Spring carries the energy of the maiden – the prepubescent girl with her whole life ahead over her. Summer is the young mother, pregnant or having just given birth. Autumn is the experienced mother, still guiding her children, but watching them make their own decisions.
Winter is the time of the crone.
If you look at the definitions of crone online you find:
an old woman who is thin and ugly.
Or that she’s cruel, malicious or sinister.
But if you dig into the archetype of the crone or listen to the stories women tell each other about old women you see something different. You see a wise woman who uses the lessons she’s learned in life to guide those younger than her to the right path.
The crone teaches us that death cycles are inevitable. Winter always comes, age marches on and one day, we too will be grandmothers. And that scares us. It scares us in the way the nadir of death cycles always scares us. We don’t like cold, we don’t like darkness and we don’t like endings.
But every woman who menstruates will one day go through menopause. That process will mark the end of her reproductive days. As an ending, that’s scary. As a process, it can be frustrating.
This post has two purposes: to give you a guide through menopause to make the transition from mother to crone (or Wise Woman, or Grandmother) go more smoothly and also to show you that as part of a cycle it may be an ending, but it is not the End.
How menopause happens
Menopause is the cessation of your menstrual cycle for a year. When women and their practitioners talk about “going through menopause”, they are typically referring to the period before menopause (perimenopause) and the year following that confirms her cycle has ended.
It is a biological fact that if you are born female and menstruate, one day you will stop. Some women go through menopause later in life, well into their sixties. For others, it will happen early in their forties. However, the average onset of menopause is 50:
After the age of forty nine (7 x 7), her Ren and Chong channels are both declining, her menstruation severs as her Tian Kui is exhausted. Her physique turns old and feeble, and by then she can no more conceive.Huang Di Nei Jing, Su Wen, Chapter 1
Around this time, your ovaries begin shrinking and reduce their production estrogen. Estrogen and its partner progesterone are the main forces behind the menstrual cycle. Estrogen is yin and is related to the beginning of the cycle and the follicular phase. Progesterone is yang and is responsible for maintaining the uterine lining in the proliferative phase, raising the basal body temperature and maintaining pregnancy.
Deficiency in our root
As we age we consume our yin and blood. What this looks like over time is a decreased production of sex hormones. This results in two main patterns: kidney yin deficiency and kidney yang deficiency. Because the kidney is our foundation these two basic root patterns are always complicated by other branch patterns – patterns that cause symptoms that may distract from the main cause.
Remember that treating holistic conditions is tricky; there are many moving parts and it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Once one thing starts to get better, it reveals a whole new pattern or even temporarily worsens a branch pattern.
Having a guide or partner trained in Chinese Medicine can help juggle complex treatments and patterns. Schedule online or message me so I can help you find a licensed and qualified practitioner in your area.
Kidney yin deficiency
Because women are yin, over 90% of menopause cases are primarily kidney yin deficiency. Over time, the consumption of yin and blood begins to manifest as a deficiency. Lifestyles that are high in stress or are overly yang in nature begin to drain our reserves, forcing us to tap into our foundation to keep moving forward.
This leads to other organ system dysfunctions, usually in the liver system, which combine with the kidney yin deficiency pattern and create the symptoms of a yin deficient menopause.
What does it look like?
Kidney yin deficiency manifests as heat because yang isn’t balanced by yin. This creates the main two symptoms of menopause you hear women discuss – night sweats and hot flashes. Women can also experience fatigue, dry mouth, dry cervical fluid, sore low back, vertigo, tinnitus, and insomnia.
Here are some quick tips that may help for yin deficient types of menopause.
This simple recipe can help with both hot flashes and night sweats. The sour taste of lemons combined with the sweet taste of honey directly tonifies yin, making this an excellent tonic. Check out this post for details on making it, its modifications and contraindications.
Embrace the yin times
Both kidney yin and kidney yang are damaged through overwork, but kidney yin is hit harder in cases of mental overload and emotional stress. Find times to put your feet up, read a book, take a bath or meditate.
