Ayurvedic Solutions For Women
Every stage of a woman’s life presents specific needs and challenges. Today’s women, in particular, are looking for ways to balance family, career, community, and personal growth. By using completely natural approaches, free from side effects, Ayurveda offers time-tested solutions for balancing and strengthening your mind, emotions, hormonal system, and the entire physiology.
Vata, Pitta, Kapha, And The Importance Of Balance
According to Ayurveda, the secret to perfect health, happiness and longevity can be summarized in one word: balance. This refers to a delicate balance among the three types of nature’s intelligence governing all aspects of our mind and body: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. In Ayurvedic texts, they are known as the three doshas.
Vata is responsible for all movement in the body — circulation of blood, movement of food down the digestive tract, mental activity, etc. Pitta governs transformation and metabolism such as digestion of food and its transformation into bodily tissues, as well as hormonal activity. Kapha gives solidity to the tissues, holds together different parts of the body, and balances the bodily fluids.
Traditional Ayurvedic texts associate each dosha with specific qualities. Vata is cold, light, dry, and moving; Pitta is hot, light, sharp, and acid; Kapha is cold, heavy, oily, and slow. Each dosha has five subdivisions, which operate in specific areas of the body.
Vata, Pitta, and Kapha are found everywhere in nature — wherever their qualities are present. Different foods, geographic locations, seasons, times of day, types of mental and physical activity, and age groups each have a predominant dosha associated with them. When a certain dosha increases in the environment it will tend to increase the same dosha in our physiology.
Based on this principle, we maintain balance — the secret to perfect health — by favoring food and lifestyle choices that balance our predominant dosha(s). If an imbalance is already present, an Ayurvedic physician can recommend additional ways to restore and maintain balance at home or at an Ayurvedic treatment center specializing in powerful rejuvenation therapies (Panchakarma).
Let’s now take a look at two common women’s health issues, PMS and menopausal symptoms, and the Ayurvedic approach to restoring balance in such cases.
Finding Relief From PMS
According to Ayurveda, PMS symptoms can be classified in three broad categories: Vata, Pitta and Kapha-related. The type of symptoms you are experiencing will depend on which dosha is out of balance at that particular time and how much ama (accumulated toxins) there is in your tissues. Vata imbalance predisposes women to symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, headache, and interrupted flow as the menstrual cycle begins. Pitta imbalance predisposes women to anger, irritability, excessive heat, skin problems, and pain during menstruation. Kapha imbalance predisposes women to depression, heaviness, and lethargy as menstruation begins.
Here are some simple guidelines you can follow at home to experience more comfort during your monthly cycle.
Rest: Try to have as restful a routine as possible during the heavy days and ideally 1-2 days before your cycle begins. It is advisable to take time off work during the days of heavy flow. If you must work on those days, at least avoid taking on any new projects and make it a point to be in bed early, ideally by 9:30 PM. Avoid prolonged phone conversations and adopt an easy pace.
Oil Application: If you regularly do your morning oil massage (Abhyanga) or dry massage (Garshana), discontinue them during your cycle. However you may apply warm sesame oil (without the massage) on your body before showering.
Exercise Restrictions: Light exercise, such as a 15-minute walk or yoga asanas, is more suitable than any form of vigorous exercise. If you are doing yoga, avoid positions that invert the uterus, such as the shoulder stand, the plow, the bow etc.
Bathing: A brief daily shower is preferable to a tub bath during the heavy days. If possible, shampooing, hair cutting and nail cutting are postponed until after your cycle.
Diet: Lighter diet is better since the digestive power, agni, is less active during your monthly cycle. Maintain adequate liquid intake but avoid cold drinks and foods. Follow the dosha-specific dietary recommendations for your mind-body type.
Herbal Preparations: Ayurvedic herbal rasayana preparations are meant to build up the body’s strength and immunity and are best utilized after the monthly purification is over.
Prevention: To help prevent menstrual cramps, three things should be included in your daily routine throughout the month: 1) daily walking or other light exercise, 2) use a mixture of Vata-balancing spices such as cumin, ginger, fenugreek, etc. with your meals (a calming spice mixture called Vata Churna can be purchased online), and 3) daily warm oil massage (Abhyanga) especially in the week before your monthly cycle.
Note: This is a precious time for rejuvenation and purification. By being more on an “inward stroke,” we allow this delicate physiological process to proceed to completion, preventing imbalance and disease, and paving the way for more energy, bliss, and strength during the rest of the month.
