According to urbandictionary.com, woman of a certain age is an “ironically polite term for a woman who does not want her actual age known” (i.e., one who is close to or just over menopause.) Personally, I’m 54, and I care a whole lot less about anyone knowing my age now than I did when I was 30.
As you’re probably aware, there are a whole host of challenges in store for those who are lucky enough to make it this far. Aging is not for the faint of heart, period (even though it does, of course, beat the alternative), but aging for women comes with its own wide-ranging set of trials and tribulations. Everything from hot flashes, memory lapse, fatigue, weight gain, loss of libido, mood swings, panic attacks, hair loss, vaginal dryness, incontinence, headaches, changes in body odor, allergies, brittle nails, muscle tension, osteoporosis and oh-so-much more.
Thankfully, there’s now lots of practical wisdom out there to help one through these years. I’ve included some good and reputable resources below, including a new 2-minute video from me on a simple cooling breath technique that can help during hot flashes, Shitali Pranayam.
In addition to the extensive list of physical issues, there are psychological and emotional challenges that one has to cope with as well. For those, I’d like to suggest a return to some of yoga’s most essential teachings, the Yamas and Niyamas, described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, written some 1500-2000 years ago. These ten principles just might help you navigate these waters with a little more grace and ease, and a little less suffering.
- Ahimsa (compassion) The first principle is always the most important. Be kind to yourself. Imagine yourself as the heroine of your own life’s journey (especially when the road is rough) and celebrate every triumph in your day, no matter how small.
- Satya (truthfulness) Your body’s needs shift later in life. Be willing to adjust your expectations and listen for clues that it wants something different than you’re used to – an earlier bedtime, a different kind of exercise than you’re used to. Make it a practice to speak your truth and ask for what you need from friends and family.
- Asteya (non-stealing) Many women have habitually put others first for years – children, a job, a partner. If that sounds like you, this is the time to stop stealing from yourself and practice making your own life, goals and schedule a priority.
- Brahmacharya (energy management) Are you receiving as much as you give? Review your calendar and specifically plan events and activities that nurture and rejuvenate you to help balance out those that require energy output.
- Aparigraha (non-attachment) Are you attached to a version of yourself that no longer exists? Let go of comparison to that younger you and let this be a time of reinvention. What interests you now? Check out new authors, podcasts, movies. Maybe it’s time for a new hairstyle, new clothing, new hobby, or new goals.
- Saucha (purity) This is a great time to do an experimental clean-out of your diet. Don’t go crazy. Eat whole foods, drink water, avoid sugar, lower your alcohol consumption, and see how you feel. Stay curious. In addition to shedding some mid-life pounds, you will likely discover that your head feels clearer, your moods more balanced, and you sleep better.
- Santosha (contentment) There are so many opportunities to get frustrated at this stage of life. Some days it may seem that nothing is going right. Remember that so much is out of your control. Your hormones are shifting, your body is changing, and you are not to blame. At the end of every day, write down five things that went well or made you happy. Celebrate the good.
- Tapas (uplifting discipline) Make a commitment for a pre-determined amount of time (e.g., two weeks, one month) to one small change that will improve your health or quality of life. The key here is to set yourself up for success, so make it doable. Five minutes of meditation; twenty minutes of yoga; one small chocolate instead of an entire pint of ice cream. You want to “uplift”, not “shame”.
- Svadhyaya (self-study) Be willing to get to know yourself better. In our busy, stimulation-heavy culture, even just a few minutes a day in quiet meditation can be a life-changer. Consider starting a journal or keeping a diary by your bed to help recall your dreams. Read a poem or a piece of sacred text each day.
- Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender to the play of life) If there’s one area of your life where you’ve been exerting a great deal of will and effort, what would it be like to shift your attention to simply being in the process and trusting what unfolds? This can feel scary at first, but it’s also the place where miracles occur.
Ultimately, remember that the Yamas and Niyamas are meant to be practiced, not perfected. They’re not a set of commandments or laws that are to be followed to the letter. They’re a guide to support you on your journey toward greater happiness. If you’re on that journey with curiosity, dedication and compassion, then you’re on a good and worthwhile journey.