How to Balance the Painful (Vata) Period
The Menstrual Cycle Part 2: The Vata Period
In the first part of this series, we reviewed what a healthy cycle would cycle would be like from the Ayurvedic perspective.
Now, let’s dive into the imbalances and identify what your body is predominantly showing. Remember that this can fluctuate month to month depending on what was going on the previous month, but usually there are trends.
In this article, we’re focusing on how vata imbalances show up in the cycle and what you can do to bring balance and comfort.
Vata dosha is made of air and space, and its qualities are dry, light, cold, rough, subtle/penetrating, mobile, and clear. The most basic principle of Ayurveda is like increases like, so anything with those same qualities will increase vata.
Strong triggers of vata are the fall and early winter season cold, dry weather (think cold winds and the fall and early winter season), travel, high altitudes (or traveling at high altitudes as in a plane), travel in general (even when driving), late nights and poor sleep, eating raw and cold foods, drinking cold fluids, constant activity, switching tasks quickly, and having an inconsistent schedule.
Reflect on your previous month—did you travel more? Was the weather particularly cold? Was your daily routine erratic at best? Were you under a lot of stress? Did you find you ate more vata-provoking foods, or did you tend to forget to eat? Did your sleep suffer?
The more vata-provoking your diet or lifestyle is, the more vata is likely to show up in your cycle the following month. And if you generally lead a vata-provoking life, the characteristics of a vata cycle may be more your norm.
Characteristics of a Vata Cycle
Now let’s look at how those above vata qualities translate to the cycle. Vata may bring with it coldness, which causes constriction and dryness. Vata’s mobility can cause spasms as well as irregularity. Vata’s lightness can lead to an overall lighter flow.
Also note that the pelvis is the seat of vata (vata really likes to hang out there), so it is not surprising that most women with reproductive issues have some vata component to their imbalance.
If you have excess vata in your cycle, you may experience:
- Pain that is sharp, spasmodic in the lower abdomen or back (vata’s cold quality causes constriction, which can lead to uterine contractions that prevent proper blood flow)
- Drying or lightening of flow
- Spotting before and after the flow
- Darkness in color
- Stiffness in the body
- Emotions of anxiety, nervousness, or fear
- Some constipation (particularly at the start or right before the cycle)
- Frothiness to the flow (the airiness of vata causes more air in the menstrual flow, changing the consistency of the blood)
- Frequency—the cycle can occur more frequently with the above characteristics, and if you have a severe vata imbalance, it can be less frequent
When vata is increased, you may experience additional signs of vata elsewhere in the body, such as:
- Dry skin, chapped lips
- Cracking, popping joints
- Less frequent stools, hard stools, or occasional constipation
- Nerve pain (sciatica), back discomfort
- Difficulty going to sleep or sleep disturbances
Balance Vata, Balance Your Cycle
Thankfully, Ayurveda provides us with the insight and tools to bring back balance with supportive lifestyle practices, nourishing foods, and a wide array of herbs.
Another significant principle in Ayurveda is to bring balance by using opposite qualities. When we understand the qualities of vata—light, dry, rough, mobile, cold, and so on—we know that by focusing on the opposite qualities, we are going to regain equilibrium.
Translated into practice, you can focus on bringing in warmth, oiliness, more heaviness and grounding, and stability in your life in general.
Take a look at your daily routine, what you eat, and what herbs you use. You can fine-tune these areas of your life to bring the calm, balancing support vata needs.
Simple Tips to Balance Vata
There are a lot of options out there to balance vata, but to help you get started, these are some top tips. Whether you choose to follow just one tip or everything below, you will be on the right track!
- Focus on a nourishing, grounding diet. Follow a vata-pacifying diet and lifestyle. Eat warm, cooked foods, with plenty of root vegetables and warming spices, such as cinnamon, ginger, and coriander.
