From a young age, we’re told that our periods will be painful, shameful and inconvenient. And while you’ve probably experienced PMS, cravings, bloating or cramps at some point in your life, this doesn’t always have to be the case. A healthy cycle is a sign that your body is functioning properly. It provides vital information about our hormones and current state. So what does a healthy cycle look like? What are the signs of imbalance? And how do we gain back our power? Read on for the Ayurvedic perspective on your monthly rite.
A Healthy Cycle
It’s no coincidence that the menstrual cycle and the moon cycles are both set on 28 days. Just as the moon waxes and wanes, so does your womb or artava. A healthy cycle will have 28 days with your menstrual period marking day one. When we’re in alignment, and not on hormonal birth control, we may ovulate on the full moon and bleed on the new moon.
The first half of your cycle, days one through fourteen, is called the follicular phase. During this time, eggs are maturing, and estrogen is rising, peaking with ovulation. Your metabolism is slower and you may enjoy more vigorous movement and lighter foods. The second half is called the luteal phase, beginning after ovulation and lasting up until the next menstrual period. At this time, estrogen drops and you may experience pre-pms - irritability, fatigue and a down mood. At this time, metabolism is higher and you may need to eat more and enjoy gentler exercise.
According to Ayurveda, menstrual blood or rajah is a by-product of lymph or rasa dhatu. Our rasa is affected by what and how we consume. With a healthy cycle, blood will be bright red in color, and bleeding lasts around 5 days. It has no foul odor and the quantity is not too great nor too little. Any other discharge, pain, mood swings, cravings or heavy bleeding are signs of an imbalance.
How the Doshas Affect Your Cycle
Imbalances will be caused by an excess of any particular dosha. A vata individual may be more prone to vata symptoms but that’s not always the case. A vata individual with a strong pitta imbalance may experience a more pitta cycle. Each individual’s experience will reflect their prakruti or birth constitution and their vikruti or imbalances.
A vata cycle will typically be on the lighter side in terms of flow. Blood may be darker, more of a reddish brown or even black. Vata imbalances can contribute to anxiety, difficulty sleeping and constipation around this time. They may also experience low-back and hip pain with their cycle. To balance, they should enjoy soft, warming and grounding foods with healthy fats - such as kitchari or stews. They’ll do best to avoid caffeine and take things slow. Hot water bottles and castor oil packs are really supportive for any cramping.
A pitta cycle will tend towards heavier bleeding and a feeling of heat around the cycle. They may experience anger or irritability and strong cravings. With the influx of blood and heat, swelling in the body, increased body temperature, headache, tender breasts, acne, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are all common. To balance, they should follow a pitta pacifying diet and lifestyle all month long - favoring unspiced, dry and cooling foods. They may enjoy slow movement and mindful practices to cool off.
A kapha cycle will tend towards excess water or bloating, and a feeling of heaviness. Their menstrual blood may be heavier and more mucousy and they are prone to yeast infections or itchiness. Many kaphas experience depression or emotional eating leading up to their cycle. To balance this, kaphas should invite in lightness and movement. They’re best to follow a kapha pacifying diet all month long - focusing on lighter foods and digestive spices. Exercise and dry-brushing help to keep things moving.
So whether you love or dread your period, chances are that it’s here to stay for a while. Consider it a special time for deep rest and self-care and you may even find yourself celebrating this monthly rite. Your cycle can be a beautiful chance to reconnect with your body’s natural rhythms. Menstruation gives us the opportunity to cleanse - to shed the old and start over new. In Ayurveda, this blood letting or rakta moksha is seen as an important detoxification process. When we surrender, we’re able to let go of all that no longer serves us and start again - brighter and stronger.