Tap into the healing powers of this ancient Indian system to ease your way through this transitional time in your life
Hot flushes, anxiety, sleeplessness and brain fog – going through the menopause can be quite challenging to say the least, but taking a few tips from the gentle art of Ayurveda can help to guide you through this important time of change.
Established more than 3,000 years ago, Ayurveda encompasses every aspect of physical, spiritual and emotional health. It is based on the belief that ultimate wellbeing depends on a delicate balance of the three doshas (or energies): kapha, vata and pitta or earth, air and fire.
Menopause is the transition from the pitta to the vata phase of life, and Ayurveda aims to bring these energies back into balance. And it is this focus on balance that makes it perfect for women going through the menopause: “Ayurveda is also known as ‘the science of life’,” says top ayurvedic expert, Sebastian Pole of Pukka Herbs (pukkaherbs.com). “It takes a holistic approach to health and medicine, encompassing therapies such as yoga and massage along with herbs and nutrition. In this way, it teaches us how to achieve the right balance.”
Just like puberty and pregnancy, the menopause is a special time in a woman’s life – a time of transition from one phase of life into another – and a time that, if possible, should be cherished and celebrated. Learn how to alleviate menopausal symptoms with our advice over the page and bring some harmony back into your life.
Diet plays an enormous part in ayurvedic healing as certain foods have different properties – such as bitter, salty, astringent and sour – to help bring your body back into balance. A healthy digestive system that prevents the build up of toxins (or ama) is essential when going through transitional times. Avoid eating foods that are packaged or processed and instead choose fresh and organic produce. The bulk of your diet should consist of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and pulses along with light dairy products such as milk, lassi or panir cheese for protein. Sebastian recommends choosing foods which will help to balance oestrogen levels. Here are a few of his top tips:
• Cruciferous veggies: Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage contain several powerful nutrients that help metabolise oestrogenic molecules.
• Healthy fat-rich foods: These are foods that are rich in saturated and omega 3 fatty acids.
It includes plant-based fats such as coconut oil, hemp seed oil, extra virgin olive oil and avocados. Raw nuts (other than peanuts) and seeds contain oestrogen balancing plant sterols.
• Allium family: The alliums include garlic, onions, scallions, chives and leeks. These are all rich in sulphurcontaining amino acids and the powerful flavone antioxidant quercetin that both help the liver detoxify and reduce the production of oestrogen.
• Herbal teas: Green tea and liquorice specifically balance oestrogen levels.
• Lentils: All lentils contain phytooestrogens that help to balance oestrogen and progesterone levels. Soy is well known for this but all pulses are also helpful.
• For both pitta and vata imbalances, ayurveda recommends eating cooked apples, prunes and figs for breakfast to balance the doshas and cleanse the digestion.
If you are prone to pitta-based symptoms, such as hot flashes or excessive irritability, try to avoid spicy foods like chillies, cayenne and black mustard seed. Another no-no is salty and sour foods such as ketchup, mustard, and other salad dressings and condiments made with vinegar. Instead opt for cooling foods that are bitter, astringent and sweet as these are soothing to the pitta dosha. Bitter and astringent foods include most vegetables, while sweet foods include rice, milk and cream, lassi and wheat products. Sweet, juicy fruits such as pears and plums also pacify the pitta dosha. Cook with pitta-reducing spices, such as cinnamon, coriander, fennel and cumin seed.
For vata-related symptoms such as memory loss or vaginal dryness, you need to bring your vata dosha back into balance. Eat foods that are cooked, warm, and unctuous (meaning that they contain good fats such as ghee and olive oil) along with foods that are sweet, sour and salty.
With its gentle, holistic approach, Ayurveda recommends incorporating nurturing yogic techniques and balancing routines into your life:
Focus on sleep
Be sure to get lots of rest during your menstrual cycle as you approach menopause, because this will keep your energy in balance. Quality sleep is vital. Try to go to bed at 10pm and rise at 6am. Staying awake later causes pitta imbalance so the body can’t cleanse and purify itself.
