Whether your predominant Ayurvedic dosha is vata or not, I suspect many (if not most) women veer towards becoming significantly more vata during their middle years. Its an evolutionary thing. We’ve grounded ourselves in rearing families and making homes, possibly bringing in the bread too, for so many years; then this opportunity (and it is that) comes along for more lightness, spaciousness, yes liberty. But do we take it?
Our bodies urge us along. As our reproductive cycle slows down…then switches off…we become dryer, lighter, airier in our cells. Or we are meant to; only, sometimes, the health picture we have already painted, and the lifestyle we have become embedded in, can fight against this impulse.
That impulse is towards becoming more airy in every sense of the word so our bodies follow suit; sometimes too emphatically, to counter the resistance they meet. Dryness, inside and out, can become the foundation of a range of “ailments”. We literally feel more as layers unpeel, becoming more sensitive than can sometimes be borne in response to triggers from the outside world; a world that often no longer seems to fit with our values, one that we deeply question the validity of from the angle of our new-found woman wisdom as we find (if we are honest) we just want to shake off all the shackles and burdens of a commonplace life. Again, if we don’t listen to the clues, our bodies can start to play out this metaphor for us…seemingly dismantling us from the inside out.
When women feel more in the way of “signals” from a world that provokes (I’ve talked about those hot-firey adverse pitta energies that run rife in our modern world in my previous posts) they can become adverse-triggered themselves…in ways that feel angry, frustrated, fearful, overwhelmed. When fire comes in at them from their outside circumstances, from triggers such as other people’s behaviour, fear-inducing situations, toxins in her environment or diet, even too much technology, that fire can make the woman shrink back from adding any more inner fire of her own. Why would she? She’s hot enough already. But then she must since inner fire is what is required to rocket-launch herself through her own next transformation. This is the paradox of our modern world; one that trips all too many women just as they step into the threshold of their next big evolution.
More than that; it can be a matter of survival to get that fire going since it is part of a crucial balancing act. A vata phase of her life is underway (lightness and space calling her at every turn…) and her body is already on that waggon, becoming increasingly light and dry in its cellular structure as hormones start to change shift. Add to that mixture all too many adverse pitta heat-sources from the outside world and a woman can start to feel depleted and fragile, like she is turning to dust and will be blown away in the very next wind. The word that feels most fitting is “desiccated” and this is a precarious state for the female body to remain in, even for a relatively short period of time. It is also a tricky one to recover from once the body starts to lose its vitality since the very qualities it needs to recover (warmth, moisture, substance) can be all-too much for the vastly reduced structures of the body to take back. She is like a plant left to dry out in the sun; which is why every woman’s body resists getting to this point, with everything it has…even to the point of seeking redress from sources of moisture and especially heat that are not helpful to it in the long-term. In this nutshell we have our modern female midlife health crisis; a sea of women who wash out (depression, inflammation, obesity, osteoporosis, hormone crises, thyroid issues…) or burn out (Alzheimer’s, stroke, cancer, heart conditions, diabetes, dementia…) before they have got much past their prime. “Big pharma” love it all; it keeps them in business.
A desiccated body is a vata-dominant body and it will seek the balancing doshas it needs from any source it can obtain them in order to return balance to the body. Kapha offers grounding and moisture…but can also lead to stagnation, weight gain, depression etc. and, really, its inner fire that a woman needs most during those transformative menopause years. When that fire is not offered on the inside, the cells of the body will grab at heat wherever it can get some…and that means all the environmental and situational toxins that generate that pitta fire response. These can range from electro-magnetic pollution (EMFs) in the environment to “fake” oestrogen (xenoestrogens) in plastics and water to the perpetuation of circumstances that generate terrible amounts of emotion and stress plus more bad eating habits than we can shake a stick at. We don’t tend to “see it” when we are in it but when we perpetuate a lifestyle that keeps throwing stress and triggers at us, we generate heat in our bodies…and we become addicted to these things because this heat is really the inner fire we are looking for because we aren’t getting it the way we should be getting it, through the rising flame of kundalini as a transformative force in our lives.
