A Healthy Cycle with Ayurveda: Part 1

artavaThe topic of menstruation can be a taboo topic here in the West, as it seems to be regarded as the “better left unmentioned” and even disregarded.  Women have learned to not talk about it in conversation and pretend like it is not even occurring as we go through our day to day life.  The very obvious fact is however, that it is happening and typically every 27-30 days.  And just as we should be honoring the Moon days (full moon, new moon) in the macrocosmic world, we should equally be honoring our Moon days in our own microcosmic life.

Menstruation is a sacred time of cleansing, reflecting and turning inwards.  It is essential for our current AND future health to really honor our body during this time of the month and keep activity and energy low.  If we choose to consistently go through this time of the month in high gear and full force, then imbalance is sure to manifest- specifically in our hormones (which govern everything we do), our bones and in our reproductive systems. 

In this society of go, go, go; it is of no wonder why more women than not seem to have hormonal imbalance and menstrual irregularities.  In fact, these menstrual irregularities such as PMS, are now considered a natural part of a woman’s cycle.  Although this is a time of lower energy, it does not have to be a time of pain, bloating, nausea, erratic emotions and uncontrollable cravings.  If we are able to find balance and healthy routine in our daily lives as well as throughout our menstrual cycle, these unwanted symptoms of PMS (and other irregularities) can become a thing of the past.  On the other hand, if we are constantly stressed, overworked, under-slept and taking in unhealthy food choices, then it is bound to be seen in our monthly cycle.    

Common Menstrual Disorders:
  • Amenorrhea: the absence of menstruation for at least 3 consecutive cycles
  • Oligomenorrhea: irregular, infrequent menstruation; the cycle is over 35 days in length and occurs between 4-9 times a year
  • Dysmenorrhea: any type of menstrual pain, cramping or contractions that interfere with one’s daily activities
  • Menorrhagia: excessive and/or prolonged menstrual bleeding; soaking through 1 pad/tampon every hour for several consecutive hours, needing to change a pad in the night and/or bleeding heavy for over a week
  • Premenstrual Disorder (PMS): affects nearly 75% of menstruating women in the US; symptoms can include mood swings, tender breasts, food cravings, fatigue, sleep issues, anxiety, irritability and depression; typically occurs 7-10 days prior to the menstrual cycle
  • Premenstrual Dysmorphic Disorder (PMDD): a severe, sometimes disabling extension of premenstrual syndrome (PMS); extreme mood disturbances such as severe hopelessness, sadness, anxiety, tension, irritability, mood swings or anger that can disrupt one’s work and relationships
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An Ayurvedic Look into Irregular Menstruation:

According to Ayurveda, the menstrual cycle is directly related to Artava Dhatu, the reproductive system.   Menstruation is then indirectly related to Rasa Dhatu, the plasma and lymphatic tissue, as its upa-dhatu or bi-product.  Therefore, these vital tissues of the body will have to be looked at and focused on for any treatment program of a menstrual disorder. 

It has been said that most menstrual disorders stem from blocked energy in the reproductive system.  This in turn causes congestion and stagnation that can lead to pain, irregular cycles, heavy bleeding, scanty bleeding, fibroids or cysts.  Stagnant energy may be caused by many issues including stress, toxins, inflammation, coldness and/or constriction.

During menstruation, Apana Vayu or the downward flowing wind in the body is in full force.  Therefore it essential to nourish this energy at this time by keeping our activity low and our focus inward. 

Activities to Avoid During Menstruation:
  • Yoga, Pranayama and meditation
  • Exercising
  • Biking, swimming, jumping, jogging
  • Excessive talking and laughing
  • Staying up late
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Cooking by a fire
  • Over-working
  • Heavy lifting
  • Washing the hair
  • Clipping the nails
  • Direct sun (for long periods of time)

These activities tend to enhance Prana, the upward moving energy; causing confusion between these two forces, lowering the immunity and depleting the system.  This list should be kept in mind a couple days before the cycle begins, until the third day of menstruation (minimum) or until the heavy bleeding ceases.       

