It’s not TMI. It’s time to #MakeMenopauseMatter

After aeons of silence and secrecy on the subject, open conversations are now starting to happen around the menopause. It’s about bloody time, if you pardon the pun. Every single woman on the planet will pass through this major lifestage.

Obviously, being peri-menopausal myself, this is great news. A bit like you only notice dishwasher ads when you need a new dishwasher, some of the content out there on menopause has really caught my eye. The trouble is, there’s just not very much of it, and anecdotal evidence from women across the UK suggest this is the case wherever they go to seek advice and support.

And recently, after being criticised for having to rely on a screen to help deliver a simultaneous oral translation to French (which, you know, is a bit of a brain feat in itself), I suggested to my male colleague that this recent development was because of my ‘menopause brain’. His response? ‘TMI.’

#MakeMenopauseMatter
#MakeMenopauseMatter

Seriously.

So what’s going on? Why the culture of silence?

Oodles of info on puberty, but not the menopause.

Thinking on the recent experience of my daughter, she got plenty of information, help and support on her passage into puberty, and the menarche. It’s something we, she and her friends openly discuss and there is loads of information and support out there, on any sphere and experience of it. Schools offer modules on it, from Year 4 upwards.

I don’t know about you, but my only brushes with the menopause up until recently had been one reference in sex ed, one in biology and my mother telling me that she was post-menopausal one day. That’s it. The information communicated was ‘your periods will stop when you get older’. Nothing physiological, nothing medical, nothing remotely social in terms of context. Certainly no mention that you might pass through this event naturally at an expected age, early at an unexpected age, or that a medical intervention might precipitate its arrival.

So why is conversation about menopause important now?

  • There are more than 13m women peri- or post-menopausal women in the UK. This is more than at any other time in history – seems obvious but it bears saying.
  • And what’s different now is that we are living much longer, and a significant number of women are working for most of their lives.
  • In the mid to late 20th century, our mothers and grandmothers wouldn’t necessarily have been out at work at this lifestage. Their experience of the menopause was very much ‘at home’ and it wasn’t talked about.
  • Husbands and families just understood the point of reference, mainly through Les Dawson’s ‘the change’ sketch (hilarious really, on so many levels) or jokes about wives hiding behind doors with kitchen knives and bursting into tears (not so funny).
  • Occasionally, mothers would pass on some wisdom to their daughters but usually only when asked directly, especially when the daughter is trying to divine at what age she may be start experiencing the symptoms.
  • There is also the connected issue of a widespread and creeping stigma of getting older, being seen as professionally and personally ‘past it’. Given our average life expectancy, a woman’s mature, post-menopausal phase is usually by far the longest!

Women can experience a plethora of symptoms related to the dropping levels of oestrogen in their bodies, for up to 10 years. The list is as long as your arm; all medically verified and waiting to be experienced. It’s a fact that oestrogen has a wide and varied role in our bodies, and there are health implications when it falls away.

Some women are lucky and experience only a few issues. The unlucky find their symptoms absolutely debilitating. Others even lose their jobs, or quit their jobs because they think they are unwell or have early-onset dementia. Some partners have said that the right support at the right time has saved their relationship. Having trouble making decisions? Find power surges unbearable? Heavy and unpredictable periods mean long meetings or away days are now a no-no? Palpitations and rising anxiety? Oh yes, this all happens. And more.

There is no reason whatsoever why this cannot be discussed openly and freely in this day and age. Its secrecy and stigma should be banished, for good.

#MakeMenopauseMatter

What’s happening now is a team of dedicated women are calling on the Government and the NHS, via a campaign called #MakeMenopauseMatter and a petition, to upskill professionals in the support of women going through the menopause. Our GPs don’t get much training on the subject, and although the NICE guidelines are out there, I’ve been told that many haven’t read them. And no, Mariella Frostrup, most women won’t be getting private medicine to support them in it.

  • Please join us in calling on the Minister for Women and Equalities and Ministers responsible for health, work and education named in this petition to #MakeMenopauseMatter, and sign the petition here.

And it is to the GP that many go, having experienced problems, things just ‘not right’, or feeling downright unwell. No disrespect to doctors here; it’s tricky to deal with a plethora of symptoms in a 10 minute slot, order the sometimes inconclusive blood tests and send the lady away with a solution that will help to make her feel better. It’s no wonder then that HRT is the solution that many doctors offer off the bat. But it’s not right for everyone, and as always, there are several elements of choice that need to be researched before finding something that’s right for you.

