Destination weddings are passé. Now, India is pushing against stigma and silence and entering the world of elite menopause retreats.
On the banks of the Ganga, surrounded by thick Sal forests in the Himalayan foothills, women dealing with menopause fallouts are given hatha yoga, cupping therapy and meditation rooted in Vedanta philosophy.
From stars such as American comedian Wanda Sykes, politician Hillary Clinton, Monica Geller on Instagram and Pooja Bhatt on Bombay Begums to shows like Four More Shots Please and the Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives – there is now a sudden burst of women bringing menopause out of the cultural closet. And conversations, once started, can’t be put back in the bottle. Especially on a topic that has been pushed under the rug for centuries, when women suffered in silence.
“If I am in a bad mood, and I shout at my children, they will say, ‘Oh, mom is menopausing today.’ That is not fair. For you, it’s a joke, but think about it for me, everything is going south,” said Shweta Bachchan-Nanda, daughter of Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan, during the latest episode of her daughter Navya Naveli Nanda’s podcast ‘What the Hell Navya’.
The sprawling Palace Estate of the Maharaja of Tehri-Garhwal at Ananda, Uttarakhand has become a one-stop destination for traditional wellness programmes offering “inner harmony” to women wrestling with hot flashes, insomnia, depression, anxiety, weight gain, brain fog, etc. Ananda is not the only one. Retreats and wellness centres across India are waking up to this unaddressed problem of women.
On Netflix’s show Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives, Maheep Kapoor tells her friends about a new menopause pill endorsement that helps women transition through menopause effortlessly. Her friends immediately recoil in horror and denial. But Kapoor’s question hangs in the air, till the end of the season when it is invoked again. Like masturbation made a revolutionary breakthrough with Veere Di Wedding and Lust Stories four years ago, the Netflix show brought menopause into living room chatter.
“Today, the social stigma and awkwardness associated with discussing menopause or other ‘women’s problems’ has significantly decreased if compared to the 20th century or even the first decade of the 21st century,” says Achitha Jacob, CEO and founder of Proactive For Her, a Bangalore-based start-up working for women’s sexual and menstrual health.
Also read: Women have more brain changes after menopause: Study
Yoga, diet therapy, food philosophy — the world of menopause retreats
When 51-year-old Rina fractured her leg in February, she realised during the healing process that it was unlike any injury she had ever had. “When the cast came on, I was feeling unbearably hot,” she says, joining the dots minutes later, that what she was feeling could have been the onset of menopause. The periods were no longer the monthly “headache” they used to be.
But nobody had warned her about what would come next, that the monthly cramps would be replaced by hot flashes, migraines, anxiety, joint pain, and brain fog. She looked up online and found nothing. “There is just fake news, eat this or that. I consulted my gynaecologist and she said to just deal with it through meditation and exercise,” Rina recalls. Weeks later, after a lot of trial and error, she found solace in yoga and homoeopathy.
But women like Rina need not suffer alone. “Someone considering a preventive approach to the distressing symptoms of menopause later in life or to address existing symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, and other signs associated with either premenstrual stress or menopause can enrol for Ananda’s ‘Rebalance’ programme,” Dr Jitendra Uniyal, a holistic expert with specialisation in traditional East Asian therapies, leading Traditional Chinese Medicine at Ananda, told ThePrint.
Before signing up for the programme, the individuals are required to undergo an in-depth consultation with doctors and wellness experts. Considering their lifestyle habits, food preferences, infections, and past surgeries, a customised course of treatment is prescribed.
Vana, a health retreat in Dehradun spread over 21 acres of land, follows a similar roadmap before enrolling any woman dealing with menopause. “The programme focuses on stimulating the body and rebalancing hormones to re-establish equilibrium in mind and body,” says a spokesperson of Vana.
The day usually begins with yoga or a hike followed by two hours of treatments including meditation sessions with local Buddhist monks, Ayurvedic massages, and a personalised diet programme with specific portions.
At Ananda, for issues related to menopause, the initial assessment is driven by Traditional Chinese medicine, which includes inspection (looking), auscultation (listening), olfaction (smelling), inquiry (asking), and palpation (touching). This is followed by intensive therapies like Tibetan Kuu Nye, Kundalini, Japanese Shiatsu and aromatherapy.
“I was physically and mentally tired most of the time. It will be safe to use the word – powerless. I felt emotionally unstable, fatigued,” says a 51-year-old woman, who did not wish to be named, and travelled from Switzerland to India, looking to cure her menopause-induced stress.
She had tried different diets and therapies before heading East but nothing helped. But after an eight-day stay at Ananda filled with days of Ayurveda therapies, emotional healing sessions, acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, and pranayama, her life improved. “I feel liberated, my depression has lifted. I feel positive and happy,” she said as she left Ananda.
The minimum stay for a comprehensive wellness program seven days at Vana and Ananda, which can be extended up to whatever the person wishes. “Sometimes, we recommend a specific duration if the case is complex and demanding,” says Mahesh Natarajan, COO, Ananda. The cost of the programme, including the follow-up consultation, is Rs 42,000 plus taxes for one day.
Nimba Nature Cure Village, situated in Mehsana, Gujarat, identifies itself as a centre wherein modern science is merged with the traditional medical practices of Ayurveda, naturopathy, and yoga.
Also read: Menopause: HRT linked to depression – here’s what the evidence actually says
The transforming picture of menopause in India
In Netflix’s Bombay Begums, Pooja Bhatt’s character Rani, a top bank executive, walks out of a board meeting in one scene to splash some water on her face and armpits to deal with the hot flashes, a common fallout of menopause.
These cultural expressions in popular cinema are only a reflection of what’s changing on the ground. Women have been forming support groups for a few years now and bringing down walls of silence that blocked them for long.
Elda Health, a Bangalore-based start-up born two years ago, is a flourishing community of 50,000 women dealing with menopausal symptoms. What began with a WhatsApp group of 250 women has fleshed out into a company providing holistic healthcare programmes.
First is medical intervention conducted by gynaecologists who are menopause specialists followed by nutrition and fitness training. “A doctor has to do a separate course to specialise in menopause. It is not covered in detail as a part of the generic MBBS degree’s curriculum,” says, Swathi Kulkarni, co-founder and CEO of Elda Health.
Women’s menstrual, sexual, and reproductive health is also commonly discussed now by influencers Seema Anand, Pallavi Barnwal, Dr Tanaya Narendra (aka Dr Cuterus), Leeza Mangaldas, Juhi Kapoor and many others on social media, in female-first communities and in advertisements.
“We live in a society wherein puberty is pampered, pregnancy is celebrated but nothing much has been done or spoken about women who are over their reproductive age. That needs to change,” says Kulkarni.
(Edited by Ratan Priya)