Menstruation – Implication of Ancient Ayurvedic Knowledge to The Modern Women
Written by Dr. Erandi Gunathilake, Chief Doctor, Plantation Villa, Sri Lanka
Menstruation is a major phenomenon in the female body. It is nature’s way of communicating with a woman on her fertility and feminine balance. It is also the major cleansing procedure for women, not just for the body but also for her mind and spirituality.
Ayurveda, which gives an emphasis to the balance of the body, takes menstruation as one of the most important functions. The appearance of the first menstruation, lifestyle, education towards menstruation and fertility are explained in Ayurveda gynecology. Scientifically, menstruation is periodic vaginal discharge of blood and other tissues, except during pregnancy. This discharging process lasts about 3-5 days.
According to Ayurveda, Shudhdharthava (healthy menstruation) happens once a month (chandra mas – lunar month), does not give pain or burning sensations, and lasts 5 nights. Flow should be not too little and not too heavy. Sushruta Samhita, one of the two main texts on Ayurveda, says healthy menstrual blood has dark red color (like the blood of a rabbit) and if falls on a cloth it can be easily washed without leaving any stain. Healthy menstrual blood does not have any unpleasant odor. Menstrual pain or discomfort are considered normal if she is capable of performing her daily activities without disturbance (of pain).
In modern society, young girls consider menstruation as a disturbance or as an obstacle for their lifestyle. Simply it is pushed away until it is time to focus on conceiving. Lots of young girls are on oral contraceptive pills since their teenage years and they keep taking these hormones for years. These pills contain synthetic hormones which helps to prevent conception. It is important to have contraceptive methods to prevent unplanned pregnancies, especially for teenagers. But it is questionable how much is the actual need of the oral contraception in teenage girls and young adults, especially if they are not sexually active on regular basis. On the other hand, hormonal contraception does not provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases, which is also a major concern for teenage and young adults. In that sense, barrier methods such as condoms may be better suited for young girls which provides them with safety and prevent them from long term synthetic hormone exposure.
Although the menstruation starts around the age of 12, full maturation of the pituitary gland can take up to the age of 20. So, the full regulation of the hormones can take some years after menace (the first menstruation). Taking contraceptive pills at early age can disturb full regulation and maturation of feminine hormone production. Therefore, it is important to assess the long-term effects of hormonal contraceptive pills.
According to Ayurveda, Artava is produced in the action of the female reproductive system. There are 3 main types of Artava. It represents ovarian hormones, ovum itself and menstrual flow. Kashyapa Samhita (an ancient ayurvedic text) quotes, “as the fruit that is going to be formed due to transformation is not visible in the present flower and the fire that is going to be aroused in future cannot be felt in wood without efforts, similarly the Shukra (male reproductive hormones, seminal fluid and sperm) and Artava (female hormones, ovum and menstrual discharge) are visualized after attaining proper time and growth affected by previous deeds.”
The actual importance of healthy Artava (hormonal balance, quality of the ovum and the menstruation) matters later in life, although it may seem like not important at a young age.
The menstrual cycle in Ayurveda is divided in to 3 parts: Rajas Kala, Rithu Kala and Ritu Vyatitha Kala.
Rajas Kala is the menstrual phase. Duration of this phase is 3 to 5 days. In absence of fertilization, shredding of the lining of the uterus happens, leading to the beginning of the vaginal bleeding. Pain and discomfort are brought by Vata dosha. Therefore, activities and food which can aggravate Vata should be avoided in this period. Aggravated Vata can cause interruption of the blood flow and cause complication later. So, when your menstruation starts, from day 1-5, avoid doing heavy exercises. Eat warm and easy to digest foods, slow rhythmic exercises like walking, and breathing approaches like pranayama are beneficial. It is important to avoid stress and sleep deprivation. Associating cold can cause Vata aggravation. Warm or lukewarm water is ideal for body wash and avoid washing of the head.
Formation of menstrual discharge (Rajas) is linked with dosha and dhatu. There it is linked with nutrition, Rasa dhatu. Nourishment we absorb from food is providing the essence to create Rajas. Rasa is shaumya (soft and nourishing). But in the formation of Rajas, it undergoes Pitta dhathupaka which is fiery and Rajas become fiery in nature. This fiery nature in the Vata phase makes a nice natural balance. It should not be disturbed either by taking cold/Vata aggravating things or by too much heating by Pitta aggravating things.