There are quite a few good (and some bad) books too on the subject but in reality most will turn to the internet so prominent ladies like Diane Danzebrink and Lauren Chiren offer a beacon of hope in what can be a very dark place to be.

So what can you do? Read, absorb the info, seek help wherever it comes from, ask friends and family. Get good at Boolean searching to find answers to your questions online, however specific. If your next stop is the doctor, arm yourself with the facts before you go, and a bunch of questions that you have that need answers. Book a double appointment so you have 20 minutes to chat (yes, this is possible).

Ultimately, it’s not for me to tell you what you need; I’m helping in a very small way by running a Ladies Lifestage yoga workshop for those local to me in North Wiltshire, which I hope might turn into a Menopause Café, where women can openly talk and support each other, rather than hide away and suffer in silence. I find yoga helps me in many ways, and with the help of content from far more learned people than me such as Diane, Lauren and Uma Dinsmore-Tuli I would love to be able to be available to support women through this time wholeheartedly. Namaste and good luck!

Annabel Wallis is a marketing professional and yoga teacher based in Wiltshire, and wrote this at 5am during the most recent phase of menopause-related insomnia.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/annabelwallis/

 

Natural rhythms

This week, I’ve been thinking about the cycles that mark out time passing. Possibly this is because I am now a woman at a certain stage and possibly because the weather has been so unseasonal until this week!

As mentioned in some of our Pranayama & Savasana recently, we tend to measure time in hours and days, the diurnal cycle that naturally fits in with a more ‘yang’ way of living. For women, we are often predisposed to being more in tune with lunar or seasonal cycles, especially when aligned with our natural rhythms. It’s normal and natural to be more extroverted during a full moon and more introverted during a new moon, for example, and this also follows for the seasons. We’re heading towards the summer solstice and the longest day, 21st June, and we can feel a strong urge towards more yang ways of behaving: busyness, fast-pace, hot, longer hours in which to do more, be more.

But STOP. We’re quite sensitive to illness and disease at these turning points of the year so it pays to sloooooooooow down and listen to our bodies. Rest. Take time to sit in natural light when you can for a few minutes of tuning in to yourself and your intuition. The days start to get shorter even though we have only really just hit summer. Notice how the light changes, the natural rhythms continue even when we aren’t aware of them. Frequently observing wildlife will show their natural rhythm, moving between seasons of yin and energy restoration to yang productivity.

Equally, if you’re a woman at a certain stage and find your hormones doing unpredictable things, this makes us feel disorientated and also very tired. Steer a calm course. Try to cut back on pressured things. Maybe hot yoga isn’t the right thing for you to be doing in high summer! Listen to your body. Google some intuition exercises to try to tune in to how you are really feeling. And breathe. Go for a walking meditation. Laugh.

We can mark time passing in so many ways – however, the sensitivity to our natural environmental rhythms is surely the most important for our mental and physical health. Tune in and feel the benefit. Namaste.

 

 

 

 

 

Be realistic…what’s your 2018 going to look like?

New Year, new perspective?

There’s no doubt you’ll have read oodles of content on New Year’s resolutions in the last couple of weeks, and there is also no doubt that this time of year always feels like a watershed moment. 2018 – it’s got a nice ring to it.

Whether it’s to do with the calendar clicking round to show another year gone (2017 went quickly, right?) or the anticipation of what a fresh new 12 month will bring, it’s easy to fall into making plans, resolutions, promises. Hope for the future is a great thing to have…the possibilities are endless! And I’m not one for squashing people’s aspirations, plans or desires.

There’s only one BUT…they need to be wholesome and realistic. There’s no point aiming for a dry January if you know Auntie Lil’s 70th is coming up and she loves a drop of fizz. That way lies disappointment. There’s also no point in saying that this is the year you will win the Lottery/lose 12 stone/become famous – there’s no sense of an achievable target there, and some of those forces are totally out of your control.

How about reframing those aspirations, hopes and dreams around a schedule of realistic, timebound goals that you CAN influence? That way, you are more likely to be able to chunk them up into mini goals, and feel like you are really making progress to the greater aim. And a timetable is good because it sets a path to success, but not if it becomes tyrannical, so be realistic in your expectation. In fact, someone trained in stress management once told me that all stress relief comes down to three words…’Lower Your Expectations’! If you feel the tyranny of your, and other people’s, aims and expectations, you can use this as your mantra 🙂 (and breathe).

