An Ayurvedic Guide to Women’s Hormone Health

In a modern world of stresses and strains, screens and seriously little down-time, it’s common for many women to experience hormone imbalances. From irregular periods to PCOS, fertility challenges and debilitating menstrual pain, it’s likely either you or someone you know struggles with a less-than-rosy monthly cycle. Of course, periods are not the only aspect of our bodies related to hormone health; our cravings and hunger, sleep quality, energy levels and skin health are also closely linked to the fluctuation of hormones flowing through our bodies. Despite the amount of discussion and endless web searches for antidotes to soothe sore breasts or calm uncomfortable bloating, it can be difficult to discern exactly how to navigate our way through the crazy world of hormone health. Luckily, ancient traditions like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Wisdom hold an abundance of knowledge passed down through the ages, which can help guide us towards finding balance within our bodies. You see, Ayurveda and TCM have long-standing and deep-rooted practices to help maintain hormone balance and even optimise fertility, and these would have been woven into the fabric of everyday life, so that a woman felt supported and balanced all month long.

If you’re struggling with hormonal imbalances, or you intuitively feel something just isn’t quite right (or perhaps you’re simply curious about how to optimise your wellbeing!) use this beginner’s Ayurvedic guide to women’s hormone health to help you reconnect to your menstrual cycle, and the many hidden messages it’s telling you on a day-to-day basis, to help bring you back to balance.

To learn more about Ayurveda, read:

Please note; the information shared in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please seek the help of a medical practitioner before making any changes to your diet, lifestyle or medication.

What Are Hormones?

Before we talk about hormone health, it’s useful to understand what hormones are in the first place! Well, we all have hormones – scientists have identified over 50 of them in the human body so far – and they play a huge role in how we feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. Put simply; hormones are the body’s chemical messengers that coordinate different functions, and carry information through the blood to the skin, muscles, organs, and other tissues. These messages carried via hormones essentially tell the body what to do, and when to do it. The ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin for example, tells the body to feel tired and go to sleep, whilst a hormone known as ‘dopamine’ tells the body to feel motivated, driven and excited. Hormones control many aspects of our health, including:

  • Metabolism
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood sugar balance
  • Growth and development
  • The menstrual cycle
  • Sexual function
  • Reproduction
  • Hunger and fullness
  • The sleep-wake cycle
  • Mood

Specialised glands that make up the endocrine system make and release many of the hormones in the body, and interestingly, these glands align to where ancient yogis placed the chakras on the body, such as the pineal gland or ‘third eye’; the thyroid or ‘throat chakra’, and the adrenal glands, which are linked to the root chakra or Muladhara. You can learn more about the chakras in The Zenned Out Guide To Understanding Chakras by Cassie Uhl.

Hormones change and fluctuate, and as well as controlling how we feel, our environment, behaviour and daily choices influence the state of our hormones too. This is why it’s important to understand that any hormonal imbalances may not be ‘fixed’ and unchangeable, and that you may have the power to make huge shifts in your health and wellbeing, simply by making small lifestyle or dietary changes, with the guidance of an expert of course.

An Ayurvedic View of Hormones & The Menstrual Cycle

In the ancient Ayurvedic texts, the word ‘hormones’ isn’t necessarily mentioned, yet the various herbs and spices, practices and rituals offered to women were all intended to balance their hormones, optimise their menstrual health, and promote fertility and longevity. Understanding how each of the three ‘doshas’ in Ayurveda link to the menstrual cycle can help us understand why we may be feeling more fiery at some points of the month, and perhaps more earthy and ‘full’ at other times. You can also make small lifestyle changes throughout your cycle to honour and adapt to the shifting hormones. Remember that everyone’s cycle is different, so yours may not align perfectly with this example, which it totally natural.

Rajahkala: Menstruation

Menstruation is governed by the Vata dosha, which is all about movement and flow. At this time of the month, we may feel a little more depleted or anxious, which are also signs of high Vata energy in the body. Ayurveda advises supporting the downward movement of energy (known as ‘Apana Vayu’) by avoiding inversions in our Yoga practice, enjoying plenty of rest, and consuming warm, grounding foods. During this time, it’s normal for oestrogen and progesterone levels to dip, which can make us feel a little low, introverted, and less able to handle stress. This isn’t to say menstruation is a time to hide away from the world, but it is a time that ancient cultures feel is important to rest more and avoid strenuous activity.

To support yourself throughout the Vata time of menstruation, keep yourself warm, practice restorative yoga with the soft and comforting Hemp Restorative Yoga Kit, and use a &Sisters nüdie Period Cup, made from 100% soft hypoallergenic soft medical-grade silicone, which collects fluid to help maintain the vagina’s natural pH balance. You can also use Wunder Workshop’s Moontime Tincture to help calm discomfort and balance mood, with herbs like chasteberry, lady’s mantle, nettle, cramp bark and chamomile.

Rutukala: Follicular Phase

After menstruation, the earthy, abundant Kapha dosha governs the cycle. The ‘building’ and ‘nourishing’ qualities of Kapha help thicken the endometrium lining, in preparation for a possible pregnancy. As this is a time of ‘building’, we may also feel more abundant, curvy and soft in our bodies too. Oestrogen starts to rise at this time, and we’re actually usually able to handle more physical exertion and mental stress – although of course it’s vital to decrease unnecessary stress as much as possible!

