It’s estimated that almost 50% of women in the UK are in, or approaching, menopause. That’s a huge number of the population going through a big life transition and as I’m one of those women, as well as a breath coach, it seemed only natural that I start looking under the hood of how breathwork can help support and navigate this incredibly rich, valuable, and pivotal time in a woman’s life. Menopause is not something to dread, but rather, a time to look forward to - one that can bring more satisfaction, creativity, joy, wisdom and meaning into our lives.
I'm also fascinated by the topic of menopause as a rite of passage - a transition from one stage of life to another – an empowered phase in a woman's life that deserves dignity and honour.
So, let’s just cover off the physical basics first.
Menopause is a stage in every woman’s life when the ovaries stop making eggs and start producing less of the hormone oestrogen. The symptoms of menopause can last for anything from three months to more than 10 years and every woman experiences menopause differently,
The Greene Climacteric Scale (GCS) is a tool used by health professionals to help identify where women are on their menopause journey. It’s useful to see the list so that we can cross-reference these symptoms with the benefits of Breathwork
1.Heart beating quickly or strongly
2.Feeling tense or nervous
3.Difficulty in sleeping
5.Attacks of anxiety panic
6.Difficulty in concentrating
7.Feeling tired or lacking in energy
8.Loss of interest in most things
9.Feeling unhappy or depressed
12.Feeling dizzy or faint
13.Pressure or tightness in head
14.Parts of body feel numb
16.Muscle and joint pains
17.Loss of feeling in hands or feet
20.Sweating at night
21.Loss of interest in sex
Other symptoms I would add to this are:
23. Poor memory
24. Lack of confidence
26. Past trauma resurfacing
27. Low oestrogen can increase cholesterol levels, which can further increase the risk of developing heart and circulatory disease.
Alternative viewpoints: Menopause as a rite of passage
A rite of passage is described by Wikipedia as:
“A ceremony or ritual of the passage which occurs when an individual leaves one group to enter another.”
Puberty, marriage, having a child and menopause are all rites of passage. They are often revered and initiated in very spiritual and meaningful ways in indigenous cultures. The significance and deeper meaning of crossing these life thresholds is recognised very differently in modern culture and up until very recently menopause was seen as something to be ashamed of, something to hide away and a topic to ignore in social situations – even amongst women. (1)
Why is this?
In modern society, a woman’s value is often only seen in terms of her physicality – her sexuality, her youthful beauty and of course, her fertility. Many women still fear and resist menopause, believing it signals the end of her productive years and that her fate lies in growing old, becoming increasingly unattractive, and no longer having any real value in the world.(1)(5)
Author and herbalist Cathy Skipper challenges these preconceptions, saying that menopause can (and should) be a very positive rite of passage. She also talks about how the release of the hormone Gonadotropin increases significantly from menopause onwards and that this is linked to a reset in the brain that actually helps women to become more psychic and intuitive at this time.
Cathy believes menopause is a really good time to review how we have lived our lives – to review all that’s passed and assess what we want to draw in as well as what we want to let go of.
We often block or dissociate painful emotions, so Cathy suggests this is a time for deep reflection on what these emotions are and to ask ourselves:
‘How has my life been up to now?’
“What kind of woman do I want to be/become moving forward?”
"Can I begin the process of transforming my life’s experiences into wisdom, not just for myself, but to give to others?"
‘What have I hidden that now needs to be explored and dealt with?’
“What woman do I want to be/become moving forward? One who is anchored, authentic, understanding, and wise. Or one who moans, is negative about herself, others, and the world?”
Cathy believes in reliving some of the painful times, or trauma, we have experienced in our lives. In re-feeling, re-living and re-visualising what’s brought us to this point, she believes we are able to transform and integrate all the events that have happened to us in our life. I love the idea of menopause being a journey of initiation. (1)(7)
A shamanic perspective
From a shamanic perspective, menopause is a deepening life process – one where women are developing their personal, or spirit, power and gaining an inner strength – a power from within. (1)
The book ‘Traversing the Wild Terrain of Menopause; Herbal Allies for Midlife Women and Men’ by American author Gail Faith Edwards refers to this time in our life as follows:
“Walking a beauty path of inner knowing and self-realisation. Soul work. We are talking about a natural, chemically induced, spiritual growth process, an age-appropriate initiation that connects us to every other human who ever lived to midlife on the planet throughout time. This ancient passage also links us in an unbroken line back to the ceremonies held by ancient indigenous peoples throughout the world, such as the ancient Goddess cultures, the early Mesolithic hunting-gathering societies of Eurasia, and New World cultures.”