Vata plays a very important part in eliminating the menstrual discharge, by its downward motion. If aggravated it might not be facilitated to move downward. If it moves upwards it might obstruct fallopian tubes or even enter pelvic cavity. This might lead to complications like endometriosis or dysmenorrhea.
As exercise is not recommended, this is actually a good time to relax and take proper rest. Sleep on time, take a break from the busy, rushed activities, walk and relax. Reflecting on the mind and doing more meditation would be beneficial. For modern women, having more “me time” and engaging in self-care, reading and journaling is ideal.
Rithu Kala is the proliferative phase. Rithu means season. This is the fertile season of the month where the chance of conception is high. Duration is 12-16 days. Starts from the end of menstruation and continues till the ovulation. Kapha dosha is more dominant and it’s nourishing the uterus and genitals. Water retention also might be noticeable and calm status of the mind because of the influence of Kapha. Women looks more attractive and it is said the best phase for the women. The texts say, “she looks bright and healthy, utters pleasant words, anxious towards sexual relation, flanks and eyes are lax, she has quarrying or twitching over arms, breasts, pelvis, umbilicus, thighs and hips, is happy and excited”.
As shower is not recommended in the menstrual phase, Rajaskala, it is the opposite in the Ritukala. By the end of Rajaskala, it is advised to take bath and wear fragrances and clean fresh clothes, and prepare for the fertile period of the month. Preparing for the fertile phase is described so gracefully in the authentic texts, it gives the feeling of performing a ritual. This is the time to have contraceptive methods if you are not planning to get pregnant and vice versa. If you are expecting to conceive it is important to avoid alcohol and stay active and eat healthy. This is the time to be adventurous.
Next phase is Rithuvyathitha Kala. This is the time in between the above two phases. Duration is 9-12 days. It starts with the end of Rithukala and ends with the onset of Rajaskala. It becomes important if you are expecting conception, otherwise daily activities can be done normally. Bitter nourishing green vegetables and healthy fat comes quite helpful in this phase.
If you are expecting to conceive this phase is important because it is going to be the time of the implantation and the early development of the embryo. Uterus is well nourished and blood supply is high. Chances of conception at this phase are very low, unless delayed ovulation. Ancient texts quotes, “as the lotus flower closes its petals by the sunset, after Rithukala, yoni (opening to the female reproductive system) closes up and does not allow sperms to enter.” This phase Pitta is active and it helps with the maturation of the corpus luteum. If conceived, this phase extends to a minimum of 3 months. Pitta helps with the development of the early stages of the embryo and keeps the uterus warm and well-nourished by the blood flow. If the growing fetus is not healthy and strong enough to survive furthermore it will be flushed out, basically within the first 3 months. Pitta plays a very important role here. For the same reason, if you conceive, in the first three months consumption of Pitta aggravating food is prohibited. Excess Pitta might lead to disturb and elimination of the fetus.
In general, a Pitta balancing diet can be good. As the strength of the mind comes strongly meditation and focus are very helpful. Balanced Pitta brings clarity. Imbalanced Pitta brings anger like aggressive emotions. Unless balanced mindfully, this phase you might feel a bit irritated and angry. This is the phase where you feel the disturbance of PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome) and acne. Implementing cooling activities such as cooling pranayama breathing, eating more fresh fruits and leafy green vegetables are very helpful. Avoiding extreme spicy food and heating foods like cooked tomatoes, vinegar, etc, is also important.
If you focus and try to understand your body rhythms related to the menstruation, you will find the way of communication with your feminine energy. In the beginning you can track your cycle, use a calendar or for the modern you there are so many apps that will help you track your cycle. It all needs simply paying attention and adjusting with diet and lifestyle. And the benefits in return will reward you with a well-balanced mind and longevity. It is scientifically proven that until menopause, the risk of chronic non communicable diseases is less among women than men. Which means your menstrual cycle is a cleansing and balancing mechanism, and nature’s gift to women. Cherish that gift and allocate more self-care to your routine and enjoy the bliss of ultimate femininity.