Modesty has traditionally and universally been praised as a virtue of womanhood, and no woman secure in her sensitivity and inner poise would deny it. Yet it is false modesty that is rooted in fear and ignorance. For too long, women have been victims of myth, ignorance and confusion concerning their bodies. There is no conflict between modesty and frankness, and it is frankness that we need to sweep away the webs of superstition and to restore the confidence in our physical selves that is the basis of true womanliness.
No one will appreciate this more than the many women who have, at some time or other, sought advice about the specifically feminine problem of leucorrhoea or excessive vaginal discharge. From sheer lack of information and openness, many women are worried, ashamed and afraid of this essentially simple and manageable able disorder.
To begin with, many women think they have leucorrhoea when in fact they do not. It must be understood that a certain amount of vaginal secretion is normal and healthy. The walls of the vagina contain many tiny glands whose specific function is continually to produce a cleansing and lubricating film of moisture. This secretion acts as protection for the sensitive tissues of the vagina, preventing them from drying up and washing out any undesirable microbes. The vagina, like the eye, is self-cleansing. Just as the eye is bathed with moisture at every blink, so too the vagina is kept fresh by the constant flow of internal secretion.
Healthy vaginal discharge is usually transparent or slightly milky, and may be a little slippery. However, the texture varies with the phases of the menstrual cycle. Sometimes it is thin and watery, other times it is very white, and quite thick and sticky like jelly. The amount of secretion also varies from time to time and woman to woman. It may become noticeable even in young girls, several years before puberty. If the vagina is healthy, there is no smell and no irritation or redness of the vagina and surrounding area.
Extremely heavy vaginal secretion is a sign of imbalance, but is definitely not an infection. Just the same, it does create an excessively moist condition that is ideal for the development of vaginal infections.
As there are bacteria on the skin, in the mouth and in the intestines, so too there are many bacteria present in the normal, healthy vagina. Some of these are friendly bacteria that keep the vaginal environment slightly acid, and so prevent the excessive growth of potentially harmful organisms. At times, however, this natural balance is disrupted and infections develop. Vaginal infections, though, are not to be confused with leucorrhoea.
In the case of infection, there is not only abnormal discharge, but also mild or severe itching, burning of the area around the vagina (vulva), irritation of the vagina itself and, occasionally, more frequent urination. The first signs of infection are lower back pain, cramps and swelling of the glands in thighs and abdomen.
The main index of infection is the nature of the discharge itself. Irregular discharges referred to as 'non-specific vaginitis' mean that infection is present but doctors don't know what it is. The discharge may be white, yellow or streaked with blood. In some cases the walls of the vagina can be puffy with fluid or covered with a thick coat of pus. However, the two most common sources of infection are monilia and trichomonas, both of which are normally present in the healthy body.
With monilia or yeast infections, the discharge is thick and white, and may look like cottage cheese or curd. It has a smell like baking bread, and this negative association can make a woman feel sick at the mere smell of food. Monilia infections are also very itchy and irritating to the whole vagina and vulva.
Trichomonas is present in the bodies of both men and women, and about fifty percent of women have this organism in their vaginas, but often without any discomfort. When the trichomonas population grows too large, it gives a thin, foamy discharge that is yellowish-green or gray and is identified by the extremely unpleasant odour. It most often flares up after intercourse, because of the irritation of the vagina, but it can also be passed on by wet towels, underwear or dirty toilet seats.
Vaginal infections are extremely common. It is a rare woman who does not pick up such an infection at least once in her lifetime. These disorders are in no way to be classed with such virulent diseases as syphilis or gonorrhoea, and there is absolutely no cause for shame or humiliation. The secrecy and superstition surrounding female sexuality has been known to prevent women from seeking help in the case of infection, and the effects have been disastrous. If treated early, vaginal disorders are a minor nuisance; if neglected they become difficult to cure, lead to more complicated illnesses and can cause organic damage to the point of infertility. If ignored during pregnancy, the baby is also affected.
Failure to take proper measures is both cowardly and dangerous, and you should not compromise your health with mere amulets and stones obtained from unauthorized practitioners with little medical knowledge. They might provide psychological reassurance, but the infection goes on unabated. If you contract a digestive infection that gives you 'excessive anal discharge' in the form of diarrhoea, you are not ashamed and feel it is only normal to consult a doctor. This should also be your attitude to vaginal discharges and other irregularities of the reproductive system. Competent medical help, backed up with preventive yogic practices will ensure relief and rapid recovery.
Between these two poles of normal protective secretion and vaginal infection we have a non-infectious, painless but excessive discharge, and this is leucorrhoea. Leucorrhoea is just like normal vaginal secretion, only much more copious. While regular secretion may leave white or yellowish spots on your underwear, it usually dries quickly and does not cause discomfort. However, if your clothes are marked, if you feel constantly wet or have to change your underwear several times a day, then there is no doubt the discharge is excessive. Some women find it so heavy that they must wear sanitary napkins even between their periods. You might experience pain in the back, chafing of the thighs, or a 'full' feeling in the abdomen. These are similar to the early indicators of infection, but are less severe. Moreover, infection usually causes more frequent urination and leucorrhoea makes it less, Leucorrhoea is an abnormally profuse discharge, but clean one, and does not cause any itching or inflammation of the vaginal area.
Leucorrhoea can be the first sign of cervical erosion (sores developing on the opening to the womb). It is estimated that about ninety-five percent of women develop such sores at some time during their childbearing years, so it is well worth medical investigation. Generally doctors conduct a full pelvic examination and take a Pap smear.
