MenoPassage: the holistic Journey through the menopausal years
Ancient Chinese medicine reveals the menopausal years to hold the potential of a profound transformational passage. This is for one simple reason: it sheds light on the deeper currents of life and how they start moving differently within one in the course of these years. This in turn allows the lotus to arise out of the mud. Actually, the mud turns into the deeply nourishing terrain it can be and allows new flowers of creativity and vitality to arise.
Indeed, it is a time of life to nourish the “Yin Essence”, the yin being the deep, nourishing energy within. “Essence” also relates to our core energy and the gifts we have carried through life from birth. Nourishing this aspect allows a woman to better regulate her hormones and sexual energies. Yin fluids build gently for release at just the right time.
It is difficult to boil things down to a nutshell because it encompasses such a deep understanding of how we function, how as human beings, we are suspended between Heaven and Earth and need to align with the laws of both these worlds. But I am passionate about sharing this understanding so here is my humble attempt.
Most people think of Chinese medicine as the use of herbs and acupuncture, perhaps to bring about better flow and balance of vital energy. This is certainly true, but it goes much beyond that. It is really more about understanding and stimulating the internal regulatory intelligence, making sure that the right part is in charge of each of our physiological processes and that all parts work in harmony.
Chinese medicine is not so much interested in the physical body as such, but rather in the regulatory functions that make it tick and allow it to function in harmony with Nature and in integrity with one’s deeper purpose. We are suspended between Heaven and Earth and have Body, Mind and Spirit to attend to and bring into harmony with the greater cosmic forces. This is the main thing, and everything else revolves around that.
They describe a whole microscosm, which they refer to as an Empire. It is ruled by an Emperor and a whole set of Officials which all have their own intelligence, their own identity and their own tasks. Each of these officials is referred to as one of the inner organ systems, such as the LIVER, the HEART and the KIDNEYS. These terms by no means are confined to the physical organs but rather refer to a particular aspect of our self regulatory intelligence, with all its internal feedback loops on the level of the BODY, the MIND and the SPIRIT. They are all meant to work in harmony with a very precise set of tasks and mutual checks and balances. When we speak about these regulatory systems, we will always keep them capitalized to minimize confusion.
By the time most of us have reached midlife, the harmony and cohesive strength of this Empire has been challenged many times and eroded at least to some extent. In addition, the hormonal changes that happen around that time tend to disturb the natural balance of things just a bit more. The magic of it all is that by rekindling the intelligence of the system, one can reestablish the vitality of the whole with remarkably simplicity.
This is one of the great secrets of MenoPassage: it is a wake-up call to heed the order in our inner kingdom. Once we have woken up to this reality, it is completely in the realm of possibilities to return greater harmony to the Empire with a few well-guided steps and a bit more intensive self-care. We can not only regain the vitality we had in our younger years, but reattune ourselves to our inner compass. In this way, we can continue building on the richness and wisdom of our past experience to keep moving towards greater creativity and continue unfolding our destiny There is something innately magical about arriving at the midlife station, reassessing everything and consolidating one’s foundation so one has strong basis to move forward from.
The main Officials involved in MenoPassage are the KIDNEYS and the LIVER, followed by the SPLEEN, of course all overseen by the HEART, who represents the Emperor. And then of course there are a wide variety of individual variabilities. The KIDNEYS and LIVER are the primary Officials that will give us the classical menopausal symptoms, such as the hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, mood swings, anxiety etc… so we will be to a large extent focusing our discussion on these for the time being. They are in charge of most of the hormonal realities as well as the interaction of hormones with neurotransmitters, thus indeed major players in the MenoPassage years.
On the level of the physiology of the Body, the KIDNEYS actually refer primarily to the adrenal glands and the aspects of the brain that regulate it, the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis. Estrogen is a hormone deeply linked to the KIDNEYS, and its gradual diminishment during the menopausal years can cause some imbalance in that system, particularly if it is already strained for other reasons. They are also in charge of the health of the Bones, thus menopausal issues of osteopenia and osteoporosis, as well as our hair, thus a tendency to hair loss around that time.
Beyond that, the KIDNEYS is where our Essence, the “Jing” resides, that deeper gift of our heritage that we receive at birth, from both our parents and our “Heavenly heritage”. It is what shapes our Destiny, “Ming” and allows us to be in tune with our deeper destiny, the gift that we have been born with. The Essences are also considered the basis of growth, development, and reproduction.
The KIDNEYS also give us the ability to will things into being, take action that creates a desired result. It is clearly one of the key players in the course of MenoPassage and we will spend more time to understand it. As we focus on supporting it, we will address not only many of the physical symptoms and issues of the menopausal years but also enrich the MenoPassage journey by supporting the deeper Essences.
Now let us now look at the LIVER. Again, the LIVER Official is only marginally related to the 3 lb organ under our rib cage. One of its primary functions is to “regulate the smooth flow of Qi”, Qi being our vital energy. It is very much related to how we are able to relate to stress in all its many varieties. When things get too intense, the energy can tend to stagnate. This, in turn, can give rise to symptoms that usually have greater intensity, migraines, burning sensation in the eyes, peptic ulcer disease and gastroesophageal reflux, intense hot flushes, especially in the afternoon.
On the Mind level, the LIVER is responsible for the smooth flow of emotions. It is also “the general of the armed forces” within the internal Empire. It will strategize to allow us to accomplish our aims, make proper use of our resources and advance and retreat at the appropriate time.
On the Spirit level, the LIVER gives us a deep sense of DIRECTION in life. In the menopausal years, this is often very much something that a woman wishes and needs to recalibrate. If the LIVER official is functioning healthily, this will unfold on its own. If there is an issue, there may be a sense of lack of direction and motivation, dark outlook, maybe even the dark night of the soul. And of course, an imbalance in the health of that official will usually manifest on all levels, the body, the mind and the Spirit, so physical symptoms such as intense migraines and a history of intense PMS and pelvic pain may well accompany this mental state.
We are now getting a bigger picture of why the health of these OFFICIALS is so important to tend to, as they regulate our entire lives on all levels. The menopausal years act as a wake up call to attend to their balance and well being. As the endogenous hormones wane, so does some of the support for the KIDNEYS and the LIVER, and any imbalance will show itself more acutely. This in turn is an invitation to take a holistic journey through the menopausal years – MENOPASSAGE.
We should also briefly touch upon the SPLEEN, which is one of the Officials responsible for our deep inner nourishment. The STOMACH Official allows us to ingest… any type of nourishment, be it food, information, experiences or whatever else., and breaks these down into their constituents, the SPLEEN then takes these building blocks and makes them useful to us as an individual. In health, they allow us to receive deep nourishment and satisfaction from what we ingest, the constituents become transformed into the essence of who we are and enrich that. When these officials do not function properly, one will often have a sense of heaviness and fatigue, some digestive issues, perhaps excessive vaginal bleeding, issues with the clarity of the mind such as brain fog and forgetfulness. These are the Officials most readily responsive to proper self care, attentiveness to diet and backing up from excessive work or other activity etc…
Lastly, the HEART can also be involved, though more rarely. As mentioned before, the HEART Official is the great Emperor and holds the reins of the Empire in his hands. He also allows “the SPIRITs to circulate”, which allows us to live with a deeper sense of purpose and aliveness, a sense that Spirit is guiding our path and enlivening us. Dysfunction results in anxiety, palpitations, loss of control etc…
We will go into greater detail about the wonderful structure of this Empire of ours and how it relates to our inner well being and growth in a future blog. Suffice it for now to understand that it is about a regulatory intelligence that can be supported in a variety of ways to allow us to have a vastly fruitful MenoPassage.