by Claudia Ward, L.Ac
beliefs that women are unpredictable, dangerous, and too emotional
or fragile for certain social roles date back at least to
ancient Greece. During the Great Depression Dr. Robert Frank,
an American gynecologist, published an article, in which described
what he called "premenstrual tension". He wrote
about some of his women patients who complained of being tense
and irritable, crying more easily than usual, and engaging
in what he termed "foolish and ill considered actions"
just prior to menstruation. He further talked about the ill
effects that intellectual exertion might have on the menstrual
cycle. Very convenient discovery, indeed, a medical (i.e.,
scientific) reason why women should stay out of the workforce
and leave to men any of the few jobs that were available.
Women in our modern world work through the
month, no matter what. Double-income families, high costs
of living, multi-tasking – modern women have learned
to ignore their natural rhythms. In the past women would gather
during their monthly cycles and have time to rest and meditate.
As it is, women go through many more menstrual cycles during
their lives than did women of earlier days. In the past a
woman went through menarche near the end of her teens, quickly
became pregnant, nursed for 2 – 4 years after each pregnancy,
during which time she would normally not menstruate. Modern
women, however, go through menarche earlier (higher estrogen
levels due to artificial light, chemicals and pollution, and
a richer diet), they usually deliver only 1-2 children which
they nurse for a relatively short time. They therefore go
through many more menstrual cycles, the hormonal swings of
which can cause a wide range of imbalances and complaints.
the Cleansing Cycle:
There is a general consensus among Ayurvedic
physicians, who visit from India , as to why the excessive
amount of female disorders plague the West and not the East,
and it has much to do with honoring the cycle itself.
In India, the menstrual cycle is a highly
respected cycle that is an expression of the female connectedness
to the cycles of the moon. This cycle regulates the tides,
migrations, mating times, and, of course, the twenty-eight
day cycle of menstruation.
Menses is a natural time of cleansing and
rejuvenation, traditionally accompanied by a time of rest
or light duty. It is understood that in traditional cultures
there were extended families that supported women during their
monthly cycle and through menstruation. Here in the West,
this is not the case. However, this does not mean that modern
working women cannot respect this time of the month, taking
a lighter load or scheduling around their time of the month.
Basically, the Ayurvedic recommendation is
to act in accord with how one feels. Ignoring this cycle will
often lead to a great number of premenstrual and menstrual
complaints. If there is some desire to rest during menstruation
and this is not provided, then symptoms of some sort are sure
to come. This resting is not a sign of weakness: it is a time
of pulling back, recharging the batteries, so that one can
later engage in more dynamic activity. Some of the Ayurvedic
doctors comment that the menstrual cycle and monthly cleansing
is one of the factors that lead to the generally longer life
span of women.
A healthy menstrual cycle is essential to
a woman’s health and well-being. Most women experience
PMS or menstrual complaints at some point in their lives.
Wide hormone swings can dramatically affect the delicate balance
of the body leading to a myriad of complaints associated with
PMS and their monthly cycle. The number of complaints is even
more likely to increase as women have been exposed to an unprecedented
amount of toxic environmental chemicals which, once inside
the human body, have the ability to mimic estrogen. These
environmental estrogens come from birth control pills, pollutants,
food additives, pesticides, plastics, and many other human-made
sources. These xeno-estrogens (foreign estrogens) lead to
a relative estrogen-dominance which creates a myriad of symptoms
and conditions, including infertility, fibroids, cancer, premature
aging, PMS and menstrual problems. We are the first generation
subject to estrogen dominance, so we are moving through uncharted
for a Healthy Menstrual Cycle:
Women should never drink any ice-cold beverages before and
during menstruation or swim in cold water. Cold causes stagnation
in the body and will exacerbate any menstrual problems. The
diet before and during the cycle should be light, foods should
be nourishing, warm, for example, lightly steamed vegetables,
well-cooked grains, lots of leafy greens and green herbs such
as basil, cilantro, or parsley. Spices such as fennel, coriander,
turmeric, cardamom and saffron are wonderful to enhance digestion
and alleviate PMS symptoms. Many women have food cravings
during PMS, and the cravings usually focus on sweets and snacks
such as ice cream, chocolate and potato chips. Eating complex
carbohydrates is probably the best way to ward off those food
cravings. These foods are a good source of fiber, which helps
to clear excess estrogen from your body. High levels of estrogen
have been shown to contribute to PMS. Also, research has found
that high-carbohydrate foods actually relieve the psychological
symptoms of tension, anxiety and mood swings that accompany
Good sources of complex carbohydrates include
whole grains, potatoes, corn and legumes. But remember, it
takes at least two hours for the carbohydrate high to "kick
in;" plan your eating and snacking accordingly. Sugar,
alcohol and caffeine should absolutely be avoided. Walking,
deep breathing, warm baths, massaging the abdomen with warm
sesame oil, drinking fennel tea or ginger tea will help alleviate
many symptoms. Taking mild laxatives like Triphala for about
two days before the scheduled start of menstruation, or eating
stewed apples will help with constipation.
