Ex-mayor's seclusion ends with new book
By Kelly Feser Eells
Ojai's colorful ex-mayor, Suza
Francina, will be signing copies of her latest book, "Yoga
and the Wisdom of Menopause," at Local Hero Books this Sunday,
starting at 2 p.m.
A certified Iyengar yoga instructor and acclaimed health and
fitness author, Francina has been teaching here and abroad for
more than 30 years. Widely recognized as a leading authority
on health issues specific to middle-aged-and-older people,
Francina's second book, "The
New Yoga for People Over 50" (published in several languages
and still selling briskly), included a chapter on menopause that
sparked so much interest in holistic health and fitness circles,
and the female population in general, she took the initiative
and wrote an entire book on the subject.
Francina provides in-depth answers to questions about "Yoga
and the Wisdom of Menopause" (plus a sneak preview into
what can be expected from her sure-to-be-lively book signing
Q. Is the wisdom aspect of menopause universal? Or does a woman
have to be as limber as you are, that is, fit as a fiddle, to
realize the benefits?
A. "I hope I get a chance to answer this question on 'Oprah!'
"Yes, the wisdom of menopause is universal, and being fit
as a fiddle is not a prerequisite. A few years ago, before I
realized I was moving into menopause, I wrote in my journal that
I felt like I was 'waking up from a hormonal coma.' As it happened,
my intuition that I was waking up from a hormonal coma was right
"Menopause is a hormonal shift mirroring puberty. Some
doctors have pointed out that the only way women can become docile
enough to mate and reproduce is because they are under the influence
of domesticating hormones.
"At midlife, the hormonal shift that is present for only
a few days each month during a woman's reproductive years become
stuck in such a position for weeks or months at a time. This
causes a huge shift in our perception of the world and our relationships.
It seems to me we should 'cooperate' with this process, which
not only helps us become more clear about who we are and what
we want to do, but helps us really start speaking our minds.
Many health experts believe that menopause is the biggest opportunity
for growth since adolescence!
"Today's woman lives in the midst of a mass scale hormone
experiment. Just imagine what the women of the future will think
when they read about this era, with millions of women swallowing
a drug derived from the urine of pregnant mares (Premarin)!
Don't think for a minute that
this whole business of fiddling with our estrogen levels isn't
connected to the wider issue of living our lives to please other
But, as you would say, I digress..."
Q. Are senior citizens and/or yoga students from all over the
world still contacting you - or at least as much as they did
with the (groundbreaking) 1977 publication of "Yoga for
People Over 50," your first book?
A. Yup! I still get a steady stream of letters from readers all
over the planet. And books tend to bring steady requests for
interviews. I just finished an email interview on yoga and menopause
for (Sweden's) Women's Magazine.
I was also surprised to find a quote of mine - that had nothing
to do with yoga - in Indian newspapers and magazines. There,
in the midst of all these ancient swamis and sages, was 'We live
in a chair-and-car culture, and the cold reality is that people
who don't use their legs lose them.'"
Q. How often do you take your teaching on the road?
A. "Well, I leave our village every few months to fly to
New York or another big city, where I'm picked up in a limousine
and get to stay in a fancy hotel with all the bills paid. For
a few fleeting moments, I feel like a 'famous author.' But then,
in the next breath, I find myself praying that nobody gets hurt
in these classes of about 120 people each. I go from teaching
my small, intimate classes here to teaching acres of bodies with
a microphone around my neck."
Q. Like during your recent trip to Austria?
A. "Yes. Prevention magazine and Wanderweg Holidays magazine
had me escort a group to the lovely Zell am Ziller Valley there.
I taught yoga early in the morning and hiked the Alps during
the day. (There are a few perks to soften the harsh reality of
fame-without- fortune!) In truth, I'm not a very good traveler.
I get homesick after two days."
Q. How does yoga benefit the menopausal process?
A. "During menopause there's a tremendous shift and release
of energy that is both unsettling and liberating. There's a natural,
biological movement away from the surface of life, from the dictates
and expectations of family and society, and an increasing pull
inwards, towards listening to what is really important.
One of the most common longings during the menopausal transition
is for solitude. Consider the deeper implication of the word
'men-o-pause.' According to spiritual teachers and leading women's
health authorities, we're being urged, both biologically and
spiritually, to take a pause from everything - people, our daily
responsibilities, etc. - and take some much needed quiet time
just to be with ourselves during menopause. And yoga helps us
'cooperate' with this process!"
Q. Is there a relationship between yoga and, to use a bandied-about
phrase, 'raging hormones?'
A. "It's a well-known fact that a woman's physical wellbeing
during the menopausal years depends on the healthy functioning
of her endocrine (hormone-producing) glands. With all the focus
in the media on hormone replacement, it's easy to lose sight
of the fact that, if all our other glands are functioning well,
the endocrine glands will, in most cases, keep producing all
the hormones a woman needs for the rest of her life.
Yoga helps modulate mood swings; reduces depression and anxiety;
and helps us cope with stress - some of the 'symptoms' commonly
associated with (and exacerbated by) menopause. Practicing yoga
on a regular basis helps ease these symptoms. More importantly,
yoga offers the opportunity to weed out and clear away the mental
and emotional debris that is the root cause of many problems
associated with menopause."
Q. Do you recommend any special poses?
A. "Poses that turn the body halfway or completely upside
down, like Standing Forward Bends, Downward-Facing Dog, and various
inverted poses, stimulate the endocrine system, and the pituitary
gland in particular, which is involved in the regulation of blood-sugar
levels and body temperature, and basically controls the changes
in the ever-shifting hormone levels of menopausal women.
When we come out of, or release the compression of, poses like
the Forward Bend, our organs are bathed in freshly oxygenated
blood - refreshing and rejuvenating us. This alternating 'squeezing
and soaking' enhances the functioning of the ovaries and the
hormones they produce.
Also, poses such as twists and backbends improve the functioning
of the adrenals, helping them to increase the amount of estrogen
in the body."
Q. Why is yoga, as opposed to, say, power walking, better for
the menopausal woman?
A. "Primarily, it's the effect that yoga postures and breathing
practices have not only on the muscles and bones of your body,
but on your organs and glands. Yoga reduces the effects of the
body's hormonal changes by balancing the endocrine system. The
regular practice of all the categories of poses - standing, sitting,
lying down, backbends, forward bends, twists, and inverted (upside
down) poses - stimulates and activates all the glands, organs,
tissues and cells of the body.
It's important to note that all menopausal symptoms are related;
using yoga to ease the unpleasant effect of one symptom generally
leads to better health in the rest of the body. Every pose has
a multitude of effects on all the systems of the body."
Q. Any parting thoughts?
A. "Well, I do encourage people - and that includes men,
who should buy this book so they can understand women better!
- to come to my book signing this Sunday. It's my first one in
five years and I need to practice autographing before I go to
the big 'BookExpo' in L.A. at the end of this month!
Last year was my year to be a recluse. I needed time to be quiet
as much as possible. But now that my inner activist has been
She leaves open the possibility of reentering the political arena.
But, she winks, she really never left it.
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