“You’re not eating the right foods
You’re not exercising the right way
You don’t practice enough gratitude
You’re not spiritual enough
You’re not evolved enough
You’re not meditating enough
There aren’t enough positive thoughts in your day
You’re not reading the right books
You’re not listening to the right teachers
You’re not taking the right supplements or enough of them
Or on the other hand…
You’re not choosing to take medication, as honestly, you don’t need to be a martyr to pain…”
These are just some of the insidious words that can swirl around our heads when we’re on a healing journey, particularly a healing path with a chronic condition.
Next year, I will have spent a quarter of a century in the well-being community. We’re passionate about our craft, our skills, our knowledge. We’ve seen the wisdom we impart work beautifully with clients. We work from the heart, and we work as a force for good. All of this an absolute truth.
What happens, though, when we and our clients are surrounded by the vastness of wisdom and knowledge? With so many choices and avenues to head down?
Is it possible that there’s the potentially creeping message of not getting it quite right? If you’re not seeing improvements in health or wellbeing, you’re not doing enough? Or you haven’t found the right healing path? And that most insidious phrase of the inner critic…you’re not enough?
We are, of course, constantly evolving and learning, and sometimes the path that will be of most benefit, is still waiting for us. We need to be careful though, as that skulking message of not being enough, can worm it’s way into our pyche.
With my practitioner hat on, I direct my energies to the healing potential of womb work, the power of menstrual cycle awareness, and how to move through menopause in a conscious and reflective way. Yes, I’ve been evangelical about the modalities, staying true and authentic to the way I have seen the work change lives, my own life included.
Without hyperbole, the work has readied me for the challenges that I may or may not face over the course of the rest of my life.
How do practitioners and those around us respond to a condition that is also not curable. In fact a condition that is as hard to comprehend, as it is to pronounce, and therefore not easy to engage with.
I am a practitioner, but also someone with a chronic and incurable condition.
I have a cyst in my spinal cord, part of my Central Nervous System. The cyst is known as a syrinx, and those with a syrinx have a condition called Syringomyelia. In my case, it’s congenital so the syrinx formed while I was in the womb.
Strange terminology, and a condition that is considered to be rare (although I’m not convinced it is that rare, but that’s for another time!)
It’s interesting having a condition that is not only unrelatable, but hard to pronounce! Due to it’s “otherness”, the condition, by it’s nature doesn’t create a culture of general understanding. It’s a little too alien for that.
Although, to be fair, information available about it is very limited and, at present, not enough research in the UK has been put into it.
The added bonus of Syringomyelia is that many find that it’s not a stand-alone condition; it’s usually present amongst other syndromes and medical challenges for us.
I’ve been told I also have Fibromyalgia and have had Irritable Bowel Syndrome for as long as I can remember. Whether you’re in the well-being community or not, Fibromyalgia and IBS are more familiar terms; more relatable. More information and resources are at hand to share, and therefore to offer the possibility of help and support.
On the scale of how much these syndromes affect our lives, IBS can be anywhere between an annoyance and debilitating; a Fibromylagia flare up on the other hand is most definitely debilitating.
If you add Syringomyelia back into the mix though, what you have is a condition where there’s the possibility of the Central Nervous System being interrupted, that the body’s reactions and responses may not be as expected.
This makes so much sense to me after the many years of trying numerous modalities, and being confused why I seemed to respond in the opposite way. I always wondered why acupuncture exacerbated symptoms!
The moment of epiphany for me, was listening to a talk recently given by Anthony Williams, known as the Medical Medium. Much of his work is directed at those with chronic conditions, such as Epstein Barr, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and digestive issues.
He was talking about those of us walking around, trying to cope with chronic conditions, and not knowing WHY we have them. He has his theories, his belief systems and methods of improving health. He has a huge following, however his protocols don’t resonate with me personally.
My epiphanic moment though, was realising that I DO know the WHY for these chronic conditions I’m living with. My Central Nervous System has an interruption in it. I have a syrinx, a cyst in my spinal cord. Not a cyst ON my spine, but IN my spinal cord.
