Are You Hurting Yourself Every Month

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March marks the celebration of Women’s History Month! In case you are wondering about the significance of this month, this month is a celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture and society and has been observed annually in the month of March in the United States since 1987.

I love how companies and organizations — big and small — are starting to recognize the value of Women’s History Month! There are many ways to show gratitude and honor historic women: support female entrepreneurs, read books by women authors, listen to podcasts hosted by women, support a nonprofit that empowers women’s rights, and much more. I also believe if we want more women to contribute to history, society, culture, world peace etc. we need to start demystifying how a woman’s menstrual cycle impacts her productivity, presence, and overall wellness. I believe that the truly feminist approach to menstruation is one that is pro-female and honors the experience that the cycle brings.

A healthy cycle is a sign that your body is functioning properly. But according to Reuters, “Among nearly 43,000 girls and women who responded to an online nationwide survey, 85 percent said they experienced painful cramping during their periods, 77 percent had symptoms of mood disorders, and 71 percent suffered from tiredness or exhaustion.”

The other day, a client confessed that during her menstrual cycle, she is in so much pain that she can’t get out of bed. But she feels uncomfortable sharing this reason with her male manager, so she keeps up with her routines. Another client who, when we first met, needed to use both tampons and sanitary napkins during the heavy flow days. I have friends and family and colleagues who battle mood swings, bloating, cramps, craving, swelling, discomfort, and writhe in excruciating pain but will power through their days. From a young age, we’re misinformed that our periods will be painful, shameful, and inconvenient. You start to equate menstrual pain and discomfort with normalcy.

In modern living, many of us women are coerced to navigate the world from a space of “masculinity.” Growing up, the narrative (at least in the South Asian community) was that boys are stronger or more important (in many families). Even when a girl first hit puberty, hushed tones welcomed her new stage in life. The family’s honor was now officially between a girl’s legs. Periods were whispered about and treated with taboo. In the early 1990s, a TV commercial for sanitary napkins used the jingle “Chup chup baithe ho zaroor koi baat hai” (why are you sitting so quietly, there must be something you are hiding), alluding to a ‘problem’ with the girl sitting uncomfortably while looking at other girls hopping and playing. Shopkeepers packed sanitary napkins in a newspaper. If it were a younger employee, he’d shamelessly flaunt a grin as he handed over a packet of feminine product. Lajja, also known as embarrassment in English, was another emotion women described.

Information passed down about menstruation was based on fear or disgust. Girls and women are considered dirty during this most natural monthly rite.

“Don’t touch the pickle jar.” “Don’t enter the temple.” “Don’t wash your hair.” “Eat this meal.” I have heard various, demeaning, horrific versions of instructions from different women that have been passed down generations. Words that make girls/women feel insignificant, impure, or unclean. So, we took it upon ourselves to prove that women can do it all.

For example, I played basketball in high school and did inverted yoga asanas in my 20s despite being on my cycle. Even when my mom suggested that I keep my schedule “light” during those days of the month, I didn’t want to be a wimp. I wanted to be as strong as any man in the room. Peer pressure is real! Pressure — when you are part of a sports team — is even deeper. Be it inverting the body in a yoga studio, during those days, knowing fully well that you might be messing with Mother Nature. Or, all my basketball teammates, despite the cramps and discomfort, we showed up on court every single day. I have been vehemently opposed to taking any kind of medication (unless it’s the last resort), so I didn’t take painkillers. But a lot of girls and women made it a part of their monthly ritual to pop pills to deal with the pain and go on with life. It wasn’t until Ayurveda became my guiding principle in life did I pause to understand that I was hurting myself.

According to Ayurveda, menstrual blood, or rajah, is a by-product of lymph, or rasa dhatu. What and how we consume affects our rasa. When our mothers and aunts asked us to take it easy or live a certain way, they wanted us to rest and let the body heal. I wish they had the science behind those suggestions. With a healthy cycle, blood should be bright red in color and the bleeding typically lasts around 5 days, Ayurveda reminds us. It has no foul odor, and the quantity is not too great nor too little. Any other discharge, pain, mood swings, cravings or heavy bleeding are signs of a doshic imbalance. That said, during this ‘period’, you lose a lot of blood. So naturally you become weaker physically, emotionally, and mentally. The exhaustion is understandable.

The downward moving vayu is called Apana Vayu in Ayurveda. When we meditate or exercise extensively during our periods, we reverse the flow of apana vayu (in-charge of all kinds of downward flow elimination). It starts to move upward rather than downward. And, hence, you are not giving the heat and toxins a chance to leave your system naturally. In Ayurveda, this bloodletting, or rakta mokshna, is seen as an important detoxification process. It’s a process of making the body cooler. Exercising too much, being cerebral, and leading a very active social life at this time requires more blood circulation and generation of heat, which is counterproductive. Lighter meals are suggested because a woman’s agni (digestive fire) is low at this time of the month. Some women feel heavy while others might get gassy or constipated or get diarrhea. You see how a simple meal can help? You understand why digestion and elimination are a huge deal in Ayurveda.

Ladies, who are we trying to prove anything to? Because people have already made up their minds, and you/your vigor don’t need external validation — not at the cost of your health. Life is a relationship. And the most important relationship is the one a woman has with herself.

Consider your monthly cycle a special time for deep rest and self-care. Use this as a beautiful chance to cleanse, recalibrate, and reconnect with your body’s natural rhythms. Menstruation gives us the opportunity to shed the old and start over new. I wish someone told us that resting was as alluring as being active. I wish girls and women were taught to guard and protect their healing and rejuvenation as much as their “family’s dignity.” I am urging you to get rest and take care of you during this time. If you are in unmanageable discomfort, talk to your health provider and/or an Ayurveda practitioner.

I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femaleness and my femininity. And I want to be respected in all of my femaleness because I deserve to be.” ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

To read more of The Balanced Life on SEEMA.com, check out the latest in the series, The Mother of All Dating Apps