By way of an example, two of the classic things that I see just so many middle-aged women reaching for to provide the inner heat they instinctively crave and yet lack are alcohol and so many foods containing refined sugar. As they reach for that red wine bottle and those cakes and deserts like never before, during those middle years, they do indeed generate a sort of fire…only its the adverse kind, the sort that leads to widespread inflammation, liver damage, cancer, the kind of nervous system damage that results in later-life memory loss, stroke or dementia, debilitating weight gain, diminished vitality and self-esteem…and so it goes on. This situation becomes the “snake eating its tail” version of a woman’s middle years…the problem endlessly feeding the problem.
Even when she is asleep at night, a mid-life woman is absorbing electrical signals from her environment all night long and never more than during those all important dawn hours when she is meant to be waking up to her wisdom and listening to the impulses of the broader universe (more on this in my post on the arising divine feminine on Spinning the Light). Her nervous system has never been more finely tuned than it is now, since the departure of reproductive hormones signalled to her body that she is ready to evolve into a highly psychic being who is well-served with the broadest kind of information (not just the three-dimesnional domestic type that used to occupy her). A woman of this age is ready to graduate into a full set of skills; only, if she is deeply immersed in a modern-domestic lifestyle, she is probably scrambling all her own signals.
When she sleeps next to her mobile phone, under her electric blanket, with her Dect phone (those things are awful for health…) on its cradle near the bedroom, or if she is filled full of wine and junk after watching TV until bedtime…well, you can guess the effect. At the level of those nerves, brittleness takes her over…so her body over-compensates by laying on, or holding onto, excess fat and water. Water-retentiveness becomes bloat and inflammation to cushion life’s endless blows. Stored fats hold emotional wounds far longer than they were ever meant to be held onto, halting the easy up-cycle of valuable experiences until stagnation and rumination upon past traumas becomes an unhealthy theme. That stagnation and its toxic build-up lead to wrong instructions being carried out when cells divide and suddenly a major health problem is born. All of this began with a simple desire for heat…of the inner variety. You could call it kundalini; the fire of transformation only it was turned way at the door since there was already too much of the (wrong) heat going on…
The simple version of all of the above is, if you are a woman in her middle years, your body very likely wants to get lighter and freer and your inner fire wants to rise. And yes, you need to be grounded too (more on achieving that crucial combination in my post Tree of life). What you have to do next is work with your body to achieve that balance.
The desiccated body (which has gone too far into vata without that essential inner heat) will suck up all the “wrong” heat from everywhere else so the first thing to do is to encourage that inner heat to prevent that. First of all, keep warm at all times…even when you’re running hot, even when you’re flushing like a beetroot-faced menopausal cliché, don’t be tempted to fling off all your clothing to run in snow or open windows on a chilly night. Embrace that heat; your body is crying out for it and while you’re at it, stop fighting the meopause; its not a bad thing happening to you! Get into saunas if you can, even though you may feel like you already have one installed on the inside. Eat warming food, three times a day…salads and raw foods are the very nemesis of a woman going through the menopausal years (for all our culture advocates them as some kind of one-size-fits-all super-diet, regardless of age or constitution). The irony is, the more you keep your own inner fire burning, the less you will burn up with all the discomfort of intense heat; also less weight will tend to pile on since the body’s own digestive fires will welcome, and use, all you give it. Make sure you keep off sugar and alcohol as much as you can (preferably all the time); they do you absolutely no favours at this time of life and what you could handle even five years ago no longer applies.
The same goes with toxins in the environment so if you haven’t already, get rid of aluminium and parabens in your skincare products since your body will gobble them up (as readily available sources of adverse pitta-like “heat”) like never before, quickly pushing you into the toxic overload that creates widespread inflammation in the body (yes, your body is so desperate for heat that it will even crave inflammation). For that matter, stop trying to prevent sweat from occurring; if it is happening (and mine ebbs and flows according to where I am in what’s left of my fairly random month “cycle”), your body needs to get it all out of you, along with all the toxins that the moisture you are sweating is releasing on your behalf. Even the smell of that sweat tells you how toxic your body is feeling; and what it is trying to let go of so forcing it to stop is like an insistence upon keeping those toxins inside. Rather, the more I allow sweaty moment to happen, the quicker it is all over and I go back to hardly needing to worry about it most of the time as body odour is almost a thing of the past now as my system gets ever cleaner and lighter. One thing I’ve learned is how mid-life is not a time for a woman to give a damn about politeness or wet patches under her arms; not when her long-term health is hanging in the balance. It’s all about acknowledging (not denying) what wants to be let go of…and helping that process to happen.
