“Around one in five women report experiencing health challenges relating to menstruation or menopause. Among the 15% of women who report experiencing health challenges related to menstruation, over 40% say they work through the pain and discomfort.”-Women at Work
I am 26, I was not educated about menopause at school. I feel as though I was barely educated about periods at school. And here I am now, writing a blog post about menopause, some of you are thinking, ‘little young to be writing this’. But therein lies the problem. And whilst we’re talking directly, men, you should keep reading too. The only information I have been exposed to about menopause is through mainstream media. Even then, it is at most a joke about a character going through the change and experiencing hot flushes and dryness…
By not educating people from a younger age about menopause, it neglects the notion that it even happens. Like it’s make believe or that you will somehow naturally have the resources to hand when the time comes. I remember hitting puberty and my mum panic throwing books my way titled ‘have you started yet?’ and ‘girls only’. The illustrations on the covers would have teen girls whispering between themselves, this only reinforced the stigma of periods needing to be an uncomfortable secret, never to be spoken openly about.
Thankfully (hopefully?), we have come away from this. Which as I grow older I see growing importance in. By gendering menstruation and menopause we only gate-keep vital and important information and care from the LGBTQ+ community. It has taken a long time, and I am still in the process of understanding my ever changing menstrual cycle. Thankfully, I’ve always felt a strong attachment to understanding my body’s natural process and hormone fluctuation. I only started to meet and converse with others that felt this way in my twenties.
I guess the point I am trying to make is that if it has taken 13 years (that’s 156 cycles!) to get to grips with periods, I can only imagine the loss of control one would feel during perimenopause. When we think about menopause, we should think in terms of the time taken to complete the whole process, much like we do with puberty.
“The Change” unfortunately still generally remains a taboo subject, even amongst many women. That’s why we need to talk about it, to your mums, dads, brothers, sisters, children – anyone. And for those dealing with this, or about to, it’s so important to learn about it. Do your research and approach your GP armed with the facts and knowledge.”-Menopause Mandate
The most powerful conversations I have had with friends and confidants have sparked from one person saying to the other an honest or uncomfortable truth. No matter the subject, be it partners, periods or mental health, a friend saying I’ve felt that or I’ve experienced that too can completely shift your mindset. You are no longer alone or alienated in your feelings and experiences. It’s in this scary sweet spot that experiences and knowledge can be shared.
This is also why menstrual health should not become a gendered conversation. How can we gain vital support from our partners and loved ones if they also have no clue or understanding over what’s going on? Being in touch with yourself, at all stages of life is a crucial ally to your wellbeing. Even when looking into the future is a scary prospect, understanding your body’s natural processes and forming a connection ultimately influences your comfort and welfare.
“A strong theme coming through from research on this issue is that perimenopausal symptoms ‘can be quite disruptive and distressing, particularly when women do not know why these things are happening to them in the first place’. If their partners do not know either, we have the seeds for an inauthentic challenge to even the most healthy of relationships.” -Richard Hull
When we can’t rely on governments and policies to support and educate us, this is when community and allyship becomes a necessity. With that in mind, we took to our community to ask questions about menopause, here’s what they had to say:
Each month, we offer a free talk open to the public. Our next Tribe Talk will be delivered by Yellow Empress Acupuncture. Hannah will be offering an evening around self-care for perimenopause with holistic perspectives for a healthy transition. To find out more and to book your free space, click here.
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Thanks for reading,
Go on, I mean it. Take a breath with me now. A big chest opening deep breath. Feel good? Thought so…
The nature of this text alone probably reached you through an email, the ritualistic morning check of your inbox. Perhaps you even just got back from holiday and have been swamped with a never ending parade of virtual envelopes waiting to be clicked open.
We are surrounded by unconscious actions, the most important of these is of course breathing. We take it for granted for the most part, to the point where a lot of us probably haven’t even thought about it for a while…
The only time I take conscious breath is when I see the sea, or a beautiful view. Naturally, times of awe cause us to become conscious of our breath. We feel our lungs expanding, filling with air becoming one with the nature around us. No distractions, just bliss. Interoception is the internal sensory system in which both physical and emotional states are consciously or unconsciously noticed and responded to. Obvious examples of these are sight, touch and smell. Breathing opens up a unique insight into our interoceptive processes as we are able to swap between subconscious and conscious control.
The Vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body. A healthy vagus nerve is integral to forming mindful responses to our surroundings and emotions. It is how you develop healthy stress responses and when you are in tune with this nerve, it can help counteract your fight/flight system. By incorporating breathing exercises into your daily life, you will become attuned to your vagus nerve. In turn, you can become calmer, compassionate and have a greater connection to your inner self.
Think of how much time in a day we spend in short, shallow breath. These are arguably the times we need to breathe mindfully. However you stimulate your vagus nerve, you are connecting with yourself and tapping into mindfulness.
“Whenever we turn inward to check in with our true feelings; to check in with our intuitive wisdom; or to find our true expressiveness, we’re lighting up the vagus nerve.” Dr Glenn Doyle
Our initial response to anxiety and stress is often channeled through deep considered thinking. We play out worst-case scenarios in our minds and drown in negativity. It can also manifest physically through a tight chest and sweaty palms. Breathing offers a different approach to responding to stress or anxiety as it targets the body directly. By breathing deep and slow we can calm our minds and sometimes even gain immediate relief.