In it’s simplest form, the Central Nervous System is the part of us that tells our body what and what not to do. It’s the communication hub for everything we do, from breathing (communicating with our autonomic nervous system) to urinating, to moving.
It’s therefore a crucial part of the human body to not be firing at full capacity!
For those of us who have been supporting ourselves for years, spending probably thousands of pounds, trying to find foods, exercise/movement, spiritual guidance, and modalities to support us, somewhere along the line, the message has popped into my head – “I’m getting it wrong”.
This has called for me to take an about-turn in perspective, and in the process, ease of my own mental health.
How might it feel to be at peace with NOT trying to get BETTER, but instead focussing on ways to have BETTER DAYS? Suddenly meeting Syringomyelia becomes less of mountain to climb.
In our “fix-it” culture, though I’m not sure how well that sits.
My question is, who’s with me?
Who’s on their own journey with a chronic condition and simply wants to enjoy better days?
Or just as potently, who, as a practitioner can support those with a chronic condition to enjoy better days, rather than looking to fix the condition?
What does it mean, living with an incurable condition such as Syringomyelia? Yes, there’s the possibility of it not getting any worse, however, it’s clear my symptoms have worsened. Yes, there’s the possibility of it progressing, that’s a fact, but absolutely NOT A GIVEN.
However, bear in mind that straining when doing a poo, or picking up an object that’s too heavy are ways that a Syrinx can worsen. It’s not necessarily hard to create situations for deterioration and progression.
Perhaps it really is as simple as relinquishing to knowing that I will NOT get better, but I WILL feel better on some days.
Some folks use the term “warrior” when it comes to fighting chronic conditions.
For myself the “warrior” term, and “fighting” is counter intuitive. If I’m chronically fatigued, why would fighting be a congruent and effective way of approaching these conditions?
What if “being” with the condition, listening to what it’s asking of me, conversing with it, playing around with what might help, my nervous system can be calmed rather than over-burdened.
This approach really is born out of the menstrual cycle and menopause awareness work: listening to my needs. Not necessarily conforming to societal and linear expectations for health conditions to have a beginning and an end. There’s so much more in between.
The possibility that following the path of least resistance, can lead to a more soothed soul.
I do though, also understand the need for others to step into warrior mode, it places us in a stance of action, not taking what we’re being faced with lying down, it’s something to overcome. I get it, I really do. It’s just not my chosen direction for this situation.
If I was looking at a condition that was curable, had an end point, yes I subscribe to standing as a warrior. In fact, it was how I approached having ankle surgery last year. With one foot in surrendering to the length of time the recovery would take, and the other in warrior mode; working diligently and valiantly, seeing the ankle healed and holding me with certainty and strength. Little did I know that my Central Nervous System was choosing a different path for me.
The reason I feel compelled to write this piece is as a support to those of us living with chronic conditions; that we’re not getting it wrong, whatever healing path calls us.
Not getting it wrong to be looking to create better days. It’s not fatalistic, it’s calming and a relief to stop the quest for health perfection.
And lets face it, trying to perfect anything in these Covid times, with all the outside pressures of living during a pandemic; it’s just a pressure too far!
If you’ve sat with me as I’ve held space for you in a treatment, led a meditation for you, held space in circle, heard your words; you know that I always invite you to meet where you are, that all is as it’s meant to be in that moment.
The message always is – you are not getting it wrong and that you are enough.
I’m not getting it wrong; I am enough.
It’s been so insightful hearing other’s experiences who have been kind enough to read the piece. The words of a wise yoga teacher have stayed with me. She shared the yogic perspective of the Warrior; that of strength, courage and resilience, rather than of fighting.
It made me take a breath, and acknowledge how all of the warrior aspects have kept me moving, learning and even supporting others in the work I share.
At the beginning of the year, I set an intention of TRUST for 2020, you know, a word of the year kind of thing. Nearly every day I’ve spoken a mantra of ” I welcome TRUST (yes upper case TRUST!) into all aspects of my life”. Dear goddess, has it held me while symptoms have worsened, other challenges have come my way, and in the outside world, living through a pandemic!
