A 3-Part series on navigating the phases of the Menstrual Cycle with Ayurveda
We live in a very modern world. As the times progress, we are reclaiming our freedoms and rights as women, both in our bodies and in our choices. Now is such a potent time to reclaim our knowledge of our most sacred cycle - The Menstrual Cycle. There is power in understanding the ebb & flow of our bodies - her rhythms are the footsteps of our ancestors, our blood is an ancient language.
Ayurveda is a tool that we can use to read this language of our bodies. We can pay attention closely and use the qualities present to understand where our imbalances lay.
Ayurveda is one of the only sciences that has studied the Menstrual Cycle in such depth. We regard the Menstrual Blood as a window into the different layers of the body, carrying within it messages from the body. Paying attention to the quality and consistency of our menstruum, we can decipher these codes and quickly learn which Dosha imbalances your body is struggling with.
First, let us do a quick refresh on the three Doshas.
The Three Doshas
One of the most foundational concepts in Ayurveda are the three Doshas; Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. These can be described as the forces of nature, both externally in our environment, and internally in our bodies. The three doshas are ‘modes of functioning’ that help us better understand ourselves, and the world we live in.
Let's start at the beginning: The most basic building blocks in the material world are the five elements; ether, air, fire, water, and earth.
Vata expresses the mobile nature of Air & the spacey quality of Ether.
Pitta embodies the transformative nature of Fire & the fluid aspect of Water.
Kapha reflects the binding nature of Water & the solid condition of Earth.
As with the elements, all of the doshas can be found in everything and in different proportions. The particular ratio within each of us defines our state of optimal health, and greatly influences our individual traits, and unique strengths and abilities.
The three doshas are categorized by their qualities:
Vata: Dry, Light, Cold, Rough, Mobile
Pitta: Hot, Sharp, Spreading, Oily, Liquid
Kapha: Heavy, Slow, Dense, Sticky, Cool
Using the qualities of the Doshas, we can describe the various symptoms of Menstruation, and better understand what it is that our bodies are trying to say to us.
Understanding Menstruation using the Doshas
The Menstrual Phase is the first day of your cycle, which you will know by the appearance of your blood! Your Menstrual phase starts when your menstrual blood comes in quantities larger than a teaspoon. In Ayurveda, spotting is not considered the first day of your period. Spotting is characterized by a little discoloration, or tiny amount of blood when you wipe. Once the blood has noticeably arrived, we may begin to notice other symptoms common with the onset of our menses. This is where we begin paying attention and possibly writing about the experience so we can understand the messages a little deeper.
I like to use each period as a time for self-discovery and reflection. The energy of slowing down and going internal creates a safe space to reflect on the current events of our lives, and contemplate how it truly makes us feel. Our bodies will always whisper before they shout, and if we can get really quiet, we can identify dis-ease before it turns into illness.
From this place, we can begin to categorize our Menstrual Phase by Dosha. We do this by identifying the qualities present in our symptoms and in our blood. The Dosha that is most imbalanced will present itself strongly during the menstrual phase of our cycle. If we pay attention, we can learn so much about our bodies during this sacred time.
Overall, the menstrual phase of our cycle is already Vata prominent. This means that the qualities of Vata show up strongly due to the nature of the hormonal changes and conditions necessary to release menstrual blood. This is a natural occurrence, and happens to assist us in returning to that internal space and slowing down.
This can show up as feeling inspired and creative, ideas are pouring in and it is a good time to jot them down and continue with the creative flow. It is not a time for putting these ideas into action, we want to wait for the support of the follicular phase for that.
The best way to support the natural Vata state of this phase is to keep warm, eat cooked and nourishing meals, and enjoy warming spices and teas. This counteracts the dry and cold qualities of Vata, and assists in the full release of the menstrual blood.
However if Vata is showing up too strongly, we can be feeling a Vata imbalance.
Vata Imbalances during Menstruation
Let's recall the qualities of Vata (light, mobile, cold, dry, rough, subtle, clear). The home of Vata is the pelvis and the thighs, and imbalances will often arise in these areas.
When Vata is high, you may experience discomfort; lower belly cramps, pain in the lower back, anxiety, nervousness, and fear. Menstrual blood can be frothy, thin, dry, dark red with plenty of clots, and you may experience a short flow of 1-3 days.
It is easy to aggravate Vata in the body during Menstruation, because it is already a Vata prominent time. We should all do our best to focus on calming Vata before and during Menstruation. Through eating warm, cooked foods and keeping our feet warm and covered through the menstrual phase. Another lovely solution is taking a nourishing epsom salts bath with herbs like lavender or rose to ground into the body and calm the nervous system.
Pitta Imbalances during Menstruation
Pitta is characteristically hot and sharp. It brings heat and fluidity and a spreading nature to the blood, such that it flows with ease—sometimes too much ease. Pitta menstrual cycles are often heavy. Along with the heat comes irritation and inflammation in the body, which can provoke swelling. Such is the case with tender, swollen breasts that many women can experience.
Some other discomfort that could be experienced is a burning sensation when urinating, increased body temperature, headaches, acne, nausea, and diarrhea. As well as anger and irritability. Menstrual blood can be bright red, hot, profuse, fleshy smelling, and a heavier flow.
When Pitta is imbalanced in the body during Menstruation it may feel good to practice some movement. As a general rule, during Menstruation, we do not want to raise our body temperature. Instead we can move this excess energy through gentle dance, exploratory yin-yoga, and deep stretching. Other ways to calm Pitta can be a luke-warm bath and incorporating plenty of gently-cooked greens and warmed salads into your diet.
Kapha Imbalances during Menstruation
Kapha shows up in our flow as stagnation, denseness, heaviness, dullness, stickiness, and coolness. If stagnation occurs, this can give rise to the sensation of bloating and puffiness that so many dread during their premenstrual and menstrual periods. With stronger blockages, the tissue is likely to go into a mode of overgrowth. As more blood vessels grow to supply this growth, there is a strong likelihood you will experience a very heavy flow that is long-lasting.
Many Women with Kaphic imbalances also experience swelling, water retention, bloating, yeast infections, lethargy, and tiredness. Emotions that may come up can be depression or emotional eating. The menstrual blood is usually dark red, contains mucous, unctuous, and a heavier & longer flow (6-10 days.)
When navigating a Kapha imbalance in the body the first area we can focus on is becoming more present. I always recommend trying a breathing practice to move stuck energy and become more grounded. Another great option is to go for a walk every day, this added movement can really shift the heavy energy of a Kapha flow.
As we improve at understanding the messages our body is speaking to us during menstruation, it is important to maintain healthy lifestyle habits suitable to the energies of this phase.
General Lifestyle Habits during Menstruation
Honor your sacred self and womb during this time. This is KEY as this is what our hormones are already primed to do! This looks different for every person, as we all have different responsibilities in our lives. However, get CLEAR on what rest looks like for you. Individualize what you want to create and PLAN for this sacred time. An hour, a day, whatever you can do. Create the space for it. That is what makes Ayurveda so successful is that you get to implement it into your life, in a way that is accessible to YOU, your lifestyle, your routine!
Extra rest, nourishment, and stress-reducing practices are key.
This is your time for YOURSELF.
Stay home, limit social engagements, spend time alone, journal, meditate, be in the ceremony of your body in its releasing, practice self-reflection, and/or blood rituals.
Keep your feet warm! Warm feet = Warm uterus.
With all of the alternative tools offered from Ayurveda I ask you,
How do you honor yourself while you are bleeding?
Cheers to a healthy & balanced flow!
Written by Amber Jade