Gail also gives some great advice
“Heart palpitations? Nourish the heart. Uptight? Anxiety-ridden? Jumping out of your skin? Nourish the nervous system. Depressed? Nourish your spirit. Run down? Nourish your immunity. Trust the infinite wisdom of your body/mind/spirit. Allow yourself the opportunity to choose a path that will bring you to the door of self-realisation, self-acceptance, and self-love. A path that will lead you into relationship, and therefore connection, with Mother Earth and all your relations” ( 1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
The Medical Medium perspective
Successful American author and medium Anthony William’s work on healing foods is hugely popular, but also draws raised eyebrows for what some call his ‘pseudo-scientific health claims'.
His take on the menopause is quite different, again. Anthony believes that up until the 1950’s, women in countries such as the US and UK “looked forward to menopause, as it typically signalled a time of increased energy, heightened libido, and a slowing of the aging process”.
His view of events is that around 1950, a mystery illness began to appear which sent women in their droves to doctors complaining about weight gain, hot flushes, fatigue, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and forgetfulness. He suggests that not knowing what to do with this influx of women’s complaints, doctors trivialised them, blaming it on their hormones, which is when HRT was born as a ‘solution’. His view on HRT is that women either get short-lived relief, or none at all. He also suggests that women of all ages are now beginning to suffer from these issues, not just those in middle-age, which means something else is afoot. He attributes this to two main reasons:
The introduction of DDT (pesticide) exposure at this time (1950's), causing the central nervous systems and livers of countless women to become overloaded with toxins.
He attributes what’s cited as menopause symptoms to actually being the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which enters women when young and “spends decades building itself up to the point where symptoms emerge”, which coincides with the menopause.
Williams agrees that hormones can go off-balance, but that it’s only a part of the menopause debate and that this more to do with adrenal fatigue or an underactive thyroid, The good news, he says, is that radiation, viruses, toxic load and hormonal issues can all be addressed by eating and drinking healing foods such as wild blueberries, sesame tahini, avocados, black beans, asparagus, apples, spinach, cucumbers, nettle leaf and elderberries. He says:
“Keep in mind that menopause is a normal part of life and is not meant to be a difficult process. By nourishing your body with healing foods, and addressing the true underlying causes of your symptoms, you can return to living a healthy life and embracing life at every stage.” (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
Dr Christiane Northrup
One of the world’s leading experts on menopause, Dr Christiane Northrup, began seeing the limitation of drugs and surgery on her patients and became interested in a more whole-body approach to health, taking the time to understand her patients more holistically. Her view is that women of menopausal age are usually in hugely stressful periods of their lives - incredibly busy, their hormones changing, often with school-age children and/or at the peak of their careers. Couple that with what she calls a ‘waking up of the soul’, causing women (and men) to begin looking back on their lives and reflecting on how they’ve lived thus far, instead of introducing 2 x 20-minute meditation sessions a day to alleviate their stress symptoms, instead they’re running 100mph, 7 days a week. (6)
Christiane describes this period of life when the soul appears, asking,
‘What about me?
and suggests this all comes together as the perfect storm. Her view is that if women don’t understand that the anger or sadness they are feeling is about cleansing and preparing for a rebirth into a new period of their life, then they can end up depressed or lashing out at others. She laughs at her 100-year-old friend, author and doctor, Gladys Taylor McGarey, who would tell her about patients in years gone by who would just “Go to bed for two years as they were just so tired of looking after husbands, children and washing dishes” and re-emerge two years later full of vigour and ready for the next chapter of their lives!” (6)
Important points from Christiane’s perspectives are:
1. It’s imperative that you do your soul work at this time, “cleaning up the first half of your life”. For example, if you’re in a marriage that isn’t working, it’s time to leave before you get far more serious health issues linked to your unresolved emotional baggage. (3) (5)
2. Take Magnesium and vitamins D and B – Christiane says so many women are vitamin-deficient and come into menopause with adrenal burnout.
3. Make sure you're eating a healthy diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables.
4. And then, for some women with particularly bad symptoms (assuming they are addressing all of the above) some individualised hormonal support such as progesterone cream for painful migraines or heart palpitations or oestrogen for hot flushes.
Menopause and the breath
There are some very specific issues with breath that can happen to some women going through the menopause. Some may feel shorter of breath than they usually would, while others experience reduced exercise tolerance and fatigue. The menopause transition can also impact pre-existing lung diseases, such as asthma or COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), which may worsen during menopause.
It is still not completely understood why breathing difficulties occur during this time in a woman’s life, but a drop in oestrogen levels, may lead to inflammation in the body that interferes with lung function. Many women feel more anxious during the perimenopausal stage, as well as the menopause itself. A physical symptom of anxiety is shortness of breath, so this could also be a factor. (2)
Menopause can be stressful in different ways and when we’re stressed,the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response can be triggered in the body. When this happens, we unconsciously shallow breathe, breathe erratically or hold our breath, which means that we’re not processing any painful emotions that we may be feeling at the time.
