By Clarissa Kristjansson
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views menopause as a natural progression and a key part of what’s called “The Three Golden Opportunities”. Menstruation, Postpartum and Peri-Menopause. How we perceive, experience and embody these “opportunities” will be reflected in our overall vitality and how gracefully we age.
Everything in TCM is governed by natural law. While you can’t control the fact that you will age, you do have control over the quality of your health as you age. Everyone is born with a set amount of ‘Jing’ a “concentrated creative power” that is passed to us from our ancestors and parents. Our Jing acts as our reserves of energy and is related to our hormonal and reproductive functioning.
The role of life cycles in menopause
In Daoism a woman’s life is divided into cycles, with one cycle occurring every 7 years. These are called ‘Tiangui’, or ‘heavenly tenth’. With each cycle, we have opportunities to potentially enhance vitality or wreak havoc on our health and our Jing.
Interestingly, TCM has always advocated early preparation for perimenopause to prevent more difficult symptoms and experiences in later life cycles. And at each stage, we can make significant changes to our behaviour, thoughts and emotional responses that can minimize our symptoms or make them worse and prevent or accelerate the decline in Jing.
Cycle five age 35-41: rejuvenation
The early preparation for menopause. This cycle marks the start of a slow decline and an opportunity for reflection and refinement around our lifestyles. And at this stage we can oserve our habits and question them:
What is, and what is not working for you?
You can work to slow the decline of Jing and better manage your menopausal symptoms by adjusting your lifestyle to more being vs doing, more nourishment vs deprivation.
Cycle six age 42-48: detoxification
In traditional Chinese facial diagnosis, this is the time a woman begins to ‘own’ her face, look and examine her wounds and traumas so she can move forward with grace. Life reveals itself as we near the cessation of our menstrual cycle. This is a time to ground into the body and listen to its messages:
How do you feel? Do you feel depleted from overexertion and taxation over the years, or do you feel vital and stable from strong rejuvenation rituals and practices? What needs to be removed because it no longer serves you?
Cycle seven age 49-55: water phase
This is the time of the Wisdom Keeper. Our work here focuses on embracing the end and death of our reproductive years. A time for deep reflection and rest.
What are your feelings surrounding this ending? How are you experiencing the change and transition? Do you practice longevity exercises?
Cycle 8 and beyond age 56+: the rebirth
Our Second Spring is a time when obligations shift from being outwardly focused on the needs of others to honouring the self.
What do you want to cultivate? What do you want to birth? Are you ready for expansion?
The TCM view of root causes of menopausal symptoms
As we age, our Qi (life energy) naturally declines. This means we have less energy to “spend” on our daily routine. If no adjustment is made for this energy “gap,” the body and its organs will be affected.
In TCM the Kidney and Liver are two organ systems integral to women’s health. The Kidney is the powerhouse of the body’s Qi. It stores energy reserves and sends Qi to organs that may be deficient. When the Kidney itself is weak, as it often is in perimenopause, then every organ, and a woman’s overall health, will eventually be impacted if there is no attempt to nourish and tonify the Kidney Qi.
The Liver controls the smooth flow of blood, Qi and emotions. The common perimenopausal emotion that resonates with the Liver is anger. Chronic stress and anger can deplete the Liver of its Qi. Most people do not fully realize the powerful effect of thoughts and emotions on their health.
According to TCM, most menopausal disorders fall under kidney and/or liver Yin depletion. This manifests in hot flashes, waking often at night around 3:00-4:00 a.m., dreamy light sleep, irritability, memory loss, dry eyes, mood swings, and irregular periods. A smaller percentage of symptoms fall under kidney Yang depletion and result in symptoms including low back soreness, incontinence, water retention, fatigue, indigestion, and weight gain.
It is also recognized that key lifestyle factors can make symptoms more challenging. In TCM these 4 key areas are the ones that require the most attention:
- Emotional stress and trauma
- Inconsistent positive dietary and supportive lifestyle habits like exercise, rest and meditation
- Too many compensating habits like alcohol consumption, smoking and a poor diet.
The foundation for prevention
There is good news in all of this! TCM is built on the foundation of prevention. This means that you can achieve good health by increasing and balancing your internal energy. Time-honoured healing modalities within TCM along with positive lifestyle changes offer every woman the support to accomplish good health. Women who have already reached menopause can benefit from these healing modalities too. TCM treatment for menopausal symptoms is a holistic approach that can include herbal medicine, acupuncture, auricular point therapy, and moxibustion. Additionally, these treatments are supported by specific dietary recommendations and lifestyle changes that typically include rest and Qigong practices.
5 self-care best practices for menopause
- For Yin depletion (hot flashes, mood swings, brain fog)
Stick with cooling and juicy foods like fresh veggies, fruit, yams, sweet rice, mung beans, lotus roots or seeds.
Stay away from alcohol, coffee, and spicy foods which increase internal fire or heat.
Snacking on Goji berries and drinking chrysanthemum tea can help you rest and sleep better.
- For Yang depletion (fatigue, backache, bloating)
Drink warm lemon water upon rising,
Eat more cooked and warm food, nuts, especially walnuts and pecans,
Stay away from dairy, icy foods and drinks and greasy, heavy meals.
20-30 minute hot foot spa before bedtime is recommended. Rub the low back along the midline of the spine and on both sides until very warm.
- Sleep Disruption
Rub hands to warm them, then rub the soles of each foot 100 times, 50 times anticlockwise followed by 50 times clockwise. Practice daily before bed. Using essential oils such as lavender, sandalwood or chamomile on the key acupuncture point on the sole of the foot ‘the Bubbling spring or Yong Quan’ will further aid restful sleep.
- Meditate Daily, ideally, at bedtime. Focus on the lower abdominal area (Dan Tian), until it feels warm. Then, move the warm sensation into your kidney area to tonify and restore depleted Yin.
- A Congee Recipe as a replacement for your ordinary porridge to support the Kidneys and Heart, nourish Qi and blood and reduce common menopausal symptoms such as insomnia and hot flashes.
1 cup of organic oats
a few Goji berries
1 tablespoon ground walnuts
1 teaspoon of maca powder
1 teaspoon of cacao
2 to 3 jujube dates.
1 teaspoon each of Dang Gui (ground angelica sinesis) and flaxseeds – both rich in phytoestrogens
Add 6 cups of water, and cook the grain and the walnuts, maca and cacao for 25 to 30 minutes. Garnish with a few goji berries and jujube dates. Serve warm for breakfast, or cold for an afternoon snack. Feel free to add dark berries like blueberries or mulberries
Your self-healing ability
But the most important message is: it’s never too late to improve your health. Every person is born with a self-healing ability. Women in particular have a unique ability to heal because of their special life-giving organs: their ovaries and uterus. These organs give women the capacity to create wellness—and life—so their bodies can function at their potential at any age.
Get ready to transform!
Menopause is an energy gateway—a unique chance for a woman to prepare her body, mind and spirit for a healthy, long life. It’s a time to heal, strengthen, balance, and harmonize your energies. Part of this process is also to discover your purpose. Deep within every woman lies the answer.
Menopause creates the opportunity for a transformation, a new beginning, a time to become free to discover, pursue or complete that purpose, and touch both your spirit and the spirits of those around you in a profound and meaningful way.
You can find out more about traditional Chinese medicine in the UK here: ATCM