Most often, though, leucorrhoea is just one signal from our bodies that we are generally run-down and our resistance is low, due to lack of sleep, bad diet or nervous tension. Women who have diabetes or TB are particularly susceptible. The next most common cause of excessive discharge is hormonal imbalance. Women using birth control pills or IUD's (loop, copper 7, etc.) are especially prone. It may also become a problem just before or after menstruation, during pregnancy or menopause, because of natural alteration of hormonal levels at these times.
Diet is an important factor in leucorrhoea. Excess mucus from too much milk, white flour and polished rice is expelled in the form of bodily discharges, including from the vagina. Highly spiced and fatty food, and large quantities of sugar also contribute to this problem. Diets high in processed sugar and refined carbohydrates create ideal conditions for vaginal infections because they change the acidity level of the vagina and allow harmful bacteria to proliferate. Numerous women have reported that simply adjusting their diet has drastically reduced vaginal discharge.
Leucorrhoea very often occurs in conjunction with constipation which is well known to result not only from faulty diet but also from stress and tension. When we are under constant tension, we can become so accustomed to it that we are not consciously anxious. We think we are relaxed. However, the body registers this and the sympathetic nervous system is activated, moving energy away from the digestive system to speed up heartbeat and so on. Under these conditions, constipation is easily developed. Stress reactions also affect the adrenal glands, and variations in the sex hormones produced by the adrenals could well be responsible for leucorrhoea, and would account for the link between constipation and excessive discharge.
Other emotional factors can be unconscious. Women have many bad feelings about their physical selves that are hard to admit. So much so that these negative attitudes may not consciously be acknowledged at all. This is particularly true in connection with the reproductive organs, which are still frequently unmentionable. Such unconscious doubts may be expressed as leucorrhoea, the excess discharge being a symbolic attempt to purify ourselves.
Strict personal hygiene is the first step in dealing with leucorrhoea. It not only prevents infection and minimizes discomfort, but also helps to put the mind at rest. Wash the anus and vulva regularly. Pat the vulva dry and try to keep it dry. Many vaginal infections are due to a spill over of organisms from the anus to the vagina, so always wash or wipe the anus from front to back. Use the traditional oriental squatting posture on toilet seats - it's not only more efficient but also more hygienic.
Avoid nylon underwear, tights or pantyhose. Nylon retains both moisture and heat, providing a 'hothouse' environment that encourages harmful bacteria. Wear only loose-fitting cotton underwear, or when the discharge is not so heavy, none at all. Many undesirable organisms are killed simply by exposure to air, which also freshens and cools the vaginal area.
Douching or washing the interior of the vagina can be an aid in preventing infection provided it is not overdone. The healthy vagina is rather acid, and this acidity acts as a barrier to infection. Since blood is alkaline, the acidity level (pH) drops during menstruation and we tend to be more prone to infection. At this time douching with a slightly acid solution will re-establish the normal pH and may have a preventive value. Suitable solutions are one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to half a litre of warm water, or one teaspoon of vinegar to a litre of warm water. Coating the interior of the vagina and the vulva with curd is also recommended by many women for curing infections. It seems to be effective provided it is applied in the very early stages while the symptoms are quite mild.
However, even the most exotic douching solution does not help much in cases of leucorrhoea, except that it can be reassuring. We must remember that the vagina is self-cleansing, that leucorrhoea is actually a kind of continual douche. By constantly washing out the vagina with anything other than plain water, we risk disturbing the natural protective mechanisms. Excessive douching acts as a stimulant for already overactive glands, and sets up a marked self consciousness, both of which only aggravate the problem.
The fact remains that the most common causes of leucorrhoea are generally low vitality and hormonal imbalance. For women the two are so intimately linked that they can be seen as simply two different ways of stating the same problem. Since this is the case, yogic practices can have decided benefits in relieving persistently excessive discharge.
Yogasanas are invaluable for strengthening and harmonizing the activity of a woman's whole reproductive system because of their direct influence on the abdominal and pelvic organs, and their regulating effects on the glandular system. A suitable program for leucorrhoea would include surya namaskara, vajrasana, shashankasana, marjariasana and ushtrasana. Sarvangasana and vipareeta karani mudra would also have a positive influence, while more advanced practitioners could include bhujangasana, shalabhasana, dhanurasana, chakrasana and paschimottanasana. (Refer Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, a BSY publication.)
No yogic practice is simply physical and all have subtle effects on the vital energies that mobilize the body and motivate the mind. Yoga is the science of vital energy, prana shakti, and properly practiced every yoga technique works to enhance our vigour and vitality. For this reason, all the asanas should be held for some time with awareness directed to the appropriate chakra or psychic energy centre.
Practices specifically recommended for restoring vitality are psychic energy manipulations called bandhas, and the most relevant to leucorrhoea are moola bandha and uddiyana bandha.
Pranayama such as nadi shodhana, bhastrika and ujjayi further enhance vitality and eliminate toxins, while meditative practices like yoga nidra or antar mouna short-circuit the spiral of tension that disturbs our hormonal balance and depletes prana shakti. These practices harmonize the body and mind, eliminating the root causes of disorder.
Sensitivity to, and understanding of, the signs of her body's functioning are the antidote to fear and an aid to every woman's confidence. Moreover, knowledge of the rhythms and workings of health is the basis of early detection of any disturbance or disease whether physical or mental.
Awareness fostered by practicing yoga not only provides a woman with first hand insights into her own particular condition, but also promotes a positive and natural attitude towards every part of her physical being. Knowledge is power, and the power of sensitive control over her own body attained through yoga is every woman's birthright.