So what exactly is a healthy period, and what do we need to do to have one?
Known as the world’s oldest system of healthcare, Ayurveda is a body of knowledge that dates back 5000 years to a time when human beings lived in synchronicity with nature and utilised the attributes of certain types of energy (known as the Doshas) to understand and harmonise imbalances within the body and mind.
All of the wisdom passed down from the Sages of India is a gift to guide us towards honouring ourselves and the planet through practices that live in alignment with our highest potential for physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing.
Within the philosophy of Ayurveda, our menstrual cycle is cherished as the most honourable aspect of being a woman. It is the gold that gives us the opportunity to create life. Without menstruation, human beings would simply cease to exist. Sadly in the West, we have a tendency to dread ‘that time of the month’. It’s seen as an inconvenience, dirty, shameful, and for a lot of women, it can be a highly painful and emotional time. But it’s time to turn this tune around!
Our blood is beautiful, healthy, completely natural and so supremely human. It symbolises fresh beginnings and another opportunity to create. Your creation can be whatever you choose it to be – it could be a work of art, a song, poem, idea, project, or yes, a beautiful baby. No matter what your passion is, the womb is seen as the birthplace of all creation which is why honouring it is important on many levels.
As women, we are very much governed by the rhythmic dance of our cycle. Each Dosha moves through and dominates at certain phases within the month, imparting its own energy into our body and psyche, meaning that our mood, emotions and energy are highly influenced by our place within our menstrual cycle. Within the (commonly) 28 day cycle, there are three phases that have their moment – each with its own unique set of attributes that largely affect the way we feel day-to-day.
What’s special here is that with this knowledge, you can actually develop a language with your body and ride the tides of your cycle, knowing exactly what does and doesn’t serve your needs based on where you’re at. It’s all about tuning in, listening, and responding to what your body is asking for.
So what exactly is our period?
Known in Sanksrit as Rajahkãla, our monthly bleed signifies the shedding of the endometrium layer that builds up each month along the uterus walls to create a stable base for a fertisiled egg to begin its life. During ovulation, we release an egg that travels down the fallopian tube in hopes of fertilisation. If the egg doesn’t find a match (sperm), our body prepares to remove the endometrium layer, as a way of detoxing and cleansing the uterus in time for our next ovulation. It’s really quite amazing that our body has the ability to self-cleanse each month so that if / when we are ready to conceive, we will have the freshest opportunity for a healthy conception.
The influence of the Doshas
The Doshas are three functional forms of energy that are used to read and restore balance. Vata is made up of the Air element, Pitta of Fire and Kapha of Earth + Water. Each of the Doshas are balanced by the qualities of the opposite Dosha. Everything in life, including ourselves, food, nature, the seasons, times of day, also imbalances and disease are all dominated by a particular Dosha, so by utilising the attributes of the opposing Dosha we are able to restore balance on a daily basis.
Just as the Dosha’s have their place within our bodies, mind and the seasons – they also dominate certain phases of our cycle which influence everything from our appetite, energy, and digestion right through to our emotions and the way we feel. Keeping in mind that when one Dosha is dominant, Ayurveda uses the qualities of the opposite Dosha to restore balance – crafting a set of diet and lifestyle practices (known as ‘Rajaswala Paricharya’) designed to complement our innate needs throughout the month.
VATA: menstruation (day 1 – 5)*
Action: go inward, rest, relax, retreat, slow down.
Vata is largely derived from the Air element and is the natural force that governs movement within the body. Vata dominates at the time of menstruation to move energy downward (known as Apana Vata) so that the body can cleanse and expel what is no longer needed, AKA the endometrium layer and unfertilised egg. Obstructing the downward flow through the use of tampons and moon-cups prevents the removal of these cells which causes stagnation and can even be toxic. Allowing our blood to flow freely out of the body is all part of our divine human design. Reusable pads and period undies are perfect for this! Traditionally, women would bleed together onto the earth under the New Moon. This was seen as a time of rejuvenation, purification, rest, and creativity. Women’s connection to the cosmic planes is also heightened at this time and traditionally men would come to seek advice or counsel new ideas. How far we’ve come from this modality as a society.