Just as with any other disorder, menstrual irregularities can be broken down into the 3 doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha), 5 elements (ether, air, fire, water, earth) and 20 gunas (qualities).  Each doshic imbalance will reveal various symptoms and therefore require specific, unique treatment.    

Vata Menstrual Imbalance:   

Vata possesses the qualities of dry, irregular, cold, mobile, rough, light and subtle; so a menstrual imbalance of the Vata nature will also possess these qualities.  From the disorders mentioned above, Ammenorrhea and Oligomenorrhea are examples of a Vata imbalance, along with Dysmenorrhea, PMS and PMDD depending on the specific manifested symptoms.    

Common Vata Imbalance Symptoms in Menstruation: 
  • Scanty, dry menstruation
  • Light flow
  • Brown or dark red in color
  • Irregular cycle, always changing in length
  • Excessively long cycle (over 32 days)
  • PMS may include anxiety, worry, sleep issues, quickly changing mood; food cravings for salty, sweet or proteins; depletion and fatigue
  • Cramping due to coldness and constriction in the uterus
  • Constipation and gas before or during menstruation 

If Vata is high in the body and the mind of a woman, it is likely it will show up in the monthly cycle.  Therefore, if we are able to pacify Vata throughout the entire month, the cycle will naturally come back to balance.  Please keep in mind that the more chronic the disorder,  the longer and more intense the treatment process will be.     

Pitta Menstrual Imbalance:

Pitta possesses the qualities of hot, sharp, light, spreading, liquid, oily and penetrating, and therefore a Pitta menstrual imbalance will show similar qualities as well.  From the menstrual disorders listed above, Pitta imbalance may show up in Dysmenorrhea, Menorrhagia, PMS and PMDD depending on the specific symptoms of the imbalance. 

Common Pitta Imbalance Symptoms in Menstruation:
  • Excessive flow, typically bright red in color
  • Excessive heat in the body that manifest as hot flashes, rash, redness or irritation
  • Discharge possesses a sour, metallic or “fleshy” smell
  • Loose stools before or during menstruation
  • PMS symptoms may include: acne, anger, irritation, crankiness, short temper, sharp appetite, hot flashes, nausea and intense food cravings for sweet things
  • Sharp cramps due to excessive heat, typically occurs after bleeding begins     
  • Direct sun, excessive heat and hot, spicy foods increase the symptoms

If Pitta is high in the body and the mind of a woman, it is likely it will show up in the monthly cycle.  Therefore, if we are able to pacify Pitta throughout the entire month, the cycle will naturally come back to balance.  Please keep in mind that the more chronic the disorder,  the longer and more intense the treatment process will be.

Kapha Menstrual Imbalance:

Kapha Dosha is the energetic force of Earth and Water and therefore possesses the qualities of heavy, slow, stable, dense, liquid, cool, soft, hard, cloudy and gross (as in solid).  A Kapha menstrual disorder will then possess similar qualities.  In terms of the Western disorders of menstruation, Kapha disorders may fall into the categories of Menorrhagia, Dysmenorrhea, PMS or PMDD depending on the symptoms that manifest. 

Common Kapha Imbalance Symptoms in Menstruation:
  • Prolonged menstruation, bleeding over 7 days
  • Bleeding heavy for over 3 days
  • Short to average cycle, menstruating every 22-28 days
  • Very regular cycle (i.e. always 28 days)
  • Heavy and excessive clotting during bleeding
  • Discharge may be mucusy or oily
  • PMS may include water retention, bloating, swelling, breast tenderness, a sense of heaviness, sleepiness, fatigue, nausea, sadness, depression and food cravings for greasy, sweet or salty foods
  • Dull cramping due to water retention, coolness and blocked-stagnant energy in the uterus
  • Reoccurring yeast infections or leucorrhea

If Kapha is high in the body and the mind of a woman, it is likely it will show up in the monthly cycle.  Therefore, if we are able to pacify Kapha throughout the entire month, the cycle will naturally come back to balance.  Please keep in mind that the more chronic the disorder,  the longer and more intense the treatment process will be.

Continue onto Part 2 to discover the Ayurvedic Treatment Plan 
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