Menstrual Irregularities

Swami Muktananda Saraswati

The universe sings and dances to a multiplicity of rhythms- the long, slow wearing down of mountains; the steady march of the seasons; the staccato alternation of day and night; the wheeling of the sun; the advance and retreat of the moon. To live in a woman's body, especially, is to share in this flux and flow of the cosmos because a woman's awareness is constantly drawn to the natural pattern of fertility reflected in her own menstrual cycle.

This heightened awareness is a constant quiet theme of appreciation of our links with the infinite, and we should not allow it to degenerate into morbid preoccupation with the body. Too many women allow their consciousness to be limited to their bodies. Consciously or unconsciously, they always see themselves as sick, anxiously watching for the slightest variation in their cycle, worrying and fretting at the slightest twinge of pain, real or imagined.

An observant attitude to our bodies is an aid to health, but it must be based on proper knowledge and confidence. We must learn to trust our bodies. Our physical frame is a masterpiece of nature's handiwork, amazingly strong and gracefully integrated. It functions harmoniously under most circumstances, even difficult ones, without any interference from ourselves. The human body is a self-regulating mechanism that is constantly adjusting itself in tune with its own needs and capacities.

No woman's menstrual cycle is perfectly regular, for no two occurrences in nature are perfectly identical. Each menses is a unique event within our personal pattern, so there is no need to be alarmed by any small variations we perceive in our monthly cycle. We must not interpret this as evidence of our basic 'sickness'. Only when we notice persistent irregularity, need we begin to think that something might be amiss.

A positive, loving relationship with the body will free a woman of many useless anxieties, as well as improving her physical health. The best way to come to know your body and to enhance its natural harmony and grace is through the regular practice of yoga techniques integrated into a balanced yogic lifestyle. Yoga practices tone the physical body and spark up vital energy, smoothing irregularities before illness becomes established. For this reason, many women come to the ashram asking how yoga can help them with their difficulties. There are certain questions that come up again and again, for they reflect events experienced at some time or another by nearly everyone. The following discussion is typical of the questions so often raised, and we have answered them here so that as many women as possible may enjoy the physical health and freedom of spirit that comes with yoga.

I am a yoga teacher, and many women approach me about period problems. What is the most important thing to tell them?

When a woman comes to her teacher for help with period irregularities, too few, too many, too heavy - the most valuable piece of advice we can give is 'see a doctor immediately'. A full medical examination will clarify the exact nature of this problem which can have so many causes. Period irregularities are often just a sign of some other misfunction or illness which may lead to serious complications if not properly treated. Once the doctor has eliminated this possibility, the student is reassured and the teacher is able to decide on the most appropriate practices for establishing harmony and balance, both physically and spiritually.

My daughter is eighteen and she has just begun to develop a womanly figure, but still she does not have her periods. I am very worried about this.

Most girls experience menarche (first menstruation) at about eleven or twelve, but it can occur anytime between nine and eighteen. If your daughter is otherwise healthy, it is possible that she is just a later developer. However, amenorrhoea (absence of menstruation) could be due to defects in the structure of the reproductive system, cysts or tumours, hormonal imbalance or emotional factors associated with growing into woman's role. If the doctor finds no cause for alarm, she should practise twelve rounds of surya namaskara every morning.

I am only forty nine years old, but my period seems to have stopped, except for occasional irregular spots or streaks. Surely this is too early for menopause.

The average age for the cessation of periods is forty eight or forty nine, but a woman can reach this phase in her life cycle any time between forty and fifty five. As a rough guide, bear in mind that doctors have found women who begin to menstruate early, finish later. However, irregular spotting or 'breakthrough' bleeding between periods could also be due to general infection of the reproductive system (pelvic inflammatory disease) or to polyps (protrusions that grow from the mucus membrane at or near the opening to the womb). If your medical report is clear, then begin yoga practices to harmonise your hormones and minimise any physical discomfort that might come with menopause. Inverted asanas are particularly beneficial, especially sirshasana (headstand), sarvangasana (shoulder stand) and halasana (plough).

My period is normally five days, but for two months it was only two days and last month did not come at all. I've also been feeling sick some mornings.

The most common cause of missed periods is pregnancy, and this would seem to be the case if you also have morning sickness. For some women menstruation stops immediately after conception, but for others it may continue for two or three months, although the flow is short and scanty. After childbirth, menstruation will most likely start again after six weeks or so, unless you are breastfeeding the baby. While you are producing mother's milk you will not menstruate. If, on the other hand, you are taking birth control pills it could be that they have the wrong combination of hormones for your particular system and are suppressing your periods. If you have been using the pill and discontinue, your first period will probably not come for about six weeks.

If you are pregnant it is already time to begin preparing yourself for a natural and harmonious birth. With the help of your teacher choose a program from 'Nawa Yogini Tantra' (available from Bihar School of Yoga).