Vata shares the attributes of ‘airiness’ which can manifest mentally as indecisiveness, anxiety, broken sleep, and feeling ungrounded; physically Vata shows up as dryness (internally and externally), impaired digestion, feeling cold, aches in the bones, joints & muscles, and through pain which indicates a Vata dominance. To balance the Air element – warming and grounding practices are favoured. This is a time for you and only you.
I like to think of it as my ‘little holiday from life’ where I remove all pressure from myself to ‘achieve’ and let go of as many responsibilities as I can so that I can kick back and only do the things that make me feel good, without any guilt!
This mindset has helped me to embrace and even look forward to my bleed as the highlight of the month, quite the opposite of how I had viewed it for most of my life. Remember, this is a potent time for introspective, creativity, soul-searching and self-care so rest, go inward, keep warm and deep dive into the inner workings of your heart.
Rajaswala Paricharya is the term for ‘menstrual routine’, this is how we create ritual around specific times of our life and honour the elemental forces at play.
Finding the balance…
- Food to eat during your period: Warm, unctuous, cooked meals with heating spices and plenty of oils such as porridge, soup, dahl, kitchari, curries, root vegetables, and spices such as cinnamon, turmeric, saffron and ajwain – which are natural antidotes for pain and inflammation.
- Foods rich in iron that supplement the loss of blood.
- Hot teas such as golden mylk, raspberry leaf, ginger, chamomile, turmeric, cinnamon, nettle; drink warm water throughout the day to stay hydrated and nourish the flow.
- Slow movement such as gentle walks and yoga (no inversions) if you feel you have the energy/motivation for it. Otherwise just rest.
- Meditation, journaling, positivity and introspection.
- Creativity – particularly planning & visualisation.
- Free bleeding – using reusable pads or period underwear.
- Rest, recovery, sleep and stillness.
- Foods to avoid during your period: Frozen, cold and cooling foods such as smoothies, juice, ice cream, raw foods, salads and cold/crisp meals.
- Drying Vata type foods such as crackers, crisps, popcorn, dry toast, cereal etc.
- Stimulants such as coffee, energy drinks and alcohol.
- Excessive mental stimulation such as action films, loud music, parties, negative thoughts and stressful situations.
- Socialising – this is your time for you.
- Strong physical activity such as running, intense exercise and inversions.
- Fast motion like surfing, flying and travel.
- Swimming, baths and long showers.
- Massage and Abhyanga practice.
- Tampons & moon cups.
In order to have a healthy period, it’s essential to support Vata through warming, slow, grounding practices. The best thing you can do for your entire month is to have as much rest as possible during your period which will restore your body and mind, essentially setting you up for a new month with optimal strength and vitality.
It’s the holiday we take for ourselves that allows us to come back refreshed and ready for whatever life throws at us!
KAPHA: post menstruation to ovulation (day 5 – 13)*
Action: create, plan, socialise, outward energy, nurture others.
Kapha embodies the Earth and Water elements which are responsible for growth and building tissues within the body. The role of Kapha is to build the endometrium layer to potentially house a fertilised egg. Earth energy keeps us deeply rooted and if out of balance can lead to feelings of stagnation, heaviness and lethargy which need to be balanced by taking action – socialising, connecting, spending time outdoors/in nature, movement and eating light as our metabolism is naturally slower on this side of ovulation. On the plus side, the Water element imparts that dewy pre-ovulation glow that makes us shine from the inside out. In nature, this would be the time of the month where we’re ‘looking for a mate’ so to speak, so we’re more wired to spending our energy on others – this means making time to see our loved ones, baking, making, whatever it is that you like to do for others, do it now. This is the most potent time for birthing any ideas, sensations, or inspiration that you harnessed during your bleed.
Finding the balance…
- Warming, light meals.
