brings with it much anticipation and excitement. The to-do list is bursting with supplies to buy (Diapers! Breast pump! Baby Bjorn!) and tasks to complete (Paint nursery! Hang mobile! Decorate with butterflies/dinosaurs/giraffes/something adorable!)

For many new parents, the nesting instinct comes on strong: Let’s make sure that we have everything we need to meet our little one’s needs and welcome him/her into the world. It’s fun and easy to focus on these details, because the fun part of having a baby is, well, the baby!

 What may not make it on to your to-do list, however, are preparations for postpartum self-care that go beyond enlisting Grandma for baby-sitting help or asking your best friend to bring over a few meals in the early weeks.

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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