Is it possible to be a Warrior of TRUST!
A year ago today, I consciously took a step off a path.
Not a metaphorical path, but a real-life path, in a small field, in a town called Petworth in West Sussex.
I remember clearly making the choice, choosing to place my left foot on the grass next to the path. In that split second, it felt like a harmless step to take. In actual fact, the grass was hiding a dip and I went over horribly hard on my ankle. I collapsed in a dramatic heap like a Premier League football player, asking my husband to keep my legs raised, to stop myself passing out!
Despite the enormous swelling, I told myself it was just a sprain and had convinced myself that ice, elevation, a Tubigrip bandage, rest for a few days and a shit load of turmeric would be enough for me to push on through with my busy life.
It took weeks to reach the point of finding out that I had actually ruptured a ligament, and there was some form of tendon damage. And now, a year on, I’m eight weeks post-ankle surgery, after needing a ligament clean-up and a tendon repair.
OK, what’s all this got to do with perimenopause?
There is no doubt that this past year has been hugely challenging and I spent time pondering this morning on reaching a year of reduced and at some points no mobility. I reflected on how much grief it has brought up, how my self-worth has been brought into question, how much I’ve had to say no to, how much my life has been forced to slow down. And, bearing in mind I teach self-care, how high imposter syndrome has piled up!
That perimenopause link?
Well, the societal push in all things menstrual, in perimenopause and menopause is to carry on regardless. You’ve seen the adverts – it’s suggested you don’t stop, but instead ramp it up and maybe choose your bleed as the perfect time to hop on that zip wire! The precept is – do not listen to what your body and psyche are asking of you, instead push on through, and that’s where you’ll prove your strength and sense of worth.
Holland & Barrett recently ran a Me.No.Pause campaign, which personally made my blood boil. What an amazing opportunity for growth missed by suggesting we do not pause and explore ourselves at this time of transition.
Of course, I wouldn’t dream of speaking for all, as the menopause transition can be an energising time for some who are strongly pulled towards action, rather than rest and reflection. But, from the many years of working with women, there is a HUGE call and need to slow down, allowing the richness of menopause to be experienced.
You see, waxing lyrical about listening to your needs and resting in menstrual and peri/menopause terms is effortless. But what happened when faced with pausing and listening in another guise? I didn’t, and that has been the greatest lesson.
My surgeon reminded me that it’s been necessary for this operation to make my ankle much worse than before the surgery, but by taking the recovery really slowly and carefully, I would heal stronger than before.
Isn’t it the perfect analogy for perimenopause?
Perimenopause is a time when it can feel as though we’re losing our marbles, our fertility, our youthful body. A time when we face grief, questioning self-worth, at times questioning everything. This opportunity we’re given at perimenopause is to sift out what isn’t serving us in our life, realising it’s ok and necessary say “no” more often, and for allowing ourselves to slow down and really listen to how our body and psyche is asking us to respond.
I’ve spent much of the past year looking for the message this injury has given me, knowing perimenopause was there in the picture, simply because of having to completely change the pace of my life.
Post surgery has been a perfect storm of having an area that carries the entire weight of the body operated on and being deep in perimenopausal void space.
For weeks after the surgery, apart from being physically immobile, my mind went into almost complete immobility too! I couldn’t concentrate on reading or writing, watching hours of tv, but couldn’t tell you about what I’d seen. Everything stopped, except my emotions. They were, and continue to be on high alert. Barely a day has gone by without emotions being pricked in one way or another. There have been tears aplenty! There it has been, facing the grief simply because that’s all I can do.
The challenge is always to keep listening.
I was guided to take 12 weeks off work for recovery, but it turns out that wasn’t realistic, and realising that my ‘surgery sabbatical” would have to be extended, sent me into a tail spin. My response was ridiculous, the next day, rather than pace myself, as advised, I decided to up my movement, cook for the family, do chores that I had, by necessity, let others take care of for the past 7 weeks, go for the longest “walk” since the operation…and what did my body tell me? To slow the fuck down, remember sister, you’re being asked to stop!
