Seeking ways to feel good and connect with Mother Earth also involves learning how to align what we eat with our cycle.
Thankfully, Ayurveda offers a holistic approach to wellness that can help us women decipher our body’s needs and the right menstrual cycle nutrition pattern for our dosha.
This guide, therefore, will approach this important topic of nourishing our unique female bodies during our periods, from an Ayurvedic lens and thus offer a deeper differentiation based on the three constitutions.
The Menstrual Cycle
The female menstrual cycle is an intricate biological process that prepares the female body for potential pregnancy. It is typically a four-week, or roughly 28-day cycle, although it can vary from woman to woman. The cycle revolves around the maturation and release of an egg, or ovulation, and the preparation and shedding of the uterine lining, or menstruation.
This essential cycle is divided into four primary stages: the menstrual phase, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. Each stage is marked by specific hormonal changes and physiological processes that influence the female body in different ways.
Menstruation (Day 1-5)
This phase, known as the menstrual phase, commences when an unfertilized egg from the preceding cycle triggers a decline in hormone levels, specifically estrogen and progesterone.
As a result, the uterine lining, which has built up in preparation for pregnancy, is shed through the process of menstruation. This monthly occurrence marks the beginning of a new menstrual cycle, typically lasting for several days. The menstruation phase is often associated with various physical and emotional symptoms. This is largely attributed to the rapid fluctuation of hormone levels, particularly estrogen and progesterone.
When we are unbalanced, the decline in these hormones can trigger mood swings, fatigue, irritability, depression, and anxiety, a collective condition often referred to as Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Physically, the shedding of the uterine lining can also cause discomfort or pain, known as dysmenorrhea, and may also result in bloating or digestive disturbances.
Follicular Phase (Day 6-14)
The Follicular Phase, typically spanning from day 6 to 14 of the menstrual cycle, marks a period of preparation for possible fertilization and pregnancy. During this phase, the body experiences a rise in follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which stimulates the ovaries to produce a mature egg.
Concurrently, the uterine lining begins to thicken under the influence of estrogen, preparing a nurturing environment for potential implantation of a fertilized egg. The culmination of the follicular phase is ovulation, triggered by a surge in luteinizing hormone (LH). This is the point at which the mature egg is released from the follicle, ready for potential fertilization.
During the follicular phase, the level of estrogen — the primary female sex hormone – begins to rise. In response to Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), the most developed follicle in the ovary starts to produce more estrogen. This hormone plays a crucial role in the reproductive process by thickening the uterus lining, creating an optimal environment for a fertilized egg to implant. This period can be significantly influenced by both internal and external factors, and proper nutrition plays a vital role in promoting optimal health and hormonal balance.
Estrogen also exerts influence over mood and well-being. For instance, women often experience heightened energy, improved mood, and an increased sense of overall well-being. However, mood swings can still occur, especially if estrogen levels rise too quickly or surpass a certain threshold. Some women can also experience physical symptoms such as tender breasts, slight pelvic discomfort or bloating due to the increased estrogen level.
Ovulation (Day 14-16)
Ovulation is the midpoint of the menstrual cycle, where the dominant follicle releases an egg from the ovary. The egg travels down the fallopian tube where it waits to meet a sperm. The level of Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) peaks, which stimulates the release of the egg. This phase usually lasts for 24 to 48 hours.
Physical might be prevalent during ovulation. Many women experience mittelschmerz, a German term meaning “middle pain,” which signifies a mild ache or a series of cramps in the lower abdominal area. This is a direct result of the egg’s release from the follicle.
Additionally, a noticeable increase in cervical mucus, which becomes clear and stretchy, similar to egg whites, is a key bodily change during this phase. Other common symptoms include heightened senses, breast sensitivity, and even a slight increase in basal body temperature. These physiological and emotional changes are an integral part of the ovulation phase, collectively preparing the body for potential fertilization.
Luteal Phase (Day 15-28)
Following ovulation, the luteal phase begins. The remnants of the dominant follicle transform into a structure called the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum releases progesterone and some estrogen that helps to prepare the uterus for pregnancy. If fertilization does not occur, the corpus luteum degenerates, leading to a decrease in progesterone and estrogen, and the cycle begins anew with menstruation.
