Every month, Dr. Sheila, Chopra’s Chief Medical Officer will be answering questions from our followers. If you have a general question for her around health and wellness, please send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and your question may be the one she answers next month. This month, Dr. Sheila answers a question about Ayurveda for people who have periods.
The traditional healing system of Ayurveda offers us a unique approach to health for individuals who menstruate by honoring and supporting nature’s wisdom and the cycles of the body.
The Ayurvedic approach to menstrual health is based on several foundational principles:
- People whose bodies carry life represent the wisdom and creativity of the Universe.
- People who menstruate have hormonal cycles that are intimately connected to nature’s cycles.
- Through nurturing and supportive lifestyle practices, individuals who have periods can more effortlessly flow through the many physical and emotional cycles of life.
- Every person is unique and, by listening to the signal of the body and mind, can choose healthy practices to stay in balance.
One of the most unique aspects of menstruating bodies is the connection to nature’s rhythms via the monthly menstrual cycle. Because the menstrual cycle is often a time where individuals experience imbalances, we’ll discuss this a little further.
From a Western medical perspective, the cycles are controlled by hormones and how they cycle. From an Ayurvedic perspective, we understand that the cycle is also controlled by dosha influences. Any dosha imbalances that we experience will be reflected in the cycles, which are a window into our overall state of balance. There are many things that will affect people of all doshas, such as poor diet, lack of restful sleep, and physical or emotional stress. There are some unique doshic aspects to various stages of the cycle, as well as different tendencies for imbalances depending on an individual’s dosha.
Let’s look at these cycles as they relate to the doshas and learn some tips on staying balanced all month.
Vata is dominant from the time the menstrual flow begins to the end of the flow, due to its influence over movement in the body. Because of this, if Vata is out of balance in the physiology, a person who menstruates may experience more cramping, bloating, constipation, and low back pain for a few days prior to as well as during the cycle.
This is especially true if Vata is their primary dosha, but because Vata becomes imbalanced easily in our modern lifestyles, these symptoms can affect people of any dosha. Other symptoms that may be experienced are difficulty sleeping, digestive issues, anxiety, or very light flow. It’s helpful to look at lifestyle to see what may be causing the imbalance in order to reduce these symptoms. Some things that may create a Vata imbalance are excessive activity, travel, lack of a regular routine, or unmanaged stress. Eating too many dry, light or raw foods can cause an accumulation of Vata in the system. In addition, unresolved emotions such as fear, worry, or guilt can cause Vata imbalance.
Tips to reduce Vata menstrual symptoms:
- Avoid excessive exercise during this time and do restorative yoga instead.
- Massage warm castor oil or sesame oil on the lower abdomen or do a full-body self-massage.
- Eat warm, cooked foods such as kitchari, soups, rice bowls, and cooked veggies.
- Add spices to food and drinks such as ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, or coriander.
- Drink plenty of liquids, especially warm herbal teas such as ginger or chamomile.
- Journaling prompt for Vata: Journal daily to release any worry or excessive thoughts that are swirling around in the mind.
Pitta dosha is dominant from the time of ovulation to a few days before the cycle begins. Pitta is governing the release of the egg from the ovary, as well as the build-up of tissue within the uterus. Therefore, with Pitta imbalances, people who menstruate may experience pain mid-cycle which can be sharp and intense. They may also experience spotting or breakthrough bleeding between cycles or very heavy bleeding during the cycle. This is due to the build-up of heat in the system which can be from excessive work, stress, or overconsumption of coffee, alcohol, or spicy and acidic foods.
Pitta can also accumulate when we are holding onto ‘heating’ emotions such as anger, resentment, or judgment. This can show up as excessive irritability during the premenstrual time period.
In general, if Pitta is an individual’s primary dosha, they will have a tendency toward these symptoms, however, anyone with a Pitta imbalance can develop these symptoms as well. In addition, endometriosis can develop from Pitta imbalance, so these individuals may also experience intense discomfort during the menstrual cycle, which may feel different than Vata-type cramping which is more dull and achy.
Tips to reduce Pitta menstrual symptoms:
- As much as possible, reduce intense activities and create more downtime from mid-cycle up to the time of menstruation.
- Reduce excessive intake of spicy, acidic, sour foods. Instead, eat more fruits and dark, leafy greens.
- Take in cooling liquids such as coconut water or fresh fruit juices.
- Massage coconut oil on the lower abdomen.
- To reduce a heavy flow, take 1/8 tsp dried ginger in warm water three times daily.
- Journaling prompt for Pitta: Journal intentions to release any anger or resentments and finish by listing 5-10 things you are grateful for.
Kapha dominates from the end of the menstrual cycle until ovulation. It governs the growth and development of an egg from the ovary as a new cycle begins. In general, Kaphas have a very regular and even flow, however when Kapha is out of balance, symptoms can occur toward the end of the flow until mid-cycle or beyond.
Excess Kapha is represented as fluid retention, congestion, or thick vaginal discharge. One can also feel dull, lethargic, or excessively drowsy. This can be from a lack of activity, stress, or overeating, especially sweets. In addition, avoidance of emotions or not dealing with emotional issues can cause them to build up in the system.
Tips to reduce Kapha menstrual symptoms:
- Move the body more throughout the month.
- Wake up early to avoid feeling sluggish throughout the day.
- Eat a more light, dry diet consisting of lots of bitter greens, salads, light soups.
- Add invigorating and lightening spices to your food like black pepper, turmeric, ginger, clove, and cinnamon.
- Take the herbal combination Trikatu to stimulate digestion and metabolism.
Journaling prompt for Kapha: Do some focused journaling to release any emotions you are holding onto or that you have been avoiding dealing with.
For all menstrual imbalances
Try taking equal proportions of the herbs shatavari and ashwagandha prior to and during the cycle. You can also prevent issues by taking 1 oz of organic aloe vera juice mixed in a small amount of fruit juice 1-2 times daily for the week before your period.
Always check with a health care practitioner before starting herbal treatments, but these herbs are generally good for anyone.
Here are a few tips for everyone that will help keep all the doshas balanced each month to maintain a healthy cycle:
Have a healthy daily routine.
- Try to wake and go to sleep around the same time most days. This establishes regularity in the physiology.
- Eat regular meals to your hunger level.
- Take time to meditate daily.
Have healthy, natural sleep.
- Go to bed by 10 or 10:30 pm.
- Do some light journaling or deep breathing before bed to calm the body and mind.
- Avoid electronics for two hours before bed.
Eat a nutritious plant-based diet.
- Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors.
- Avoid foods that are unnatural or that contain pesticides, chemicals, or hormones as these can disrupt our normal hormonal balance.
- Eat as many freshly prepared meals as possible.
- Ask your body (not your mind) what type of exercise is best that day.
- Limit excessive exercise specifically during the menstrual cycle.
- Have a combination of cardio, strengthening, and flexibility in your exercise routine.
Connect to Nature.
- Stand directly on the Earth regularly.
- Gaze out daily at the Sun and Moon to sync to nature’s cycles.
- When able, take walks in a natural environment.
By paying attention to what is happening within us throughout every day of the month and recognizing any symptoms of dosha imbalances, people with periods can avoid common discomforts and honor the rhythms of nature within them.
Following an Ayurvedic lifestyle and understanding how to support the body through various stages, we can feel vital, healthy, and happy through all stages of life.