Those of you who work in project management will know all this better than me…however, we all know the satisfaction of ticking another thing off a list. So try it…I’ve made my list of mini goals for this year, and I’ve ticked one off already. It feels goooood.

Be nice to yourself. Namaste.

 

Looking after no.1

You’d have to have been living in your own headspace/a cave not to have noticed the increase in discussions around mindfulness in recent months. I’m by no means a media barometer (I barely scrape the surface of iPlayer) but I have seen books galore, including by several celebrities, and mentions including some decent scientific due diligence in programmes such as The Truth About Stress (BBC1). It’s clearly become ‘a thing’.

You’ll probably also have noticed that in general, we’re not coping very well with the demands of modern life. I’ve not time here to go into the whys and wherefores of blue screens, multi-tasking and political policy, but it’s true that tempers are frayed, work hours are long and pressures are mounting, whether social, financial or otherwise.

Equally concerning is the increase in referrals to CAMHS for young people who feel isolated by technology, despite being connected to 500 friends on FB. Specialist charity Young Minds found that over 5000 young people identified their top concerns as the impact of social media and the online world, lack of access to help, school stress and unemployment. Over 25% of young people are turned away from CAMHS without help due to lack of funds.

What to do?

Our brains are certainly very good at going onto ‘autopilot’. Our internal monologue can easily run away with itself, and become a barrage of thoughts, lists, criticisms, explosions. I know, I live in my head some of the time and so do we all. However, our brains become attuned to reacting to thoughts in a very real way, sending messages to the body to increase stress hormones. And mindfulness has shown itself to be a way of ‘turning off’ the irrational brain and tuning into our senses, grounding ourselves in the present – hence mindful. This is why physical activity is so important too.

These habits start young – so the sooner we can create space in our heads for rational reflection, grounding ourselves in reality not thought, the better we’ll be able to tackle what life throws at us. Not always, but often.

Annabel will be fully qualified in Mindfulness & Yoga for Children from November 2017.

Charity Yoga for Sue Ryder – January 2017

Hello and Happy New Year!

It’s that time of year when you might be setting some resolutions for the weeks, months or even years ahead. If you’ve always wanted to try yoga but aren’t sure it’s for you, come along and join my trial class for charity on Tuesday 10th January, at 7pm in Cricklade. £10 per person, with all of the money going to Sue Ryder, as the hall has been kindly donated for free for the evening.

You’ll be joining lots of other newbies who are keen to have a go in a relaxed class – then you can decide whether it’s your new resolution for 2017!

Email or PM me for more information – and it’s all in a good cause.

Is there a bad yogi(ni) in all of us?

You may well have discovered that there is big back story to yoga. If you’re spending time in the gym for 60 mins of fast-paced Asana, you may miss out on some of this info, or you may not. There’s a real difference of opinion around whether it’s important to understand the spiritual and emotional elements of yoga or not, and many in the West don’t engage with this side of the story very much at all.

It may come down to lifestyle. There are many tenets of a yogic life that are not so compatible with our always-on, meat-enjoying, hedonistic culture. It may come down to your personal beliefs; I’ve seen many stories around whether yoga, with its roots in Hinduism, stretching into Buddhism (pun intended), is compatible with other faiths and belief systems. It may simply come down to an interest in healthy living and seeking an exercise or practice that is accessible, non-judgmental and self-exploring, where age and ability are no barrier to participation and enjoyment.

An exploration of the deeper side of yoga (the other branches alongside Asana) may yield a wider understanding of the context of the poses, and challenge your preconceptions of the yoga movement and its importance in the East, and how it has spread across the world. It may even change your approach to your diet, your rest and your work. At the very least, it may bring a deeper understanding of yourself and your body and give confidence and strength. I’m very mindful that I have people of all faiths and none in my classes and it’s a fine line to tread when they see you once a week for (ostensibly) exercise, so I tend towards a light touch of yoga theory. If you’re interested in finding out more, just ask your favourite yogi(ni)…they can recommend some further reading, websites to pique your interest and self-knowledge. Om shanti shanti shanti.

Learning about life

I’ve discovered a little gem of a website: The School of Life. I can imagine that for some of us, when faced with a name like that and an address in London, we think “that’s not for me”. Bear with: there’s a fair chunk of high-falutin’ stuff and London-centric events on there, but look around and you’ll find some very nice things indeed, especially around emotional intelligence or making sense of modern life.

