If you are a woman between the ages of about 14 and 51, chances are that you have some discomfort surrounding your period. Maybe your “monthly visitor” brings along strong cramps and nausea, constipation or a few days of feeling anxious and blue. Perhaps your breasts get tender, your skin breaks out in zits or you feel irritable and frustrated. It could be that sometimes you go for months without shedding a drop of blood, or it stops and starts without any rhythm.
Ayurveda and Your Period
According to Ayurveda, your menstrual cycle gives a very good insight into your overall health. A healthy and balanced cycle is regular and about 28 days long. The bleeding should be slightly translucent red, last between three and seven days without stopping and starting, and wash easily out of fabrics without staining.
Amazingly, even cramps, which most of us suffer through at least a little bit, are a sign of imbalance. In fact, each dosha—vata, pitta or kapha—when in excess, causes it’s own particular symptoms.
In this post, we’ll look at the most common menstrual symptoms of excess vata, and some diet, lifestyle and herb recommendations that can ease them.
Each part of your cycle is governed by a different dosha. Kapha dosha rules the first half of the cycle—until ovulation—as the body thickens the lining of the uterus in preparation for a possible pregnancy. Pitta marks the phase after ovulation, when the blood supply to the lining of the uterus increases. If no egg is fertilized and implanted, the vata dosha increases, causing the uterus to shed its lining.
Vata Menstrual Symptoms
The cold, dry, irregular qualities of vata dosha constrict the blood vessels, inhibit blood flow and cause emaciation throughout the body. This means a thinner, drier lining in the uterus, which leads to a lighter menstrual flow with more blood clotting. The constriction of the blood vessels, in combination with the blood clots and lighter flow, results in cramping and an irregular cycle. The pain may center in the uterus, but often extends into the pelvis and thighs, the home sites of vata dosha.
So, the symptoms of excess vata may show up as:
- Irregular cycle length—either more than 30 days or varying in length from month to month.
- Pain—lots of cramping, low back pain, aching in the thighs and hips
- Constipation—dryness and constriction in the colon
- Anxiety—the unstable quality of vata leads to nervousness and fear
- Scanty flow and clotting—very little blood flow or brown, clotted blood
In peri-menopause, excess vata can cause constipation, vaginal dryness, anxiety and insomnia.
To soothe vata menstrual symptoms you need to reduce the qualities of dry, rough, irregular and cold in your body by increasing the qualities of moist, smooth, regular, stable and warm. This means invoking earth and water element (and a touch of fire) in your diet and routine.
Smooth, moist, sweet and warm foods will soothe vata in the body and the mind. It is best to schedule meal times and to try not to eat outside of those scheduled times to allow agni regain it’s rhythm.
The vata appetite is not super strong, so a heavy meal is likely to be overwhelming. However, most vatas find a bit of meat or some bone broth very grounding. A moderate amount of oils and fats in the diet help nourish the body and mind deeply.
So, in general:
- Eat warm, moist, well-spiced foods—like soup, porridge and stew.
- Ghee—lubricates the body and helps to nourish the blood and reproductive tissues.
- Avoid dry or processed foods—like most packaged snack foods. Even raw vegetables, with their high-fiber content and crispness can aggravate vata.
- Dairy—if it’s easily digested, unpasteurized cow’s milk cooked with turmeric, ginger and cardamom is a wonderful aid to deep rest and healing for the nervous system.
- Calcium and Iron–increase your intake of foods which are high in these important nutrients, such as dark, leafy greens, broccoli, sesame seeds, sardines, blackstrap molasses and almonds.
Regularity is the name of the game.
Vata individuals, and those with excess vata, need more regularity. This usually begins with a regular sleep schedule with at least 8 hours of sleep per night (ideally between about 10 pm and 6 am).
A regular schedule goes a long way to smoothing out rough edges. Think of how unsettling it is to be planning what is coming next while you are in the middle of doing something. When there is not a set schedule—particularly for food and sleep, two of the pillars of human life—there is a constant underlying anxiety in the system.
Ultimately, rest is the number one medicine for calming vata.
Abhyanga (or self-massage with oil) also goes a long way to nourishing and pacifying the nervous system when it is over-stimulated by too much vata. However, during your period, it’s best not to perform this oil massage. Instead, use it throughout the rest of your cycle to avoid vata symptoms when your period sets in.
If you have cramps while you are bleeding, a hot water bottle on the lower abdomen can provide amazing pain relief. The heavy, fluid quality of the heat offered by a hot water bottle is far more effective than the dry, electric heat of a heating pad.
Herbs for Vata Menstrual Problems
Ginger—increases digestive power, reduces excess vata in the colon, increases blood circulation and soothes cramping. Use caution if your bleeding is heavy.
Passionflower—used as a tea or a tincture, this gentle herb helps to reduce anxiety and soothes the whole nervous system, which can also help to ease cramping. Passionflower is usually even gentle enough to be used during pregnancy or nursing as a tea. (If you have any doubts about using it, check with a your healthcare professional).
Licorice Root—many menstrual issues stem from problems with the liver. Prepared as a tea, this herb helps to calm and protect the liver. Its sweet, unctuous flavor also soothes anxiety, dryness and constipation.
Saffron—nourishes the blood and helps to improve blood-flow. It can help to bring on delayed menses.
Try this herbal chai throughout the month to help nourish the blood, improve circulation and soothe the liver.
½’’ piece fresh ginger
4 cardamom pods
4 threads saffron
¼ tsp licorice root
Simmer sliced ginger root and cardamom pods in 2 cups of water for 6 minutes. Remove from heat, add saffron and licorice root and let steep, covered for 10 minutes. Strain and serve.
Next week we’ll tackle Ayurveda for Your Period: Pitta Dosha.