Many modern women have been conditioned to push aside our relationship with our menstrual cycle. We are taught to hide our blood and go on with our daily lives and activities as if nothing is different. But our cycle is an important part of us and when I personally began to understand my flow, it gave me better insight into my overall health.
A healthy menstrual cycle should come every 25 to 30 days according to Ayurveda, the ancient healing science of India. Ayurveda is considered the sister of Yoga for holistic health and well-being. As a traditional medicinal practice that is more than five thousand years old, it follows rules that aren't necessarily explainable by modern science, but its proven track record for keeping millions of people healthy for millennia speaks volumes.
From an Ayurveda standpoint, the qualities of a woman's monthly cycle provides valuable insight into her overall health. A normal menstrual flow period should be painless, bright in red colour, flows for 3 to 4 days without clumps, does not have any foul odour, and easily washes off cloth without staining. If this is not the case, an imbalance in the body causes any irregularities and even pain.
“Ayurveda is the science of life and it has a very basic, simple kind of approach, which is that we are part of the universe and the universe is intelligent and the human body is part of the cosmic body.” ―Deepak Chopra
Unfortunately, like many women, I suffer from intense period pain every time my flow days come. In the past, I may have reached immediately for a pain relieving pill. But learning more about Ayurveda gave me a better understanding how to stay pain free without needing to put chemicals in my body that may provide a quick-fix but could also cause long-term damage on my system.
An Ayurveda Primer: What is A Dosha?
Ayurveda is a Vedic science which translates roughly as “the knowledge of life.” This holistic healing system believes that everything is made up of a combination of five elements: Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and Ether (or Space). Even every human is made up of a combination of these elements which creates your Dosha, or constitution.
I highly encourage everyone to consult an Ayurvedic doctor to determine your Dosha rather than taking a self test. When I was first learning about Ayurveda and natural ways to heal myself, I took online Dosha quiz which told me I was a Vata-Kapha. But an Ayurvedic Doctor in India told me I was actually a pure Pitta Dosha and when he gave me the guidelines and protocols to follow for my specific Dosha, many of my ailments went away.
So, just like any medical advice, go to a professional and don't self-diagnose with what you read on the internet. That being said, these are a few general guidelines to help get you off on the right start.
These are the three Doshas and some qualities associated with them:
Kapha – Earth and Water
- Slow moving
- Heavy and strong build
- Thick hair and radiant skin
- Prone to becoming overweight and excessive sleeping
- Loyal and Patient
- Resistant to change
Pitta – Fire
- Medium build
- Abundance of energy
- Good concentration and decision makers
- Strong appetite but prone to digestive disorders
- Sound sleepers for short periods of time
- Strong sex drive
Vata – Air and Ether
- Energetic and always on the go
- Thin, light frame
- Agile but energy comes in bursts
- Typically dry skin
- Prone to cold hands and feet
- Sensitive digestion
- Light sleepers
Most people are a combination of two of these Doshas. Although possible, very rarely is a person a purely single Dosha or a perfectly equal Tri-doshic constitution.
Knowing your personal Dosha is key to maintaining good health. Balance in your system is in part created by eating the right types of food for your Dosha and even knowing at which times of the day each Dosha naturally increases and decreases.
For example, a person who is predominantly Kapha should avoid oily food and eat more bitters to get them more active. Pitta people should avoid spicy food and eat more sweet fruits. And Vata should avoid raw food and eat grounding, warm meals such as potatoes.
An Ayurvedic doctor will be able to properly determine your Dosha through an interview, multiple choice tests, a pulse reading, an eye reading, and a tongue reading. They will also give you a comprehensive list of food, activities, and even colours to wear that are friendly for your Dosha and what you should avoid.
This is, of course, an over-simplification of the extensiveness of knowledge about the human body and health in the Ayurveda system which even goes into a person's unique psychological constitution, and how ojas, or fluids of vitality, flow through the seven types of body tissues, or dhatus. However, just by getting a better grasp of the Doshas, you will be able to get a better view on your overall health and how to keep yourself in balance.
The Doshas In Women's Health
Interestingly, in Ayurveda, each Dosha will govern a woman depending on what stage of life she is at. From birth until a girl gets her first period, she is dominated by Kapha. From then until around fifty years old, Pitta is the dominant Dosha. And in the third stage of life until death, Vata is the governing Dosha.
In addition, each stage of the menstrual cycle is also governed by a Dosha. In the first half of the menstrual cycle, as the endometrium thickens, Kapha is dominant. This stage is called rutukala and it culminates during ovulation. The next stage is called rutāvatēta kāla and it is ruled by Pitta as the endometrium becomes more engorged with blood vessels. If fertilization does not occur, the cycle enters the third stage, or rajahkāla, which is ruled by Pitta to enable the flow of blood and tissue during menstruation.