The real truth about menopause is to listen to our needs harder and closer than we ever have in our life. There is a second, wisdom spring of life to revel in post menopause. Journeying to the other side of the transition, by listening with grace and kindness.
Having witnessed women travel through their menopause this way; listening to the manifestations (aka symptoms) and hearing what they are being asked to tend to. It is as empowering as it gets.
Not attending to our needs, that’s when we get tripped up.
The power of NOT pushing through. No, it’s not a trope we often hear, but it serves us completely at perimenopause to celebrate slowing down and only doing what feeds our soul.
So happy injury-versary to me, and all the perimenopausal teachings I have been gifted with along the way.
If you are in your 40s or 50s and perimenopause is on your radar, join us for our Woman Kind online retreat Am I Going Mad? from 1st-14th July. Exploring the messiness of it all in virtual circle.
Ooh, so far, this has been a defining year.
Once I was accepted on to Alexandra Pope’s Women’s Quest Apprenticeship, it was clear that, life would never quite be the same.
The training, (although seriously, “training” doesn’t even begin to describe the experience!) was a series of beautifully crafted processes, transformations and wisdom sharing, such is the like I’ve never encountered.
Essentially over two separate residential weeks we were invited to truly meet ourselves.
And not just a polite shaking of hands kind of meeting. No, this was getting down and sometimes oh so messy with our psyches. Delving in to the different stages of our lives, from menarche (first period) to menopause and beyond.
All under the immensely skilful and watchful eyes and guidance of Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo-Wurlitzer, who run Red School Online, with the huge hearted Laura Tonello and Laila Torsheim to support. I must acknowledge how the teaching team of women working together was so inspirational; the celebration of each others skills, only lifting each other. All utterly powerful to witness. And how each of our teachers shared their authenticity was deeply moving.
By the end of the two residentials, each of us had relived our experience of menarche, traversed our menstrual cycles in several different forms, gone toe to toe with our inner critic, dreamt in to how we can serve the world, met the future wise woman within us, culminating in a pure celebration of ourselves.
And how we celebrated!
Every exercise was searching and challenging, as was the immensely courageous opening of hearts within the circle of sisters I’m sharing the apprenticeship journey with. We listened to one another’s moments of self-awareness, witnessed each others pain, celebrated the emerging joy coming from the healing wisdom, all with such love and compassion. We sang, we danced, we lovingly held space for each other.
My own journey was often painful, but deeply transformational, and allowed me to ease out of the comfiest of comfortable life sofas. In fact, not long after the first residential, with some acknowledgment to where I was standing in my menstrual cycle (my inner summer of ovulation), I found myself calling in to a national radio station to voice my feelings on medication to reverse the menopause. Never done that before! You’ll see why this was such a big deal…
…All my life I’ve had issue with my voice, with projection, with allowing myself to be heard. But even more transformation was to occur. Nearly two years after being gifted a recording studio session by my children, I broke through a whole heap of resistance, started seeing a vocal coach and stepped with confidence in to that recording studio and rocked my way to recording the perfect song choice. It was dedicated to my husband for his daily acceptance of every part of me. I also realised that it was unknowingly a 90s head tip to menstruality!
Please do enjoy the recording of “Bitch”, which would not have materialised were it not for sitting in circle with my Women’s Quest sisters and teachers.
Well, some real gifts have been borne out of the apprenticeship, so grab these while you’re hanging out in this blog post:
1) First is the ever so simple act of introducing cycle awareness in to your life. That’s menstrual cycle awareneness in your menstruating years, or with the lunar cycle, if you’re post menopause, breast feeding, not having menstrual cycles, or post hysterectomy.
Keeping a track of your feelings along with your cycle can be a treasure trove. To help you get started, download your chart here.
2) If you are following a menstrual cycle, really listen to what your body, emotions and psyche are telling you in the different inner seasons (more info on these in number 5). And for women journeying the menopause, the listening is paramount. What is your body asking you to do in this moment? What are your emotions saying to you? What is your intuition nudging you to do (listen ever so carefully to your intuition in your inner winter, especially when you are bleeding, the potential for insight can be staggering).