With kidney yin deficiency, it’s important to consume foods that are moistening, rich and tonifying. Eggs tonify not only blood and yin but also jing. Eat two eggs a day to support yourself through this transition.
Kidney yang deficiency
The other 10% of menopause cases are due to kidney yang deficiency. These tend to be women who overtaxed their systems to an extremely abnormal extent. These ladies have lived very fearful or taxing lives.
Instead of digging into their nutritive yin and blood, they dig straight into their kidney qi. This dims their kidney fire, having a direct impact on metabolism and hormone production. Their organ systems don’t get the warmth of the kidney energy they need to function correctly and an entirely different sort of menopause develops.
What does it look like?
Because yang is deficient, this type of menopause is marked by signs of cold. For instance, a woman with kidney yang deficiency will have cold arms and legs that won’t get warm simply by dressing warmer. It’s as if the cold is coming from within (because it is).
Where a yin deficient woman will have a sore low back, a yang deficient woman will have a painful low back, with the sensation feeling like it’s coming from the spine rather than the muscles. This bone pain can also spread to other joints, notably the knees.
Since the kidney fire isn’t warming the center, the spleen has a hard time processing fluids and holding things up resulting in vaginal discharge and sensations of a prolapsing uterus.
This woman will wake up frequently at night to use the restroom and may even be incontinent.
Here are some quick tips that may help for yang deficient types of menopause.
Hot water bottle
A hot water bottle is one of the cheapest and most reliable methods of tonifying kidney yang. Use a hot water bottle on your low back for 15 minutes a day, stopping if you begin to experience hot flashes or night sweats. For an extra boost, add a few minutes of time for your feet, resting the soles of your feet on the bottle.
An electric heating pad will suffice, but damp heat penetrates more deeply than dry heat.
Take care of your body
Kidney yang is most affected by physical overwork and exposure to the elements. If you have a physical job, wear good shoes, pay attention to when your body tells you that you need breaks and use good body mechanics.
Dress appropriately for the environment you live and work in. Protecting yourself from the elements reduces the effort your body uses to maintain homeostasis.
Have an occasional glass of red wine
Wine is a dry and hot beverage perfect for warming and moving yang and dispelling cold. However, because it is so hot it carries the possibility of increasing inflammation so drink a maximum of one to two glasses a week.
The Second Spring
If you would believe the media, menopause is the end of your life. You left your days of beauty and youth long ago, and now, without your reproductive ability, your status as a woman relegated to letting your kids shop for your nursing home and collecting cats.
But every woman I have talked to about going through menopause has only talked about how immensely freeing it is. And that’s how the Chinese saw it too.
Menopause, like menstruation and like winter, is part of a cycle. After menopause comes your Second Spring.
You are no longer bound by the limitations of motherhood because your children are grown enough to be making their own decisions. By this point in your life, your career is well in motion and you’re making decisions on when, if and how you are going to retire.
You can be the fun, artsy grandma. The quiet, hippy grandma. The eccentric, speeds in a red sports car and gets pulled over for tickets, shocking the officer grandma. The choice is yours.
Old age is something that happens to us all, just like winter. Menopause isn’t an end to everything, it’s an end to a cycle. And just like with all cycles, if we choose to embrace the flow, everything else in our life will flow more freely.
Let’s work together!
Resources and links
Disclaimer: I am an acupuncturist in the state of Minnesota, and the information falls within my scope of practice in my state. However, unless I have directed you here as your homework I am probably not your acupuncturist. The information in this post is for general purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. As always, check with your own acupuncturist or primary care provider before making any lifestyle changes. This post does not create a patient-practitioner relationship and I am not liable for any losses or damages resulting or relating to the content in this post.
Jessica Gustafson is a licensed acupuncturist in St Paul, MN specializing in women’s health and fertility. She loves working with patients through the Health Foundations Birth Center on Grand Avenue in St Paul as well as doing home visits in the Twin Cities area. Check out the services page for more information!
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