The Luteal Phase, lasting from day 15 to 28 in a typical menstrual cycle, is dominated largely by the hormone progesterone, with smaller amounts of estrogen also being released. The primary function of these hormones is to prepare the uterus for pregnancy, thickening its lining to potentially host a fertilized egg.
Progesterone, produced by the corpus luteum, plays a crucial role in maintaining pregnancy if fertilization occurs. However, it can also result in several physical and emotional changes in the body when the egg remains unfertilized. Common physical symptoms include breast tenderness, bloating, and fatigue.
On the emotional front, progesterone can influence mood and cognition. It is known to have a calming, even sedative effect, and can help to promote sleep. However, a significant drop in progesterone towards the end of the luteal phase, if fertilization hasn’t occurred, can cause mood swings, anxiety, and in some cases, symptoms of depression or premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in the lead-up to menstruation.
Spiritual Meaning of Menstruation
Spiritual perspectives on menstruation delve into the profound symbolic meaning that this natural process holds.
Across various cultures and spiritual traditions, menstruation is revered as a time of purification and renewal, mirroring the very essence of life’s ebb and flow. It is considered a sacred period, wherein women are believed to be more attuned to their intuition and wisdom. Additionally, a woman’s initial menstruation is recognized as a significant milestone in her life by various spiritual customs and beliefs.
For example, in the Navajo tradition, the first menstruation marks a girl’s transition to womanhood and is celebrated with the Kinaalda, a significant and elaborate ceremony. The girl undertaking the ceremony emulates Changing Woman, a key figure in Navajo mythology who is associated with fertility, and performs various rituals that symbolize maturity and fertility.
In Japan, a traditional celebration known as Seijin-no-Hi, or Coming of Age Day, includes a part that celebrates menstruation as a sign of womanhood. Women who have started menstruating in the past year dress in elaborate kimonos and attend a local ceremony where they are recognized as adults.
In the Apache tribe, the onset of menstruation is marked with a four-day celebration called the ‘Sunrise Ceremony’. The young girl undertakes a series of rituals, dances, and rites that symbolize her transition into womanhood, recognizing the power and significance of her menstrual cycle.
These examples portray the wide array of cultural practices that celebrate menstruation and underscore its significance in marking a woman’s transition to adulthood and fertility.
During menstruation, we experience an intensified connection with the divine or spiritual realm, fostering opportunities for deep introspection and spiritual growth. Despite the physical discomfort that may accompany our periods, we can find solace and empowerment in holding the profound spiritual significance of this innate bodily cycle.
A More Profound Look
Embracing our menstrual cycle is not merely about accepting a physiological process; it is about celebrating femininity, nurturing soft energy, and inducing healing in a world that often leans towards a rajasic and masculine culture.
Femininity, in this context, is about recognizing and nurturing the inherent qualities such as receptivity, intuition, creativity, and emotional fluency. Menstruation, being a natural part of the feminine cycle, serves as a monthly reminder of these energies.
Soft vibrations, embodied in the openness, sensibility, and nurturing aspects of the feminine, have long been undervalued in our fast-paced, assertive, and often aggressive society.
Welcoming the menstrual cycle can serve as a counterpoint to this imbalance, providing a regular, rhythmic retreat into the gentler, compassionate aspects of our nature. It’s an opportunity to slow down, to nurture, to introspect, and to heal – a stark contrast to the relentless drive of a rajasic culture.
Ayurveda and Menstrual Cycle Nutrition
In Ayurveda, menstruation can remind us of a natural purification process, a monthly cleansing that eliminates excess doshas and toxins from the body. This process, known as Artava Chakra, forms an integral part of women’s holistic health and well-being.
This holistic understanding contrasts with many Western perspectives that perceive menstruation as a mere physiological process. The Ayurvedic viewpoint encourages us to honor this time, recognizing it as a unique opportunity for women to cleanse, rejuvenate, and reconnect with their innate feminine power.
Here’s how you can tailor your Ayurvedic diet to each phase:
During the menstruation phase, the body is in a process of letting go and releasing, which is consistent with the Vata dosha’s qualities. Vata governs movement and change in our bodies and has the dominance of the air and space elements.
These characteristics align with the physiology of menstruation, where the body cleanses itself by releasing the uterine lining, an action that involves movement and emptying, thus, signifying the influence of Vata dosha. This understanding allows us to balance our bodies during this time more effectively by focusing on Vata-pacifying foods and activities.
