Menstruation in Ayurveda
By Andrea Shuman and Michelle Magid
Excerpted from the book, A New Cycle: Your Guide to a Better Period, Naturally, A Collection by Gladrags™
Many of us have spoken to our OB-GYN about our cramps, PMS, bloating, etc, only to be offered artificial hormones such as birth control pills, pain medication, or even psychiatric medication. In my formative years growing up as a woman, I was on high-level pain medications for cramps, birth control pills that made me gain weight and left me emotionally imbalanced, as well as finally being given the Depo-Provera shot to stop my period altogether! It took more than a year and a half to regain my cycle after I went off the hormone shot. This experience inspired in me the drive to find out what was at the root of my difficulty with menstruation, why I had suffered so much, and what could be done about it. This search led me to Ayurvedic medicine, the traditional medicine of India, practiced for more five thousand years.
Normal versus Common
In Eastern medicine, the menstrual cycle is looked at as being one of the clearest ways to assess the overall health of a woman. In order to truly see what is going on in our bodies, it is important to draw a distinction between “normal” and “common.” According to Ayurveda, menstrual cramps are not normal. That’s right. Cramps are a common plague, but they are still an imbalance. Let’s back up and talk about what Ayurveda says about healthy menstruation. According to the ancient texts known as the Charaka Samhita, the menstrual cycle should be regular and between twenty-seven and thirty days long. The bleeding should be bright red and should wash easily out of fabrics without staining. There should be no pain. The cycle should last between three and seven days and should be continuous rather than stopping and starting. Wow. How few of us actually have periods like this? Were the ancient sages living in some sort of fantasy world, or is there something we are missing here?
Society’s reflection of the moontime
Western society historically has had a very conflicted and problematic relationship with menstruation. Many of us grew up during a time where feminism meant being the same and doing the same as men. We saw tampon commercials where women rode horses in white pants while having their periods…carefree and smiling. Where is the balance here? Is there a middle ground between ignoring our cycles and medicating them away, and suffering debilitation around the symptoms we experience during this time? I would like to propose that the truly feminist approach to menstruation is one that is profemale and honors the open and heightened sensory time that the cycle brings. The moontime is completely normal, but it is uncommon in our society to see it honored and treated with respect. By understanding our intrinsic nature and tendencies, Ayurveda can help us find the place within ourselves where peace is found in our monthly connection to nature, and joy is rediscovered as we learn that our innate intuitive abilities are increased during this time. By bringing our bodies and minds into harmony with our nature, we can experience periods that are healthy, comfortable, and often profound. What follows is a simplified explanation of the theory of Ayurveda as well as some helpful tips and insights to improve your monthly experience. We advise that you seek the assistance of a trained Ayurveda professional if you are experiencing more than mild discomfort.
Ayurveda (Ah-yoor-vay-da) is the comprehensive holistic system of healing from India and translates as “the science or knowledge of life.” Ayurveda has been practiced consistently for more than five thousand years and has one of the longest and oldest knowledge bases for medicine in the world. Based on the principles of elemental medicine, Ayurveda looks at the basic building blocks of the universe and all things in it as the basis for its science. The elements, according to Ayurveda, are: ether (space), air, fire, water, and earth. These elements are literal at times, though more often metaphorical and a way of understanding life from the macrocosm in, rather than from the tiny cellular structures and atoms out. These elements are understood to be in each person and each thing on the planet and in the universe. In each individual human, different amounts of each element are present, creating a unique constitutional makeup of each individual.
The doshas are, simply put, a combination of more than one element creating distinct body/mind types. Each type has some basic characteristics and some predictable health conditions. No one is the same; everyone is unique depending on the amount each dosha manifests in them. We will start with some basic understandings of each dosha. The doshas are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
Air and ether come together to create Vata. Vatas tend to be colder, thinner, highly creative and enthusiastic, bubbly, nervous or anxious, and have drier skin. We tend to think of them like a buzzing bee, due to their tendency to “buzz” from one thing to the next and their light nature. Vata disorders are often drier and lighter in character, such as constipation (dry stools that have a hard time passing rather than thick obstructions), anxiety, and painful cramping during menstruation. Vatas may suffer from vaginal dryness. Vata is the most vulnerable and unstable of the doshas and is responsible for the most health imbalances.
Fire and water come together to create Pitta. Pittas tend to be warmer than others, medium or athletic build, more “fiery” in passions and personality. They are driven, focused, captivating, and can tend toward anger and irritability when imbalanced, and make good teacher and leaders when balanced. Pittas can be thought of as a bull or tiger due to their strong leader tendencies and dominant nature. Pitta-type disorders are warmer, such as burning indigestion, loose stools, herpes, bacterial vaginitis, and menstrual symptoms like PMS with anger, headaches, and skin breakouts. Pittas may also experience cramping that is milder and warmer than Vata type.
Water and earth unite to become Kapha. Kaphas tend toward larger frames and features, including larger eyes, hips, and breasts, thick lustrous hair, and some difficulty losing weight. Kaphas are slower in manner and less motivated to movement. They make good, nurturing friends and tend to be the “mamas” wherever they are. Kapha disorders are more thick and sluggish in nature, such as diabetes, slow digestion, sugar addictions, and obesity. Kaphas can be thought of as a swan due to their wide, strong bodies and graceful, slow movement. Kapha menstrual issues are often fibroid masses, uterine congestion and blocking, delayed menstruation and leucorrhea (white discharge) as well as yeast infections. Kapha is the strongest of the doshas and least susceptible to disease.
All that said, you probably don’t fall neatly into any single category. Most people have a dominant dosha or dual dominant doshas. You are unique, and simply understanding your nature and characteristics—such as warm or cold, dry or moist, light or heavy—can help you to use Ayurveda to assist you in achieving healthy and balanced menstrual cycles. Ayurveda uses the principle of antidoting with opposites to create balance. So if you are cold and dry, the treatments, foods, and medicines will be warm and moist.
At first glance, this profound medicine may seem complicated and obscure, but the more we use observation of ourselves and our environment to assess where we are, the easier the remedies become. For instance, if you notice that it is cold outside and your cramps tend to become worse in the cold, the use of heat, applied externally on the womb, would be recommended, as well as warm foods. If you notice your PMS or headaches become worse in the summer, choosing cooling foods, staying out of the direct sun, and avoiding exercising in the heat of the day can be practiced preventively. In the following section, we will look at some basic diet and lifestyle choices you can implement right away to start fine-tuning your relationship to the elements and your nature.
To learn more about Ayurvedic lifestyle and diet suggestions, foods to avoid and foods to balance your cycle and other self care tips for menstrual difficulties get your copy of the book, A New Cycle, Your Guide to a Better Period Naturally, A Collection by Gladrags available at our store for $13.00 or by ordering here.