How to Support Balanced Hormones with Ayurveda
In my personal journey with hormonal imbalance, I found that learning about individual hormones gave me the capability to better categorize and put into words the way I was feeling and how my feelings arose in my physical body and in my mind. I knew firmly in my bones that the experiences I felt were located at a crossroads of emotional and physical suffering, yet I did not know what to do about them or where, precisely, they were coming from.
Here’s just one example of how learning about hormones opened my eyes: Ayurveda had taught me that our menstrual cycles are cyclical and governed by the different doshas at different points. From a Western scientific viewpoint, we see that the cyclic fluctuations of hormones, like estrogens and progesterone during the menstrual cycle, can enhance the response to stress, which results in susceptibility to feelings of sadness and anxiety. Learning to identify the signs of natural estrogen dominance helped me attune more deeply to the time during the monthly cycle when I should pay more attention to patterns of vikriti causing this hormonal imbalance.
The Ayurvedic Profile™ quiz is a great way to take stock of your own vikriti and the imbalances you may be currently experiencing.
In our day and age, stress is an epidemic. Doctors are prescribing psychiatric medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications at higher rates than ever before, with 1 in 6 people taking them.1 And 1 in 4 women now takes a psychiatric medication compared to 1 in 7 men.2 The World Health Organization estimates that depression will be the greatest cause of disability worldwide by 2020.3
The fight-flight-or-freeze reaction begins in the amygdala, with that part of the brain signaling the body to set off a cascade of hormones including cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. Pay attention to your physical body and be aware of these signs that indicate increased stress:
- Rapid breathing
- Increased heartbeat
- Hot flashes
- Racing thoughts
Executing a stress response is a sign of health—the body is displaying its ability to engage fight-flight-or-freeze, and this age-old survival mechanism of the nervous system is useful. It enabled our ancestors to protect themselves from predators, and it’s the reason we are alive today.
Balancing Hormones with Diet
“Healing begins when we start to live the life we really want to be living.”
Ayurveda provides us with tools that can help build resilience to the hormonal imbalances we are so susceptible to. The mind and body vacillate between two states, rest and digest (parasympathetic) and fight-or-flight (sympathetic), which we can liken to prakriti, our natural state, and vikriti, imbalance.
When we move from prakriti to vikriti, from parasympathetic to sympathetic, the first thing that goes offline is digestion. If there is a tiger at the door, it doesn’t matter what is for lunch. Supporting agni, the digestive fire, strengthens the communication between the body and mind through the enteric nervous system.
To best support agni, Ayurveda suggests working with herbs that kindle the digestive fire (deepana) and herbs that improve digestion (pachana) to reduce ama, or toxins, and protect the strength of agni.
3 Ways to Support Agni
- Take Easy Digest liquid extract, a wonderful tridoshic blend to help support agni
- Cook with ghee to support the intake of healthy fats
- Follow dosha-appropriate diets, reduce intake of processed food, and change diets with the season.
Learning to practice mindful eating is the most supportive practice for digestion because Ayurveda teaches us that as we eat we take in not only the food we are eating, but the emotions present as well. Reducing stress during mealtimes is most important. If you are stressed during your workday, have the smallest meal at lunch, and make breakfast the largest meal.
Building Emotional Resiliency
In simplest terms, healing the hormonal body can mean healing the emotional body. Often our most commonly experienced emotions are fear, anger, or grief. We lack creativity, innocence, and joy, and we don’t always know how to find them. Working in an integrative psychiatry clinic in Los Angeles, I have learned that healing the emotional body is not necessarily about talking and processing trauma, or about guilt and shame. It is about finding the vulnerable parts of us and integrating them into ourselves. Being willing to look at the places that scare us, and to breathe through the discomfort.
“The Buddha taught that we're not actually in control, which is a pretty scary idea. But when you let things be as they are, you will be a much happier, more balanced, compassionate person.”
Here are a few practical ways to help regulate stress and support your emotional body.
- Stress Ease is a well-balanced formula full of adaptogenic herbs for hormone balance that supports emotional resiliency.
- Breast Care Balm, applied directly to the breasts and underarms, supports the flow of rasa. This can be a wonderful balm to also apply to the low abdomen to help move stagnation in the digestive and reproductive systems.
- Women’s Support is a nourishing formula rooted in ashwagandha and shatavari that supports balanced hormones and a comfortable menstrual cycle.
- Shatavari is helpful for those with a more pitta-prone hormonal imbalance.
Finally, most important to women’s hormone balance is pranayama. From a practical standpoint, it brings the body into a relaxation response, or rest and digest, meaning that it conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and glandular activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract.4 This guide to pranayama is a helpful resource.
Hormones are the messengers communicating between the mind and body. When we slow down enough to become aware of their messages, we can become deeply attuned to what it is we need—and what we need is often more simple than we think. Ayurveda can teach us to keep our minds and bodies—and the hormones that govern them—in balance.