Common Period Problems & Ayurvedic Healing: Periods Part 2
Welcome back good people! This is periods part 2. Last week got clear on what a period is and why is happens. We also talked about how incredible women’s bodies are and the antibackeriacial cleansing and protective nature of the period. We started to look at period symptoms through the lens of doshic imbalance and started thinking about the signs and signals our bodies have been giving us that we might have been missing. If ya missed it, you can read that article here.
This week we’re going to dig in a little bit deeper to three major and common period problems. Painful periods, PMS, and heavy periods. We’ll take a look at how western medicine sees these issues and then how Ayurveda does. And stay tuned for a special nourishing treat recipe at the end as well!
Dysmenorrhea: Painful Periods, the Western Medicine Perspective
In western medicine painful periods get a fancy name. Dysmenorrhea. It is one of the most common period problems and it gets divided into two major categories, primary and secondary. Basically, primary dysmenorrhea is when you have period pain but you do not have another diagnosis. In contrast, secondary dysmenorrhea is a painful period in addition to some other pelvic pathology like endometriosis, chronic pelvic inflammatory disease, and others.
Get this, painful periods effect 60-93% of females. That’s a lot of women in pain y’all. Physically, here is what is most likely happening. Evidence suggests that people who have dysmenorrhea have frequent and prolonged uterine contractions that decrease blood flow to the myometrium which basically causes a uterine version of angina.
I’d like to make sure you don’t get the impressive that this is an eastern vs western medicine talk. It’s not at all. Both views can be so incredibly helpful, necessary, and useful. I made it a point to study under Ayurveda under a western medical doctor because I deeply believe this.
What I love so much about Ayurveda is that it puts a human being in the context of their eco system, mother nature, and helps them understand the principles and laws that govern both. When we get to zoom out and see ourselves as part of something bigger, sometimes problems get more solvable. The opposite is true too. Western medicine does some amazing zooming in. When there is a long established problem and pathology western medicine does so much to help with management.
All that to say, everything thats helpful is good news in my book, and I’m here to share with a perhaps less familiar lens.
Dysmenorrhea: Painful Periods, the Ayurvedic Perspective
From the Ayurvedic perspective pain is always a vata problem. Menstrual cramps are always a vata problem. Vata dosha is responsible for coordinated movement in the body. There should be a proper and painless downward flow during mensuration and if that’s not happening, we know we have a vata problem.
Whenever someone is experiencing a painful period, as an ayurvedic yoga therapist, I know we need to look at and balance vata dosha. One way to calm down vata is to make sure a person is getting enough rest, especially during the period. Overdoing will make the symptoms worse. I’ll also look into sleep in general. If there is a backlog problem of unrestful sleep, it can have a strong effect here.
I mentioned this in part 1, but for many who experience painful periods trying Abhyanga every day for a month before your next cycle can be really helpful. If you don’t have time to do the entire body, that’s okay. Focus on massaging the abdomen with warm sesame oil. During the period its self applying a hot water bottle to the abdomen can help sooth things as well.
Using Herbs and Diet to Heal Dysmenorrhea
Of course, I like to work with diet and herbs as well. This is way more individually specific that rest and abhyanga. There are Ayurvedic herbal formulas that are created specifically to be helpful with painful periods. They are counter-indicated in some situations, but overall, they can be really helpful. There are also herbal drinks that be really helpful to nurture apana vata, that downward flow of energy, when things seem to be stuck and scanty.
When we think about using diet to sooth and pacify vata dosha we often use ghee. Ghee is its own kind of medicinal magic when used properly. There are so many good companies that make good ghee. You can get it from Banyan, Farmtrue, or my personal favorite Pior Living. (use code VedaCircle for 20% off there!) They actually make ghruta, which I’ll over simplify as extra special ghee, made the old school Ayurveda way, from special cows. How much ghee to use and when will be specific to the individual, but it’s a powerful medicine when working with vata.
We’ll use the overall diet to pacify vata as well. I’d want to look at what someone was eating for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, drinks, all of it and pull out anything that would be aggravating to vata. Additionally, I’d check to make sure there are food patterns that are creating ama, or blockages, which can hinder flow. Of course, when working with a vata pacifying diet we stay away from ice cold foods and drinks and lots of raw salads as well.
If some of that was a little tricky to process, the intro course I created will walk you through all those nutrition details and make them much more comprehendible. The courses is called What is Ayurveda and how can it help me. It’s 35 videos and 4 quizzes to get you grounded in this worldview. You’ll better understand doshas, nutrition, philosophy and more.
What is Ayurveda & How Can it Help Me?
That’s the highlight real of painful periods. When we understand vata, what she’s in charge of, how she shows up when she’s unhappy, and what she looks like when she’s moving gracefully, period pain becomes more decodable and treatable. When vata is balanced, pain goes away. A painful period might be incredibly common, but it isn’t normal, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
PMS: The Western Medical Perspective
Alright friends lets move on to the wonderful world of PMS.
From the western medical perspective PMS is a group of both physical and behavioral symptoms that occur in a a cyclic pattern during the second half of the menstrual cycle. The most common symptoms include but are not limited to: anger, irritability, internal tension that effect day to day life, bloating, fatigue, and anxiety. PMS is incredibly common and affects up to 75% of women with menstrual cycles.
