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Cramps, tender breasts, nausea, diarrhea, acne, mood swings, and irritability are a few of the wonderful things associated with PMS.
Ayurveda, India’s 5,000-year-old traditional medical system, looks at PMS as symptoms rather than a disease.
PMS is caused by an imbalance in vata dosha, predominantly; although some PMS is dual-doshic and is considered vata-pitta and vata-kapha.
If you are saying to yourself, “I have no idea what the doshas are,” do not despair. Keep reading.
The symptoms of PMS occur seven to 10 days before menses and end on the last day of your cycle. Ayurveda explains that these conditions are brought on by low ojas (life force). Low ojas leads to the homeostatic capability of the body becoming unstable. This results in a weak immune system and affects us both physically and emotionally.
Because low ojas is generally the primary cause of PMS, Ayurveda recommends a tonifying, or nourishing, regimen for women experiencing this condition. In other words, stress reduction is a must to restore healthy ojas.
We can restore healthy ojas through proper diet, Ayurvedic body therapies, herbal supplements, lifestyle changes, and yoga therapies.
An Imbalanced Vata Menstrual Cycle
Vata dosha becomes imbalanced by light, dry, cold qualities. These qualities accumulate in the large intestine and then begin to have a drying effect in the fluid and blood channels of the body. This is why a vata type period, or menses, can manifest as very light with scanty bleeding, or even an irregular period. We can experience sharp pain or cramps in the lower abdomen and back, constipation, and tenderness in the breast tissue. Emotionally, vata can create anxiety, fear, and overwhelm.
Restore a Healthy Vata Flow
Since vata becomes imbalanced by light, dry, cold, qualities, it is imperative to bring in their opposing qualities: heavy, moist, and warm. We can achieve this in various ways.
>> Diet: Keep your diet simple and fresh. Focus on incorporating more oil into each meal in order to bring more moisture into the body. Ghee is best, but if you are vegan, coconut and avocado oils can be substituted. Avoid dry foods like raw vegetables, popcorn, and pretzels. Choose fruits that have more nourishing qualities like ripe bananas and mangoes over more astringent fruits like grapefruit and cranberries.
>> Lifestyle & Yoga Therapies: As PMS is aggravated by stress, stress reduction is key. Create a regular daily routine in order to keep your cortisol levels at bay. For example, go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Spend time in nature by taking your dog on a walk or going for a hike. Incorporate the grounding practice of meditation into your morning routine, even just sitting for five minutes a day, observing your breath. Throughout the month, practice yoga postures that will stabilize and connect you to the earth element, such as vrksasana (tree pose) and badha konasana (butterfly pose). Favor gentle and restorative yoga over more dynamic yoga classes, like a fast-paced vinyasa flow.
>> Ayurvedic Body Therapies: Ayurvedic massage, also known as abhyanga, is an excellent therapy to receive when experiencing vata type menstrual imbalances. Abhyanga involves a warm, heavy oil application; thus, it is excellent at bringing moisture to the tissues and stability to the mind. You can perform a self-abhyanga at home by massaging your body before or after your shower or bath. The best oils to use for vata imbalances are sesame and almond oil. If a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner is available in your area, you may want to inquire about receiving a basti (localized oil treatment). A dough basti placed over the svadistana chakra (second chakra) will help to rejuvenate the ovaries and uterus from excess dryness. An anuvasana basti, or herbal oil enema, will help to bring moisture and balance to the large intestine.
>> Castor Oil Pack: Castor oil packs are effective in removing obstructions in the fluid and blood channels; hence, they can help make vata type cycles more regular and less scanty. Not to mention, they are excellent at relieving pain caused by cramping. Castor oil is from the castor seed and is a thick, unctuous oil, perfect to counterbalance the drying effects of excess vata dosha. Please note, it is best to use the castor oil pack prior to menstruation, not during.
So, how do you make a castor oil pack? Here are easy DIY instructions for making your own:
What you will need:
Castor Oil (pure, high quality)
Flannel (wool or cotton cut in a rectangular shape to cover your lower abdomen)
Hot Water Bottle or Electric Heating Pad
Essential Oil (optional) lavender or rose geranium
Medium to Large Ziploc Bag
1. Heat the castor oil to body temperature, anywhere from 98-100 degrees Fahrenheit, and remove from
heating element. (It is important to heat the oil because the castor oil can be absorbed more easily by the
body and will be more effective.)