Stick to a routine
Try to eat at the same time every day, and go to bed and wake up at the same time. For both pitta and vata doshas, it’s important not to skip meals, and to eat your main meal at noon, when digestion is the strongest.
Pranayama and yoga
Learn the art of breathing slowly and deeply and take up yoga to calm your nervous system, decrease stress and help with your menopausal symptoms.
Practise nadi shodhani or alternate nostril breathing daily for 20 minutes. Popular with yogis for thousands of years, it’s said to help balance the entire body. It’s very simple to do – just close one nostril and inhale slowly into your diaphragm, then gently open it and close the other one and breathe out. Repeat this pattern five to 10 times, two or three times each day.
Also known as yogic sleep, yoga nidra is a meditative process while lying on your back or a similar comfortable position. Take at least 10 minutes every afternoon to practise this restful process to ease your mind.
The light of the moon is often used to increase ojas (the Sanskrit term for vitality), and to bring coolness to the body. Just going for a walk or lying out in your garden at night under the moon for just 15 minutes, a few times a week, can make a difference.
• Have a teaspoon of grated ginger with lime and a pinch of salt before and after meals
• Drink tea made from cumin, coriander and fennel throughout the day.
• Soak five almonds overnight. In the morning, peel off the skin and grind them to a fine paste.
• Grind three black peppercorns, two pieces of cardamom and one teaspoonful of anise seeds and mix them with almond paste. Add this paste to 250ml of boiled milk along with one teaspoon of honey for a fortifying drink.
• Boil one teaspoon of carrot seeds in one cup of milk for 10 minutes. Drink it once daily.
• Drink a small cup of beetroot juice three times a day.
These ancient massages have been used for centuries to bring balance and harmony to mind, body and soul and can help ease menopausal symptoms…
This healing massage is one of the most effective ways of calming vata and the nervous system. It uses soothing herbal oils rubbed into the skin to increase circulation and help bring all the doshas into balance while increasing skin suppleness. A full body steam or herbal linen wrap often follows this treatment.
Sometimes referred to as ‘third eye therapy’, this is a classic treatment for calming the mind and involves gently pouring liquids over the forehead (the ‘third eye’) and through the hair and scalp to take you to a place of deep peace, renewal and clarity. The name comes from the Sanskrit words shiras ‘head’ and dhara ‘flow’. The liquids used depend on your dosha type but can include oil, milk, buttermilk or coconut water.
Using a potent paste of herbs, grains and spices such as triphala, this invigorating body rub increases circulation and breaks down fat deposits. A Sanskrit term meaning ‘to move upwards’, the massage uses long strokes to boost lymphatic drainage and is a great treatment for cellulite and weight loss.
Try these traditional ayurvedic tonics to balance menopausal symptoms.
shatavari, ashwagandha, aloe vera, sage extract and a vitamin B complex.
This renowned adaptogenic tonic has been used for centuries for women’s health. As well as relieving stress, it contains precursors to female hormones, helping to regulate hormones and reduce menopausal symptoms. It is also a powerful anti-inflammatory, naturally cooling and moistening the reproductive tract, making it perfect for the hot, dry symptoms of menopause. We love Pukka Herbs Womankind (£16.96, pukkaherbs.com), which is formulated with key organic botanicals, including
Revered in ayurvedic herbal medicine and well known for helping to support the mind and body in times of stress. An adaptogenic herb, it helps to balance hormones, relieve stress and anxiety, brings peace to a racing mind in the middle of the night, provides mental clarity, plus raises energy and libido. We love Essential Ayurveda’s Vital Woman (£12.90, essentialayurveda.co.uk), which contains both adaptogens ashwaganda and shatavari.
One of the most popular ayurvedic recipes in India, this therapeutic jam is made from the amalaki fruit which is high in vitamin C and balances all three doshas. In the classical ayurvedic texts, amalaki is one of the most highly valued and important rasayanas (life elixirs). We love Maharishi Ayurveda Chyavanprash (£23, maharishi.co.uk)
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