As you can tell, release is the biggest theme going on for you at this time of life so encourage it (back to those saunas, also massages and maintaining plenty of excuses for movement in your day). Stagnation of any kind is the worst thing you could do to yourself so shake up your routines and alternate sitting with being on those feet, preferably for a long daily walk, rain or shine. Even a gym or vigorous aerobics routine could be all too adverse-pitta for you now, surrounded by all those super competitive lycra-wearing types with corporate stress on their minds; so find yourself a gentle yoga class full of other burgeoning midlife goddesses or join a walking group (whatever works for you) but keep on moving that body. By the way, man-made fibres may be “wicking” and all those other so-called benefits but their “plastic” fibres stimulate a build up of adverse-pitta heat in the body since your cells do not recognise them as organic or truly breathable and they store the very toxic sweat your body longs to distance itself from in their weave close to your skin all day long (yuk). Rather, stick to cotton, bamboo or other natural fibres even if you lose out on contemporary cool-points in your clothing choice. Drink excellent water (not the stuff out of the tap…), remembering that the water you are sweating out is being replaced by whatever energetic messages you are now carrying into it through your choice of beverage. Without hesitation, I say never drink commercial fizzy drinks (“sodas”) or cordials, whether they contain sugar or sweeteners (both terrible for you); the toxic load of their flavours and other additives is incredibly high and they are the scourge of the middle-years woman since intense thirst combined with a desire for a treat makes them seem harmlessly addictive. Caffeine (in moderation) is fine in the same package as theanine, which neutralises its harmful effects so drink green tea if you can but my advice is to avoid continuing the big coffee habit of your earlier years during this transition. Really, water and herbal teas are your very best friends in this phase; licorice and many other natural flavours and herbs found in teas can be so healing, balancing and cleansing. This is all very instinctual stuff once you open up to it; you are constructing yourself anew and you get to choose the building blocks.
An analogy I keep thinking of is the spider spinning her web. Tests have proven that when a spider is given substances that interfere with her coherence, such as caffeine or certain manmade drugs, her web-making becomes chaotic. I’ve yet to find the same kind of study using electro-magnetic interference but I suspect the results would be much the same if not worse. The more women of a certain age expose themselves to toxic interference of any kind, the more chaotic their cell-building becomes; and we need to be aware of this so we can work around it. Are we more susceptible to this trait than men? I don’t know for sure but I strongly suspect this is the case, probably because of the nature of our child-bearing hormones and how those down-scale remarkably quickly to make way for a major mid-life burst of evolution…one that occurs so suddenly that it is remarkably akin to what happens to the caterpillar becoming a butterfly. In other words, we are meant to “gobble up” and recycle the remnants of our former life and reinvent ourselves entirely from scratch during this phase…leaving behind the earth-tied, slow-moving form we have been used to in order to become creatures of lightness and air with brightly coloured wings that allow us to fly wherever the impulse takes us. Really, the second portion of our lives was never meant to look remotely like the first; we are meant to take off, looking fondly (but not regretfully) at the grounded years of making house for our now adult children. Unfortunately, modern life has streamlined our existence into one long continuum, a cradle to grave kind-of thing; which was never meant to be the way for women who undergo this total reinvention in the middle portion. We have become so adept at grounding ourselves with fixed structures, burdens, habits and responsibilities in the first few decades of our lives that some of us never take off when that time comes; our old lives acting like ballast dragging us down to the ground when we are meant to fly. A struggle ensues just as soon as those so-called problem hormones of ours signal that its time for the major change (especially if that change doesnt seem “convenient” to who we have think we have become and those dependent on her). That struggle, all too readily, plays out in our health; and women, all too readily, become the losers in the tug of war of it.