2. Dip one side of the flannel into the castor oil and gently wring out any excess oil.
3. Place the side of the flannel that was not dipped in the oil on the Saran Wrap.
4. Place the the Saran Wrap onto the hot water bottle or heating pad. Now your castor oil pack is assembled.
1. Place 2-5 drops of essential oil on lower abdomen and gently massage the belly. (The essential oils of
lavender and/or geranium will help to alleviate the cramping as well as help calm the mind and emotions.)
2. Lie down and get comfortable.
3. Apply the the castor oil side of the flannel directly onto the lower abdomen.
4. Stay here for 30-60 minutes. Give yourself the space to relax and enjoy this self-care ritual.
5. When finished, fold the used flannel and place it in the freezer in a Ziploc bag until your next use.
(Generally, castor oil flannels can be used 20-30 times.)
>> Herbal Support: Please note, finding the best herb to remedy your unique needs can be challenging. An Ayurvedic practitioner and/or certified herbalist can determine what will work best for you. This being said, some common herbs used to pacify vata dosha in the female reproductive system are: dong quai, wild yam, shatavari, and vidarikand.
An Imbalanced Vata-Pitta Menstrual Cycle
This type of PMS occurs when both vata and pitta doshas are vitiated or imbalanced. The major difference between this condition and a vata type condition outlined above is the heated quality.
The symptoms manifest as hot, mobile, sharp, and eventually dry qualities. Women who are pitta-dominant tend to experience vata-pitta type PMS. This condition occurs due to an excess amount of hot and/or pungent foods in the diet and a heated or intense lifestyle. This creates the symptoms noted above for vata type PMS: low ojas (life force) that begins to affect the female reproductive system.
Vata-pitta type PMS leads to a strong or heavy menses for the first few days that tapers off toward the end. The intense flow that initially occurs is due to the hot, mobile nature of pitta dosha in the rakta dhatu, or blood channel. Skin rashes and acne can also play a role because of the excess heat in the rakta dhatu. Emotionally, there may be irritability and angry outbursts. All of this excess heat in the body may create inflammation that can create headaches, diarrhea, and/or swelling and tenderness in the breast tissue.
Restore a Healthy Vata-Pitta Flow
Pitta becomes imbalanced by hot, mobile, sharp qualities; thus, Ayurveda recommends inviting in the opposing qualities: cool, static, and dull—static meaning “grounding,” and dull referring to “gentleness and compassion.”
>> Diet: Avoid food and drinks that are heating, like fried foods, hot peppers, hot sauce, raw onions, raw garlic, tomato sauce, tomato juice, and alcohol. Instead, choose food that is cooling, sweet, and/or bitter, such as fresh greens like spinach and kale. Favor sweet, juicy fruits like strawberries, melon, and peaches, and consume grains like oats and basmati rice. Spice food with cooling herbs like cumin, coriander, and fennel.
>> Lifestyle & Yoga Therapies: Create a regular routine that is less intense and less stressful. If you have 20 things to do in a day, be gentle with yourself, try to whittle it down to just 10 to 15. Do not be hard on yourself. Practice cultivating self-love and compassion. Morning meditation will help the day begin in a calm, cooling manner. Time spent in nature is also balancing, and helps to restore low ojas. Just remember to avoid going out during the hottest parts of the day.
Avoid fast-paced, hot vinyasa flow yoga, for this will vitiate vata and pitta dosha. Avoid postures like salambasana sirsasana (headstand) or adho mukha vrksasana (handstand). These postures can aggravate pitta dosha. Instead, allow your yoga practice to progress in a slower, gentler way. For example, incorporate moon salutations and grounding, calming postures like pasrvottanasana (standing forward fold) and restorative matsyasana (fish pose). Including abdominal twists like ardha matsyendrasana (half lord of the fishes pose) into your practice will help flush out excess heat in the internal organs.
>> Ayurvedic Body Therapies: Again, abhyanga can be beneficial with a vata-pitta type condition. Instead of using warming oils like sesame and/or almond oil, try sunflower oil. It has a lighter, cooler quality that will not overheat the body. Be sure to incorporate a breast massage if you are performing a self-abhyanga. This will help move the lymphs and ease any tenderness. Find a spa offering an Ayurvedic Facial. This treatment will be beneficial in treating any rashes or acne. If headaches manifest, a nasya (nasal treatment) performed by a practitioner will help balance heat and excess pitta in the head.
>> Sunflower or Coconut Oil Pack: Follow the same directions as above for the castor oil pack, but use cooling oils like sunflower and/or coconut oil. You can still use the same essential oils, lavender and rose geranium, with the addition of one drop of peppermint essential oil.
