The science of Ayurveda comes from ancient texts of India called The Vedas. Regarded as humanity’s oldest literature, they were written over 5,000 years ago and give insight into the purpose of life, how to be healthy and how to live in harmony in our surroundings. It’s not a religion, but rather the oldest philosophy on how we got here, where we’re going and why. It provides the ‘Handbook for the Human Condition’ and is the original holistic medicine.
Here are some basics:
Ayurveda does not address ‘the average patient’ or have ‘standard guidelines’. There is no undiagnosed condition. It sees every person as having a unique blueprint of balance and when imbalance takes over, it creates dis-ease. Understanding and practicing the natural guidelines provided in the Charaka Samhita leads to health in body, mind, spirit and our relationship to all things.
One of the basic concepts of Ayurveda is that the body is intelligent and has the capacity to heal itself…if we know how to listen and get out of its way.
Dosha categorizes a person’s predominant qualities, or attributes, and allows us to understand our elemental make up and is the set of qualities that help us understand our balanced state (prakriti) compared to our state of change (vikruti).
The Doshas are:
• Vata – qualities of space and air elements - movement and inspiration
• Pitta – qualities of fire and water elements - transformation and digestion
• Kapha – qualities of water and earth elements - structure and immunity
We are all a combination of these dosha, in varying quantities and qualities. It takes the doshas and the actions of all 5 elements to live and thrive.
The 3 dosha guide the monthly cycle: Vata is the movement that allows flow to occur. Pitta guides the process between ovulation and flow, where tissue either transforms or breaks down. Kapha is responsible for end of flow to ovulation where tissues build up and enliven.
The menstrual cycle is a blessing that allows us to release toxins monthly, but it's also an opportunity for dosha imbalance to occur, as well as exacerbate an imbalance we already have.
It's important to sync our diet and lifestyle to support dosha balance every day. During our monthly cycle it’s also important to follow guidelines to encourage apana, the downward flow of energy, to help our bodies cleanse and detoxify naturally.
An imbalance or disturbance most often occurs in your predominant dosha, although not always. Below can help you determine where you might be off:
Vata is characterized by an irregular cycle, or cycles that are spaced longer than a month apart. Flow tends to be scanty and thin or dark and clotted. Abdominal rigidity, pain, constipation, cramps and spotting are common. Vata leads us to have anxiety, interrupted sleep / insomnia, mood swings and nervous tension. It also leads to formication – the feeling that ants are crawling on your skin – no thank you!
Excessive exercise and too much weight loss can aggravate Vata and cause cycles to stop, which can lead to osteoporosis at a young age.
Pitta is generally regular, if not a little early each month. Heavy bleeding occurs for a long time with intense red flow, maybe tinged with blue, yellow or black. A warm sensation can be felt when blood is expelled. Medium strength cramps are expected as are loose stools. Irritability, food craving, acne or skin rashes can be common and excess heat can be experienced in the body and mind.
Kapha is likely to have regular cycles and experience swelling, bloating, and dull cramps. Water retention can be an issue. Blood flow can be pale and mucous-like with itchiness or yeast. Stiffness in the back and limbs is experienced and slow digestion and lethargy is present.
As usual, recommendations in Ayurveda are specific to each individual’s constitution and current imbalance, but there are general rules that allow us to remove the cause, so the effect will disappear.
1) First and foremost, follow a diet that is appropriate to your constitution or current imbalance:
Tastes that keep Vata in balance are sweet (ghee, rice, most fruits), sour (lemon, cheese, sour cream) and salty (seafood, seaweed). Vata is grounded by a diet favoring warm (not cold), oily/moist (not dry), smooth and nourishing (not rough and light like salad). Minimize hot foods like chilis, raw onions and radishes. Avoid drying (astringent) foods like uncooked apples, crackers, cauliflower / broccoli and cranberries. Reduce bitter flavors such as bitter melon and chocolate.
