Yoga And Ayurveda For A Healthy Menstrual Cycle


Yoga And Ayurveda For A Healthy Menstrual Cycle

We have varying cultural ideations and practices when it comes to a woman’s menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle is perceived broadly, among which a female may be seen as undergoing a purification process or could be seen as needing to avoid the public eye as it is recognized as a private process. Ayurveda regards menstruation as a chance for the woman’s body to purify and reset. The menstrual cycle is considered to be the final byproduct of all the tissue’s in the body, thus, providing a window to a woman’s overall health.

There are different stages throughout the month that relate to a woman’s natural shift in hormones, known as rutukala, rutavateta kala, and rajahkala. After menstruation, kapha dominates and this period is known as rutukala. This is when the endometrium thickens and grows. Kapha characteristics are often displayed by the woman (ie. a glow and a sense of grounding). During ovulation, pitta dominates and is known as rutavateta kala. The endometrium engorges with blood, preparing for the egg that has potential for fertilization. When the egg is not fertilized, we enter into the stage of rajahkala, which is recognized more commonly as menstruation. This is when vata is dominant, as vata serves as the principle of movement and flow. It becomes imperative to help promote downward flow of vata, or apana vayu, the sub-type of vata that directly governs downward flow to ensure adequate flow.

According to Charaka Samhita, the ancient text of Ayurveda, healthy menstruation is defined by a cycle of 27-30 days. Often it is thought to be in line with the lunar cycle. The blood is generally bright red, without clots, and should wash out without staining. Bleeding should be continuous and last 3-7 days. There should be no change in energy, altered emotions or cravings, or pain. However, in today’s society, we rarely see this regularity. One prime example is what has been identified in the medical community as premenstrual syndrome, which almost every woman experiences to some extent. How do we then, help maintain a regular cycle?

Ways To Promote A Healthy Menstrual Cycle

The way in which each woman may experience the menstrual cycle is dependent upon the doshic constitution she is overtly displaying at the time.

  • The vata type cycle will be irregular, with more dry, dark, thin, frothy, clots, and a lighter flow. It includes symptoms of: constipation, pain (spasmodic, sharp, cramps often in the lower back and lower abdomen), and with emotions of nervousness, anxiety, mood swings, poor concentration and memory, and fear.
  • The pitta cycle is often more regular, with yellowish or red blood, hot, profuse, can be fleshy/foul in odor, and can have a heavy flow. Symptoms include: burning, acne, headache, nausea, vomiting and emotions of anger and irritability.
  • The kapha cycle tends to be heavier and potentially longer with premenstrual bloating and swelling, water retention, with a dull, achy pain. Emotions experienced can include: sadness and depression. Emotional eating may be a tendency.

Promoting Regularity By Dosha

Vata Regulation

Vata individuals have a difficult time with regularity and sticking to one thing at a time. Establishing a schedule is a great way to encourage grounding.

  • Vata pacifying diet: warming, grounding, cooked foods with ghee (ie. vegetable and/or bean soups). Avoid drying, cold foods (ie. coffee). Fresh ginger tea will be warming, grounding and pain pacifying.
  • Eat at the same time daily.
  • Gentle exercise is encouraged as opposed to rigorous exercise.
  • Reduce work and spend more time resting.
  • Sleep is another important factor for vatas as they need to sleep for at least 8 hours a night. Bedtime should be 10pm and should wake at 6am. This will help sync hormone cycles with the sun-and-moon cycles, allowing the master glands to reset and function appropriately.
  • Meditation and breathing (pranayama) practices are other ways to calm the mind and vata.
  • Warm packs with castor oil will also be beneficial to the abdomen. Castor oil has qualities of oily, heavy, sticky, penetrates and is internally heating, which help balance vata.

Pitta Regulation

Pitta folks tend to be intelligent, fast-paced, criticizers; yet sensitive. Establishing a daily routine that enables him/her to slow down and appreciate will be key to allowing for balance.