For more uncomfortable or persistent PMS symptoms, an in-residence Ayurvedic rejuvenation treatment (Panchakarma) could be designed to target the imbalances on a deeper level and remove accumulated toxins from the tissues. Some of the most commonly recommended treatments include:
- Abhyanga — a long, soothing, full body oil massage performed in synchrony by a team of two specially trained technicians
- Shirodhara — a soothing continuous flow of herbalized oil is poured slowly across the forehead, settling the nervous system into a state of increasing balance, calm and deep relaxation.
- Swedana — a warm herbalized steambath allows the impurities that have been loosened by oil treatment (Abhyanga) to be moved into the digestive tract and eliminated naturally.
- Nasya — an herbalized oil massage of the head and face followed by inhalation of herbalized steam, localized heat treatment and herbal preparations to remove impurities from the head via the nasal passages.
The most powerful Panchakarma treatments are done in-residence only as they require a restful, stress-free routine, pure diet and daily monitoring by an Ayurvedic health expert.
Finding Relief From Menopausal Symptoms
Menopause marks a major transition in a woman’s physiology as she moves from a time of life influenced by Pitta dosha to one influenced by Vata dosha. Most of the discomforts associated with menopause are directly related to imbalances in these two doshas. A balanced physiology, on the other hand, can make this natural transition without discomfort. Ayurveda offers natural and effective approaches, such as rejuvenation therapy and dietary and lifestyle guidelines, to help restore balance and comfort during these years.
Classic signs of increased Vata dosha include drier, thinner skin and mucous membranes, thinning of the hair and bones, lighter sleep, and an increased tendency to worry. Ayurvedic experts say that these symptoms can be largely avoided by keeping Vata in balance through a Vata-pacifying diet, herbal preparations, and regular daily routine. The most important principles in the Vata-pacifying diet include warm, cooked foods such as soups, stews and pastas, and hot beverages. Avoid dry, crunchy foods, cold and frozen drinks, and bitter, astringent tastes.
Imbalanced Pitta dosha also plays a part in menopausal symptoms. Because Pitta regulates hormonal balance, heat production and metabolism, it is the dosha primarily involved with hot flashes. Before menopause, a woman’s monthly cycle allows physiological impurities to be eliminated on a regular basis. When this monthly cleansing stops, excess Pitta can build up. The Ayurvedic solution to hot flashes is to balance the Pitta dosha through a Pitta-pacifying diet, daily routine and herbs. A Pitta-pacifying diet includes juicy, cooling foods with high water content, lots of veggies, and avoidance of hot spices, alcohol, vinegar, fried foods and tomatoes. Keep the body free of impurities through the purification and rejuvenation therapies of Panchakarma.
Although Ayurveda has been practiced in India for more than 5,000 years, there are still relatively few facilities in North America that follow the original, time-tested Ayurvedic practices. Dr. Steele Belok, Instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Medical Director of Maharishi Vedic Health Center at Lancaster offers a word of caution: “There are many spas and health practitioners today offering Ayurvedic treatments and services. As in any other health-related field, it is important to work with an experienced practitioner trained in authentic Ayurveda. Properly designed home and in-residence programs can be of great help in restoring balance to the individual mind and body. There is no one-size-fits-all package; every individual is unique and the treatment program must be designed with his/her needs in mind. Done in this way, an Ayurvedic rejuvenation treatment program can be a health and life transforming experience.”
Long Term Menopausal Symptoms And Related Disorders
To understand the Ayurvedic approach to long-term symptoms such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, it is necessary to first understand the development of the seven bodily tissues or dhatus which are: rasa — blood plasma; rakta — red blood cells; mamsa — muscle; medha — fat; ashti — bone; majja — bone marrow and nerves; and shukra — reproductive tissue. According to Ayurveda, these tissues are formed sequentially in seven steps, with each step relying on the previous one for proper nourishment and balance.
The step responsible for fat, sugar, and hormone metabolism is called medha. The following step is called ashti, and is responsible for bone metabolism. If medha is blocked by impurities, then fat, sugar, and hormone metabolism will be compromised. Women with medha out of balance will be more prone to high cholesterol, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. And if medha is out of balance, the next step, ashti, becomes improperly nourished. As a result, the bones become weak, as in osteoporosis.
Ayurvedic rejuvenation treatments are especially effective in balancing the transformation of the tissues. When the tissues are balanced at the onset of menopause, symptoms such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis should not appear.
An entire branch of Ayurveda is devoted to women’s health. The power of this time-tested knowledge lies not only in its ability to restore balance, but in its powerful yet simple preventive approaches. This makes it suitable for women of any age wishing to enjoy radiant health, beauty, and a long, happy life.
Maharishi Vedic Health Center in Lancaster, MA has been offering authentic Ayurvedic health evaluations, educational programs, and rejuvenation treatments since 1985.