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.
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.
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 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
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
exfoliation, skin cleansing, mud treatments
warm water packs externally in the lower back and abdomen
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)
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
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.