on puberty and menopause
these words are still a bit of a taboo and to think that one might attend a week-end or a week long retreat on this subject may not at first sound appealing. And yet, the majority of yoga students are women and middle-aged, which does make menopause a relevant topic for a workshop. But why should we associate menopause with puberty? Both are periods of transition, which mark the beginning and the end of the fertile years for a woman. You may argue that males go through puberty as well. Indeed, there is something comparable in the changes boys and girls undergo in their bodies and minds. The parallels stop, however, at middle age. Male hormone production doesn’t plummet around fifty, but goes on decreasing gradually into old age. What is commonly called “mid-life crisis” is not triggered by hormones.
we will then consider puberty and menopause as hormonally caused phenomena specifically affecting women and related to fertility and the ability to bear a child. Physiologically, as well psychologically, a girl isn’t ready to conceive, nor can an older woman give birth anymore. In a woman’s life, there is normally a time before and a time after the childbearing years. Only a few generations ago things were different. Life expectancy was much lower and women frequently died prematurely from exhaustion after an endless succession of pregnancies. In puberty a girl transforms into a woman who can assume the rewarding but demanding task of bearing life. It takes time and much physical, mental and emotional upheaval for this potential to mature. Instead, menopause is the time when a woman is taking leave from fertility, pregnancy and childbirth. Depending on how fulfilling her life has been in that respect, it may be a heartbreaking time or one which brings relief. In any case, menopause will cause a transformation of body and mind similar – though opposite in nature; to the one that had happened roughly thirty-five years before with puberty. And again, it will take time for a mature woman to adjust to her new self.
the fertility potential that unfolds with puberty withdraws with menopause. The first and last bleeding in a woman’s life – called menarche and menopause; are visible signs of change. But the whole maturation process, however, lasts some seven years on average, and stretches several years either side of these landmarks. We can shed light on menopause by reflecting on what happens during puberty. Many middle-aged women find opportunities to do so if they have teenage daughters, relatives or friends. They can also re-visit their own teens.
strong and contradictory emotions, for instance of loss and fear, are commonly experienced during these times of transition. There is the loss of the innocence of childhood and the fear of adulthood during puberty and the loss of the ability to conceive a child and fear of old age and rejection during menopause. Mood swings with sudden outbursts of tears occur, as do irritability, tantrums, depression and melancholy, etc. The only certainty remaining is that nothing will ever be the same. Familiar landmarks and reference points have vanished or become obsolete; one treads on wobbly ground. And there is that irrepressible need to be left on one’s own!
there are also major differences between puberty – which is like the glory of bloom; and menopause. – the time of the ripe fruit. The promise of the fruit is present in the blooming flower and the fruit contains the promise of the seed. In youth, beauty is more external and has the immediate appeal of the budding flower. In maturity, beauty becomes internal, the appeal subtle, to be tasted like a ripe fruit. An adolescent girl will spend much time exploring the ever changing worlds around and inside her, full of the exuberant energy of youth. Her fertility usually remains a mystery to her. Instead, menopausal woman will find their own pace in slowing down, reflecting and discovering new ways of expressing creativity.
puberty and menopause are often difficult periods in a woman’s life. They are rites of passage touching on the mystery of life and death. The beginning of something is inevitably the end of something else. These are awe-inspiring times which change one’s perspectives on life. Change always causes suffering and unpleasant and sometimes debilitating symptoms may affect our mental and physical well-being. Yoga has a lot to offer to support young and older women on their journey and help them to come to terms with change and turmoil.
I have been running workshops on “puberty and menopause” in several countries. There are subtle differences in the way different European cultures approach puberty and menopause and the taboos associated with talking about it don’t always express in the same way. However most women, teenagers included, welcome the chance to reflect on the changes and difficulties they are going through in a sensitively planned yoga workshop. Puberty and menopause are natural stages in the life of a woman after all, aren’t they?