The ultimate difference between a man and a woman is her ability to conceive and birth children. With this gift of conception and giving life comes the challenge and acceptance of the menstrual cycle. It is a personal monthly experience, some of which can bring about a positive reflective and intuitive state of mind, or it’s opposite; stress, resistance and pain. Many teenage girls find themselves in a position where they dread the beginning of many years of hassle. Your first period can influence your attitude to your period. These first few sensitive years set the pace on what maybe a challenge for their fertile years. Many women have struggled with their cycle since the dawn of time and some haven’t, it’s a woman’s thing.
The menstrual cycle has four phases:
According to Ayurveda, the follicular stage is when Kapha is most active. The pituitary gland releases follicle- stimulating hormone (FSH), which develop follicles (groups of cells that contain immature eggs). Follicles produce the hormone estrogen, which causes the lining of the uterus (endometrium) to become thick in preparation for the possible embedding of a fertilized egg. Usually only one of these follicles develops into a mature egg.
The ovulation stage right up until menstruation is Vata predominant. The rise in estrogen during the follicular phase leads to the secretion of the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). This in turn increases the pituitary gland’s production of both the luteinizing hormone (LH) and FSH. The abrupt rise in the LH triggers ovulation, which is the releases the egg from the ovary. The egg is swept into the fallopian tube and moved along towards the uterus. If fertilization does not occur the egg will disintegrate over the next 6 to 24 hours.
This phase the corpus luteum releases large amounts of progesterone and minimal estrogen. These hormones contribute to the further thickening and maintenance of the lining of the uterus. If fertilization does not occur the corpus luteum breaks down and progesterone levels decline, which degrade the lining of the uterus.
This is the phase many women may experience physical and emotional changes including tender or lumpy breasts, fluid retention, bloating, mood swings, tiredness or anxiety; known as premenstrual tension.
The bleeding stage is considered Pitta predominant. Menstruation occurs when the broken down lining of the uterus sheds and lasts generally from 3 to 7 days. The length can also differ from one cycle to the next. The first day of bleeding is considered to be the first day of the menstrual cycle. It is at this time of the month, if everything is healthy, balanced and in order that a woman is her most intuitive and reflective. If she is out of balance then she can struggle emotionally and physically.
So you can see the rhythm of the woman’s cycle. When this natural ebb and flow is disrupted her symptoms show signs of stagnation. The female body is able to start over again each month, which is a liberating process in itself. Letting go of the old and bringing in the new.
A regular yoga practice can help regulate your endocrine system. Many of the postures and breathing techniques affect various glands and organs of the body, encouraging the system to regulate itself. Some glands need to be stimulated while some need to be soothed, depending on the nature of the symptoms, cycle, and constitution. With the help of an experienced yoga practitioner, who has a deeper insight into the applied benefits of yoga can certainly improve your hormonal health.
A healthy and balanced lifestyle is vital for a smooth menstrual cycle. Premenstrual symptoms range from mild to severe including; pain, heavy bleeding, nausea, dizziness, bloating, digestive changes, headache, insomnia, and fluid retention. Severe unexplained symptoms may need medical assistance and conditions such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or ovarian cysts; however mild to moderate discomfort can be managed by an appropriate lifestyle. If you follow this way of living for a few months; your period is likely to improve and if you keep going it will improve further still. A balance of work, relaxation, fun, nutritious diet, supplementation and even how you manage your relationships can all effect your period.
An excess of Ama, or toxins as Ayurveda describes it is a common cause to menstrual problems. The most common cause of excess Ama is an improper diet.
There is no more effective way to make changes with your state of health than to eat well. Every single part of your body is made from what you choose to eat and drink. Making sure your liver is functioning well is more important than for just digestive reasons. The liver breaks down and metabolizes many of the hormones in the body. When this function is impaired it places extra burden on the hormonal system.
- Choose organic- many chemicals burden the liver and can even mimic our own. Examples of this are growth hormones in poultry and dairy.
- Plant foods - eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, especially the green leafy variety. These contain magnesium and antioxidants, important for reducing cramps and detoxification.
- Omega 3 and 6 oils- we need some fat in our diet (and on our body!) to make hormones. Unheated olive oil and flaxseed plus almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds included in the diet as a salad dressing or in a fruit ‘n nut “squirrel’ mix.
- Whole grains and legumes- such as brown rice, buckwheat, lentils, and quinoa contain carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and minerals to keep you healthy. The fiber is important to keep your digestive track squeaky clean, ensuring waste leaves your body efficiently.
- Water and freshly squeezed juices- lemon juice in water every morning is a great cleanser and hydrator. Carrot, apple, celery, ginger, parsley, beetroot and virtually any other fruit or vegetable you can juice is an excellent “multi-vitamin” nutrient boost.
- Avoid inflammatory foods- alcohol, caffeine, table salt, refined sugar, refined flour, processed foods, “junk” food, deep-fried food, food additives, and chemicals.
- Relaxation and exercise- in equal proportion, so you give yourself a chance to heal. If you don’t move enough, increase your exercise. If you move too much, do a little less.
- Sunlight and fresh air- to regulate the pineal gland. The hormones that the pituitary produces are responsible for the production of our sex hormones. Moderate sunlight exposure helps regulate the pituitary function, also boosting our vitamin D production. Fresh natural air encourages good energy levels and oxygenation of the tissues.
Ulyana Michailov is a naturopath and acupuncturist from Adelaide, Australia. She also holds qualifications in herbal medicine, nutrition, and traditional Chinese medicine. She is passionate about yoga, vegetarian and raw-food nutrition and writing. Visit Ulyana at Kitchen Fairy.