As Geraldine mentioned in her first blog, she has witnessed first-hand on a daily basis how stress, anxiety and poor lifestyle choices result in the presentation of multiple gynae issues in young girls. In her clinic for adolescents, she felt she was constantly addressing the symptoms but not the underlying cause.

Ayurveda, (the word translates as the science of life and longevity), is a sister-science to Yoga and focuses on identifying the root cause of health concerns. If we only treat the symptoms and do not address why it is happening in the first place, we are adopting a temporary, band-aid approach rather than identifying and treating the origin of the problem.

The Ayurvedic take on Menstruation

Let’s take a look at some of the Ayurvedic views on menstruation.
Ayurveda regards the menstrual cycle as a window into the overall health of a woman. In Indian families who practise this ancient science as a way of life, once a girl gets her first period, her cycle is closely monitored to observe any imbalances. These are then corrected through diet and lifestyle practices to ensure that she experiences optimum health and well-being.
Menstruation is viewed as a time of natural detoxification – a time to connect with the innate wisdom of the body in letting go of any impurities that have accumulated. It is regarded as a gift that nature has bestowed upon women – I absolutely love this – talk about changing the narrative around periods! (See our next post “Attitudes towards Menstruation in contemporary society“).

This time of the month is regarded as an opportunity to rest and replenish our energy. In contrast to the adverts that we see on TV for tampons and sanitary products that convince our girls that they should be participating in all sorts of extreme sports while bleeding, Ayurveda recommends that they give intense exercise a miss for these few days. There is good reason for this. While detoxing, it is important that the body is allowed to rest. So if we adopt this lifestyle choice, and consciously choose to rest each month when on our period, we allow the body to properly expel unwanted toxins and we set ourselves up for good health throughout the month ahead. Our subsequent cycle is then likely to be much easier with few if any adverse period symptoms. Let’s be clear here – we are not suggesting that your daughter stay in bed for the duration of her period. What Ayurveda recommends is skipping the extra sports classes in school – the high intensity activities like running, swimming, hockey, basketball etc.

This is simply honouring the natural rhythms of the body. Substituting an hour in the gym with a restorative Yoga class or a deep relaxation practice is the recommendation. The interesting thing is that deep inside, we all know that this is what feels good for our body but we silence that innate, subtle wisdom in favour of the louder societal messages that have been ingrained in the mind telling us that we are not good enough if we take time out for ourselves…better to just push on through… Is it any wonder that our adolescent gynaecology clinics have an 18 month waiting list!

Other General Ayurvedic Tips for a Healthy Menstrual Cycle:

Ayurveda has some other general recommendations for all body types (besides adopting a lighter schedule during bleeding) which help to ease menstrual issues. Other tips include:

  • daily fresh air (I think we can all agree on this one!)
  • daily exercise (throughout the month but adhere to the recommendations above when bleeding)
  • routine meal times (this is important so that the body knows when to expect food. During the period, the appetite may decrease somewhat and then it is important to eat foods that are easy to digest)
  • avoid eating close to bedtime and ideally allow 3 hours to digest food before going to bed.

Now we will go a little deeper and look at the recommendations for different constitutional types.

A brief overview of Ayurvedic Doshas:

Each one of us is made up of a specific combination of all of the 5 elements (space, air, fire, water and earth) and these are further classified into 3 body types (or doshas) known as Vata, Pitta and Kapha. “Body type” is an overly simplistic label for a dosha but let’s keep it at a high level for now.

  • Vata is made up of space and air
  • Pitta is fire and water
  • Kapha is water and earth

Our original constitution/make-up is set at conception and never changes – this determines everything from our physical appearance to our innate tendencies. It governs our psychological traits, responses and behaviours.

We can be mono-doshic (dominant in one); bi-doshic (have more or less even percentages of two of the doshas; tri-doshic (this is quite unusual and would mean we have equal amounts of Vata, Pitta and Kapha in our constitution). Regardless, we all have a certain percentage of all of the doshas within us – e.g., if you are Vata dominant, you will still have a certain amount of Pitta and Kapha in your constitution also.