The best bit to head for first is the TV section – a sweet selection of  very accessible animated films introducing such psychological mysteries as ‘Is It Better to be Polite or Frank?’ or (here’s a yogic one) ‘Why Is It So Hard to Live in the Present?’. There’s even one called ‘Taylor’s Swift’s Legs and Climate Change’. I haven’t watched that one yet, as I feel I have to pluck up the courage.

Now, they don’t claim to unravel all of life’s mysteries via their YouTube channel, but at least these bite-sized animations are made with humour and insight, and might just make you smile and think at the same time. And that’s a nice way to spend quarter of an hour or so. And maybe if you are planning a trip to the Big Smoke, you could add on one of their workshops to your day; they don’t seem too pricey.

My son loves the ‘Why Comedy Matters’ one btw. Namaste.

The cult of busyness

I hope some of you may have been able to catch up with the excellent series on BBC Radio 4 from Oliver Burkeman about that very modern problem, busyness.

I love a well-researched documentary any day of the week, but this podcast took my insight into how mindfulness might help our mental and physical health to a whole new level.

I won’t spoil it for you if you want to listen yourself (do make the time in your busy schedule…!) but here are a few vignettes:

  • Our society now values busyness as some sort of badge of honour, somehow equated to delivery, efficiency and success. A frequent response to ‘how are you?’ is ‘I’m good…busy, good’. Self-improvement is often at the root of busyness, as perceived status may now come more from reputation, driven by our underlying insecurities.
  • Busyness is a choice. Our brains can’t distinguish between tasks as to whether they are essential or not, they are just tasks, whether it’s checking emails or writing a chapter of a thesis. Our brains need a rest from these tasks quite often.
  • In the workplace, effort is now monetised rather than efficiency and the striving is part of the reward. How do you feel when you’ve read through all those emails after a holiday? You’ve probably not delivered much work by responding to them, but it felt good/busy to tick them off. (As an aside, I have a friend who deletes all work emails where she is only cc’ed…she says they’ll come and find her if it’s that important)
  • We regularly fall into the ‘scarcity trap’ by not giving ourselves time to think clearly and carefully. If we keep switching tasks, we fall victim to the Pashler effect where our efficiency drops by as much as 40%. Try to cluster similar activities together.
  • Our brains are naturally best at remembering incomplete tasks – this is known as the Zeigarnik effect and it adds to our feeling of a ‘busy, stressed brain’. We also tend towards structured procrastination, where we focus on tasks that give a feeling of progress but may have little impact. ‘Easy’ and ‘immediate’ are more tempting than ‘slow’.

The final episode in the series stressed that idleness is good. We are not machines but our work lives are structured as if we were. We all need good quality free time, and this might mean time being truly alone where we can meet with ourselves, check in and just think. Always keep 30 minutes of contingency for this in your day (and come along to yoga!). This gives us the space we need to figure out the stuff we really want to focus on, at work or at home.

With our life expectancy in the UK now falling, we all owe breathing space to ourselves and our families and friends. If you find switching off difficult, a whole mind activity such as yoga, games, knitting, sewing and colouring can help. Focus on the now. The Headspace website and app are also very good, and there are other similar offerings out there. Looking forward to seeing you on the mat very soon for our own antithesis to busyness! Namaste.

Finding your personal practice mojo

Along the journey of teaching and sharing yoga with you, I regularly mention the word ‘home’. Either ‘try these poses at home’, or ‘have a go at your home practice’, and I am very aware that many people in classes up and down the land make a mental note and then never find the time to step onto a mat elsewhere!

I understand; we can all be very busy. Even seasoned teachers find it hard to maintain a regular home practice. I listened to a podcast recently by US teacher Jason Crandell where he honestly listed his shortcomings with home practice in the past. So refreshing! He then very helpfully gave some fantastic tips for starting a home practice:

  • A regular time and space that works for you
  • Not setting unrealistic goals. There’s a reason you have favourite Asanas, so start with them, and don’t stay longer than you want to
  • Embrace distraction, whether kids/dogs/cats/neighbours
  • Don’t try and replicate a class environment/sequence in the early days
  • Being honest with yourself about why you’re meeting yourself on your mat.

It starts with a simple wish, to enjoy your yoga more. That’s it, no other intention is needed at this stage. In time, you will find your practice will develop and lengthen as you wish it, but at a level and pace that suits you.

Being honest and wholehearted will see you start your home yoga path in the right way, and see you right for years to come. And if you’re just too busy? Well, that’s a whole other blog post 🙏🏻 but we’ll start here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07w1dpx/episodes/player