Keeping this in mind, when a woman is in balance and healthy, her period flow will reflect this. But an imbalance in the body will cause irregular periods and abnormal symptoms such as cramping, bloatedness, and irritability. This is called Krichhraartava (from the Sanskrit words krichhra meaning “difficult” and aartava for “menses”).
In Ayurveda, the best remedy is prevention, so relief from period cramps comes by maintaining a lifestyle that keeps your Dosha in balance. This includes the food you eat, the colours you wear, the activities you do, and even the type of yoga asana you practice.
But if, like me, you already suffer from period cramps every time you are in your flow days, you can determine what kind of imbalance you may have depending on the type of pain you experience and even the quality of your flow.
Below are some symptoms to look out for and what treatments may help alleviate some of these imbalances.
Kapha Imbalance Symptoms
- Itchy and dull discomfort
- Emotional eating
- Heavy and long flow
- Yellowish, mucoid bleeding
- Swelling and water retention
- Yeast infection
Ayurvedic Herbs and Treatments for Kapha Imbalance
Use spices like cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and pepper in your teas or cooking. Take daily walks and keep yourself moving to avoid stagnation in your system. Consider using salt scrubs with daily massages to bring heat to the surface of your skin.
Pitta Imbalance Symptoms
- Burning sensation
- Angry and irritable
- Increased body temperature
- Yellow or Red profuse bleeding
- Foul-smelling and heavy flow
- Headache and Nausea
- Tender breasts
Ayurvedic Herbs and Treatments for Pitta Imbalance
Avoid spicy and oily food in general and use cooling coconut oil to balance Pitta. You may also give yourself a breast massage to promote movement of lymph and alleviate discomfort during your period. Drink mint teas to help relieve headaches and unblock nasal passages.
Vata Imbalance Symptoms
- Sharp, spasmodic pain in lower abdomen and/or back
- Anxious and nervous
- Thin flow with an absence of mucous (dry flow)
- Dark coloured bleeding
- Sensation of prickling on skin
Ayurvedic Herbs and Treatments for Vata Imbalance
Hydrate your body with plenty of water enriched with healthy oils like flaxseed or hempseed. Also eat warm, mushy food with spices with lots of ghee to help bring moisture to your tissues. Castor oil can be helpful for a Vata woman, especially if you are constipated, but should not be taken during your flow days.
Using Asana to Balance Your Dosha
Follow the suggested poses to balance your personal Dosha, rather than the imbalance you have with your period. For all constitutions, practice mindfully and always end with a good amount of time in Savasana and a few minutes meditation with Maha Yogi Pranayama or Great Yogic Breath.
Yogasana for Balancing Kapha
Practice at a faster pace and keep your breath strong and forceful. It's important to keep yourself moving and motivate yourself with just short resting period between poses and a well-deserved restorative pose for your final relaxation.
- Breath of Joy
- Surya Namaskar
- Leg Lifts
- Bhujangasana – Cobra Pose
- Warrior Flows
- Spinal Rolls
- Gomukhasana – Cow Face Pose
- Savasana with Support
Yogasana for Balancing Pitta
Focus on your exhalations during your practice and don't stick to one sequence. Have fun, use your creativity during your practice and avoid being critical of yourself.
- Balasana – Child's Pose
- Standing Forward Fold
- Seated Forward Bend
- Chandra Namaskar
- All Seated and Supine Twists
- Bhujangasana – Cobra Pose
Yogasana for Balancing Vata
Stay warm during your asana practice and hold each asana for a short time but with more repetitions.
- Vajrasana – Seated Thunderbolt Pose
- Cat Cows
- Wide Legged Forward Bend
- Tree Pose
- Crocodile Pose
- Bhujangasana – Cobra Pose
- Knees to Chest
- Supine Pigeon
- Legs up the wall
The advice written here is not intended to be a substitute for direct, personalized advice from a health professional.
Article Guest Written By Jan Diwata who is a travelling yoga teacher and innerdance facilitator. She has held space for immersions and workshops across Asia, Canada, the Middle East, and Europe. She continues to deepen her knowledge and practice of yoga, not only as a physical exercise, but as a spiritual path and incorporates her learnings with her roots in the ancestral wisdom from her Philippine heritage of healing and connection to the Divine. She is available for bookings anywhere in the world. Connect with Jan over at http://www.jandiwata.com. Read more of Jan's articles on The OM Collective here>>>