  • Pitta pacifying diet: Avoid tea, coffee, coke, spicy food, oily/greasy foods and chocolate. Focus on cooling foods.
    • Examples include: basil, mint, cilantro, cucumber, squashes, melons,
    • Eat at the same time daily.
  • Meditation and spending time in nature.
    • Take gentle walks in nature.
  • Sleep at night instead of staying awake during the night. Ideal bedtime is 10pm, and wake before 6am.
  • Warm coconut oil packs will be cooling and ameliorating for excess pitta.

Kapha Regulation

Kapha individuals tend to be laid-back and grounded. Lightness, fluidity, and movement will help balance kapha.

  • Kapha-pacifying diet: Add dry, warming and light foods. Adding spices such as ginger and black pepper to cooked meals will enhance digestion, absorption, and assimilation. Avoid sweet and fried foods.
    • Focus on pungent (hot and spicy) and bitter vegetables, such as: mustard greens, greens, bitter melon, artichoke, etc.
    • Focus on astringent, dry fruits, such as: pomegranate, persimmons, apples, etc.
    • Eat small, frequent meals and at the same time daily.
  • Sleep at night (by 10pm) and wake before the sun rises (around 6am). Avoid daytime sleeping.
  • Maintain a meditation practice.
  • Establish an active lifestyle. Vigorous exercise is ideal.
  • Castor oil fomentations will bring warmth and penetrate deep into the layers providing comfort.

General Strategies For A Healthy Cycle

Hydrate

Drink 8-10, 8-oz glasses of warm water daily.

Routine

The concept of a routine goes hand in hand with the body’s physiologic clock. By promoting a routine, we enable our bodies to live in sync at all times.

Tea

Dill Seed and Fennel Seed Tea

Fennel seed tea: After you finish period: 1 tsp, fennel seeds — add to boiled water. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Dill seed tea: Start on day 21 of cycle– end of period: 1 tsp, dill seeds – add to boiled water, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Pranayama, Breathing For The Female Cycle

Alternate nostril breathing (Anulom Vilom)

In the first half of the breath cycle, breath is taken from the left nostril, while blocking the opening of the right nostril. Exhale through the right nostril, while blocking the opening of the left nostril. Then, breath is taken in through the right nostril and exhaled through the left. This is done repeatedly for 15 minutes, twice daily.

Specific Breaths To Balance The Doshas

For Vata

Alternate nostril breathing (as described above)

For Pitta

Alternate nostril breathing (as described above)

Sheetali (Cooling breath):

  • Open your mouth to form an “O” shape.
  • With your mouth in this position, form a funnel with your tongue and place it between your lips.
  • Slowly inhale through your tongue, swallow the breath, and feel the breath in your heart.
  • Relax your tongue and mouth, then exhale through your mouth.
  • Repeat this exercise 16 times, twice a day.

For Kapha

Alternate nostril breathing (as described above)

Kapalbhati (Fire breath):

  • Close your eyes and take a few relaxing, deep breaths.
  • Close mouth and inhale through your nose to full lung capacity.
  • Begin forceful exhalation. Use the belly to push air out of both nostrils in short puffs.
  • In between exhalations, do not actively inhale. The body naturally draws in a small amount of air.
  • After 10 or more exhalations, relax and take a few normal breaths before repeating.
  • Repeat this exercise 5-10 times, twice a day.

Yoga For The Female Cycle

While there is speculation regarding whether a woman should remain active during her menses, and particularly do yoga, movement is, in fact, encouraged in a gentle and restorative manner that promotes apana vayu, or the downward movement of flow. Certain yoga poses have been shown to be relaxing, flow promoting and symptom reducing if done correctly. Caution should be advised towards inversion poses, as they prevent downward movement. Examples of beneficial yoga poses include:

  • Child’s pose (Balasana)
  • Extended side angle (Parsvakonasana)
  • Head to knee (Janusirasana)
  • Butterfly/Cobbler pose (Badha konasana)

Herbs For The Female Cycle

We can further enhance regulation of the female cycle with herbal or other formulations.

Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)

Ancient Ayurvedic wisdom has recognized this herb when addressing women’s reproductive health. This bitter-sweet cooling herb is known as Asparagus racemosus or Shatavari and is considered to be a “Rasayana”. That means it provides overall rejuvenation and vitality.

