(Originally published in the “Popular Lately” Spotlight and as one of the Top 10 Blogs of the Week on Elephant Journal)
It was not until relatively recently that I really believed that a pain-free, normal period was possible.
Having popped various pills to mitigate the excruciating pain I used to feel during each and every cycle, I made a firm resolution at age 22 that I would no longer take any kind of painkiller during my periods; I decided I would simply take the pain.
It was not until encountering the amazing science of Ayurveda three years later that pain-free periods became not only a perceivable possibility, but rather a reality for me.
Ayurveda = the Science of Life
Stemming from the root Sanskrit words “ayush,” which means “life,” and “veda,” which is “knowledge” or “the study of,” Ayurveda is the knowledge or study of life. It is the sister science of Yoga, which allows us to experience feeling as great as we do when we get off of our mats in each and every moment of every day.
What sets Ayurveda apart from the modern medical system of healthcare is that it actually addresses the root causes of why people manifest certain health problems in the first place. That’s right—this is not mere symptom management, which keeps you caught in a continuous cycle of helplessness and hopelessness.
Ayurveda is so empowering because it gives you tools to say goodbye to symptoms—and keep them away, by providing customized solutions that take into consideration a wide range of causative factors for disease.
The Disease-Fighting Potential Of Our Daily Routines
In Ayurveda, the daily routine is called Dinacharya. Stemming from the words “din,” which means “day,” and “charya,” which means “to follow,” Ayurveda’s daily routines allow us to live in greater harmony with nature, and to thereby prevent the onset of a variety of different diseases.
These daily routines also actually activate health.
Ayurveda’s Dinacharya recommendations extend to many different situations, including how to most optimally manage one’s monthly cycle, so that it does not manage you instead (as often happens when we are not armed with knowledge to empower ourselves).
Following these tips has truly transformed my whole experience of that time of the month, which I no longer anticipate with the same kind of fearful dread I used to feel about having periods.
1. Avoid exercise (including yoga asanas, or poses).
This one may come as a surprise for some of you out there who may utilize the endorphins released from exercise to counteract pain during or before periods. Ayurveda recommends avoiding exercise during one’s cycle, however, as exercise activates a bio-force called Vata dosha in the body. This means no yoga asanas, too; as much as I used to love practicing asanas during my period, I have noticed how much better I feel now that I have stopped.
One of the fundamental principles of Ayurveda is the theory of the five great elements (ether, air, fire, water and earth) as the building blocks of the entire universe, as well as individual mind/body containers. As one of three doshas, Vata dosha is comprised of the ether and air elements.
When aggravated in the body, as it easily becomes when a woman exercises during her period, Vata dosha has the potential to create 80 different diseases (compared with the possibility of only 40 and 20 diseases associated with the other two doshas, called Pitta and Kapha).
In addition to its great potential to create disease and disturbance throughout the body, as well as the mind, it is an imbalanced Vata dosha that creates pain. Hence, there is a great emphasis on balancing and calming Vata dosha in Ayurveda.
2. Abstain from sexual activity.
Sex is a form of exercise, and it is for the same reasons listed above that Ayurveda recommends abstaining during that time of the month.
There are five subtypes of Vata dosha. Sexual activity disturbs the flow of the downward flowing Vata dosha, in particular. When downward flowing air and ether get disturbed in their natural course for too long, a woman can increase her chances of menstrual disturbance, painful periods, and even future miscarriages.
3. Cut down on unnecessary travel.
Vata dosha represents the dynamic dimension of the three doshas in Ayurveda. Because the nature of air is to constantly flow, Vata is accordingly connected with the principle of movement. Hence, too much motion aggravates Vata dosha, which is why Ayurveda recommends that menstruating women just say no to unnecessary travel during their cycles.
4. Eat light, easily digestible food that is warm and cooked.
The health of the digestive fire (called Agni) is considered a reflection of one’s overall health in Ayurveda. Ayurveda teaches how important it is to eat foods that are light, warm and cooked, as heavy, cold and raw foods are considered aggravating to Vata dosha, which is cold by nature. The digestive fire is naturally lowered when a woman menstruates, so it is especially important for women to follow this tip during periods.
5. Have hot or warm water with Ajwain seeds if experiencing period-related pain.
Ajwain seeds (Bishop’s weed) is an amazing Ayurvedic spice that you can boil in a small pot of water. You can then drink this Ajwain water hot, warm or at room temperature, depending on your particular constitution (which an Ayurvedic practitioner can help you determine) whenever you are having active period-related pain. It was so amazing to me to discover that a solution to all those years of painful periods was right in my traditional Indian mother’s spice cabinet all along!
One caveat: those who are suffering from excess heat or heat-related conditions, or suspect they are, may not wish to follow this advice, as Ajwain seeds are heating in potency. If you are in doubt about whether this advice suits you, do consult an Ayurveda practitioner.
The best part of following the above advice is that it also paves the way for an ease-filled future menopause experience.
Wishing all women pain-free periods, today and always, thanks to the ancient power and potential of the science of Ayurveda.