From the time you learned about periods, you were probably taught to expect that they would - or could - be painful, accompanied by headaches, mood swings and wicked food cravings. While some of that is true, because we can’t escape physiology completely, much of what we have always accepted as “normal” is really anything but. That’s not to say you need to rush and make a stat appointment with your GP; what it implies is that all systems may not be in balance.
A woman’s menstrual cycle is - by textbook - 28 days in length, the same as a lunar cycle, hence the term “moon days.” If one is truly in sync with the moon cycle, they will begin bleeding with the new moon and ovulate on a full moon.
The first day of your menstrual cycle is called “Day 1”; this begins the first half of your cycle, the follicular phase. During this phase, one egg begins to mature and prepare itself for fertilization. At the same time, the uterine lining begins to thicken and prepare itself for implantation. For this to occur, estrogen in your bloodstream is rising. Most follicular phases are 14 days, but for some people they are shorter or longer. At the time of ovulation, there is a spike in hormone levels followed by the release of the egg (and ideal time for conception). The second phase is called the luteal phase. Hormone levels are decreasing, then increasing, then decreasing again, so it’s no small wonder why you may feel moody or “off” the week before your period. Finally around day 28, if you operate like the medical texts tell you to, you will begin your period. It may come a little sooner or a little later and that doesn’t mean anything is wrong necessarily, only that you have your own variation.
Ayurvedically speaking, menstruation is governed by Vata. Vata is the Dosha that moves things. To be more specific, Apana Vata, a subdosha of Vata, is responsible for menstruation, along with all faculties of excretion and childbirth. Apana Vata provides a down-and-out movement.
The blood of menstruation - Raja - is actually a waste product, or by-product, of Rasa Dhatu, or Lymph Tissue. The quality of your Rasa is directly proportional to the quality of your diet. A healthy diet yields a healthy and regular menstrual cycle with bright red blood and bleeding that lasts roughly 5 days. It has no odor or accompanying discharge and the quantity is not scant nor excessive. Pain, mood swings, cravings, fatigue and other PMS symptoms should be minimal. It is impossible to say such symptoms should not exist at all because some individuals are highly sensitive to hormonal shifts, and there is no way to avoid the hormone changes that occur within the menstrual cycle.
Those with Vata Dosha will experience a shorter cycle with less blood flow. Their flow may be darker in color and more erratic. Imbalances in Vata can cause them to experience more fatigue, mood swings, headaches, and constipation. To alleviate these symptoms, focus on maintaining a regular sleep schedule; eat plenty of Vata pacifying foods; do regular Abhyanga; and avoid Vata provoking behaviors such as excess caffeine, rigorous exercise, and prolonged exposure to cold and wind.
In the presence of excess Pitta Dosha, one can expect excessive menstrual flow, diarrhea, nausea, burning pain, skin breakouts, strong cravings, and irritability. Try Pitta pacifying foods, like fruit, yogurt or smoothies, and cool drinks. Opt for activities that promote relaxation, like Yin Yoga and meditation.
Unbalanced Kapha Dosha will result in menstrual flow that contains excess mucous or is heavier and/or longer in duration. Bloating and water retention, cravings for sweet food, lethargy, and feelings of depression are common here. Focus on consuming light foods, like leafy greens, peppers, and digestive spices (cumin, coriander, asafoetida, cinnamon, cloves) and incorporate daily exercise into your routine. Dry brushing helps encourage lymphatic drainage. Avoid sleeping during the day and try and wake before the sun rises.
Whether you welcome your period or dread it, it is part of you for a majority of your life. The more you can prepare your body, the fewer side effects you may experience and you may even grow to appreciate these sacred days. Ayurveda considers menstruation to be a special bloodletting detoxification period called Rakta Moksha. It can be a time to check in, take special care of yourself, and renew. Remember the range of “normal” is vast; your normal may look different than someone else’s and yet they are both healthy, just different.
Jivana means to nourish. Take time to nourish yourself and the one body - one home - you're given to live and dwell.