By Gabriele Kushi
Author of the book
"Embracing Menopause Naturally.Stories, Portraits
A Guide to balancing your Midlife Transition with Macrobiotics.
Menopause is the time when a woman passes from her
childbearing years. It concerns the time in a woman's
life when some important experiences that have defined
her life cease to be. Menopause is a transformational
process, a letting go of the old self with a rebirth
of a new self. The passage is a different experience
for each woman, but it is a journey every woman must
Awareness is the best preparation for what life has
to offer. Becoming educated about menopause is important
for women of all ages. Exploring options of how to handle
symptoms is best started early,
to find appropriate choices.
One talks about a passage, because to arrive at the
state of menopause, the body needs time to prepare and
adjust. The natural process of hormonal adjustment can
last from two to fifteen years. The "change"
as menopause is popular called, can start as early as
35 years and as late as 58 years.
The symptoms a woman can experience during this change
depend on her overall physical, mental, spiritual, and
emotional condition, as well as the society she lives
in. Menopause can also be brought on through surgical
removal of the ovaries, chemotherapy, radiation, tubal
ligation, mumps, an autoimmune reaction, extreme stress,
and weight loss.
For generations, the menopausal passage has not been
addressed correctly. Myth, fear, and misconceptions
painted a negative picture of menopause. As a result,
many women are afraid of it. Sigmund Freud, for instance,
described menopausal women as "quarrelsome, peevish,
and argumentative, petty and miserly . . ." Psychiatrist
Dr. David Reuben declared that after menopause, a woman
becomes "not really a man but no longer a functional
woman" in his best-selling book, "Everything
You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid
In a time when Hormone Replacement Therapy is still
prescribed although its devastating risks are known,
and plastic surgery supports a youth and sex-obsessed
society, middle age does not even seem to exist.
Can a woman's status in her society influence the way
she experiences her change of life, her menopause? A
study by Ann Rite revealed that there is a difference
in how traditional and non-traditional Navajo women
experience their menopause. The traditional women had
fewer symptoms of menopause.
The reason seems to be that traditional Navajo people
know that the changes in nature are connected with the
changing cycles of women. The Kung women, from the traditional
tribe living in Africa, do not even have a word for
hot flash, suggesting that these symptoms are not experienced,
or are experienced as a natural and accepted part of
It is also a well-known fact that the frequencies of
symptoms of menopause are lower in Asia than in the
West. The reasons for this seem to be the low-fat and
high-fiber Asian diet, and the consumption of
traditional soy products such as miso and tofu from
an early age. Supportive studies have shown that just
one serving of soy each day (a half cup of tofu) reduces
hot flashes by 10 to 20 percent. These
dietary patterns are uncommon in Western societies,
but well practiced in the macrobiotic communities.
We all know that the food we eat and the lifestyle
we choose affects our well being. Scientific researchers
have demonstrated this to us for decades and our own
macrobiotic experiences tell us so.
The macrobiotic philosophy supports a way of life that
follows the rhythm of the seasons and the movement of
nature's healing forces.
Macrobiotic teaches us how to use food and lifestyles
that support and realign natural energies to encourage
overall well being. This understanding can help women
ease their natural cycles with foods that are inherently
rich in phytoestrogens, calcium, vitamins, minerals,
complex carbohydrates, and proteins.
To relieve menopausal stress and symptoms, complementary
therapies such as homeopathy, aromatherapy, herbal medicine,
Do-IN massage, shiatsu, and acupuncture are excellent
methods that support a natural food lifestyle and help
one to feel one's best. By eating balanced meals, eliminating
hot flash triggers, doing regular moderate exercises
like Yoga, and consciously engaging in daily deep breathing
and relaxation techniques, women can experience menopause
Surprised by my first hot flash, the need to connect
to the earth mother's forgotten ancient symbols of menopausal
women emerged, and ceremonies needed to be done. Although
it seemed too early, at
forty-three, my menopausal passage had begun and lasted
for five years.
I understood the significance of food and its healing
abilities in many physical imbalances. Naturally, I
increased the amount of fermented soy foods and other
plant hormonal regulators, like kale and daikon radish,
when symptoms got too strong. I tried to eliminate the
extreme yin and yang foods and conditions that triggered
my hot flashes.
My own menopausal passage sparked the interest in developing
new recipes and interviewing and photographing midlife
women. I wanted to share the life experiences of other
menopausal women and provide information for this important
time in a woman's life.
Fortunately I had been able to talk with my mother-in-law
Aveline Kushi about her menopause. We wondered about
other macrobiotic women's experiences with this passage.
Aveline Kushi, who devoted her life to making macrobiotics
widely available, compared her menopause experience
to a hurricanea tremendous upheaval during the
process, followed by a beautiful and peaceful serenity
She encourages whole grains, vegetables, and miso soup,
as well as limiting the amount of food one
eats while going through menopause.
When I first started asking women what they thought
menopause was, some of them did not have clear ideas,
whereas others were dealing with the change very effectively.
The women I talked to who had not yet entered the journey,
and had not educated themselves about menopause, had
mostly negative associations with it. Some identified
it with old age, which dries one up from the inside
out, like an old prune. They thought it meant being
over the hill, not being attractive anymore.
I chose women from a diversity of cultures to explore
universal approaches to menopause. Many of the women
who contributed their menopausal passage stories were
women I was introduced to in the
context of this project. Others are friends, macrobiotic
teachers, and long-time acquaintances of mine. I designed
a set of questions, the women had the freedom to answer
or not, and this ethnographic study evolved over several
The variety of experiences in the stories of the women's
menopausal passages illustrates what could be expected
while going through menopause. The women's stories create
a supportive community for the
readerwhether she is a woman who is encountering
menopause, a woman interested in what menopause entails,
or a man searching for insight about a woman he cares
Most of the 21 women I interviewed for my book did
not have experiences that live up to the myth and the
negative characterizations. Only some women expressed
regret about the physical changes, few lamented the
end of menstruation and many felt relieved about not
having to worry about contraception, menstruation and
pregnancy. The most common symptoms the women experienced
were hot flashes, irregular sleep and mood swings.
To alleviate the stress, some women turned to their
traditional cultural rituals for affirmation of this
phase of life, while others sought alternative medicine.
In several stories in the book, the women recount
the experience of menopause while following a macrobiotic
way of life.
Some of them lived a natural lifestyle for decades,
while others changed their way of life while going through
menopause. Here are excerpts form five macrobiotic women
on how they experienced their menopausal passage.