What is consciousness like on the alien worlds with five suns or twelve moons? Unthinkable to us. Language, duality, polarity, metaphor, consciousness, light, night, season, cycle: on Earth all this rises in bodyminds formed by just one sun and just one moon. Culture and religion feel secondary: I suspect consciousness takes its shape from the lights in the sky. And goes from there, to the tides in our spines.
The species made up some solar religions, and also some lunar ones. And they also made body-earth traditions in which you get to worship both. I like the latter. Over time I forged a fulcrum on the inner and outer cosmos, in the form of a bodymind ritual that happens at the same time, and same place, and same points, in every cosmic cycle. Yoga for stability of the mind. This sameness is just a useful illusion, leverage for a body floating in space. But is it any wonder that testosterone peaks (yes) with the sunrise, and estrogen undulates as a 28-day tide within the tide? Nuh uh. We are little planets, made of planets, orbiting with other planets.
The tide inside is the fluid in the spine. Liteally! It’s called the cerebro-spinal rhythm or primary respiration. It’s a pulse that travels as a wave from the cranium to the sacrum and back, a couple times per minute. The first respiration begins when you live in a uterus, continuing all your life in fluid, not air. By my lights, “inhale up exhale down” is a mantra that very very slowly makes the inner tide conscious. God yes; give me a faith that moves up and down and surely as it moves left and right. “Oh yogi do not do asana without vinyasa.” Why? To genuflect with the body. Because there’s a sun and a moon.
Because tidal waves do show up in different fields of the self. For example, at menses estrogen drops as surely as the ocean sucks out to sea before a wave crashes. Over and over, year after year this goes on; and then the macrorhythm of this microrythm draws back and comes in like a tsunami. Estrogen retreats, menopause begins, and the newly- hypersensitive nervous system is naked ground. You can stand there and get smashed. Or get to elevation, higher mind, and witness what comes next in awe.
There is a specific, violent reason we don’t believe menopause is about beauty and power. But it is both. I’ve been there for it many times now. I’ve learned just a very, very little about the Change from teaching me through their experience.
The Change is taboo. There is a curtain of dread and shame that separates most of us from cultural knowledge of menopause.
Here’s a hint. PMS can be like a homeopathic dose of the Change. The small estrogen drawback that teaches about the bigger one to come. Shows you how to balance your system, cycle by cycle. So what is PMS? The little dread, the little disavowal, the little crazy?
I speak for myself here, but when I say this in person the women in my life nod. I live low impact, practice most every day, chart life by the moon, have been sattvic for 20 years. My take is that the estrogen shift of PMS makes one see all the true things. It’s huge bolts of intuitive knowledge a mind can’t even hold. It’s when you’re right; but if there’s been much undigested emotion the past month, the leftover feelings get uncorked. Fear, anger, and sadness surface in concentrated form. So if it’s been a hard month, the mental and intuitive clarity comes with some sort of cleansing, maybe in the skin or emotions or bowels. Real yoga, being folk medicine, changes that gradually. (No really, a lot of things called yoga won’t help here.) PMS is a report on how the previous month is still affecting you. Sorting this out over time conditions the hormonal system to move towards homeostasis when menopause comes. I’ve witnessed that this last part does not have to be hell. Not at all.
Smart men, too, learn these things. Through their beautiful reverent perceptiveness. The ones in my family envy my clarity shots. For me it is just one day in 28, when I get to see so much more. “You are always right; it just takes me much longer to figure it out.” For many, PMS is when you uniquely don’t care about being liked or making everyone comfortable; things people report not caring about much at all after the Change. PMS can be a hormonal cocktail of intuition and precision that gives knowledge of what it may feel like to be queen, crone, goodwitch or prophetess. Take your pick. There are others. The mature feminine’s a full deck.
The lunar traditions have methods to regulate the power surge when the hormones change. You practice renunciation. You hold the truth in your throat until you can unmix it from the emotion. Maybe you start the walk out to the red tent. With the yoga, you do not react to the emotion. Rather, sift it out from the intuition; and come through all this one cycle to the wiser.
So, menopause. Dread and disavowal hold us in ignorance. Another yoga tool is a Get Out of Jail Free card I don’t often use because it can turn into a spiritual bypass. But this situation is sufficiently dire for it. It’s “cultivate the opposite.” So if there is disdain, the countermove is compassion. For dread, I use curiosity where others go to welcome or playfulness or gravitas. And where one has projected insanity onto another, the move is consider their direct knowledge of hidden things.
It’s not like transformation’s easy.
Do you think you come back from your rebirth in the wilderness like you walked out of a yoga spa? Not if you faced death, and made your life again out of what you saw. Not if you converted your system to different fuel. Lost a self and gained a new one. Menopause can entail all this.
Change is never really easy in seasons of the self. But typically we ritualize and glamorize transitions. Finishing school, having a child, taking a partner. Even death we can pack with meaning and beauty. So what is the deal with the disowning of this initiation?
This might explain it. If menopause is the last maturation, it is what the uterus-bearer must face to stand beside the time-tested patriarch. Think about it.
The dread-shame is a durable emotional structure in public life. It keeps us from recognizing the power of the Change, and the knowledge and intuition of the matriarch that equals or exceeds that of her counterpart.
There is something insane here, and it’s not the post-menopausal woman.
