What is Menstruation?
Don’t think I am crazy! It’s a simple question. But I guess answering it has never been that easy. I knew it!
Growing up in a society that considered (in many parts of the world, still thinks) women as impure and dirty during those four crucial days of every month, was harder than I had imagined.
In simple medical terms, ‘Menstruation is a natural part of the reproductive cycle in which blood from the uterus exits through the vagina’.
Living in the 21st century and believing the spiritual teachings, spreading these days like fire, I supposed it was okay to be not ashamed of your body; whichever part one may be referring to. After all, as per many religious and spiritual leaders, our body is a sacred temple.
My myth was broken soon after I entered puberty. Restrictions followed me like a ghost every month for the four untouchable days. Staying aloof, no entry in the kitchen area, not touching the idols, even worse, not being able to be a part of any family worship rituals; soon became a routine.
As if I get cursed every month for a specific number of days and suddenly I am purified later. No reasoning..No explanations! I rebelled to the heights of orthodox thinking...but to no use! My words fell on deaf ears who had stuffed them with the cotton of blindly following religious values.
I guess that’s the routine of 99% of girls and women around the globe.
Generations after generations; era after era; rituals were passed on as a legacy. Blindfolded people followed them and the end product was the birth of superstitions.
If I may ask, how many of us questioned our mothers about the norms that we followed during our periods?
Including me, none I guess! We were either shy to ask or feared the outcome. But it never ceased my curiosity as to why talking about it was considered a taboo.
Now nearly 40, I started to research the topic; much out of curiosity and a little out of frustration. Living life on my terms has simplified my monthly torture…:-)... Also, I have a daughter, and kids grow at a much faster rate than our imagination. I don’t want her to suffer because of some irrational belief system that our great grandmothers have been passing on. I would like to pass on correct and logical information to her on the subject.
Most of the knowledge came through Time traveling..:-)... Virtually! Putting the internet to good use!
Apart from a few embarrassing rituals I had been through during puberty, I found a list of ongoing practices in different cultures. To name a few, not attending religious functions, visiting the temple and not touching menstruating women; avoiding cooking and eating with others during menstruation; Avoiding sex during menstruation; avoid swimming or washing the hair during menstruation; avoid eating certain types of food during menstruation; believing that menstrual blood is impure; Taking time off during menstruation; restricting menstruating women to seclusion huts.
After probing further into the reasoning of these practices I found some logical explanations. After all, our ancestors were not fools like us to believe anything because someone had told them so. Everything is energy and vibrations. And the older scriptures decoded so far have proved that most of the knowledge they gathered was scientifically based. Glad to know that this planet was also inhabited by some no-nonsense people.
So here we go...
Ayurveda is a science of life and a natural healing system with a deep understanding of the human body; it dates back to be as old as 7000 years. It is based on the principles of three primary life forces in the body, called the three doshas. Doshas are the bio-energies that make up every individual and help in performing different physiological functions in the body. The three types of Doshas are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, which correspond to the elements of air, fire, and water respectively. Each dosha has a primary function in the body. Vata (element-air) is the moving force responsible for communication, perception, and cognition; Pitta (element-fire) is the force of assimilation and is responsible for metabolism, and Kapha (element-water) is the force of stability.
According to Ayurveda, menstruation is closely linked to the functions of the doshas. Menstruation is regarded in Ayurveda as a special opportunity enjoyed by women for monthly cleansing of excess doshas; it is this monthly cleansing that accounts for female longevity as the blood gets purified each month adjusting for any imbalances.
There are precise reasons for every act or practice that women go through during periods. They were secluded so that men could respect their need for space during the times their body was going through hormonal and emotional energy uprise. That was the time the women needed to go within to balance their energies rather than spend time doing outer chores. Menstruation blood is supposed to be very powerful. In some traditions, the need to not let a menstruating woman enter the temple or touch the idols was that they were so pure during those days that they were seen as a walking Goddess. It was believed that the energy of the murthi or the idol goddess will move over to her (menstruating woman) while the murthi becomes lifeless.
Food intake during periods has also been a topic of constant argument.
Diet is important during these days. Emphasis should be on taking more yin (feminine) foods and fewer yang items. So, more rice, less wheat, more yogurt/buttermilk, less milk, more melons, and broccoli. Preferably light and warm meals should be eaten during periods. Ancient practices came from an understanding of the influence of food on menstruating women and were created with the intention of helping relieve menstrual discomfort through the right diet.
Knowing, it is a subject in itself, I have touched only the essential parts of the topic in this article; the ones that I personally felt girls and women in today’s time have to deal with every month. But as much you dig further in the history of the topic, one will find some logical reasoning as to why the practices came into existence.
Sadly, these practices began to be followed blindly. And in no time it deteriorated women’s condition across all cultures and traditions.
Many girls and women are still subjected to daily life restrictions; are excluded from many socio-cultural life events as they are considered impure. Such taboo on women’s life not only affects their emotional state but also disturbs their mental and physical health.
Whenever I look around and see people still following such practices, I fail to understand the fact, how one can live all their life imprisoned in the chains of superstitions.
With so much awareness on the subject, there is still a need to literate the women of the house to put an end to other girls and women's suffering. The male members of the family should also be taught to respect the space of menstruating women and not look down upon them to make them feel ashamed or embarrassed of a biological occurrence in their bodies.
Last but not the least, it should be a personal choice of the menstruating woman to follow any such practices and not an imposed restriction.
P.S.: This topic is so untouched that it has become a taboo across different cultures and traditions. A must-read for everyone, females - to know it better what they are going through during periods and make a choice for living a healthy life without bothering which day of the month they are walking through; males - to gain an insight into the plight of what women go through during periods and help the female members of their family without embarrassing them or making them feel ashamed of a biological occurrence in their body. An effort to eliminate the superstitions that have evolved around the subject of menstruation.
(Some experts on Ayurveda in the article have been taken from the internet to keep the text self-explanatory)