3) Once you’ve listened, then HEAR, I mean really hear what your needs are, this is as a means to truly support yourself. How can those needs be met? What do you need to do or perhaps more importantly, NOT do.
4) Self-care is key. Establish practices that feed you. This could be: self-care massage, yoga, meditation, your favourite exercise class, receiving a massage, meeting friends, spending time in mama nature, bringing health giving foods in to your life…the list is personal and endless. And if these practices are moved through with awareness as to how they nourish you, your self-care box is firmly ticked.
5) Intertwined with 2-4 is introducing the concept of the 1% in to your life. As Alexandra Pope also calls it, the homeopathic dose. Devoting time to self-care is deeply important, but when the time and frankly the inclination is just not there, what to do then? The 1% is a balm to your needs. What little kindnesses can you show yourself?
Here are a few ideas, working around the inner seasons of the menstrual cycle:
*That moment of slowing your step, if you can’t fully stop, while you’re bleeding in your inner winter.
*That moment of taking a breath when your inner critic speaks up in your inner autumnal pre-menstruum; maybe texting a friend who always lifts you when you’re down.
*That social event you duck out of at the last minute while you’re in your super sexy, inner summer, ovulation phase. Because actually its the 4th night on the trot you’ve gone out and suddenly you no longer feel super sexy and if you go there’s the very real chance of an energy slump that might really floor you – and…take a breath!
*That moment you bite your tongue, even though you want to tell everyone about your latest, greatest innovative idea in exciting, but still quite vulnerable, pre-ovulatory, inner spring. Knowing actually, its too early to share and any criticism might squash your precious idea shoots.
Find your own 1%s, your own small kindnesses that will ease unease.
I adore the simplicity, that the answers lie within you. All in your cycle guiding you to when and how to engage in the self-care, when to reach for a choco endorphin release, shift your exercise from Insanity to pleasurable yoga, make that presentation, write that blog post…yes my loves, it’s all there in cycle awareness.
If you would like to explore these gifts and possibilities of your menstrual cycle or menopause journey, you have options:
*Check our our latest Woman Kind offering here
*Opportunities for embodying these gifts with Womb & Fertility Massage,
*Simply having a consultation to explore how you can introduce menstrual cycle or menopause awareness as a support to your life. You can reach me at Leora@auraholistictherapies.com
*Red School, I can’t recommend enough, leads you on your own menstruality journey with Alexandra and Sjanie.
With heartfelt thanks and love to Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo-Wurlitzer and fellow sisters who sat in circle at the Apprenticeship.
I haven’t even mentioned PMT, just wait until that rears its sometimes hideously ugly head. Oh the frustration of our partner not throwing away the used tea bags or the irritation that woman in the office who’s chair wheels squeak every time she moves!
Perhaps it feels deeper than that, a critical voice in your head that once a month begins to shout a little too loud that you are not worthy of this and are rubbish at that and don’t deserve, well, anything that might resemble happiness.
If any of this sounds familiar, welcome to what feels like a harsh menstrual world.
But, here’s a radical suggestion. Your period, in fact, your whole monthly cycle is not the enemy you might think it is.
How do I know this? Well read on.
The relationship I had with my own cycle up to only a couple of years ago, was, quite frankly one of pure hate, resentment, and the will for early menopause. Yes I was literally wishing my life away, anything so that I wouldn’t have to struggle through yet another month.
I would bleed for about 10 days, with 2 or 3 days of the kind of pain that could leave me momentarily blind. Often I would be unable to get out of bed, as I would regularly manage to squeeze in a few disabling migraines. They would strike indiscriminately before, during and/or after my bleed.
Premenstrually, I would feel so horribly unwell that most months l would be on the verge of passing out. My joints would be painful, breast pain was off the scale, and the rage was, well, just frightening. And the self talk, oh yes, that critic, she was always on her worst behaviour. The whole world was against me…again!
Who would have guessed that actually that womb from hell of mine, would end up being a bestie? A source of creativity, a source of intuition and a source of trust.
All I had to do was care for her and the cycle that she was central to.
