Some of the most common health complaints among my female patients are irregular cycles, Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), and pain from menstrual cramps. Ayurveda provides natural, effective solutions for many of these symptoms, especially for those who currently rely on over-the-counter pain medicines for relief.
How Ayurveda Views the Menstrual Cycle
It’s helpful to understand how this ancient holistic health system sees the reproductive stages of a woman’s life. In Ayurveda, a woman’s lifespan is divided into three sections, each dominated by a different dosha, or biological energy. The first stage, from birth until the first menstruation, is dominated by kapha, the energy of water and earth. The middle part of life, or the childbearing years, from around ages 15 to 50, is ruled by pitta, the fire energy. The last stage of life is governed by vata, or the air energy. Of course, the exact ages vary from person to person, but these are the three general stages of life.
A healthy menstrual cycle runs like clockwork. This can only happen if, primarily, the pitta energy is healthy since it’s the energy that generally most influences the menstrual cycle. Ayurveda says the nourishment that the female body receives is divided between two secondary tissues—breast and uterine—before reaching the rest of the body. When a woman is reproductively active, these two tissues are nourished based on her conception or non-conception.
When a woman conceives, more nourishment material in the form of lymph and plasma is directed to the breast and uterine tissues. When a woman is breastfeeding, most of the nourishment goes to her breasts for milk production. When she stops breastfeeding, the body resumes sending most of the nourishment to the uterine tissue, which, in turn, is converted to blood and moves out of the body via menstrual flow at the end of the cycle. This whole process of transformation is regulated by pitta, while vata is responsible for moving out the blood from the uterus. Most PMS symptoms are due to aggravation of pitta and vata.
Prevent PMS Before It Starts
In general, the best way to treat PMS is by regulating your cycle. It’s actually more beneficial to address the issue throughout your monthly cycle (meaning every day) than only when you’re experiencing the symptoms—such as bloating, digestive issues, skin breakouts, and mood swings—associated with PMS. Living a healthy lifestyle daily with a well-regulated diet, quality sleep, and consistent exercise habits is truly the optimal plan to treat, or better yet, bypass these symptoms altogether.
Menstruation As Detox
It is also worth noting that Ayurveda looks at menstruation as a natural detox process for the female body. It says that a woman should facilitate the process of letting go all of the menstrual blood to an extent where no physical strain is exerted. That’s why if you look at Ashtanga yoga, during the women’s menstruation days, there’s no yoga practiced. The reason: they don’t want women to exert any physical energy when the body is undergoing a detox process.
In order to facilitate the process, you might just do pranayamas and very light stretching instead of intense yoga. This concept applies similarly to all areas of life, from physical exercise to your job. Ideally, you’d have some lower stress days at work during menstruation in order to facilitate detox. In short, mental stress and physical strain should be avoided when menstruating, if possible.
For some women, it is also consoling to know that the detox process is not always easy and can, occasionally, be painful. This is why menstrual cramps are to be expected. Sometimes, knowing and accepting that a small amount of pain is normal during menstruation can lessen its impact.
What About Western Medicine to Ease the Pain?
Nobody should have to suffer, if you can help it, which is why so many people reach for over-the-counter pain medicine so quickly. OTC painkillers, in the long term, are not particularly healthy because they have a significant amount of side effects, including an elevated risk of heart attack, reports a new study published in the British Medical Journal in May. One should avoid taking them as much as possible. Of course, if the pain is not tolerable, then it’s fine to use OTC medications sparingly. Just make sure you’re taking the proper steps before your next cycle to mitigate these symptoms more naturally.
Natural Ways to Manage PMS
If you’re on top of your diet, sleeping patterns, and overall lifestyle, this is the ideal way to regulate your cycle. However, not all life situations are the same. If it’s not possible for you to make lifestyle changes, there are some things you can do while you’re menstruating to make yourself feel better. You’ll notice that most of them are related to the digestive system since all three doshas are regulated there. The Ayurvedic approach is that if you can control the doshas at the level of the digestive system, they will not disturb the menstrual cycle.
1. Stay hydrated. If you want to limit your prevention plan to just one tactic, make it this: Drinks lots and lots of water. Lack of fluids in your body will exacerbate PMS. You need to facilitate the elimination of heat from the body, which can be done through urination.
2. Keep your digestive system on track. Another way to eliminate heat from the body is to have regular bowel movements. This can be done in a number of ways, from taking triphala capsules to making a soup with dark leafy greens, which can help kickstart your digestion. You can also try drinking milk with coconut oil at nighttime with a little bit of turmeric and saffron. When the bowels are regular, the pitta and vata are naturally balanced.
3. Spice up your diet. Cumin is great for removing excess pitta from the lymph or plasma and keeping it from getting deposited in the uterus or sweat-carrying channels. It also helps eliminate heat by promoting urination. Dill is one of the of the best remedies for lower back pain during the cycle. Also, the plant fenugreek can reduce swelling and cravings. Soak it in water overnight until it becomes soft and fluffy, then chew and swallow it first thing in the morning with some hot water. Lastly, here is a recipe for a commonly-used tea that women drink on their menstrual cycles in India.
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp dill seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1.5 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon molasses, coconut sugar, or coconut nectar (optional)
Dry roast the seeds on a pan until aromatic. Once they are roasted, use a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle to crush them into a coarse powder. Then, heat up 16 ounces of water and put the seed powder into the water. Boil for two minutes, and while boiling, add the ginger. Turn off the heat and strain the mixture. Add molasses or coconut nectar/sugar, mix, and then drink in the morning after breakfast.