Menopause is the elephant in America's living room, Jnana Gowan says. "People don't freak out when the word 'puberty' comes up about teenagers — but menopause? It gets too close to the idea that we might talk about bodily fluids," Gowan said. "Also, it is a very emotional time, or can be — and let's face it, a lot of folks can be pretty uncomfortable with feelings — so between the two it makes for a sticky subject. The really big elephant is that it means: 'Yes, it's true, I am aging. I am getting older. ... How do I feel about getting older?' It can be tough. I know. I have my own struggles with it."
Gowan took up yoga more than a decade ago, when she was engaged to be married and had recently quit smoking: "I had so much energy I thought my head would pop off." Having created and taught courses on mindful-motherhood yoga and workplace yoga, she is now addressing her own change-of-life struggles and those of other women with "Riding the Change," a workshop at 7th Heaven Yoga Studio (2820 Seventh St., Berkeley) on Saturday, January 30. Featuring postures, breathwork, discussion, and what Gowan calls "congenial commiseration," the class focuses on that transitional time in women's lives known as perimenopause, a span of several years during which the menstrual cycle is gradually shutting down and shifting hormones cause hot flashes, mood swings, and sleepless nights — among other unsettling symptoms.
"Technically, perimenopause is the time before our ovaries stop but when the body's system is heading in that direction. Granted, we are always in change, but for women this is the big change," said Gowan, who was inspired to create the class after listening to mind/body-medicine pioneer Joan Borysenko's CD Menopause, an Initiation into Power. Certain yogic practices are known to alleviate some of perimenopause's classic discomforts, and Gowan wanted to teach them in an environment where women could discuss experiences that they were afraid or ashamed to bring up in public.
One helpful pose is known as Viparita Karani, or "Legs up the Wall." Gowan calls it "one of those magic poses" in the sense that "if you are tired, it can help give you energy; if you are overstimulated or anxious, it can help calm you down. It's an inversion, and they are excellent for the neuroendocrine system. Hormones are in a delicate balance with the endocrine system and anything you can do to support the balance is helpful. As it turns out, going upside-down can be really helpful." This pose entails lying on the floor or a mat facing a wall. The straight legs rest vertically against the wall with the pelvis elevated above the chest, supported by a cushion under the buttocks.
"The title of the class is the yogic perspective," Gowan explained. "'Riding the Change' means to go with it like a girl surfer on a big wave, no matter what is coming at you. And hey, sometimes it can feel like a really big wave. It's in these transformational times that we can take the bull by the horns and really go into it. ... I hope the taboo of discussing this powerful time of life is in the midst of change. Women need to be able to say what it is, which is: 'My brain is rewiring itself, so please give me a little compassion here.'" 1 p.m., $40-$50. 7thHeavenYoga.com