Women’s cycles as a reflection of health

Restore a healthy period with Ayurveda’s castor oil packs

It’s not new to hear that a women’s cycle is a good indicator or hormonal balance. Yet Ayurveda goes a little further and states that the period of a woman reflects her fertility which in turn shows the overall state of health of a woman. Painful, heavy, scanty or irregular periods are all signs of an imbalance, just as headaches, breakouts, or extreme emotions around your period. But even in a healthy body, cramps and pain might still occur from time to time.

The problem is that we grow up in a society where these things are seen as just an inconvenience that inevitably occurs around your period. It’s often just fluttered aways as ‘one of these days’. In fact, many women take painkillers (including ‘lawyer-me’ many years back) on the worst days to fulfill all their duties at work and at home. This adds up and done over and over again, will create even more imbalance in your body.

Let’s go back to the purpose behind a woman’s period: The protection of the reproductive organs. Menstrual blood (called ‘Artava’ in Ayurveda) with its antibacterial and antiviral properties is there to cleanse the uterus, cervix, and vagina. To do this properly it is needed that artava can flow freely. As such it’s the only blood in your body that doesn’t clot. But there is more needed for a healthy flow of artava.

What is a healthy cycle according to Ayurveda?

From an Ayurveda viewpoint, a healthy cycle is one of 28 days (counting from the first day of a woman’s period to the first day of her next). The actual blood flow of healthy moderate bright red blood should be 3-5 days and there shouldn’t be any discomfort or emotional upset. The main ingredient for a healthy cycle according to Ayurveda is a balanced state of the three main managers of the body (Vata, Pitta & Kapha – collectively referred to as the ‘Doshas’).

Ayurveda divides a women’s cycle into 3 phases:

  • Vata phase (menstruation): movement of the blood going out is governed by Vata.

  • Kapha phase (ovulation): the best time of conception because everything in the women’s body is juicier (around day 14).

  • Pitta phase (days before the onset): the body temperature of the body rises a little. In this time more Pitta emotions (like anger and irritability) can kick in.

During menstruation, you can see which Doshas are increased or decreased. For example, a scanty flow that comes with anxiety or a flow that stops after one day is a sign of Vata Dosha (ether and air) being out of balance.

What about dis-ease?

Your cycle is under the influence of hormones itself, but they are not the cause of disease. By the way, the word ‘disease’ could be read as two words: ‘dis (meaning anti, or against) and ‘ease’ (ok, normal). So disease in Ayurveda is seen as a disturbance of the normal state. A dis-ease. This is a totally different approach to health then here in the West, where we often think a disease is happening to us, instead of because of us, and comes from the outside-in.

A disease in Ayurveda is seen as a disturbance of the normal state.

In Ayurveda, it’s the Doshas that are the underlying current creating disease, when they are out of balance. Restoring a healthy cycle in Ayurveda is firstly done by having a healthy lifestyle (food and diet) according to your personal needs (or in Ayurveda terms: according to your Dosha imbalance). Yet if you think about it. It’s quite obvious. How can you expect to have a healthy cycle if there is no natural (and healthy) rhythm in your life?

To support a healthy cycle, all phases should be taken into account, not just the period itself. Meaning that your lifestyle habits, including eating, drinking, and sleeping influence your menstruation period as an interconnected system. Now I do understand that this might sound overwhelming because adapting your whole life to live with your cycle is not done overnight. But the moment you start changing things bit by bit they become your new way of living and you will find out that it’s not so hard after all.

Here’s a few bits to get you started:

  • Vata phase (menstruation): take as much rest as possible. So best to not plan a dinner party in this period. Instead eat warm nourishing soups and steamed veggies.

  • Kapha phase (ovulation): avoid stagnation by avoiding ice cold foods and drinks. Make yourself a tea from fresh ginger, lemon, apple vinegar and a chili pepper.

  • Pitta phase (days before the onset): start your day with an aloe vera shot. If you feel that your hormones are really out of whack you can add some shatavari powder to your shakes and drinks.

What about cramps and pains?

Ayurveda views the reproductive system as a group of channels (also called ‘Srotas’) through which a woman’s menstrual blood and eggs flow. These channels can become constricted or blocked. This stagnation is what is causing cramps and painful cycles. While a healthy body is one thing, two other things are known to cause these blockages in the channels: stress and coldness. It’s for a reason that you often feel like staying home (and relax) with a warm water bottle on your belly during your period. Especially when you are working hard, or experience mental pressure in your life, cramps or pains during menstruation might be more severe.

Introducing the Castor Oil pack

The basis for a healthy non-painful cycle lies in the way you live during the entire month. Nutrition that is (most of the time) beneficial for a healthy cycle contains lots of seasonal veggies, whole grains, good quality fats like ghee and oils, and fresh fruits. Another easy fix to make a home remedy to relieve stagnation is drinking very strong ginger tea. It works as a natural aspirin as thins the blood.

But one of the most effective tools I use when I do have cramps is a castor oil pack. Castor oil can penetrate deep into the tissues and turns stagnation into motion. It’s easy to do, can be done any time of the year and it relieves you from pains pretty quickly.

If you want to make a castor oil pack you need to have the following items:

  • Castor Oil (sometimes called ‘Wonderolie’ in Dutch health shops)

  • A flannel or compress from natural fabric such as wool or cotton

  • Wool scarf or wrap

  • Hydrophilic washcloth or piece of plastic

  • Hot water bottle

  • Baby bottle warmer (optional)

Warm the castor oil au bain-marie or in a baby bottle warmer and massage some into your lower belly with a clockwise direction. Then pour some castor oil on the flannel or compress. It does not need to be dripping – moistened is enough. Place this ‘pack’ with the oil side down on your lower belly and cover with the hydrophilic washcloth or piece of plastic to protect your scarf or wrap. Now put a hot water bottle on top and lay down for 30-90 minutes.

Best is to start with your castor oil packs a few days before your menstruation starts. But if the cramps are quite severe you can even do this 3-4 times a week for 3 months. You always stop doing packs when your period starts. Also, never do a castor oil pack if you are (possibly) pregnant.

Hopefully, this Ayurveda Hack supports you in the relief of any cramps and restoring your cycles. Please also know that if you have any questions you can always reach out to me.

With love,
Kim