The sudden withdrawal of reproductive hormones is meant to be a fanfare to freedom but, in the above circumstance, can leave us suddenly exposed and vulnerable in the face of the same “troublesome” environmental factors that we have managed to remain relatively immune to during our child rearing years (when the body pools all its resources to focus on protecting the female parent…often by storing what it can’t handle well “out of sight” in the body). Meanwhile, as the body undergoes major cellular changes to bring in the necessary lightness and spaciousness for our midlife evolutionary burst, all those same toxins we have stored up in our bodies for the previous twenty or so years can be suddenly released, like an exploding hand-grenade inside a building. The effect can be messy and tragic. I watched this very thing happen to my mother as her dramatic post-menopause weight loss coinciding with a massive change of family circumstances resulted in such a monumental release of “old toxic stuff” that the strain on her liver was immense and the ensuing cancer meant she didn’t make it to her old age; it was all too much all at once. So, the key is to release whatever it is (toxins, old habits, belief systems…etc) slowly and mindfully whilst taking part in consciously building coherence into the body. Think of yourself as a foreman on a building site keeping an eye on the build; checking it against the blueprints for what you really want for the second half of your life, knowing those sturdy foundations and well-thought-through spaces will allow the building to last and evolve way beyond your wildest expectations. Building coherence into that design depends on you staying present in your body (yes, putting yourself first; unlike during the child-rearing years); present enough to make all the necessary conscious choices as they arise, as opposed to perpetuating unconsciously bad habits that no longer serve you. Your life has just changed…majorly…and the first step is to own that and become excited and creative about it. The second is to shed what no longer fits!
As I’ve mentioned, I’m a great fan of saunas when it comes to shedding what is old and stored-up in the body so I have an infra-red sauna in my spare room (they are small and pretty inexpensive). Lately, I’ve taken to singing along to a Deva Premal CD of mantras to pass the time while I am in there…and I was surprised at how I quickly grew to love and look forward to doing this, which went much deeper than I could easily explain. Then I realised that what I am actually doing here is actively building coherence into the body as I release what is old and obsolete out of my cells. As I sweat out what is now toxic to me, I sip plenty of spring water but I also sing super-coherent messages of love and positivity into that lovely water, and all the receptive cells of my body, as I do this. Science has already proven how words have a profound effect on water crystals (depending on the vibration of the words used – look up “Emoto’s water crystals” for much more on this topic) so when we take those crystals – eagerly, thirstily – into our body at the same time as gentle warmth is encouraging the body to release what no longer serves, we get to actively take part in the process of creating a brand new physical reality for ourselves. I come out after half an hour in that sauna feeling quite transformed!
The same applies to how and when we take food into the body. As you become more sensitive as a maturing woman (and you will…just, please, don’t fear or block this phase or your body will try all sorts of inappropriate ways to protect you from receiving all those brand new sensations) then you may start to notice heat and tingling, even headaches or brain-fog, when you are around laptops and computers, wi-fi hubs, everyday electrical appliances and certain kinds of lighting. Many people try to ignore or deny it when it happens…because it is far too inconvenient to conceive that the very things that provide so much modern convenience to their lives may be, at some level, harming or at least overwhelming their nervous system and the cells of the body. I elicited quite a reaction when I told my optician the other day about how my newly refurbished supermarket renders me virtually blind except for blocks of colour and general shape and sends me deep into brain-fog (I can’t can’t remember what I’m even there for, feel disoriented, clumsy, headachy…) as soon as I go in there, though I’m back to normal as soon as I step outside, since they replaced all their lighting with LED. I suspect this is partly to do with the way they mess with the light spectrum in favour of intense blue-white but also because LED lighting sometimes provide flicker at frequencies that are thought to induce a biological human response…though all I have to go on is my own intense physical reaction. She was taken-aback because she gets that effect too but had assumed it was “just tiredness” since she tends to go in their after a long day at work. This is how people talk themselves out of noticing things…wanting to “normalise” them rather than ask probing questions or rock the boat…and so most people just go home and pour themselves a stiff drink or self-medicate with food and TV. Once we know certain electric gizmos have this profoundly chaotic effect on our bodies, we can mitigate the effect by switching off or not using them at key times…such as when we sleep and when we eat; both extremely key times, especially for the metamorphosing woman! Watching TV or multitasking on a laptop, even conducting a family argument, while we take food into the body alters its structure…and affects how our body uses that food to build cells. Come on, it’s not rocket science to draw this conclusion (though science will catch up with the appropriate studies in due time, I’m sure). Woman wisdom tells us this stuff (and the long-time feminine totem that is the spider demonstrates it amply…) so all we need to do is act on it.