Ayurveda looks at individuals differently,
depending upon their respective body type of Vata, Pitta,
or Kapha. There are distinct patterns of Vata, Pitta and Kapha
Mood swings and anxiety, nervous tension, depression, insomnia,
forgetfulness, constipation, light amount of flow, menstrual
pain/cramps, backaches, extended length of period with dark,
clotted flow; irregularity of periods or amenorrhea (absence
Avoid cold and raw foods. Instead, stick to soups, rice, and
cooked vegetables. Avoid exposure to wireless devices and
Irritability and anger, sweet cravings, increased appetite,
headache (especially migraine), excessive body heat or sweating,
diarrhea, skin rashes/acne, excessive menstrual bleeding,
increased frequency of periods, bright red flow.
Avoid foods that are hot and spicy, avoid alcohol and caffeine.
Do not engage in excessive exercise and have regular meals.
Weight gain, breast tenderness, fluid retention, abdominal
bloating, acne, stiffness in back, achy joints, pale, mucousy
Skip dairy products and fried or oily foods, such as nut butters.
In general those with a Vata imbalance get the best results
from rest, meditation and a regular routine. Those with a
Pitta imbalance respond best to monthly internal cleansing,
and those with a Kapha imbalance find that herbal supplements,
exercise and a lighter diet have the best effect.
Regular yoga practice helps prevent PMS symptoms in three
ways. First, it releases endorphins, the body's natural mood-elevating
compounds. Second, it calms the central nervous system and
increases the flow of oxygenated blood to the reproductive
organs. Third, it eases stress and encourages deep relaxation,
which further mutes the symptoms of PMS. During menstruation
inverted postures and vigorous asanas should be avoided and
restorative poses should be favored.
With the tremendous growth of industry over the past 100 years,
thousands of toxic chemicals have been introduced into our
food, air, drinking water, and almost every manufactured product.
As a result, we are exposed to a potentially huge toxic overload
during our lifetime. Regular Panchakarma cleanses (one to
four times a year) help the body eliminate toxins and rejuvenate,
strengthen, and balance it.
Panchakarma offers the most powerful treatments for removing
toxins and balancing the body/mind. The Panchakarma program
consists of a specific cleansing diet enhanced by daily warm
oil massages, steam sauna, mild herbal enemas, herbalized
body scrubs and many more individualized treatments.
There is not reason for the monthly cycle to be uncomfortable.
A woman's life should be filled with joy and bliss every moment,
including during the menstrual cycle. Just taking a few little
steps to create balance will have a profound effect on body
Ward, L.Ac, Dipl. C.H., CAS
a Licensed Acupuncturist
and Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist in Santa Barbara,
She specializes in nutrition based on the principles
of Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine and Western medical
research. Her treatments focus on Ayurvedic
women's health, and chronic
combines acupuncture, therapeutic massage, cupping,
essential oils, and herbal recommendations in her