>> Herbal Support: Please consult an Ayurvedic practitioner or herbalist prior to beginning an herbal supplement regimen. This being said, in general, vata-pitta PMS can be eased by the use of cooling reproductive tonics. Wild yam and shatavari will help to strengthen low ojas. Cooling nervine sedatives and tonics like gotu kola, brahmi and skullcap will help with anger and intensity. For excess heat in the blood, which can contribute to acne and rashes, red clover, hibiscus, burdock, and turmeric are excellent supports.
An Imbalanced Vata-Kapha Menstrual Cycle
With vata-kapha type PMS, vata type symptoms such as pain can occur. However, this pain is less sharp or achy. The accumulation of vata dosha in the large intestine aggravates the female reproductive system and begins to push kapha dosha out of balance. This imbalance manifests as weight gain due to water retention. Therefore, that bloated feeling is caused by imbalanced vata-kapha doshas.
In short, kapha brings in a heavy, static, oily nature to the tissues, which creates stagnation and swelling in the rasa dhatu, or fluid channel. A vata-kapha type menses is strong, steady, and longer than any other period type, lasting seven to 10 days. Emotionally, there may be feelings of depression, sadness, and lack of motivation.
Restore a Healthy Vata-Kapha Flow
Restoring a healthy vata-kapha flow requires inviting in the hot, dry, and fluid qualities. These qualities will eradicate stagnation in the rasa dhatu and reduce water retention. It is important not to create an imbalance in vata dosha when inviting in the dry quality; however, dryness must be brought in first to purify the body before nourishing it.
>> Diet: The best tastes to work with are pungent and sour tastes. The pungent tastes can be incorporated by the way we spice food. Pungent spices include: basil, bay leaf, black pepper, dry ginger, cloves, celery seed, garlic, rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, and turmeric. Avoid salt, which can contribute to water retention. Favor sour fruits like pineapple, grapefruit, and lemons. Vegetables should be lightly cooked and spiced with pungent herbs. The ideal vegetables are mustard greens, beets, sunflower sprouts, chili peppers, carrots, cauliflower, tomato, and fresh corn. Basmati rice, quinoa, and amaranth are ideal grains.
>> Lifetsyle & Yoga Therapies: To balance kapha dosha, awake with the sun and avoid sleeping in and/or naps. Excess sleep can promote lethargy and stagnation in the mind. Go for a brisk walk or jog in order to stimulate the lymphatic system. Focus on a more fast-paced vinyasa flow class that incorporates sun salutations and heart openers such as dhanurasana (bow pose) or ustrasana (camel pose).
>> Ayurvedic Body Therapies: An abhyanga with garshana gloves will help to balance vata dosha with the absorption of oil and also stimulate stagnation brought on by kapha dosha. Use a light oil like safflower or grapeseed for the massage. Garshana gloves give a gentle exfoliation to the body, helping to stimulate congestion and allowing fluids to flow more regularly throughout the rasa channel. If you do not have garshana gloves and want to perform self-massage at home, you can use a simple salt scrub in the shower to get the lymphatic system moving. Another Ayurvedic therapy that will be beneficial in reducing excess vata and kapha is swedana. Swedana is an herbal steam tent that helps increase circulation and warmth in the body.
>> Castor Oil Pack: Follow the same directions as the vata PMS castor oil pack. Castor oil will be excellent in breaking up stagnation and easing any aches or pain.
>> Herbal Support: Please consult an Ayurvedic practitioner or herbalist prior to using any herbal formulations. Generally, the two best herbs Ayurveda recommends for vata-kapha PMS are gokshura and shilajit. Both are urinary tonics which help support vata dosha, but will also reduce kapha because of their diuretic or reducing action.
Self-Care for a Healthy Flow
Ayurveda reminds us to slow down and carve out time for self-care and rejuvenation, especially in the days leading up to menstruation. Our monthly cycle should be a space where we can celebrate the beauty of being a woman rather than suffer from various symptoms that can leave us feeling debilitated.
Start to pay attention to your PMS symptoms. Do they present as more vata, vata-pitta or vata-kapha? Slowly begin to incorporate some of the above tips into your daily routine and observe the changes or transformation that occurs.
Wishing you ease, compassion, and space as you move into your next flow.
Halpern, Dr. Marc. Textbook of Clincal Ayurvedic Medicine, Part 2. Chapter 6.
Author: Trudy Collings
Editor: Emily Bartran
Copy Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Social Editor: Nicole Cameron