Ayurveda and Yoga Special to Women

Ayurveda and Yoga offer us tools for inner and outer transformation.  These tools have specific effects.  Ayurveda always encourages us to ask “for whom and when”.  For whom and when is a certain practice recommended?

Due to the capacity to give birth, women have a heightened opportunity to connect with the power of the 5 great elements, the Pancha Maha-Bhuta, which are considered to be the source of all healing in Ayurveda. 

These 5 elements themselves are healing.  Imagine the awe of watching meteor showers in SPACE, awakening spiritual connection; a hike into rarefied mountain AIR clearing away stagnation and inspiring creativity; a FIRE warming the back of the legs after a winter walk; the refreshing coolness of jumping under WATER during a hot summer outing; the steady EARTH of a rolling countryside, where food and loving family await a lonely traveler.

Menstrual Cycle

We have the opportunity as a culture to teach our young girls that they have a special physical connection to the Creator, and that their bodies will respond to the Elements on a monthly timeframe for many years of their lives.  This monthly time is a gift, it is special, and that like all special properties, it requires attention.  The first step of attention is regularly monitoring when this monthly time occurs, just as we often pause our attention for seeing when the sun rises and the sun sets, and may even plan our lives around such times.

The moon is a women’s partner in this connectivity.  Ayurveda loves for women to walk under the moonlight, and to develop a relationship to the waxing and waning of the moon.  What moon phase are we in now?  Do you know?  Ayurveda loves for women to vary their monthly commitments and activities according to their monthly changes.  Just as the ocean tides rise and settle with the moon, so will women’s bodies.  Just as certain activities are better during high tide and low tide, so certain activities are recommended for women at certain times.

Sadly, women in the West are not raised to celebrate their monthly period, and instead are taught to hide it, suppress any physical changes, push themselves to participate in activities and work as if nothing is changing within them.

If we seek a human culture that is more in touch with Nature, one that appreciates the Elemental forces which always will be beyond our powers to control, this human culture can begin with each woman celebrating her own connection.  

Our emerging, naturally connected human culture grows with each young woman who is encouraged to respond to her body with daily choices that honor what is happening inside of her, including a break from school, sports or yoga, if needed.

YOGA PRACTICES

Women are encouraged to rest more during the menses, even skipping yoga posture practice entirely.  Or, if postures are practiced, many postures and breath practices are NOT encouraged:

  • vigorous heating practices, such as rapid sun salutations and arm balancing

  • inversions where the uterus is inverted, such as shoulder stand and headstand

  • direct pressure to the uterus, such as bow pose on the belly

  • abdominal strengthening exercises, which unduly create stress on the downward currents of the body

  • long time in standing postures

  • vigorous breathing practices, such as clearing breaths (kapalabhaati) and bellows breath (bhastrikaa)

  • long suspended emptiness of exhalation, or long retention of inhalation

  • heating breaths, as right nostril breathing (surya bhedana), upward victory breath (ujjaya) or extending the fire (agni saara)

Encouraged are practices that reduce FIRE and WATER (Pitta) such as:

  • less focused, less determined posture practice

  • enough movement to clear stagnation or water retention without creating fatigue

  • more time on floor postures, including hip and leg exploration, and reclined twisting

  • longer resting pose, with sense withdrawal

  • legs up the wall pose instead of full inverting

  • supported postures using props, such as supported bound angle pose

  • breathing practices that bring balance and calm (alternate nostril breathing, sense withdrawal or bumblebee breath)

  • cooling breaths, such as left nostril breathing (chandra bhedana) or curling the tongue for inhaling (shitali)

AYURVEDA DAILY PRACTICES 

The following daily practices are NOT encouraged during the menses:

  • oil massage

  • oil applications internally (nose, ears, vagina or enemas)

  • eating spicy, sour, fried, or fermented foods, including alcohol

  • working long hard hours

  • intense interpersonal processing or emotional caretaking

instead choose:

  • light energetic bodywork such as acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, reiki or acupressure

  • light to medium direct pressure encouraging flow, over cotton clothing, such as shiatsu or thai massage

  • baths

  • exfoliation, skin cleansing, mud treatments

  • warm water packs externally in the lower back and abdomen

  • more sleep

  • more time in beauty, in Nature, in meditation, or with uplifting company

  • receiving emotional empathy from one’s self or others

  • eating easily absorbed, mineral rich foods such as soups, stews or rice and dal

  • eating bitter taste which helps to clean the blood (even Western herbs like parsley, burdock, dandelion)

Pregnancy

YOGA PRACTICES

Yoga breathing recommendations are the same as above.

Yoga posture practice recommendations are similar, with some additions.

  • widen the base of all standing poses to hip width, rather than feet together

  • bond with the baby by placing the hands to lift the lower abdomen during many standing postures, also ensuring that the lower back is not hyperextended

  • create space for the baby by super-widening forward bends and modifying twists

  • do focus on developing strength and flexibility of the legs in every direction 

AYURVEDA DAILY PRACTICES

  • Eat a well rounded diet that includes all 6 tastes

  • Do receive oil massage often, with naturally based, herbal oils specific to pregnancy

  • Avoid other oil treatments (nose, vagina, enemas)

  • Use skin and body care products that you could eat (for your skin is eating them)

  • Develop a community of support for the birth process as early as possible

Menopause

YOGA PRACTICES

Menopausal changes occur different for each woman and recommendations are specific to which elemental situation is occurring.  Overall, menopause offers an opportunity for a woman to honor her change to a more spiritual age.  At this time, breathing techniques, chanting and meditation become much more valued than posture practice.

AYURVEDA DAILY PRACTICES

Simple daily routine can help immensely with this transition:

  • Coconut brahmi oil in the scalp and hair, sleep with it in

  • Rose water in the eyes

  • Running cool water or a cool washcloth behind the ears and through the brow

  • Supplementing with plant based adaptogen herbs, like shatavari or vidari kunda, only as appropriate to your body type

  • Commitment to a regular sleep routine, usually 10p to 6a

COOLING BREATH FOR HOT FLASHES

  • Curl or roll  your tongue upward into a tube or straw

  • Inhale slowly through the rolled tongue, and then close the mouth and exhale normally through the nose.

  • If you are unable to roll your tongue into a tube, lightly clench your teeth together with the tongue pressed against the top teeth.  The air is then inhaled through the teeth and sides of the mouth.

  • Notice the instantly cooler temperature of the inhalation

  • Practice for 10-20 rounds of breath or until hot flash has subsided.