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Yoga: find the peace beneath

01-Oct-2018 Yoga: find the peace beneath

Deborah Winchester, an exceptional Yoga teacher, explains how she became even more committed to it when she was 'plunged into a chemically-induced menopause at age 42'.

It had to happen then.

I stood in a crowded room, trying my best to look and sound professional, as I engaged in a conversation with an unknown business executive from an established London firm. Whilst becoming animated about the value of LinkedIn as opposed to Twitter in attracting credible leads, it began.

A queasy, unsettled feeling first. Then a lapse in concentration and a hesitation with words. The creeping and prickling invasion of heat, firstly making its appearance with a film of perspiration shimmering on my face, followed by a slow transition from pink to rosy red to bright crimson ...

I faltered. I tried surreptitiously to dab my face with a tissue, but the rivulets were in full flow. I tried a funny line to distract my listener with a few laughs. It was no use. I wished the ground would swallow me up then and there. I felt that my whole body was sabotaging my usually confident and sociable self and laughing in mockery at my embarrassment. I excused myself and make a rapid escape, seeking the closest industrial-sized refrigerator.

I had to find a solution.

Having been plunged into a chemically-induced menopause at age 42 due to breast cancer and the subsequent intensive treatment and hormone therapy, it seemed that my body was to continue to default on me, very publicly, in the form of hot flushes, memory lapses, depression and an outstanding kick to my confidence.

Drugs and even natural therapies were not an option for me due to an oestrogen-positive cancer, so I began seeking ways to work WITH my body, not AGAINST it.

I was a part-time editor and director in my day job and a fitness instructor in my 'other life'. I had favoured high-intensity classes and liked to stretch my fitness, but had always had a love for Yoga.

It was challenging to continue working in the fitness industry throughout the treatment and surgeries that followed my diagnosis and, often, exhausting. I questioned whether really pushing my body to its limits was healthy, but the research shows that exercise helps reduce the risk of secondary breast cancer, so I persevered. However, I also began to study Yoga and continued my training, whilst adding more and more Yoga classes, to compliment my regular classes.

For possibly the first time in my life, I began to LISTEN to my body. One of the most significant foundations of Yoga is pranayama or breath. How many of us breathe deeply and exhale fully? And yet, with deep rhythmic breathing, the diaphragm expands, the body relaxes and the lymphatic system works more efficiently which helps in the elimination of toxins.

Through Yoga I began to appreciate what my body COULD do and not what it COULDN'T do. In fact, the faults and flaws became almost irrelevant. Yes, I still struggled with a lack of confidence at times, the hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms were still very real. But I stopped living my life in fear of a hot flush or a feeling of nausea. I know these feelings will pass.

And that is the key. Knowing that these symptoms will pass. They do not constitute you as a person and they do not define you.

Yoga: find the peace beneath

If you find a good Yoga class, that time becomes a treat for your body and mind. A time simply to relax into yourself, to listen to what is happening within you and to move in a way that improves every function of your body. For an hour or so, you flow through a series of sequences that offer strength and stretch, that require you to breath rhythmically and to focus only on what is happening within your body. It can be mesmerising and therapeutic.

And in a good Yoga class there is no judgement. You learn that whatever your body can or can't do, it doesn't matter at all. We are all at different ages, stages and abilities. We are, all of us, experiencing things others know nothing about. Stand in your presence and regain your worth.

Through Yoga I have learnt that my body is complete, irrespective of surgical scars and a crimson face. I feel safe in being what I am, at that moment and in that space.

I love teaching yoga and am passionate about mobility and good health as we age and I hope that message comes across in my teaching. But if I were asked what the one most powerful element of Yoga is for me, as a woman in midlife, I would say it is the reconnection to self: getting back in touch with that authentic, individual, unique person that lies buried beneath the masks we wear for others and for ourselves. Acknowledging that my body does a fine job and that I am so much more than a hot flush or an irritable response. Yoga offers a peace that is so desperately needed in this time of change. You don't have to be graceful or flexible. You don't have to be size 8 or into veganism. You just have to turn up. Stay present. Trust yourself. And simply be.

Please get in touch if you'd like to chat. Namaste!

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