There is certainly no shortage of information or education on health—how to take care of your teeth, how to eat well and take care of your heart and bones, how to keep your gut healthy—but how do you take care of your womb, what does that mean and why is it even important?
Ayurveda is one of the few sciences that looks at the reproductive tissues outside of the major transitions of puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. Further, Ayurveda uniquely exams the menstrual cycle as a window into the human body. By being familiar and in tune with your menstrual cycle, you can understand very clearly, on a month-to-month basis, which dosha imbalances your body is struggling with.
The menstrual flow is a byproduct, after all, of the most basic tissues of the body. After we ingest our breakfast, this food undergoes transformation through the seven tissue layers of the body. The first is plasma, then blood, which is then followed by the muscle and fat tissues. After these four layers comes the bony tissue, nervous system, and, lastly, the reproductive tissues.
The actual menstrual flow is considered to be a byproduct of the first layer, rasa dhatu, or the plasma. Plasma is a vehicle for nourishment. It carries hormones, vitamins, minerals, water—all sources of nourishment. When this layer is healthy and flows freely, so too do all of these nutrients as well as wastes so that they may leave the body with ease. The second layer, rakta dhatu, or the layer of blood, also is part of the menstrual flow, releasing excess pitta.
The rasa dhatu and rakta dhatu are also the first two to be vitiated by excess vata, pitta, or kapha after they leave their home in the gastrointestinal tract. As such, they are most quick to change in quality and consistency. By paying attention to your flow, its qualities, and your experiences before and after its release, you can get a strong sense of how the doshas are at play even before they fully come to fruition on a gross level in other layers of the body. This gives an opportunity for intervention so that the physiology of the body may come back to a stronger balance, and therefore, stronger health.
The menstrual cycle is thought to go with the ebbs and waves of the lunar cycle, as the moon represents flow, the feminine. The lunar cycle is approximately 29.5 days, coinciding with the average length of the menstrual cycle for most ovulating women. The healthiest flow, one that is most in tune with the lunar phases, will start on a new moon with ovulation occurring around the time of the full moon. When the moon is full, it is at its peak energy, pulling the egg from its home in the ovary.
The doshas also come to play and each dosha will show its face and have the most impact in specific parts of the cycle.
1Kapha dominates the first half of the cycle, called rutukala, after menstruation, as the endometrium thickens and becomes more and more glandular.1 A woman gains the essence of kapha—the juiciness, the glow, the sense of peace and being settled within herself. Rutukāla culminates in ovulation.2
2Ovulation marks the beginning of the next phase, rutāvatēta kāla, dominated by pitta.2 Pitta mainly acts through the blood tissue layer, and as such, the endometrium becomes more engorged with blood vessels,1 in preparation for the potentially fertilized egg.
3If the egg is not fertilized, the last phase, rajahkāla, arrives.2 Sushruta, the legendary ancient Ayurvedic physician and surgeon, has eloquently described this process as “the weeping cry of the vagina for the deceased ovum.” 3 It is a sudden rise in vata that begins the menstrual period, and it acts as a moving force, enabling the flow of menstruation.
As long as the doshas function optimally and aren’t depleted or overshadowed by another dosha, the menstrual cycle functions optimally.