Many women today perceive menstruation as unavoidable pain, a distraction or an obstacle in their otherwise busy and ambitious life. The advent of sanitary napkins and period postponing pills have been touted as ultimate solutions that provide much needed relief from distraction. Apart from the obvious fact that there is a multi-million dollar sanitary products manufacturing industry behind the portrayal of menstruation as an irritant, such a portrayal is also due to the fact that menstruation is often accompanied by weakness, achy legs, headache, mood swings, and many other bodily conditions that cause extreme inconvenience in a large section of women.
Many women also suffer from conditions like excessive bleeding, irregular periods, scanty bleeding, etc., which has further reinforced the labelling. This labelling has become so widespread that people, especially women have come to accept painful menstruation as a normal condition.
A few months ago, while I was researching a series of articles on the Hindu view of menstruation, I started reading about ayurveda and how it perceives menstruation. To my surprise, I found that what is considered ‘normal menstruation’ by most women, ie pain with many side effects, is actually termed “abnormal menstruation” in ayurveda.
Ayurvedic texts define normal menstruation as one which is not associated with pain or burning sensation, blood is not unctuous, not very scanty or excessive in amount, and the color of the blood resembles the red juice of lac or rabbit’s blood.
It explains how a balance of Tri-Doshas (vata, pitta, and kapha) inside the body results in normal menstruation and an imbalance in them results in abnormal menstruation. Sinu Joseph, a social activist working on issues pertaining to women and children, especially in areas related to menstruation, explains the connection of Tri-Doshas and menstruation, thus: “According to ayurveda, each individual has a specific body constitution or prakriti, based on which our health, personality and menstrual experiences vary. This is called the tri-dosha system, wherein the three doshas of vata, pitta and kapha in different combinations occur in individuals. Being disease free means having an equilibrium of these. Disease and imbalance can cause doshas to increase or decrease temporarily. Therefore, treatment in ayurveda is centered around bringing back the balance.”
Thus, ayurvedic texts like Sushruta Samhita state that “disturbed menstruation” is caused by disturbed Vayu (ie vata), pitta, kapha, and blood, either severally or in combination of two or more doshas, and will in turn hamper the ability of a woman to conceive. A Vatika menstrual flow, for example, will be accompanied by pain. Aggravated aata also causes mood swings, restlessness, constipation, intolerance to cold, etc. A paittika flow will result in heavy bleeding. Aggravated pitta causes swollen breasts, acne, intolerance to heat, excessive temper, loose bowel movements, etc. A khaphaja menstrual flow will cause heavier flow with clots in the menstrual blood.
Aggravated kapha exposes one to respiratory problems, makes one dull, sleepy and obese.
To counter this, Ayurvedic texts prescribe menstruating women to adopt of a specific lifestyle called rajaswala paricharya during the 3-4 days of menstruation. Charaka Samhita asks menstruating women to avoid sexual intercourse, sleep on the floor, to take food with hands from unbroken utensils and to not to have bath. To this, Sushruta Samhita adds living on a Havishya diet, i.e. a very light diet containing ghee, shali rice, and milk or similar items.
A full list of Do’s and Don’ts during menstruation include among other things, following items: not sleeping during day time, consuming less food, not combing, running or performing actions that cause physical exertion, not applying collyrium to the eyes, and not anointing the body in any way. This strict regimen proposed by ayurvedic texts aim to prevent aggravation of the Tri-Doshas. It is interesting to note that ayurvedic texts prescribe similar lifestyle regimens for pregnant women as well as women in post-natal care.
Is there any confirmation of its efficacy in modern science? I came across at least one scientific study, which corroborated its efficacy. Though a single study is not enough to establish anything, the larger question is should we discard indigenous scientific knowledge that have stood the test of time? Ayurveda offers a healthy alternative to pill-popping solutions by vested interests. If the alternative be given space, women can make informed choices.