“the vagal tone is correlated with capacity to regulate stress responses and can be influenced by breathing; its increase through meditation and yoga likely contribute to resilience and the mitigation of mood and anxiety symptoms.” –Frontiers
The vagus nerve is in direct correlation with our capacity to regulate stress responses. This response can be managed through conscious breathing. By stimulating the vagus nerve, your body is calmed and can even activate oxytocin release, this in turn can generate feelings of connection and stress relief.
“If we’re breathing really shallowly and fast, it causes our nervous system to up-regulate and we feel tense and anxious. If we’re breathing slowly, it actually turns on the anti-stress response.”–Elissa Epel
Humans are complicated, we are often drowned by our own thoughts, feelings and traumas. Becoming attuned to your vagus nerve unfortunately won’t fix everything. But, it may become a helpful friend. There are not many functions that we can choose to control, but we can control how and when we breathe. Next time you feel overwhelmed, overworked or stressed, try out some basic breathing exercises to bring you back to yourself and look after that vagus nerve.
“In the same way that mindfulness practice isn’t just meditation, breathing as a practice isn’t just waking up every morning and doing 10 minutes of box breathing. It’s also important to be aware of the way you breathe in everyday life (or while you’re checking your email).”–Kira NewmanAT
Take the time now to try out some of these short desk friendly exercises, notice how your breath, body and mind feel. I think it is also important to not overcomplicate the action of conscious breath. Sometimes it is just as powerful to check in with your breath periodically through the day. As always, we would love to hear your thoughts on this, perhaps you already have some favourite breathing exercises you can share with us.
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I recently stumbled across a documentary titled, The Man Who Wanted To See It All. It told the story of Heinz Stücke, in 1962 he left Germany and set off on a bike ride touring the world which spanned close to 50 years and covered enough distance to circumnavigate the world 15 times around.
What I found striking about this documentary is that Heinz did not set out to be the best cyclist, or the best photographer and any records that he broke were seemingly a welcomed accident. His soul focus and purpose were set on experience, connection, seeing and being. After leaving his home town in 1962, Heinz decided to not return home as he deemed going home as the end of his adventure. After over 50 years of nomadic living, this is where the documentary found its focus.
The documentary shows Heinz putting his memories in order and sorting through his tens of thousands of photographs, reuniting with family and friends and reflecting on his achievements and sacrifices. Something that has stuck with me since watching this documentary was how his friends spoke of his life journey. Friends from childhood reflected on his journey with great solace, they asked the question “I wonder if he is happy?”. The conversation felt heavy and remorseful. In contrast, the family that grew close with Heinz in Japan spoke of Heinz and his journey with tremendous joy and fascination, they remarked that Heinz had achieved Ikigai. But what is Ikigai and how do you find your ikigai?
“I consider myself a treasure trove, what I hope of the day is that it gives me the pleasure of finding something new” – Heinz Stücke: Home is Elsewhere.
Ikigai roughly translates to, a reason for being. The word itself is composed of two worlds: iki, which means life and gai, which describes value or worth. The word can be used similarly to happiness but ecompasses a deeper nuance. Ikigai is also about discovering your purpose and aligning your actions with this. If you have a clear sense of purpose, you can then align your sense of purpose with your values and goals.
By thinking of ikigai in relation to Heinz, it’s easy to assume that to achieve it you must do something extraordinary, however the true meaning of ikigai is rooted in the ordinary. Ultimately, this practice allows for moments of happiness in each day, you can find meaning and joy in even the most mundane tasks.
“I found the way of life I enjoy, and what is better than to follow a life which is fulfillment. The journey is my fulfillment.” –Heinz Stücke: Home is Elsewhere.
In Western society, ikigai is seen as a tool to achieve a long and happy life. A google search will show you a plethora of venn diagrams on how to achieve it with four overlapping qualities: what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for.
This Western approach includes work and payment which isn’t necessarily the truest adaptation of the meaning. At its core, ikigai is as simple as finding out what makes you happy each and every day. When you ask yourself questions around the principles of Ikigai it is vital to curate answers about you and your soul, not your work.
Of course I agree that you can align the principles of ikigai with your working life in order to achieve happiness and satisfaction in all meanings of the words. Nevertheless, I think it is wrong to consider your work when asking questions around ikigai. Ikigai is deeper than your work, it is about you, your inner being and how to nourish your soul. Once you have answered these questions honestly, you can then apply these to your work practice.
“Japanese people believe that the sum of small joys in everyday life results in more fulfilling life as a whole”- Yukari Mitsuhashi
Your life is not limited to your work. It is only possible to find ikigai in your practice if your work’s values and ethics align to your own, your work must also actively nurture your personal growth and wellbeing. There is nothing wrong with the Western adaptation of ikigai and it can be used as a powerful tool to navigate and curate your working life.
Regardless, I think we should break away from ‘Ikigai in the workplace’ and instead keep it simple. It is far more powerful to get in touch with yourself. If you can find something in the everyday that makes you happy, brings you joy or a sense of awe you too can find ikigai. No matter how big or small.
Write down your answers to these questions and actively incorporate the answers into your everyday life. This is how to find and nurture your Ikigai and lead a happier and fufilled life.
“essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” – Hector Garcia, The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.
To read more about awe, click here.
Want to find out more about Ikigai, click here.
To find out more about Hans Stücke, click here.
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