Periods: Decoding your Body’s Messages
I love women. I love the concept of well cared for, well informed, healthy women. You definitely can’t have a conversation about women’s wellbeing without talking about periods. Today, we’re diving in. I want you to know what your period should look like and how it should feel from an Ayurvedic perspective. I’ll help deepen your understanding of why your period is so important, what it’s trying to tell you, and what you can do about it.
If someone sends you a vitally important life saving message in morse code- but you don’t know morse code, then no matter how many times you get this message, it’s not going to help you. Understanding and observing the doshas can kinda be like this. Your body is sending you messages and signs and signals, but if you haven’t learned the language, and you haven’t learned to observe them, you’re going to miss that information. I’m going to try to help you decode, and learn what to look for.
Let’s start at the beginning.
What should my period be like from the ayurvedic perspective?
Let’s get clear on the who, what, when, and how
Who has a period? Humans born with female sex organs between the ages of around 12-50 should have a period each month.
What is a period? It’s the shedding of tissue (the lining of the uterus) that is no longer needed in the body because a woman is not pregnant.
When should I bleed? A healthy, normal cycle should be around 28 days long. You measure from the first day of one period to the first day of the next period. A few days longer or shorter can also be totally normal.
Now here’s a big one.
How should this happen? When you’re in balance, your period should be completely symptom free: no pain, no cramping, no heavy bleeding, no emotional disturbances. You should bleed for three to five days. The blood should be bright red and moderate in amount. We will come back to the why of all this in just a moment, but first let’s look at what the period is telling us.
What the period shows us.
A woman’s period is an indicator or her fertility, hormone balance, and overall state of health. If you are on birth control, you do not know how your period is going. Birth control masks any symptoms and you will not be able to accurately observe your situation. We can have an entire separate talk on birth control, and if you’re interested, let me know. For now, I’ll keep it short. I am 1000% percent for women having agency over their bodies and an active voice and choice in if and when they have children. I am interested in making that power possible with the least negative health side effects. For now, I think that’ll at least give you a picture into where I’m coming from. All of that to say, if you’re currently taking birth control, and I bet you have a reason why you’ve made that choice, you will not know what’s really going on in your body in terms of your period. The period you have on birth control is actually a break through bleed, not a period at all. And of course, on some birth controls there isn’t anything even resembling a period for very long chunks of time.
Why do we have a period?
Let’s come back to the big beautiful question of why? Why do we have a mensural cycle? What is going on here? Let me give you a few lenses. I bet you already understand the basic physical aspect of this. A woman’s body is preparing for the possibly of pregnancy, when it’s clear that that’s not happening right now, the body cleans house. It gets rid of the lining of the uterus and starts the process over again.
I wonder if you’ve also heard this referred to as purification? Oh man, I don’t love this. I get where this term is coming from, but I’m not into it. I do not care for the implication that there was ever anything impure in the first place. There’s not. There’s nothing impure or gross or wrong. The body is simply moving through an intelligent cycle.
I prefer to think of this as a time of wise protection. Here’s why. Have you ever heard of Margie Profet? She is an interesting and rather brilliant scientist of the University of California at Berkeley who received the MacArthur Genius Award in 1993 for her work in understanding the disease-prevention role of the monthly period. Her work explains how a woman’s body has evolved to protect its self.
Each month menstrual blood, which is very rich in immune cells and is the only blood in the body that does not clot, gives your internal reproductive organs a bath. It’s important that this blood doesn’t clot because it makes it more possible to really wash over the uterus, cervix, and vagina. Each get covered, every month, in antibacterial, antiviral goodness.
How cool is that. To me, this is the wisdom of mother nature at her finest. She’s protecting herself. She’s wise. This protection potion is extra important for the safe keeping of sexually active women.
What is Ayurveda & How Can it Help ME?
Sperm cells very often have bacteria that travel with this. Usually we produce a cervical mucus that would help protect us from this bacteria. However, during ovulation your cervical mucus changes in consistency, it gets more permeable so that a sperm has a chance to make it to an egg. The sperm will then hang out in the lining of the uterus until the body knows an egg has not been fertilized. At this point, the body cleans house. It releases the endometrial lining and all the possible bacteria hitch-hikers along with it. It washes the reproductive organs in an antibacterial protection bath and wisely keep the reproductive house safe.
From an Ayurvedic perspective we are always in a state of flux, and trying to balance our doshas. Each month doshas accumulate. Doshas starting to accumulate is the first step in the 6 stage disease manifestation process. You can learn more about that process and how to recognize it in the What is Ayurveda and How can it Help Me Course I created.
For now, understand that too much of a doshas is a problem. When we bleed each month it can function as a natural blood letting that balances the doshas. However, if the doshas have already started at over-accumulate, or if apana vata, the downward flow of energy in the body, is weak, we start to see symptoms.
I’ve heard some Ayurvedic practitioners say mensuration is one of the reasons women often live longer than men. Women have an opportunity each month to recreate balance.
How the doshas govern the parts of your cycle:
Before we dive deeper in to the symptoms that can pop up as a result of an over-accumulation of the doshas, let’s first understand how the doshas govern the period. All three doshas are always involved, and they each govern a different part of the cycle. If you’re fuzzy on the doshas and want to understand them better, head over to insights and download the free doshas ebook. It’ll teach you what you need to know.
Kapha Time of Cycle:
Kapha is in charge as soon as bleeding stops and all the way through ovulation.
The part of the monthly cycle is all about Estrogen. Estrogen is a hormone that increases structure. Structure is always Kapha. When estrogen increases, it stimulates the growth of the uterine lining. So Kapha time is when you’re rebuilding the uterine lining.
