Click here to read part 2.
3. Avoiding sex during menstruation
One of the cultural practices surrounding menstruation is the restriction on sexual activity. On one hand, the conversation in the west is shifting to talking about “period sex” as being more pleasurable due to the extra lubrication that blood offers and also because women are more sensitive during menstruation. However, the Indian thought process behind saying that sex during menstruation should be avoided has to do with the way in which the energy flow affects menstruating women during sex.
During sexual intercourse, the woman absorbs the male energy and man releases energy into the woman during ejaculation. So imagine a menstruating woman, who is in the process of releasing her own energy but is instead subjected to absorbing her partner’s energy. Also, if she has sex with multiple partners or with partners having negative energy, it would affect her adversely. Therefore, sex during menstruation was believed to affect a woman’s natural energy flow and was thus prohibited for her own good.
4. Avoid swimming or washing the hair during the menstrual cycle
Maya Tiwari, offers a Vedic explanation for this practice. In her book Women’s Power to Heal: Through Inner Medicine, she writes“
At the psycho-energetic level, we need to safeguard the body against the persuasive rhythm of the water element. Water is one of the five powerful elements used to bless, cure, heal, nourish, nurture, and revive the body, mind and spirit….. Unlike the mundane understanding of cleansing we have, the ancients knew that water is sacred and powerful and like all the elements has its own cosmic energy and memory. Water, guided by its cosmic memory, can influence the flow of the menstrual cycle to its own strong beat – exactly what we do not want happening during menses. Conversely, we want the fire element, which is the dominant memory of the blood, to flow in tempo with its own rhythm and tune.”
5. Avoid eating certain type of food during menstruation
In most cultures in India where menstruation is celebrated, it accompanies food restrictions and preference for specific types of food during menstruation. We met girls in Assam who told us that when they reached menarche (first period), they were given only fruits and water to consume for 3 days. In Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, specific foods like ragi, drumstick leaf, fenugreek, jaggery etc are given.
Ayurveda clearly mentions certain types of food that affect women during menstruation. Any food that generates heat such as animal and dairy products should be avoided. Some women also have stomach upsets or loose motions during menstruation. Therefore, food that is easy to digest and rich in iron and calcium such as ragi, drumstick leaf etc help menstruating girls and reduce their cramps.
I personally know women who usually suffer from severe cramps and vomiting on the first day of menstruation, but find relief when they go on the right diet a week before and during menstruation. 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. Traditional practices around menstruation follow these food restrictions even now. This is probably why I have come across fewer girls and women in tribal areas who experience cramps during menstruation. The influence of food on menstruation is something that any menstruating woman who has severe menstrual cramps can try and experience herself.
Note: Each person has a different constituency and accordingly each one will have variation in the three doshas. Therefore, not every person is affected similarly by specific types of food. Ideally, getting yourself checked by a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner and then following specific diet for menstrual pain should be preferred.
To know more about Ayurvedic approaches to woman’s health and how food affects menstruation, read the links at the end of this write-up
6. Believing that menstrual blood is impure
Perhaps, the most common notion of all is that menstrual blood is impure and that it makes women impure. Interestingly, in some Indian cultures, the menstrual blood itself is revered and thought of as having potent power.
In Manipur, we interacted with a doctor who narrated to us the story of the rituals practised during a woman’s first period. Here, when a girl first bleeds, the cloth into which she bleeds is safely kept aside by her mother and gifted back to her when she gets married. This cloth is believed to be so powerful that it will protect the girl and her family from poor health and other ills.
We also met elderly women in Manipur who told us that they had tasted a drop of their first menstrual blood, as part of a traditional practice. This blood was considered to be very powerful and believed to keep them in good health when consumed.
On the other hand, the same potent power of menstruation was interpreted negatively in Jharkhand, where people were afraid of finding a menstrual cloth strewn around. It is believed in Jharkhand that menstrual blood is very powerful and can be used for black magic and therefore, women should be very careful about destroying this cloth after use. Every year, around 400 women in Jharkhand are murdered in the name of being witches. The locals tell us that it has become an excuse to accuse single women of being witches, murder them and then take over their property and women’s menstrual blood plays a major part in the belief that woman have special powers.
Regardless of whether the menstrual blood was considered to provide good health or used in black magic, there is no denying the fact that it was believed to be very powerful.
——to be continued…——
(earlier published on https://mythrispeaks.wordpress.com/)