In ashtanga yoga, which is traditionally a six day a week practice, women are recommended to refrain from practicing during the first or heaviest two to three days of their menstrual cycle. These additional days of rest each month are known as Ladies’ Holidays. When I first learned about this, I was interested in learning more about the reasoning behind not practicing, and so began reading more about how the menstrual cycle is understood in Yoga and Ayurveda.
Through my reading, I came to understand the menstrual cycle is both a general indicator of health as well as an opportunity that Nature provides to women each month to purify our bodies and our emotions. I learned that if we take full advantage of this opportunity every month, including by understanding and using our menstrual cycle as a time of rest, rejuvenation, and self-healing, it can greatly improve our overall health and vitality.
Recommendations for a Healthy, Healing Menstrual Cycle
During menstruation, the body sheds the extra blood and tissue that has built up in the uterine lining. At this time, the body also, according to Ayurveda, expels other ama – accumulated waste product in the body that is thought to be the root of disease – that has built up in the blood during the month. There are various practices that women can engage in both to support this removal of ama from the body. If you have a specific menstrual disorder, there are practices to follow that are tailored to your individual constitution and to the nature of the disorder, but there are also general guidelines that all menstruating women will benefit from adhering to, include the following:
- Rest: When we are menstruating, it is best to rest and to allow the energies that are moving waste down and out of the body to do their work. Activities that take a lot of energy, or that move energy upwards, such as yoga and pranayama, are not recommended. It is also best to postpone any activities that can be done later, especially those that are stress-inducing.
- Modify your Daily Routine: If you engage in daily oil massage, it is recommended to reduce the amount of time you spend on this massage or, preferably, to suspend it, at least during the first few days of the menstrual cycle. It is also recommended to take only a very short, warm shower, and to not shampoo your hair if possible.
- Eat Special Foods: It is best to eat warm, mildly spiced, soupy foods. Eating a mildly spiced kitchari for eat least one meal every day during your menstrual cycle can be very helpful. It is recommended to avoid eating any heavy food, excessive quantities of food, or cold food. If you normally eat meat, dairy, or fried foods, you should not include them in your diet during your menstrual cycle. In The Ayurveda Encyclopedia, Swami Sadashiva Tirtha comments that that female hormones and chemicals are used to fatten animals, and when foods containing these hormones and chemicals are eaten, they disturb the balance of hormones in the female body. It notes that most problems related to the female reproductive system are due to hormones, and so recommends eliminating meat and animal products from the diet, or at a minimum using all organic animal products.
- Stay Hydrated: Proper hydration will help support the removal of waste from the body. Teas such as ginger and fennel are especially recommended during this time. In Dhanwantari: A Complete Guide to Ayurvedic Life, Harish Johari recommends boiling crushed carrot seeds in 250 grams of water until half the water remains, and drinking it with sugar for two to three days when the menstrual cycle starts. This apparently helps the menstrual flow and cleans the body. Bri Maya Tiwari, in The Path of Practice, recommends raspberry, rose, peppermint, ginger, lemon balm, hops, and chamomile teas.
- Use Natural Products: Using all-natural, organic menstrual products is ideal, and pads are generally considered preferable to tampons.
Even when not menstruating, women should always strive to get adequate rest, exercise appropriately, eat foods and herbs and engage in activities that support healthy digestion, avoid unhealthy emotions, and avoid environmental pollutants. This will, according to Ayurveda, help you to have a healthy menstrual cycle and also improve your overall well-being.
Aligning the Menstrual Cycle with the Lunar Cycle
I also learned through my reading that if a woman is following the guidelines above and is also endeavoring to live in a natural way, in harmony with the rhythms of the natural world, it is very likely that her menstrual cycle will be aligned with the lunar cycle, and she will menstruate on the new moon, when the moon’s ojas energy is at its lowest ebb and the sun’s absorbing energies are at their peak, and will ovulate on the full moon. This is the healthiest possible menstrual flow, and when this happens, the energies of Nature will support the healing energies at work in the body.
In addition to following the recommendations listed above during our menstrual cycles, which will ideally happen at the new moon, there are a separate set of sadhanas, or practices, according to Bri Maya Tiwari’s The Path of Practice, that women can follow during the full moon to strengthen our shakti prana, which provides a broad foundation for healing physical and emotional wounds. She says that the full moon is a time to celebrate womanhood, have sex, practice aromatherapy, take warm and fragrant baths, give yourself oil massages, and eat hearty ojas-producing foods.
According to Bri Maya Tiwari, many women are able to shift their cycles to be aligned with the cycle within just three to six months of conscious practice, including following the new moon and full moon sadhanas, and most women experience a dramatic improvement in health as soon as their menstrual cycle starts to flow in accord with the new moon.
Banyan Botanicals: An Ayurvedic Approach to a Healthy Cycle.
Johari, Harish. Dhanwantari. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 1998.
Svobda, Dr. Robert E. Ayurveda for Women: A Guide to Vitality and Health. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 1999.
Tirtha, Swami Sadashiva. The Ayurveda Encyclopedia. Unadilla, NY: Ayurvedic Holistic Center Press, 1998.
Tiwari, Bri. Maya. The Path of Practice: A Woman’s Book of Ayurvedic Healing. New York: Ballantine Books, 2000.