The importance of moisturising (inside and out) is another key thing to know about this important time of life. At last, we can forget everything we ever learned about having oily skin or problem T-zones; the rules have now changed. When we hit our middle years, our bodies are thirsty for moisture everywhere (it’s why we crave the whole cycle of “wrong” foods such as “sodas”, cream fillings, sweets to suck on to quench our perpetually dry mouths, salty snacks for our chronic dehydration, deep-fried cooking fats and other fatty foods then the highly acidic alcoholic drinks that mitigate some of the effect those “bad” fats have on us…). A plentiful supply of “good” oil plays a massive part in providing what the body is trying to tell us about moisture since it prevents the dry-rubbing-on-more-dry effect that becomes like a bad case of sandpaper in the cells. The body feels more comfortable, we become more resilient, we digest nutrient so much better and, in fact, our inappropriate cravings come to an end when we replenish the good fats that our body needs for its inner fire. The low fat diet has never been a friend to the middle-aged woman as she works to get her inner temperature up to lift-off point.
When I wake up in a room that is highly electrified (say, in a hotel) my stomach lining hurts in the morning; and it’s not about something I ate the night before but the effect of all the environmental drying agents around me while I sleep (wifi, air conditioning, too many electrical things left on standby etc. – all of these are adverse-pitta heat generators in the body). Oil in my diet and in my regular self-massage routine allows me to tolerate environmental triggers so much more readily and, buffered by these, my body doesn’t need to lay down fat or water-retentive layers like it used to in order to cope. The kind of break-outs that happen in my skin (and they do) now I am nearly fifty are actually far quicker to disappear when I apply oil than if I leave my skin to dry out or attack it with a chemical drying agent. A favourite is Neals Yards Frankincense oil for my face, along with rosehip oil at bedtime…both applied with a thin layer of Frankincense lotion on the top. I use sesame or almond oil for the rest of the skin on my body and an Ayurvedic oil infused with warming herbs for sore joins, neck and back. Healthy cooking oils that do not become toxic when heated, for instance organic olive oil, play a key part in my diet every day; and if you suspect menopause is making you tip towards more vata tendencies, you might want to consider increasing your intake of good oils in your food too. Even kapha-types can consume (lighter) oils and it is these “good” sources of fat that help to fuel the digestive fires (along with appropriate warming spices for your dosha); all of which helps to encourage your inner source of pitta fire in a way that serves your overall health. Make sure balanced omega oils (a vegan source if necessary) are a regular part of your daily routine at this time of your life; your cells will thank you for it. Nuts and seeds are a valuable source of natural (and body-useable) fats that can help support a woman’s health during this crucial time; far better for her than sweets and processed snacks!
Above all, it’s a time for listening to your body (not quieting it down, “shush”-ing it into submission…) and for following your own instinct, not the herd behaviour. If your body tells you that it no longer copes with a particular food or habit that you used to enjoy without difficulties not so long ago, for goodness sake listen to it. In my case, I gave up alcohol two years ago and have had to recently give up eggs and dairy – hard to do at first but I feel better for it already. It may be that you need to pull back from whatever it is for a short time…or to stop eating/doing it altogether; but you can sure that there will be many compensations for this decision up ahead as you start to feel not only better but lighter and freer than you ever have before. detaching food from the nostalgia built around it (“I like to eat this thing because it reminds me of family meals when the children were small…”) is an important and self-empowering step; for that was then and this is now. When you take out a food or behaviour that has been aggravating you, the body no longer has to deplete itself because of all the effort it takes to “burn off” what is so toxic or hard for it to digest (an entirely defensive stance) and so that inner warmth can be turned inwards, to sustain you, instead (now, a supportive stance).
A warm body is a sustained body; like a house with a fire kept glowing, golden and warm in its grate. That’s the kind of house we all like to linger in…and the same goes for the physical house that you “live in”; you are likely to want to stay in that body for a great many more years once you have your grate lit, shining its comfortable glow on the inside, whatever the outside weather happens to be doing. If this sounds all too “homey” and like the very antithesis of the “lightness” and “air” you may be craving in your middle years then consider this; when a woman makes her true home inside her own body, she gets to take that level of comfort with her wherever she goes. She can travel the world, become the gypsy that her soul calls her to be, and still she would have that golden hearth to return to, day after day. Now that’s the kind of freedom that feels like a very close fit for my later years, offering the kind of physical stability and deep, sustainable wellbeing that is portable, unconditional and unmistakably mine.
This blog, its content and any material linked to it are presented for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or prescribing. The material and opinions shared are anecdotal and should not be considered to be medical advice or diagnosis. Please consult with a licensed healthcare professional before altering or discontinuing any medications, treatment, diet or supplementation program, or if you have or suspect you might have a health condition that requires medical attention.