Culture is cruel to her. If there’s ritual-cultural reverence for any identity-change along the lifespan, then a person integrates the past with the future. If not, loss of an old self is a lessening. We know it’s wrong to shun a person as they step across a life threshold. We see the marks that shame leaves, especially when it lands at crucial junctures. There are pockets of high skill in supporting a woman’s crossing over. But so far I’ve only found a few in the field of the taboo. So where does one go? I don’t know, but it’s not the medical establishment and it’s not western yoga.
We don’t have great stats on the female body. From the medical standpoint, there is no evidence that women even cycle together (1). Small wonder: this is the same system that holds the male body as the “normal” research subject because uteruses are too complicated. This system gave us HRT – a history worth knowing (2). Western medicine is great, but Claudia Welch (whose teaching counterpart is often Robert Svoboda; neither of them holds out their expertise alone) reminds us again and again that it does not help to expect your MD to understand menopause (3). It’s just too complex. I don’t know, but what I’ve seen so far is that in addition to an Ayurvedic, consistent, adaptable yoga practice that sensitizes us to the many energies within the body, the best practical tools come from shameless women on the other side who are in one’s family or community. What they experienced before you is relevant because they’re close in genes and geography. Fewer variables. There is some great reading in this domain, but so far I don’t see expert information being exclusively reliable. The happiest ones in the Change-space are those who become their own curious physicians. Different kind of science. Subjective science.
For now, western yoga does a disservice by taking little interest in the inner female body. I wonder, what great percentage of the yoga world is in the Change-window, which can last for one year… or fifteen? How many teaches don’t know they’ve appropriated a folk healing tradition designed to facilitate extraordinary liminal states, including birthing, dying, and the Change?
Please, do not let anyone jack the heat and close the windows and tell you to practice harder. Notice if they don’t notice your exhaustion, heart racing, or newly hair-trigger fight-or-flight response. Discern if a teacher can’t distinguish folk medicine from a photo op.
The work of a teacher is to be a book of technique they can adapt to the individual, in support of their whole life. Ignorance of the Change means we will not perceive and revere it. So many times in my twenties in the LA yoga scene, I heard teachers respond to women in their 50s who had instability of the pelvis (including incontinence and air release) by publicly telling them to improve their bandhas. I had no idea that the psyche and tissue of the pelvis (what bandhas are made of) experiences its own full revolution. None. It is just that crazy to live in a world not really guided by the knowledge of women on the other side.
Now I have some tiny idea. We can stop, go back, rehonor the female body. Relove. Rewonder. As she reanimates, regenerates, rewins, rewakes, respeaks, regains, regrounds.
For some short time, thousands of years, not everywhere and not forever, men ruled without women. Super weird move there, Earthlings. Your species did harm. Now there’s not much time to reverse the wars and the climate change.
Meantime there is fighting around sex and gender. This will continue until we discover the secret fulcrums that hold the battlefield in place.
If these two deep structures disintegrated, so much would open up. There’s more I don’t see, but these two are crystal clear. A matched set of taboos.
1. Men shall not try to understand the uterus. This is others’ business.
2. Menopause is to be dreaded. Is crazy and shameful and the end of you.
It makes sense that in the past those with a uterus did not trust those without to care about birth control. When women are responsible for birth control, a wall goes up in the form of disgust. Periods are ick; PMS is crazy. It seems like menstruation happens only for individuals, not also for pairs and for cultures. (No surpise, even medical science still doesn’t get that hormonal rhythms are intimately linked to every other process in the bodymind, and to a woman’s social world).
Not giving hetero partners at least equal responsibility birth control has consequences for their discernment around matters of life. Birth control that’s not a hormone intervention in a female body is a whole big experience of care, sensitivity, trust and responsibility through intimacy. (Thank God for hormonal birth control, by the way; it’s just that so many of us have gone through that experience, and deeper into our bodies, studied those drugs, and after years of worry and research eventually, ultra- carefully opted out.) How many agribusiness, and arms trade, nation-state, and social media CEOs are investing energy planning or preempting pregnancies with their partners? Hm. If they did they might know what life is. The ground floor of human reproduction, the main thing that we do, is not clear on their radar. Not yet.
But then this thing happens for those with a uterus. Concern about pregnancy goes away on a biological level. The energy economy of a woman’s body changes. In yoga, the life focus shifts to stabilizing her wisdom. Wow that is interesting. That potential.
How to fight this? Change the Change into a diminishment. Throw up a wall of ick at menarche, and double it down at menopause. Hm.
We know it makes no sense teach yoga without studying the history of colonialism in India – particularly what colonizers did to Ayurvedic doctors who had knowledge of yoga. Similarly, I submit that to understand the role of the mature woman in public life, it helps our hearts move forward to go back and study the burnings. Sorry. It’s sad. Earthlings: we burned the wise women at the stake for a long time, not so long ago. I have a weird feeling that menopause-dread is strengthened by a deep and rational terror of being publicly shamed or burned at the stake. We’re not so far out from that history. The last echoes may be in us.
This yoga is the cultivation of stability through rhythmic balance. Clarity comes from there. It’s understanding the elements of nature inside the body, threaded through the seasons on a planet that is never still. Collectively we have been out of balance for several cosmic minutes when it comes to integrating the experience of the female body. What would an resolution to strife around sex, gender and body identity look like? We have no idea yet. But it feels possible, and good, and sometimes very close.