Vata Time of Cycle:
Vata is in charge starting after ovulation and all the way up until the start of bleeding. If at the end of the Kapha time, during ovulation, an egg was not fertilized then the progesterone phase of the cycle takes over. When progesterone kicks in, estrogen goes down.
Pitta Time of Cycle:
And finally, pitta dosha is in charge from the onset of bleeding until it ends.
So while all three doshas are involved in each monthly cycle, vata is the most important. More specifically, a sub dosha of vata, called Apana Vata. Each of the three doshas have five sub doshas. This is another course in and of it’s self- but know that there are smaller aspects of each major dosha that carry out more specify tasks and roles. In Vata, one of those sub doshas is apana vata. Apana vata is all about the healthy downward flow of energy. It’s very important both in mensuration and in pregnancy. When the downward flow of energy is disturbed, we get symptoms and problems.
General Recommendations for Mensuration
Of course, individual recommendations are important, but here are a few things that can help everyone have a more balanced period.
- Ayurveda recommends using this time to slow down and turn it. If it’s at all possible, rest more and do less.
- It’s also recommended that women do not do a full abhyanga practice. This is because the body is already working on processing and removing so much that adding more to the plate it not helpful.
- The same is true of baths. Water is a powerful force on its own and it can disrupt the bodies natural intelligence and ability to process out its unneeded tissues with as much ease as possible.
- Lastly, when possible, use pads instead of tampons. Tampons can have an effect on the natural downward flow of energy and block things up. If there are times when you need to wear a tampon for whatever reason, be aware of the type you’re using. Try to move towards natural products with cotton that is chemical free.
Period Symptoms by Dosha
Now let’s look more deeply at the symptoms each dosha can create when it is not in balance. This is that morse code message I was talking about. Your body is very possibly giving you signs and signals that something needs attention and balancing. For so many of us, we’ve been taught that those signs are just how it is, just how we are, and that they’re normal. They might be common, but common and normal aren’t quite the same thing.
Remember, the period is giving us insight into hormonal balance, fertility, and overall health. If all are balanced and well your period will be symptom free. If you’re experiencing symptoms they are connected to a doshic imbalance. Let’s look at common symptoms and which dosha they are connected to.
Let’s start with Kapha again. Overall, when you think about a Kapha problem, think swelling and fluid retention.
If you’re stuck in a kapha imbalance then your PMS symptoms are more likely to be:
- weight gain
- fluid retention
- breast enlargement
- yeast infections
- slow digestion
When you’re on your period you’ll likely experience:
- a stiff back
- stiff joints
- pale, mucus-like menstrual flow
Over the long haul, a Kapha imbalance might turn into:
- fluid retention
- fibrocystic breast disease
- ovarian cysts
- uterine fibroids
- vaginitis due to yeast
- endometrial hyperplasia
If lot’s of these symptoms are sounding true and failure for you, you might be stuck in a kapha imbalance.
Overall, when you think of a Vata problem, think cramps, pain, anxiety, sensitivity, and moodiness.
With a vata imbalance your PMS symptoms will likely include:
- nervous tension
- mood swings
With a vata imbalance your period will often include:
- long periods
- light flow
- dark blood
- irregular periods
Over the long haul, a vata imbalance can create:
- dysmenorrhea- painful periods
If lots of these symptoms sound failure to you, you might be stuck in a vata imbalance.
When you think of Pitta problems think heat, hot flashes, irritability, anger and heavy menstrual flow.
If you have a pitta imbalance your PMS symptoms are likely to include:
- increased appetite
- sugar cravings
- headaches/ migraines
- feeling extra hot/ sweating
- diarrhea or lots of extra pooping
- skin rashes
With a pitta imbalance, your period will likely include:
- excessive bleeding
- increased frequency of your period
- headaches/ migraines
Over the long haul, a pitta imbalance can turn into:
- menorrhagia- heavy bleeding
- dysfunctional uterine bleeding
If several of these symptoms are often true for you, you might be stuck in a pitta imbalance.
Balancing and Healing Techniques from Ayurveda
It would be irresponsible of me to start talking herbs and diet and healing techniques and encourage a DIY approach here. There are many helpful interventions when something is out of balance, but one woman’s healing technique is another woman’s poison. So, I’ll stick to the universally helpful points here.
If you noticed that you have a long standing imbalance with vata dosha then increasing sleep, meditation, and daily Abhyanga outside the bleeding days are almost universally helpful.
If you noticed you have a long term problem with pitta. Meaning, every month, for many months, those pitta symptoms are true for you, then in general, time in nature and meditation will be helpful. Most pitta problems also require some type of cleansing as well- but that is not a DIY thing.
If you’re stuck in a kapha imbalance then in general meditation and exercise will be helpful. Most kapha imbalances also benefit from some type of Ayurvedic fasting, but again, that is not a DIY thing and Ayurvedic fasting is very specific to the individual and almost never means you totally stop eating.
Okay friends, this has been the highlight reel of an introduction. I’m hoping this leaves you clear on:
- what a period is
- why it’s helpful and important
- what it should be like in a balanced state
Mostly, I hope you’re curious about yourself and your own wellbeing and balance. The more we can recognize and observe the signs our bodies are giving us the more power we have in our own healing. The sooner we listen and pay attention to the signs we receive the more likely we’ll have an easier time restoring balance with a low level of intervention. We want to listen to the whispers of truth from the body before they turn into screams. Next, we will continue this conversation on periods and go deeper into a few different typical period problems and look at them from the wise and wholistic lens of Ayurveda.
This article is also an Ayurveda Podcast.