I have always had regular periods, but since I left home to go to college my periods have stopped.

Very few women have absolutely regular periods for many situations in life affect the hormones that govern the cycle. Leaving home for the first time, combined with the extra demands of student life, is a challenge that puts us under a certain degree of emotional strain. This could be enough to stop your periods for a while. Some women are more sensitive in this respect than others, but it is possible for any major change in routine to bring a temporary halt in your periods. This could come about with a long journey, moving from the country to the more hectic pace of the city (or vice versa), a radical change in diet or climate, entering a new occupation, beginning or ending a romance, grief over loss of someone close to you, beginning married life, or any other intense emotional experience.

Illness - fevers, intestinal upsets, obesity, even serious constipation - can also stop menstruation for some time.

If you have clearance from your doctor, begin regular practice of yoga nidra. This will bring not only physical relaxation, but also deep emotional relaxation and, as the Russians have shown, help with your studies. It is likely that you also need more physical exercise, so add to your program dynamic asanas like nauka sanchalana, chakki chalana, shashankasana, majariasana, druta halasana, and shashank-bhujangasana.

My period comes regularly, but so often! There is usually only twenty one or twenty two days between each one. Is something wrong?

Check with your doctor, but do not be too alarmed. The average cycle is twenty eight days, but may be as short as twenty or as long as thirty six and still be normal. If you take up regular practice of asanas, pranayama and meditation, you might find that your cycle becomes a little longer.

My period is very heavy, and lasts a full week. Is this normal?

A normal period can last anywhere from two to eight days, and four to six is average. The usual loss is four to six tablespoons, or two-three ounces. If you have very heavy bleeding, it is important to distinguish between menstrual flow and haemorrhage (bleeding from internal disorders). If the flow comes with a sensation of 'gushing' or 'flooding' then it is possible that the bleeding does not come only from the usual breakdown of the uterine lining.

Excessive bleeding could be a symptom of either endometriosis or fibroids. Endometriosis takes place when the tissue that normally grows in the uterus grows somewhere else instead- frequently the bladder or intestine. This disorder is quite common in women between thirty and forty, and needs expert attention. Between twenty and twenty five percent of women develop fibroids, which are growths of tough, fibrous tissue in the womb resulting from incomplete breakdown of the lining. A small percentage of fibroids are cancerous, and this condition can have complications for the bladder and bowel. It is most important, then, to seek medical advice in the case of persistent heavy periods.

If medical investigations indicate that your problem is due to hormonal imbalance, then learn antar mouna or yoga nidra from a qualified teacher, along with the following asanas- sarvangasana, halasana, kandharasana, ardha matsyendrasana, bhujangasana, shalabhasana, dhanurasana and paschimottanasana.

Since I have stopped eating meat, my periods have stopped too. This has happened to several of my vegetarian friends, but we all feel our health has never been better.

Diet influences every aspect of physical health, including menstruation, and it is now well established that high protein meat diets can cause more pain and heavier blood loss. Often when changing to a vegetarian diet one's periods stop temporarily, but when they come again they are usually trouble free. Women on a vegan diet (grain and vegetables, no milk or other animal products), not infrequently find their period stops altogether. However, examination of their normal vaginal discharge shows that their hormones are still functioning and there is no loss of femininity. These women still lead an active married life and give birth to healthy, happy babies.

Most commonly however, a strict diet works best to reduce menstruation only when it is combined with absolute chastity, and you and your friends will probably find your period begins again after marriage.

Is it normal for periods to stop when one takes to the spiritual life?

There are certain spiritual practices that can cut down menstruation, or even eliminate it entirely for various lengths of time. Some practices work directly on the pituitary gland (sirshasana); others deflect prana from its downward motion to an upward one (maha bandha); others bring one-pointedness of mind and total sublimation of sensual desire (dharana, dhyana, samadhi). However, this only occurs when these practices are performed intensely (for instance, sirshasana held for two-three hours at a time), in combination with a dedicated yogic routine, under the guidance of a guru.

This kind of information is causing some doctors to ask if cessation is always a sign of ill-health; maybe it indicates 'super health'. Yet no periods is not in itself a sign of spiritual development. More often than not it is a sign of physical or emotional imbalance that can best be rectified by a combination of medical advice and a balanced program of yogic practices.

True spirituality comes with the predominance of sattva, purity and light, on every level of our being. Sattva on the physical plane involves harmonious and balanced functioning of the body in accordance with the laws of nature. The Gita says:

  • "Yoga is harmony. Not for him who eats too much, nor for him who eats too little; not for him who sleeps too little, or for him who sleeps too much."

This applies to every aspect of life, including the menstrual cycle. Except in rare cases, this means not elimination of menstruation, but natural, regular and painless menstruation. Through yoga we do not eliminate the body's natural functions, but refine them so that they do not distract the mind. Both body and mind are then free to extend their sattvic tendencies into the highest realms of spiritual achievement.