It is often found growing in the jungles of India as a woody climbing plant. With its cooling, calming, nourishing, and purifying qualities, it is commonly recognized as the woman’s equivalent to Ashwagandha, or “Indian ginseng,” and translates as “she who possesses 100 husbands.”

Studies have shown that the medicinal value comes from its root due to its phytoestrogenic steroidal saponins and shatavarins I-IV. Its use particular to females addresses reproductive disorders including the overarching hormone imbalances to aid the regulation of menstruation and ovulation, infertility, promote lactation, and provide menopausal support. It is also recognized as a blood builder, while serving to tonify reproductive tissue; and, thus, can be used at any stage in a woman’s life.

Shatavari further supports the health of mucus membranes including the intestines, digestion and lung function due to its demulcent qualities. Ancient texts also note its use in nervous disorders, inflammation, liver and kidney health, cancer and other infectious diseases, providing overall balance in all of the body’s fluids, and to pacify the pitta dosha.

Ashoka (Saraca indica)

The Ashoka tree, also known as Saraca indica, has been revered as a sacred tree. It was originally found mainly in the central part of the Deccan plateau and in the middle part of the Western Ghats in western India. Ayurveda has recognized this herb as a pitta reducer and hormone balancer without causing an increase in estrogen.

It has been touted to be safe with those who have excess estrogen or family history of estrogen related conditions (ie. estrogen positive breast cancer). Studies have found it to be useful in excessive bleeding, while also serving to stimulate endometrial and uterine tissue. It has been used in the treatment of female hormonal irregularities, especially in the cases of excessive bleeding, congestion, and pain.

Liver Support

The liver is considered to be one of the most important organs in our body. Ayurveda regards it as a pitta, or fire organ. It has the most functions in the body, processing everything from the mental/emotional and physical plain. It serves to detoxify and rid the body of what is toxic or not needed. One prime example is the removal and processing of hormones in our body. If the liver is hindered in any way, this will impact the normally physiological functioning of our hormones; thus, causing imbalance. Along with supplementation or liver supportive and restorative herbs, the liver can be supported by:

DIET

  • Consuming fresh, seasonal vegetables (especially bitter greens)
  • Eating fresh, seasonal fruits
  • Energetically cooling foods
  • Healthy oils in raw form (ie. ghee or clarified butter, olive oil, avocado oil, sesame oil, coconut oil, etc.)
  • Avoiding stimulants like coffee and alcohol
  • Drinking 8-10 glasses of lukewarm water daily

LIFESTYLE

  • Surrounding yourself in a calm and serene atmosphere
  • Moderate exercise and spending time in Mother Nature
  • Going to bed by 10:00 AM and waking up by 6:00 AM

MEDITATION AND PRANAYAMA (BREATHING) PRACTICES

  • Sheetali Pranayama or cooling breath, as described above

Menstruation not only cleanses and resets a woman’s reproductive tract, but provides insight to her overall health, and should be honored. By staying in sync, we are able to fine tune any imbalances to allow for a smoother flow. Following and understanding an importance in overall diet, stress level and relaxation will ultimately result in a greater menstruation experience.

Image: Unsplash.com

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Virender Sodhi, ND

About the Author Virender Sodhi, ND

Virender Sodhi, ND was the first Ayurvedic and Naturopathic practitioner in the United States. He received his BAMS in India in 1980, and came to the United State in 1986 to share Ayurveda as part of a cultural exchange program. In 1988, he graduated from Bastyr University with a degree in naturopathic medicine. He completed a fellowship in integrative oncology with Dr. Mark Rosenberg in 2012. Virender Sodhi established the Ayurvedic and Naturopathic Clinic in Bellevue, WA in 1989, where he currently practices Ayurveda and naturopathic medicine along with his brother, Shailinder Sodhi and sister-in-law, Anju Sodhi. He is also a visiting professor at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Scottsdale, Arizona; the University of Washington School of Pharmacy; and at Des Moines University in Iowa. Along with his three brothers, Sodhi envisioned and formed Ayush Herbs, Inc., which offers the highest quality Ayurvedic herbal products and supplements worldwide.

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