First introductions to my womb were made during my Abdominal-Sacral Massage training and deepened in my Fertility Massage training. It turned out I was holding a whole load of trauma in her. Receiving massage treatments and allowing regular self massage, my cycle started to shift. Bleeds changed from brown and dark red sludge to a beautiful bright red flow; I was clearing healthily each month. But most gratefully, the pain eased.
So began my quest of self discovery. Over the last couple of years I’ve been educating myself, making changes and seeing significant, heart-skipping shifts.
The most radical change of all was deciding to commit to self-care.
After reading Alexandra Pope’s The Wild Genie, I knew I had to grab the opportunity to learn from the woman who spent 30 years developing a form of menstrual care that is both radical and hugely empowering. So I did, and I have learned that with care, kindness and most importantly, awareness, you can tap in to this source of menstrual creativity. Keeping a track of my cycle was a huge part of this, noting daily on a chart has allowed insight in to how I ebb and flow as I move from the winter of my bleed, to the spring of pre-ovulation, to the summer of ovulation, to the autumn of pre-menstrum, back to the winter of bleeding.
As I write this, it’s during the heaviest day of my period. I’m feeling pretty dreamy in mid-winter, but giving in to the feeling. Actually I am finding it hard to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes, but it’s ok.
Look at that, no judgement or frustration, just kindness and understanding, and because of this, no pain. I haven’t pushed through.
I have invited my family to understand that I need to just “be” on this day and it’s made such a difference having them on board.
It’s about honouring each part of the cycle.
On Mothers Day this year I took my daughter to a one of my favourite crystal shops and we picked out a bracelet together that I wear only while I bleed.
I truly honour my cycle now and I chart to recognise when it’s necessary to show myself the most kindness. Long gone are the days where I was wishing for menopause. Instead at the age of nearly 45, I relish my final few years of bleeding, making the most of this gift until my time of transition.
What if you were able to gain access to a source of power, of creativity, of action; a place where your voice will be heard, usually taking different guises – sometimes with enthusiasm, sometimes with sheer glee, sometimes with uncompromising honesty, sometimes with tenderness? This place can also be a gateway for deep emotion, anger, revelation, but also love, empathy and understanding.
Could all of these dimensions be found in one place? Spend some quality time with the wise and inspirational Alexandra Pope and Uma Dinsmore-Tuli and all will become clear.
I did just that last weekend on Alexandra’s and Uma’s Womb Wisdom Retreat in stunning Stroud. Here, my head, heart and psyche were held, tested, at times turned 360 degrees by relinquishing to vulnerability, but most importantly nurtured.
Shared with other beautiful souls, we coupled with our source through Womb Yoga. We were taken through exquisite Yoga Nidra by the equally exquisite Uma Dinsmore-Tuli; we connected yet floated around our bodies. How was that possible?
And we were taught gently, purposefully and formidably, by Alexandra, how to access this source I’ve alluded to.
Ladies, it’s within us. Oh yes! It is held within us, in the form of our monthly cycle. If we can acknowledge the different seasons throughout our cycle, we can allow ourselves a freedom and most importantly an acceptance that what we experience on day 1 of our cycle, will be different to, say, day 8. Again by day 15 we will be experiencing a whole other force, and by day 24 we might not even recognise who we were a few days before. There is a sound and sensible reason for how and why we shift throughout the month. Each phase serves a purpose.
All this from the menstrual cycle? The key word here is cycle. Once you delve in to the powerful world of the menstruality, a theme becomes most apparent – as women, because we do cycle, we ARE not and CANNOT be linear. Ironically and sadly, many of us live and work in a fashion, where we are expected to perform to same level of ability, energy and clarity, day in day out.
Let me share a rather freeing concept, that at each stage of your cycle you will be able to harness a different kind of power. I look forward to sharing some of these ideas in later blogs.
All I know is since the retreat, since delving deep into my seasons, I have been an unstoppable force! The procrastination has halted; unexpected, unplanned conversations to clear old demons have taken place; future plans have been actioned; heck, I’ve written my first blog!