Ayurveda + The Menstrual Cycle
All around us exist cycles in nature. The sun rises and sets, the moon waxes and wanes, the seasonal wheel of the year turns. The ancient science of self-healing, Ayurveda, teaches that humans are a micro-reflection of nature. As such, the cycles of nature live within and around us. These cycles dance through the five elements of Ayurveda: Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth; and play an intimate role in our state of balance. Womxn are especially connected to this rhythm through the dynamic flow of the menstrual cycle.* Through tuning into nature’s divine cyclical system, we become familiar with an intuitive roadmap for living in harmony with our highest selves.
There are many schools of thought around how we can best balance our menstrual cycles. One of the thing I love most about Ayurveda is how its principles can be applied to virtually every aspect of our lives. Ayurveda is the original bio-hacking system. Because of the deep insights into the cyclical nature of the universe and how we can tune into that cyclical nature, there is no other human optimization method quite like it. Over the last decade, there has been a rise in study and availability of information regarding how we can balance our menstrual cycles in a holistic, non-invasive way without the use of pharmaceuticals. Combining this newly available information with the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda provides a unique and virtually untapped blueprint for living in alignment with our inner cycles and the cycles of nature.
In this article, I will be breaking down the phases of the menstrual cycle and exploring modern cycle-balancing techniques through an Ayurvedic lens. I believe utilizing both the science of cycle-synching and Ayurvedic principles can provide a wealth of support for finding optimum balance in a world that often feels very distant from our natural roots.
*In this article, I will be using the words womxn, women, females, the feminine cycle, menstrual cycle, womb carriers and other words to describe female-bodied folks interchangeably. I recognize that not all women bleed and not all womb-carriers identify as women. This article is an exploration of the biological feminine cycle and does not seek to exclude any individuals who identify with related expressions. If you resonate with the feminine and want to learn how to tune into the feminine rhythm of nature but you do not currently have a menstural cycle, consider applying the suggested activities to the phase of the moon listed next to the phase of the cycle.
**The information will be presented based on a 28-day cycle. Everyone’s cycle is a bit different so adjust these days as necessary for your unique system.
The Menstrual Phase
Elements: Ether + Air
Lunar Phase: New Moon
Energy: Inward, intuitive, receptive, surrender, release
The menstrual phase is considered the first phase of the feminine cycle. The onset of menstruation is day 1. During this phase, the follicle that contained the egg during ovulation, disintegrates and hormones return to their lowest level. This phase is considered our inner winter because it signifies the inner “death” where the slate is now blank and a new cycle of growth will begin again soon.
Vata energy is common for most to experience during this cycle because of the subtle, mystical state we may find ourselves in. Vata is known for it’s ability to assist us in tapping into our intuition, creativity and subconscious. During this time, it is recommended to spend more time in meditation, contemplation and doing spiritual practices in your own space. Spend time alone, journal, channel intuitive art, rest and enjoy solitude. It is by surrendering to this natural hibernation state that we may receive intuitive “downloads” and clarity to help guide us through the next cycle.
Supportive foods to focus on this time include those high in earth and water element, as well as those with plenty of micronutrients and dense nutrition to replenish the loss of minerals through the blood. Warm, well-spiced cooked foods such as kitchari, dahl, soups and stews are recommended. Broths with seaweed, nettle, miso and bone broths can be helpful in replacing sodium and nutrients. Increase protein during this time and if you eat meat, you may find it grounding to have a bit more than usual. Pay attention to your appetite and cravings and follow your intuition to choose the most appropriate foods.
During the first day or two of your cycle, you may want to rest more than move. It’s perfectly normal and natural to slow down. However, gentle yoga and slow walks in nature can provide circulation to further release and relieve cramps. Gentle exercise is best if you choose to do so. Avoid pushing yourself too hard. In the last days of your menstrual phase, you might feel up to doing a bit more energizing exercise. Follow what your body is craving.
The Follicular Phase
Elements: Water + Earth
Lunar Phase: Waxing Moon
Energy: Growth, intention, beginnings, moving from inward to outward, planting seeds
After the shedding of the uterine lining, the hormone estrogen begins to rise and FSH, follicle stimulating hormone, releases 15-20 eggs within the follicles of the ovaries. These 15-20 eggs will compete until one matures to be fertilized or shed again. This phase is considered our “inner winter” due to the new growth and expansiveness of this time.