- Sending your energy outward through acts of service, giving and tending to others.
- Socialising – make plans to catch up, throw a dinner party, dance, however you like to interact and socialise with your community.
- Physical activity – this is the best time for more intense physical activity and exercise like cardio.
- Getting some sun and spending time in nature.
- Learning new skills or taking a course (memory is intensified at this time).
- Bringing ideas to life.
- Heavy meals, cold and cooling foods, cold drinks.
- Stagnation – laying around, watching TV, not moving, withdrawing.
- Letting your body temperature fall too low, try to keep warm and active.
PITTA: ovulation to menstruation (day 14 – 28)*
Action: wind down, ground and prepare.
Pitta is dominated by the Fire element which shares the qualities of intensity, action and transformation. The role of Pitta takes over if the ovum is not fertilised in order to transform the endometrium layer in preparation for its departure from the womb. If you fall pregnant, you actually stay in the Kapha phase for the duration of the pregnancy as you are building your bub.
Cool the heat of Pitta with grounding practices, getting clear on your goals, setting intentions, channelling your emotions into creative projects, asking yourself uncomfortable questions (this is a potent time for honestly and not giving a sh*t what anyone thinks) but probably avoid conversations with people where a little sensitivity may be necessary. Our appetite and digestive fire, known as Agni, are at an all-time high during this season making it the best time for indulgence. Pitta is also kept at bay through nourishing self-care practices like long baths, self-massage and pampering yourself. Use the extra energy you have at this time to cleanse and prepare your home for your upcoming ‘holiday’ – stock up your kitchen full of all the things you’ll need for Vata season, get all the washing done, tick as much off your to-do list as possible so you really can relax, if only for a day, and let the people close to you know that you will be requiring a little more space in the upcoming days.
Finding the balance…
- Larger meals, indulgences, sweet fruit, fresh greens and salad – this is a time when your body and digestion can handle more cooling foods to ‘put out the fire’ of Pitta.
- Herbs such as mint, coriander, dill, basil and fennel.
- Self-care practices such as baths, facials, steams, yoni steaming (before ovulation and before you bleed are ideal times), massage & Abhyanga etc.
- Getting tasks done.
- Moderate exercise.
- Excessively spicy/oily meals, chilli, hot spices and sour foods.
- Stimulants such as energy drinks, caffeine and alcohol.
- Intense cardio, opt for more strength building and grounding forms of movement.
- Spending too much time in the sun.
- Confrontation and intense conversations where compassion may need to be exercised.
While traversing a multitude of hormones, it’s essential to understand the phases of the cycle so we can harness the required strength or softness our womb is calling out for in order to have a healthy period. This knowledge extends far beyond women’s reach. Men and children need to understand and respect this as much as women so that we can be supported and understood as we are governed and guided by this rhythm each month.
To drop in and connect with your cycle you may like to keep a daily journal, even for just 1 cycle and log each day with the day of the cycle you’re on and how you’re feeling. Such as ‘Day 14, feel like I’m glowing from the inside out and can’t wait to have all of my friends over for dinner.’ Or ‘Day 27 – expecting my bleed any minute, all I want to do is crawl into bed and not talk to anyone.’ The best thin we can do for ourselves is to get familiar with our cycle so that we can navigate the full range of emotions that come hand in hand with the honour of being woman.
* the day ranges for each phase are based on a typical healthy period cycle of roughly 28-days but will vary from woman to woman depending on the length of your cycle.
To learn more about the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda and how you can utilise it to improve your wellbeing, order your copy of ‘Ayurvedic Rituals‘ by Chasca Summerville. Featuring sumptuous photography, Ayurvedic Rituals includes seasonal recipes, herbal teas, natural beauty recipes, self-care rituals, a plant-based first-aid kit plus methods to reduce stress & anxiety, improve digestion & gut health, and techniques to access deep rejuvenating sleep. Routines and rituals spread throughout the book will help you feel relaxed, happy, healthy and deeply connected to the natural world.