Period got you down? You’re not alone. It’s one of those things nobody talks about. But we should. It’s not gross. It’s not taboo. It’s part of being a woman and part of life. We can learn so much about ourselves by studying our cycles. All of those pesky PMS symptoms are signs that something it out of balance. It’s an opportunity to confront our bodies and set new intentions; to start fresh.
I feel lucky to have grown up surrounded by women who weren’t afraid to talk about their periods. In fact, they celebrated womanhood and each time one of us girls came of age they’d throw us a party. As the youngest in the community I viewed these celebrations with awe and reverence, waiting year after year for my turn. When it finally came, my mom and all her friends gathered together to pamper me, wash my feet, brush my hair, read me poems and offer me life lessons. Everyone brought a bead and we strung them together into a necklace that I still keep tucked away in my hope chest. Looking back on my coming of age ceremony, I can’t help but cringe a little remembering all the new age pomp. But, despite the chanting, tarot cards and smudge sticks I still feel so grateful to have learned at such an early age to celebrate my womanhood and my body despite the pain, discomfort and inconvenience of each new cycle.
I’ve always struggled with PMS, irritability, cramps, tender breasts (“tender” is an understatement), breakouts, heavy bleeding (and the accompanying anxiety that goes with it every time you have to leave the house and go out in public). In high school and college I took Midol regularly, went on the pill, bought Tampax (with the applicator), pushing aside the fact that I knew that I was essentially bleaching my insides and using unnecessary amounts of plastic. Eventually, my desire for long term health and sustainability outweighed my need for convenience and I switched to hot water bottles and organic unbleached cotton tampons. But, I still didn’t address the underlying causes of my symptoms. Only recently have I started to see my cycle as a reflection of my overall health and wellness and to invest the time and energy into charting my period (I use this app) and incorporating a more comprehensive “ladies’ holiday” self-care routine into my life.
In the Ashtanga tradition, it’s typical to not practice for the first three days of your period. They call it “ladies’ holiday” which I just love. We deserve our own special holiday every month right!? So in honor of “ladies’ holiday” I’ve got the recipe for this Spiced Beet Tonic and some Ayurvedic tips for self-care during that time of the month. Keep in mind that these suggestions are based on my personal experience. As such, they address Pitta type menstrual symptoms (loose stools, heavy bleeding, a burning sensation during urination, fibrocystic breasts, hot flashes, acne, and inflammation). Recommendations will vary for Vata type menstrual symptoms (bloating, cramps, lower back pain, constipation, scanty bleeding or spotting and missed or absent periods) and for Kapha type symptoms (cramps, bloating, water retention, heaviness, and lethargy). If you have questions about how to address symptoms not covered in this post, comment below or shoot me an email and I’ll do my best to help you out.
TIPS FOR SELF-CARE DURING “LADIES’ HOLIDAY”
-Favor warm cooked foods that are easy to digest. It’s not unusual for me to experience cramps, loose stools and nausea during my period so I try to take it easy on my digestive system since it’s already dealing with a lot. Miso soup with garlic, ginger, tofu and seaweed is a personal favorite.
-If you experience heavy bleeding favor foods rich in iron to replenish your red blood cells. Nettles, cooked greens, seaweed, beans, tofu, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and beets are all great options.
-Pair iron rich foods with foods high in Vitamin C to help increase iron absorption. Oranges, strawberries, and broccoli are good choices.
-Favor alkalizing and cooling foods to calm down any inflammation. You can find a list of alkalizing foods here.
-Incorporate rose, turmeric and cumin into your diet to help cool and reduce inflammation.
-Sip warm water or fennel tea throughout the day for a week before your period to improve lymph flow. I’ve come to realize that many of my symptoms (breakouts, fibrocystic breasts etc.) are the result of congested lymph.
-Consider taking an iron supplement if you experience heavy bleeding accompanied by weakness, dizziness and fatigue. I like this one because it’s vegetarian, packed with all sorts of good stuff, and tastes great. Note: If you’re prone to constipation or bloating use with caution.
-If you’re feeling really depleted, try taking some red beet crystals in warm water with a little raw honey. The nitrates in beets get converted to nitrous-oxide which acts as a vasodilator helping increase the flow of oxygen rich blood throughout body.
-Drink nettle tea. Nettles are high in iron and act as a natural diuretic which helps cleanse the liver and improve the body’s ability to process estrogen. This tea also includes other herbs such as raspberry leaf which help with excessive bleeding.
-Try taking Chyawanprash. This Ayurvedic herbal jam is a great rejuvenative. Its primary ingredient is Amalaki or Indian Gooseberry which is super high in Vitamin C (remember how Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron). Amalaki works to nourish and purify the blood, and is cooling and tonifying for the reproductive organs. Chyawanprash also encourages elimination so if you’re experiencing loose stools use with caution.
–Ashwagandha, Shatavari, and Manjistha are all great herbs to take leading up to and during menstruation depending on your symptoms. Ashwagandha acts as a uterine tonic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and blood builder. Shatavari is anti-inflammatory and is a powerful reproductive tonic especially good for Pitta type menstrual irregularities. Manjistha is a blood purifier and lymph mover and is a great herb to take to help the body detoxify during menstruation. It also helps to prevent excess bleeding.
-Take warm baths.
-Apply a hot water bottle to the abdomen to relieve cramps or try a castor oil pack for more severe symptoms. To do a castor oil pack soak a rag in castor oil, apply it to the abdomen, wrap plastic wrap loosely around your waist to cover the rag (I know, plastic wrap if not the most sustainable. If anyone knows how to do this without the plastic wrap please let me know), and apply a hot water bottle or heating pad.
-Journal. Keep notes on your symptoms. This is also a great time to reflect and turn inwards.
-Squatting helps encourage (apana vayu) or downward movement.
-Take a break from exercise. Rest, do gentle stretching, walking or restorative practices and avoid inversions if you do yoga.
-Eliminate toxic menstrual products and reduce waste. I ordered some Thinx over the summer and absolutely love them. They’re cotton, machine washable, super high absorbency, and are really comfortable (they feel just like normal underwear). I ordered five pairs of their briefs which get me through the first two days of period when my flow is the heaviest. They also have a bikini for those of you with a lighter flow.
-Encourage lymph drainage the week before your period with gentle skin brushing and self-massage.
Now for a little about this Spiced Beet Tonic. I wanted to create a recipe that would not only taste delicious but also help prevent anemia and relieve painful menstrual symptoms. I used beet for its high iron content and color, orange for its vitamin C, ginger and honey to help decongest and keep things moving and cinnamon to help with cramping. The result is a warming and nourishing tonic that tastes like spiced cider and is perfect for the cold winter days.
*Be sure to head over to Instagram to enter the GIVEAWAY for the ultimate “ladies holiday” self-care kit.
Spiced Beet Tonic
1 beet, quartered
1 orange, peeled and quartered
½ cup fresh cranberries
1-2 inches fresh ginger
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon raw honey
1 cinnamon stick
Run the beet, orange, cranberries and ginger through your juicer. Add the beet juice to a small pot with the water, honey and cinnamon stick. Bring to a simmer. Whisk to combine. Serve warm.