Vata dosha’s qualities are typically cold, light, and dry. To balance Vata, it is beneficial to incorporate warm, cooked, and grounding foods into your diet. Additionally, practicing self-care routines like meditation, gentle yoga, and warm oil massages can help soothe and stabilize Vata dosha. Creating a calm and nurturing environment, maintaining a routine, and ensuring adequate rest and sleep are also important for balancing Vata dosha.
- Root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and beets
- Whole grains like brown rice, oats, and quinoa
- Nuts including almonds, walnuts, and cashews
- Seeds such as chia seeds, flax seeds, and pumpkin seeds
- Ghee, a clarified butter that is a staple in Ayurvedic cooking
Foods to Avoid:
- Raw and cold foods like salads and smoothies, which can aggravate Vata
- Dry and crispy foods like chips and crackers
- Caffeinated beverages that can cause dehydration and disturb sleep
- Highly processed foods high in sugar and unhealthy fats
- Alcohol which can exacerbate PMS symptoms and cause dehydration
Recipe Suggestion: Warm beetroot and sweet potato soup with a dollop of ghee.
Warm beetroot and sweet potato soup
- 2 Medium-sized beetroots, peeled and cubed
- 1 Large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
- 1 tbsp Ghee
- 1/4 Onion, chopped
- 2 Garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup Fresh cilantro
- 4 cups Water
- Cumin seeds, salt, and pepper.
- Heat the ghee in a large pot over medium heat.
- When the ghee is warm, add the cumin seeds and let them sizzle for about 30 seconds to release their aroma.
- Add the chopped onion and minced garlic to the pot, sauté until the onions become translucent.
- Add the beetroot and sweet potato cubes to the pot, stirring well to coat them with the ghee and spices.
- Pour the water into the pot and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Reduce the heat, cover the pot and let it simmer for about 30 minutes, until the beetroot and sweet potato are soft.
- Blend the soup with an immersion blender until smooth, or transfer to a counter-top blender and blend in batches, returning the blended soup to the pot.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve warm, garnished with fresh cilantro.
This soup embodies the Ayurvedic principles of cooking and food combining, promoting digestion and assimilation, while balancing the Vata dosha. Beetroots and sweet potatoes are grounding, help nourish the body, and have a warming effect which is ideal for balancing Vata. The use of ghee aligns with Ayurveda’s emphasis on healthy fats, and the cumin seeds aid digestion. Completing the meal with a fresh herb garnish adds a touch of prana, or life force.
In Ayurveda, the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle shares same attributes with the Kapha dosha, which comprises Earth and Water elements. During this phase, which begins on the first day of menstruation and lasts until ovulation, the endometrium begins to thicken, mirroring the characteristics of Kapha — growth, nourishment, and accumulation.
Just as Earth provides a fertile ground for seeds to grow, this phase prepares the uterus for possible implantation of an embryo, epitomizing the nourishing and supportive qualities of Kapha dosha. Moreover, Kapha’s water element reflects the increased cervical fluid during this period, further aligning the follicular phase with Kapha characteristics.
In the context of Ayurveda, to pacify Kapha dosha, it is beneficial to incorporate foods that are light, warm, and easy to digest. Opt for spices like ginger and black pepper, as they can help stimulate digestion and counterbalance the heavy qualities of Kapha. Additionally, incorporating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can help promote a sense of lightness and balance.
- Whole grains like quinoa, barley, and brown rice
- Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens
- Fresh fruits, especially pears, apples, and berries
- Legumes like lentils, chickpeas, and black beans
- Spices such as ginger, black pepper, and turmeric
- Warm herbal teas, especially with ginger or peppermint
Foods to Avoid:
- Heavy, oily foods that can increase Kapha
- Cold or frozen foods and drinks
- Processed foods and those with added sugars
- Dairy products, as they can increase Kapha
- Excessive consumption of red meat
- Foods that are difficult to digest, like raw vegetables or fried foods
Recipe Suggestion: Quinoa with asparagus.
Quinoa with Asparagus
- 1/4 cup Quinoa
- 1/2 tbsp Ghee
- 8 spears Asparagus
- 1/2 cup Spinach
- 1/4 cup Water
- 1 clove Garlic
- 1/4 tsp Cumin seeds
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- Salt to taste
- Prepare the quinoa as per the packet instructions. Set aside.