Why? Breathing is how the body processes emotions. Emotions are energy in motion (e-motion) and so holding our breath means our body is unable to process the painful emotion arising. Instead, it cleverly stores it in the body to be processed at another stage in our lives. A Conscious Connected Breath session often includes the body gently and safely releasing this unprocessed energy.
There are obvious physical effects of poor breathing, too, which can affect the neck and create shoulder pain which can build up over time. Nerves in these areas can become over-stimulated causing headaches, lightheadedness and dizziness. Lack of movement in these areas can also interfere with blood flow to the head, resulting in foggy thinking.
By not breathing properly, a woman who is already feeling stressed and anxious might feel more anxious, which becomes a vicious circle. Over time, shallow breathing can cause to us expel too much carbon dioxide, which increases the level of alkaline in our blood. Alkalinity can make nerves more sensitive, especially the peripheral nerves. Some women experience nerve pain in their fingers and toes and tingling down the arms for this reason.
Shallow breathing can also exacerbate joint pain and affect blood flow to the muscles, causing muscle fatigue, aches, pain and stiffness. Walking or taking other forms of exercise may mean that muscles get tired quicker. It can also increase sensitivity to pain. (2)(3)
Conscious Connected Breathwork
So, coming now to the healing power of Conscious Connected Breathwork and how it helps women reconnect to themselves at what can be a difficult, yet magical time of rebirth, This type of Breathwork can help women – both directly and indirectly – to handle the wide range of symptoms and issues around menopause and to move through this period of their lives with more ease. These are as follows. Each point has a number that cross-references to points made throughout this article. Conscious Connected Breathwork is shortened to CCB, for ease:
CCB is a self-healing modality, meaning the facilitator or coach is not 'doing' anything – the participant is experiencing healing with and through her own body (her body’s own higher intelligence is initiating the healing). Importantly, this is empowering and as we have seen, menopause can be an empowering moment in a woman’s life, despite western culture leading us to think otherwise. (1)
CCB is designed to help the participant access greater lung capacity. Around 70% of adults are chest breathers, a few are belly breathers and very few breathe as a healthy newborn baby does, in their chest and belly. This helps women improve their lung function and improve their day-to-day breathing as they become more aware of their breathing patterns. This has a wide range of health benefits that includes alleviating stress and anxiety. Many women enter menopause with high levels of stress and adrenal fatigue. (2)
CCB helps to put the body back to optimum factory settings; back to balance and harmony, which is hugely helpful when approaching and in menopause. Practicing CCB induces a higher vibrational state within our electromagnetic field. Lower vibrational energies (unprocessed emotional content) tends to entrain through the higher frequency, thereby becoming processed and non-toxic. (3)
It’s not often talked about outside the scientific community, but we humans are electromagnetic beings. CCB works on the physical level by bringing more oxygen and energy into the body. The cells in our body rely on oxygen and energy for their fuel. Fully fuelled cells are healthy cells and when we have greater cellular health, we have greater bodily health. Our physical objective with a CCB session is to obtain optimum physical health, which is a massive asset for a woman as she moves through this transitional period, including improved immune system function. (4)
CCB helps us to get clear of our emotional baggage. To be human is to have baggage, but what is emotional baggage? It’s energy (emotions are energy) that didn’t get processed the first time around. We’ve spoken about fight, flight and freeze and how we hold our breath during these moments of stress. This means that the body is unable to process the felt emotion and stores it to be dealt with at another time. Eventually, the body gets clogged up with unresolved emotions and these can begin to show up as illness or mental health issues and breakdowns. CCB helps to release this accumulated baggage in safe and gentle ways – a little like giving the body a spring clean with a feather duster. Keeping up a Breathwork practice, means that over time you can begin to get clear of this accumulation. There is no better time to get clear than menopause. (5)
CCB also works on a spiritual level, although some may shy away from this term. Another way to interpret this is to say that it helps us explore what it means to be human and gain a greater understanding of who and what you are and what has happened in your life thus far. Menopause is a perfect time for this exploration to take place. CCB helps you to go deeply into your body and explore the first half of your life. (6)
If you’d like to book a Conscious Connected Breath session to help you through this transformative, transitional point in your life just go to https://www.wonderbreath.co/book-a-session
Useful resource links for you
The controversial history of HRT - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6780820/
Dr Christiane Northrup on menopause https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPOYjO567WA
Other useful resources
The British Menopause Society: www.thebms.org.uk
The Daisy Network: www.daisynetwork.org
The Eve Appeal: www.eveappeal.org.uk
Let’s Talk Menopause: www.letstalkmenopause.co.uk
Menopause Matters: www.menopausematters.co.uk
The Nice Guidelines: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/NG23
The Squeezy App: www.squeezyapp.com
Womens Health Concern: www.womens-health-concern.org