Our aim is to maintain the balance of doshas that we were allocated at conception. This can be a challenge as the percentages of these forces in our bodies can change on a daily basis (even on an hourly basis) based on both external and internal factors. Examples of external factors would include the season/weather, food consumed, a long haul flight or a sleepness night. Internal factors would include thoughts and emotions for instance.

Ayurvedic Doshas and the Menstrual Cycle

Our dominant dosha also determines the type of menstrual cycle experienced. In Ayurveda, the ideal period is one where the flow is moderate and there are little or no symptoms. If the flow is too scanty, there may not be a full clearing or detoxification taking place each month and if it is too heavy, fatigue and exhaustion can result.

When the doshas are out of balance, period problems are experienced. So let’s take a look at what each constitutional type can expect in terms of a period when their dominant dosha is vitiated (out of whack!):

Vata-vitiated period symptoms

A Vata girl will generally have a light frame with delicate features. As dryness is one of the key qualities associated with Vata, she can often experience dry scalp and dry skin. The menstrual flow can also reflect this dry quality and can be light and scanty – the blood often dark in colour.
When Vata is high, the result can be painful periods – the pain is usually located in the lower abdomen or back, and can be spasmodic in nature.

The accompanying emotions are often fear, nervousness and anxiety.

Ayurvedic Recommendations to ease Vata period symptoms

  • Favour warm, soft, nourishing foods
  • Introduce plenty of nourishing fats and oils
  • Drink plenty of water (ideally warm) and ginger tea
  • Avoid cold, dry foods and stimulants
  • Nourishing, rejuvenative Ayurvedic herbs can bring moisture and hydration to the tissues
  • A great self-care practice to ease period pains is to use a castor oil pack on the lower abdomen a few days before the period is due. Don’t do this while menstruating. (More to come on this in a future post)

Pitta-vitiated period symptoms

A Pitta girl will generally have a medium frame and will often have fair skin and fair/red hair. Her skin will be prone to outbreaks and she burns easily in the sun.

The menstrual flow reflects this intensity and is often heavy – the blood hot and bright red in colour, with a strong odour. Tender, swollen breasts are also common when Pitta is high, especially in the lead up to the period. If left unchecked, more extreme symptoms like headaches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea can occur.

Pitta types are prone to intense emotions, e.g., anger, frustration, competitiveness, jealousy. The more intense life becomes, the more this girl will feel like she is about to explode (due to the increased fire).

Ayurvedic Recommendations to ease Pitta period symptoms

  • Eat cooling foods – e.g., fruits, cucumber, watermelon, coconut, coriander, mint
  • Minimise sour, pungent and spicy foods
  • Try to decrease intensity in all areas of life – bring in more calmness and softness
  • Ayurvedic herbs that cleanse the blood are very useful

Kapha-vitiated period symptoms

A Kapha girl will generally have a strong frame and will often have soft, oily skin and silky hair. She can be prone to some stagnation which can result in bloating and swelling. She can also feel very lethargic, and can resort to emotional eating.

The menstrual flow can last for a week and she can experience clotting.

Ayurvedic Recommendations to ease Kapha period symptoms:

  • Eat light foods cooked with plenty of spices – e.g.,black pepper, cinnamon, ginger.
  • Favour pungent, bitter and astringent foods
  • Avoid heavy foods – e.g., dairy or fried foods.
  • Daily dry skin brushing (when she hasn’t got her period) can be very helpful to stimulate the lymphatic system and set her up for a good month.

If our young girls can tune into their bodies in this way, they will come to view their menstrual cycle as an innate gift – a gift that allows them to appreciate the incredible power and beauty of their reproductive organs – a time to rest up a little and reflect. Wouldn’t this be a wonderful message for our daughters?

Our hope at My Girls Gynae is that by providing information like this ancient Ayurvedic wisdom that encourages our girls to introduce great self-care practices from a young age, we can eventually get rid of those waiting lists at adolescent gynae clinics, because we will have a generation of young women who embody vibrant health and vitality.