- Use herbs. Start with Healthy Vata for a well-rounded formula that will nourish and hydrate the reproductive tissues. You may add shatavari with ashwagandha for supplemental nourishment. Combine these herbs with Vata Digest to improve the digestibility of the herbs and for added balance.
- Sip ginger tea. It brings in warmth and hydration. Also consider Ginger liquid extract for an easy go-to form of ginger.
- Reflect on your daily routine. This is an important tip for balancing vata. Slow down and have a good routine. Vata needs a routine to stay grounded and committing to a consistent daily routine can work wonders for vata.
- Practice yoga with slow, steady flows. Try Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation), and increase flow to the pelvis with deep lunges and hip openers.
- Increase hydration. Help your body hold the fluids with electrolytes and healthy oils (vata loves organic ghee made from grass-fed cows!).
- Use castor oil packs. Castor oil is warming, opens constricted channels, and helps the light vata maintain groundedness and flow in its proper downward-and-out direction.
- Get enough sleep. Aim for 7–8 hours of sleep and to be in bed by 10 p.m. What is more nourishing than a night of great sleep?
- Practice self-massage with oil. Known as abhyanga, this practice embodies all of those qualities that directly balance vata—oiliness, warmth, grounding—and leave you feeling serene and relaxed. Try it with Vata Massage Oil. Treat yourself to abhyanga throughout the month, although it is not recommended to practice while on your cycle.
We always recommend that you work with a qualified practitioner, especially for more serious imbalances, but hopefully these ideas give you a good starting place and some practical steps you can take on your own to create more balance.
For a bigger perspective, just as balancing vata will balance your cycle, balancing your cycle will create positive change for your overall well-being. In the first part of this series, we looked at how your cycle is a window into your health and using it to identify and then correct imbalances has a positive impact on your overall well-being. Talk about a win-win!
Specific Advice to Support Your Cycle
While the above focuses on how to bring balance to vata in general so you can remove any excess vata in your cycle, here’s some supportive advice specifically for your cycle. This advice applies to all women, regardless of what imbalances may show up from month to month. I encourage you follow some or all of these simple steps.
- Start a menstrual calendar. Note when you start, if you have any symptoms before, during, and after (even as subtle as slight constipation or hardening of stool before the cycle), what the flow is like (any days of spotting, when you start a full flow, how many pads you use or would have gone through), and when it ends. By keeping a calendar or journal, you can also begin to decipher what a “normal” cycle is for you.
- Slow down during your menstrual cycle. Even if it means taking a twenty-minute break at the end of your day where you do nothing but breathe, take some time to become aware of your body and its subtle changes. See if you can correlate changes with the fluctuations of your schedule or anything that was particularly impactful from the month before.
- Check in with your digestion. The health of your cycle is affected by the strength of your digestion, your doshas, and any toxins you may have built up. Getting in touch with your digestion can teach you a lot! How is your appetite and how well do you digest your meals?
- Focus on balanced doshas. In this instance, you’re working to balance vata. Also tune in to your health regularly to see if you have imbalances from pitta or kapha showing up. (Taking the Ayurvedic Profile™ quiz can help determine what dosha is out of balance.)
- Tune into your current attitude. What is your relationship with your cycle? Do you dread and resent your cycle, or do you appreciate it for what it is telling you? If you find you have trouble embracing your cycle, what can you do to begin to develop a new attitude toward it?
Stick with it! It can take time to strengthen your digestion, balance the doshas, and cleanse toxins. Bottom line is—do not give up. You can always consult an Ayurvedic practitioner for more help and personalized advice.
- Keep reading. For more information, read the Guide to a Healthy Menstrual Cycle, which has all of this information and more!
Coming back to balance can be as simple as listening to the feedback your body gives, and then making mindful adjustments as you go about your day. You don’t have to rewrite your life overnight—just listen to what feels right to you. Your body is wise, and your cycle is an amazing tool you can use to interpret the feedback it gives you. What a beautiful gift!