The allopathic view of this problem suggests that some women are simply more sensitive to changing hormone levels than other women. The hormone levels in women with and without PMS are the same, it’s simply the way they experience those hormonal shifts that differentiates our experiences.
In order to be diagnosed with PMS you must have both the behavioral and physical symptoms in the second half of the menstrual cycles. These symptoms must not be present during the first half of the cycle. If they are, it can’t be PMS.
According to up to date, treatment for PMS should start with lifestyle interventions like exercise, relaxation techniques, and vitamin and mineral supplements. While I will choose to believe that this has been offered to some woman somewhere, it was certainly not my experience or the experience of anyone I know. For myself, and many others, the solution was a birth control pill prescription without asking really any questions. Again, if someone wants to be on birth control, I’m 1000% for them being able to easily access it. Here, I’m talking about using brith control pills as a way to treat PMS before trying anything else first.
PMS: The Ayurvedic Perspective
Now, let’s look at PMS from the Ayurvedic lens.
Ayurveda sees PMS as a pitta-vatta disorder. This means both doshas are upset. The subdoshas involved are usually ranjaka pitta and apana vata. I know that sub doshas are a side train here with a long tack, so I’ll keep it very simple. Each dosha has 5 sub doshas. Sub doshas are more specific aspects of the larger dosha. When we’re looking at PMS, we’re almost always looking at both pitta and vata dosha. And more specifically, we almost always looking and the downward flow of energy, and the flow of blood.
Let’s talk universal healing strategies first. If you’re experiencing PMS, almost always, more rest will be helpful. More specifically, stress reduction and mental rest. So, if you’re someone who needs to do a lot of mental work at a computer screen, we have to find a way to work in nature walks and breaks. If you aren’t practicing calming types of yoga and pranayama, we’re going to start! If you aren’t sleeping well at night, we’re going to work on that too. If you’re interested in starting a meditation practice that actually helps you, we can do that too.
One of the most powerful healing techniques for PMS is virechana, which is Sanskrit for purging or laxative. You can think of it in a modern context as a cleanse of sorts. This is so incredibly specific to the individual. There are several options to choose from based on the individuals strength, symptom severity, and specific needs. I won’t go into it here, but I don’t think of it as a DIY thing and I insist on using herbs and cleanses with caution and care.
Basically what we’re trying to do it get anything that’s in the way, or too hot, to cool down and get out of the way. Then, we’re soothing the body with rest so that flow can happen without being inhibited. That’s a super high level of what we’d do, but hopefully it gives you an overall feel for approach.
Menorrhagia: The Western Medicine Perspective
Okay last, but not least, let’s take a look at Menorrhagia, or heavy bleeding.
Menorrhagia refers to menstrual blood loss greater than 80 mL. This is super tricky for anyone to really know so let me give you some stats on what a normal amount of blood loss looks like.
In a normal period that’s not too heavy, you would need to change your pad or tampon about every three hours. You’d use less than 21 pads or tampons per cycle. You would not, or very infrequently, need to change a pad or tampon during the night. Your clots would be smaller than 1in in diameter and you will not be anemic. If you’re experiencing blood loss outside of those perimeters, that’s probably a heavy loss of blood.
In western medicine the treatment for menorrhagia ranges from a slew of contraceptive options all the way to endometrial ablation and hysterectomy. Obviously, the last two are counter-indicated in women who still wish to give birth.
Menorrhagia: The Ayurvedic Perspective
The Ayurvedic view here is that the body is intelligent. The body is always trying to create homeostasis. When the period is too heavy, it’s always a pitta problem. When pitta is too high, there is too much heat in the blood. When there is too much heat, the body will try to get rid of that excess heat however it can. The body will use the period to try to get that extra heat out.
Whenever heavy bleeding is a problem we work with blood cooling herbs. Some are best taken as supplements, others as a drink. Additionally, we’ll want to reduce pitta with lifestyle factors like diet, pranayama practices, and Ayurvedic yoga. When used together these practices and herbs can create wonderful healing.
Get Help with Your Period
I hope that gives you a high level understanding of the Ayurvedic perspective on these three common, but not normal, period problems. If you’re interested in one on one help, that’s what I’m here for! You can check on my Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy options here.
Okay, now recipes goodness!! Sesame Seed Confection. So yummy. In addition to just tasting good, this treat helps to balance vata while strengthening the bones and teeth. Reading you a recipe here feels rather unhelpful, so I’m going to link to it in the show notes. If you make it, let me know what you think! You can reach out to me at VedaCircle on instagram and I love to hear from you!
Recipe Treat: Sesame Seed Confection
- 1⁄2 cup Sesame Seeds
- 1⁄4 cup Shatavari
- 1⁄2 tsp Ginger Root Powder
- 3 tbl Turbinado Sugar
- 3tbl Ghee
- Melt the ghee, and add the ginger root in a small frying pan.
- Place the remaining ingredients in a bowl and pour in the ghee/ginger.
- Mix together and form in to small bite-sized balls.
- Store in cool place or refrigerator.