To support yourself through the Kapha time of the follicular phase, get your body moving in a way you enjoy; practice yoga with inspiration from The Woman’s Yoga Book by Bobby Clennell, which offers a comprehensive program of asana and pranayama, designed to support women all the way from menarche to menopause. You may also want to focus on lighter, cleansing foods such as soups, broths, or even the Ayurvedic detoxifying dish of Kitchari. With possibly more energy and a slightly slower metabolism, foods that are easy to digest and help enkindle agni (the ‘digestive fire’) will be greatly appreciated by the body. Find recipes in The Ayurveda Kitchen by Anne Heigham.

Rutavateta Kala: Ovulation & Pre-Mensturation

If you’ve ever felt fiery, hot and bothered or especially passionate throughout ovulation and your pre-menstrual phase, it’s because the Ayurvedic Pitta dosha governs this time. Pitta energy is all about fire, intensity, power, transformation and heat, and indeed, basal body temperature does rise during ovulation. We may also feel a little more irritable at this time of the month, or experience more sweating due to the increase in physical and emotional heat. Energetically, whilst menstruation may see us feeling more introverted, ovulation is usually the time we feel more extroverted, sociable and able to communicate with confidence. During ovulation, hormone levels sky-rocket, which is what can make us feel so many different emotions at once, as well as perhaps helping us feel like superwoman! After ovulation, oestrogen dips, whilst progesterone rises.

To support yourself through the Pitta time of ovulation and pre-menstruation, make the most of your extroverted energy at ovulation by checking tasks off your to-do list, enjoying plenty of socialising, and even using the School of Life: What Do I Really Want To Achieve? cards to help you get clear on your goals. If you do feel hot and bothered in your pre-menstrual phase, you may benefit from cooling foods like cucumber and steamed greens, and a few drops of Forage Botanicals Pre-Menstrual Peace when progesterone drops sharply before menstruation. Fortified with hawthorn, liquorice root and passion flower, you’re likely to see an almost instant impact on your mood.

The Doshas & Hormone Imbalances

Working with your cycle in this way, instead of against it can do wonders for balancing hormone health, but if you’re experiencing an imbalance in any of the doshas, this can show up as common menstrual symptoms. Take a look at the different types of dosha imbalances, which may offer an insight into how to balance the potential root cause of monthly discomfort and hormone imbalances. Everything from your mood to the colour of your menstrual blood can be an indicator of your wellbeing:

Vata Imbalance

If your Vata energy is excessively high, you may feel anxious, ungrounded or scattered, especially before and during menstruation. You may also experience:

  • Very light periods
  • Irregular periods
  • Missing periods
  • Dry skin
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Coldness
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Weight loss
  • Darker coloured menstrual blood

If you notice any of these issues, focus on nourishing the Vata dosha with plenty of warm, grounding foods, and healthy fats like avocado, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, and ghee. Enjoy lots of rest and gentle forms of exercise, keep your body warm and avoid stimulants like coffee. Instead, favour spiced milks with blends like Wunder Workshop’s Golden Balance adaptogen blend with grounding Ashwagandha, or their Golden Mylk Classic Turmeric Latte. Aim to reduce stress as much as possible, as too much cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) can be detrimental for oestrogen levels and overall hormonal health.  

Pitta Imbalance

If your Pitta energy is excessive, you may feel irritable, frustrated, especially hot before your period, or overly stressed. You may also experience:

  • Acne breakouts
  • Loose stool or diarrhoea
  • Tender or swollen breasts
  • Heavy periods that start quickly
  • Sweating
  • Blood clots in menstrual blood

If you notice these issues, focus on calming the Pitta dosha with cooling, light foods such as mint, milk, coconut milk, lavender, nettle, chamomile and coriander. Avoid hot, spicy, oily and greasy foods. Address any emotions you may be holding in – as ‘stuck’ emotions are said to cause breast tenderness and blood clots according to the ancient wisdom of TYCM. Move your body, but avoid competitive activities, as well as stressful events. Forage Botanicals Pre-Menstrual Peace can help calm things down, as can many of the delicious recipes from Gina Fontana’s Moon Milk.

Kapha Imbalance

Excessive Kapha energy can make us feel heavy, lethargic, bloated and low. Periods may also last longer. You may also experience:

  • Swelling
  • Fluid retention
  • Low moods
  • Distended bowel and abdomen
  • Tiredness
  • Tendency to over-sleep
  • Thicker, stickier menstrual blood
  • Heavy periods

If you notice these symptoms, start balancing the Kapha energy by bringing in plenty of warm, stimulating spices like cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, turmeric, and cardamom. You can add these to drinks or meals such as light soups, broths and curries. Enjoy a dynamic yoga practice using the Eco flow yoga mat whilst you are not menstruating, and if you feel bloated and uncomfortable in the days leading up to your cycle, try massaging the abdomen with Forage Botanicals’ Moontime Belly Balm, with marjoram, peppermint and cypress essential oil.

I hope this beginner’s Ayurvedic guide to women’s hormone health has been useful for you! Use the simple tips that most resonate with you to start connecting to your menstrual cycle, and address any underlying dosha imbalances to help bring your hormones, body, mind and soul back into to balance and harmony.

Emma is a 500hr qualified Yoga teacher, musician, massage therapist, cook, and writer. Having grown up surrounded by Yoga and meditation, Emma began her practice at a young age and has continued to study and develop her understanding of Yoga on a daily basis. Training internationally with inspirational teachers, Emma’s passions now lie primarily in philosophy and Yoga off the mat. Emma currently teaches regularly in Sussex, co-leading teacher trainings, retreats, workshops and kirtans, and also manages the Brighton Yoga Festival.

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