Vata balance begins with a regular breakfast. Don't skip meals, reduce salad and raw veggies. Reduce popcorn, chips, crackers and bubbly drinks; increase mushy soups, soothing curries, warm veggies prepared with ghee and spice to ground Vata. Drink warm milk mixed with ghee, nutmeg and other 'pumpkin spices' to help with sleep.
Balancing tastes for Pitta include sweet (basil, dates), bitter (greens, turmeric), astringent (parsley, pomegranate). Pitta should enjoy a cooler food selection, not hot or too warm. Choose foods that provide good energy like grains, milk and root veggies. Avoid heating and oily foods hard cheese, olives and egg yolk and favor drier foods such as potatoes, millet, oats and pasta.
Pitta needs to eat regularly to avoid over-indulging their sharp appetite. Reduce fried and spicey foods. Reduce sour / salty cheeses, drink lime water over lemon water and stay cool with more cilantro, add more wilted greens to your diet and enjoy egg whites over egg yolks which are heating. Drink soothing chamomile tea or try a nice spearmint tea to keep your cool.
Tastes that balance Kapha are pungent (chili, spices, onion), bitter (eggplant, kale, collard greens) and astringent (black eyed peas, broccoli, cranberries). To balance the Kapha qualities, we chose lighter foods over dense heavy ones to aid digestion. Prefer warm over cool or cold foods to keep metabolism moving. Dry and rough is preferred over oily and smooth; fruits and veggies are called roughage for a reason, leverage their scouring skills to remove toxins, but don’t overdo raw foods.
Kapha is still sleepy at breakfast and needs a gentle wake up with tea, or freshly squeezed juice. Reduce dairy and avoid eating late at night. Lunch is your biggest meal, eaten in a nice environment with access to plenty of sunshine to help stoke digestion. Enjoy more spice like cumin and coriander and favor lentil soups, mung dahl and lighter meals which can be easily digested. Salads are ok for Kapha to help keep things moving.
2) Don’t overeat! If you can’t hold the entirety of your meal in your own 2 palms, it’s too large for your stomach to digest - undigested food turns to toxins. Ew.
3) Improve digestion with fresh ginger and appropriate spices.
4) Understand that emotions can create imbalance; grief, anxiety, repressed anger or shame all cause imbalance which leads to disease. Work to process your emotions and understand their causes.
5) Exercise regularly and avoid daytime naps. When tired use Yoga Nidra.
6) Work to maintain balance, avoid excessive work, sex, exercise, or travel. Too much is always too much.
7) Establish a regular bedtime / wake up routine.
To avoid imbalance during cycle time:
- Pay more attention to your body and what it’s telling you.
- Breathe all the way down to your pelvis and allow all the muscles and tissues to relax downward.
- Use pads rather than tampons.
- If you have constipation use triphala or drink aloe vera.
- Eat small meals; avoid cold, heavy or bubbly food and drink.
- For food cravings, hold that bite of food in your mouth longer than normal to absorb the benefit of the taste. For salt craving add seaweed or kelp powder in your food.
- Kitchari made with mung beans is a great way to help detox and calms an anxious belly.
Modern society sees menstruation as a curse; today’s women are required to deal with it and move on when Mother Nature is telling her to slow down and allow the natural process of purification to occur. In times past, women enjoyed friendship and emotional support in their 'special' monthly hut where they could escape from the chores and duties for a few days to re-set, renew and connect with each other and Mother Nature.
During your cycle listen to your body, to the messages being sent - modify your diet and lifestyle during this time to slow down! Allow your body to rejuvenate, avoid what makes you grouchy and anxious, practice pranayama with longer exhales, do a restorative yoga practice with gentle / supported forward folds and twists, meditate on silence, and allow old hurts and anxieties to pass. Love yourself more than ever during this natural time of feminine energy. Let your cycle to be an opportunity to re-set your intention, and rest up for the next opportunity to shine!
For Kate - my Four Desires Dharma Partner - because Mother Nature is in the driver's seat and we're in charge of navigation.