Kapha energy is elevated at this time creating fertile soil for us to plant the seeds of projects in our lives or say “Yes” to new opportunities. This rising energy makes this time favorable to be a bit more social and start taking action on any ideas we received during the menstrual phase. Kapha is a heavy, stable energy and in order to keep this momentum going, be sure to move your body. We receive the optimum benefit from cardio exercises like biking, running, HIIT, dance and swimming during this phase.
Foods to support this creative, new-beginnings-energy include those that are light, warm and energizing. Citrus fruits, bitter greens, cruciferous veggies and foods with a “youthful” quality like eggs and micro greens are recommended. Lean toward lighter, lean forms of protein such as turkey, fish, chickpeas, lentils and shrimp.
The Ovulatory Phase
Dosha: Kapha + Pitta
Elements: Water, Earth + Fire
Lunar Phase: Full Moon
Energy: Outward, expansion, culmination, climax, celebration, sharing with others
The Ovulatory Phase is the most fertile time of the feminine cycle. The rise in estrogen builds the uterine lining and dominant egg-containing follicle and prompts the body to elevate the luteinizing hormone. This causes the egg to burst through the follicle to await fertilization if conception is desired. If no conception occurs, the follicle will collapse and trigger the luteal phase.
The energy of the Ovulatory Phase is expansive and energetic such as the energy of Summer. During this phase you might feel more social and desire to take action on any projects or opportunities that come your way. The rise in estrogen can make you feel more sexy and aroused making it the ideal time to enjoy sex* and pleasure. You may desire to treat yourself to a solo date night, dress in something that makes you feel sexy and pamper yourself like the Queen you are. This phase is all about sensuality and feeling yourself.
Kapha energy is still present during this time as earth and water create fertile soil for the conception of any visions, intentions or projects we are working on. Pitta begins to rise as well, aiding with fiery focus and passion to drive us further towards our goals.
Supportive exercise during this time includes anything new and creative along with cardio. Pole-dancing, ballet, jazzercise, figure skating, Qoya, athletic yoga, kick-boxing, HIIT, pilates and barre are all excellent examples. Nourishing foods for this phase include those high in Omega 3’s such as salmon, chia and hemp seeds, hydrating fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds and liver cleansing foods such as cruciferous veggies and dark leafy greens.
*Please use protection if you are in partnership where conception is possible but not desired. Per the Fertility Awareness Method, you may also choose to abstain from sex during this time.
The Luteal Phase
Dosha: Pitta + Vata
Elements: Fire, Ether + Air
Lunar Phase: Waning Moon
Energy: Harvesting, contraction, endings, slowing down, movement from outward to inward
During The Luteal Phase, the follicle collapses on the ovarian wall and triggers the production of progesterone. If no conception occurred, the collapsed follicle will diminish until it is no longer producing progesterone. This drop in progesterone signals the onset of the menstrual phase which begins the cycle again.
This phase is associated with Autumn as our cyclical energy is contracting and preparing for release. We may still feel energetic at the beginning of this phase which provides the necessary oomf to tie up any tasks we’ve been working on in the previous phases. As energy declines towards the end of the Luteal Phase, we may desire to go grocery shopping, clean the house and prepare space for rest in the upcoming menstrual phase. We may feel drawn to start slowing down and spend more time alone as we await for the “hibernation” of the Menstrual Phase.
Pitta is still quite high at the beginning of the Luteal Phase aiding the focus and direction needed to finish tasks, communicate our needs and do any necessary clean-up before our bleed. As progesterone declines, Vata rises putting us in a more subtle, quiet and intuitive state that carries into the Menstrual Phase.
At the beginning of this phase, you may still feel quite energetic. During this time, female bodies are more primed to build muscle which makes strength training and muscle- building exercise most optimal. Well-informed lifting, body-weight training, cross-fit and pilates can be supportive. Foods to ease the body into rest include that are cooling and grounding in nature. Increase protein and favor root veggies and complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes and brown rice. Continue consuming plenty of Omega-3 rich foods as well as those high in magnesium and zinc such as chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, oysters and dark chocolate. If you tend towards cramping, lean into the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric, ginger and fennel which can be wonderful steeped together as a tea.
If you loved the concepts in this article and want to practice tuning into your cycle on a regular basis, Cycles Journal is an incredible resource. Click HERE to receive 10% off and become a master of your unique cyclical health.