- In a sauce pan, add the ghee, pressed garlic, and cumin seeds. Stir until the spices become fragrant.
- Add the asparagus spears and the rest of the spices with the water and sauté for about 5 minutes.
- When they are done, turn off the heat and add the spinach. Cover with a lid for a few minutes. The spinach will be gently cooked that way.
- Serve the veggies on top of the quinoa.
The ovulation phase aligns with the Pitta dosha in Ayurvedic principles, characterized by transformation and heat. During ovulation, the body experiences an internal heat and a transformational process that results in the release of a mature egg from the ovary.
This phase brings increased energy levels, heightened mental acuity, and a stronger digestive fire, all synonymous with Pitta characteristics. Additionally, the prevalence of the fire and water elements in Pitta mirrors the biological processes during ovulation.
The fiery aspect corresponds to the transformative processes, while the water aspect supports the nourishing and lubricating functions that facilitate the release of the mature egg. This dynamic interplay between fire and water beautifully orchestrates the intricate dance of fertility. Hence, we should eat foods and do activities that balance Pitta during this phase to enhance overall health and wellbeing.
Favoring sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes during this phase can help balance the Pitta dosha. Sweet foods like fruits, most grains, and milk can cool the body and counteract the heat of Pitta. Bitter foods such as dark leafy greens, turmeric, and fenugreek can detoxify and cool the body. Astringent foods, which include legumes, pomegranate, and apples, help absorb excess moisture and cool down the body. Incorporating these tastes in your meals can help maintain a harmonious balance during the ovulation phase.
- Leafy greens (e.g., spinach, kale)
- Whole grains (e.g., quinoa, brown rice)
- Berries (e.g., strawberries, blueberries)
- Fatty fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel)
Foods to Avoid:
- Processed foods
- High-sugar foods and beverages
- Excessive red meat intake
Recipe Suggestion: Avocado fried rice.
Avocado Fried Rice
- 1 cup organic white basmati rice (cooked)
- 1 organic ripe avocado
- 1 tbsp ghee or olive oil
- 1/2 tbsp minced garlic
- 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/4 tsp mustard seeds
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp grated ginger
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
- Himalayan salt and pepper to taste
- In a heavy frying pan on medium heat, add the oil.
- When the oil is hot, add the garlic, cumin, and mustard seeds.
- Stir for a minute or until the seeds pop.
- Add the rest of the spices, and mix well.
- Add the cooked rice, yeast, and cilantro and stir quickly.
- When all ingredients are well combined, add the sliced avocado and mix again. Don't mash the avocado completely! It is nice to find some chunks in the rice!
- Serve immediately in a bowl.
- Top with more cilantro and yeast.
- Chew well and pair it with a cup of lemongrass tea.
The luteal phase resembles by Vata dosha due to the increased presence of air and space elements during this period. This phase, which follows ovulation, witnesses a potential fluctuation in hormones and a preparation for menstruation, creating a sense of movement and change that aligns with the qualities of Vata.
The physical and emotional symptoms — such as mood swings, bloating, and constipation — also correspond to Vata imbalances. Therefore, to counteract these effects and maintain equilibrium, it’s beneficial to consume warm, grounding foods that help stabilize Vata dosha. These nourishing foods, rich in sweet, sour, and salty tastes, can help pacify the dry, light, and volatile nature of Vata.
Recipe Suggestion: Sweet potato.
Sweet Potato Khir
- 1 cup sweet potato, grated
- 1/4 cup plant-based milk
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp cardamom
- 1 tbsp pecans
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- Peel and grate the potato very finely.
- Then, in a pot add the milk, the potato, and all spices.
- Cook in low heat, stirring occasionally, until it gets a creamy consistency.
- Turn off the heat and cover until it is ready to serve.
- Serve in a wood bowl (or your favorite bowl!) and top with the pecans and maple syrup.
Also, explore our yummy and healing seed cycling moon milk recipes for your period.
If your Vata, Pitta, or Kapha aggravation is high, it might be best to follow the Ayurvedic guidelines for your dosha specifically, before attempting to eat in alignment with your period.
Of course these are general suggestions and not strict rules. Ayurveda emphasizes individuality – what works for one person may not work for another. That is why having a personalized nutrition plan is so important. Find yours on Prana app today (available on App Store or Google Play Store).