In this month's Wisdom of Ayurveda column, discover the links between the moon, ayurveda, and women's health and happiness with Shama Palmer
The moon has long been associated by the ancients with women’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing and Ayurveda has a wonderful perspective on this. Alongside Ayurveda, nutrition, herbal and lifestyle therapies, aligning with the lunar rhythms can play an important role in supporting female health and strength.
Throughout the 24 hour rotation of the earth around its axis, we find appropriate times to eat, to be active, to rest, to wake up and to sleep, and during the journey of the earth around the sun, we experience the effect of the changing seasons on our bodies and minds. In the same way, the cycles of the moon affect us. We know the moon affects the tides, and that farmers, aware of nature’s rhythms, know that the full moon gives extra nourishment to plants. In biodynamic farming, plants growing above the ground are harvested during the full moon, and that root vegetables and medicines might be harvested during the new moon time when the nutrients move back into the roots. The moon is known to affect the mind, a fact we see in the root of words like “lunatic”. Women’s menstrual cycles are naturally close to one lunar cycle and scientists have recently been trying to determine the nature of the association (Asher Jones in The Scientist, Feb 5 2021). Just as the moon affects the whole of nature, it affects us too. The silvery, liquid-like light and energy of the moon is associated with ojas, spiritual and physical strength and vigour. One who has a lot of ojas is said to have a face that glows like the moon. The moon’s rays nourish the plants growing upon the earth, and being feminine in nature, the moon is also thought to be nourishing to the female species of all living beings on the earth, humans included. And so, when the moon's light is at its lowest during the new moon, this is the perfect time for women to put a few days aside to focus on cleansing and replenishing body and spirit. It is a time for self-renewal and self-care. The lower-energy dark nights of the moon, just before the new lunar cycle begins, invite not only rest and self-care, but introspection and contemplation. It is a perfect time to withdraw a little from daily activities and take stock of where we are in our lives, and how we might adapt and adjust in the coming lunar cycle and beyond for our greater health and happiness. Likewise during the full moon when the energy of the moon is at its strongest, it is the time when females in all animal species might find themselves at their most potent and creative physically, spiritually and energetically. When we think about a woman's monthly cycle, we understand why the new moon with its theme of renewal has been seen as the time that a woman's body aligns with the cosmic rhythms, clearing the lining of the uterus and cleansing the female blood through menstruation. We understand why, during the fullness of the moon, a woman's body aligns with natural rhythms, and may begin to ovulate, drawing on the rich nourishing energy of the moon. The moon has long been held to have an influence on women's biorhythms - though this is dismissed by many these days, not least in a number of scientific studies.Recent scientific research challenges long-held beliefs that a woman's menstrual cycle is associated with the lunar cycles. Findings in studies cited by Kate Asher Jones in The Scientist (February 5th 2021), showed that only a relatively low percentage of women in ages both under and over 35 years of age were menstruating in sync with the new or full moon. However, one might ask if this is not because we live mostly out of sync with nature's rhythms these days. It's a question I pose to myself as an Ayurveda practitioner, and to which I don't have a clear answer with regard to menstrual cycles. However, in our 21st century lifestyles, I think it is true to say that most of us barely live in alignment with nature’s rhythms and that this is having an adverse effect on our health. The more industrialised a society, it seems the greater the prevalence of female health issues. Our daily rhythms are changed by artificial lighting. We sleep later and so maybe rise later too, and we know that artificial light can affect the functioning of the pineal gland, and adversely affects our health in general. Our working schedules make it difficult for us to change our daily rhythms with the changing seasons. We are exposed to much that is unnatural on a daily basis: countless environmental chemicals, radiation, microwaves, and antibiotics and artificial hormones in our medicines and food chain. We are possibly more stressed than ever before, and are often barely exercising or, in some cases, subjecting ourselves to too strenuous exercise. All this is combining to impair our natural female strength and vitality. It is affecting our hormonal balance and so our monthly rhythms and fertility. And now, the natural rite of passage which is menopause is seen as an unavoidable “health condition” to be treated. The scientists researching the association of menstrual and lunar cycles have acknowledged that our unnatural lifestyles may be having an adverse impact. In the article cited above, Asher Jones writes that researchers did "speculate that synchronization of human reproduction with lunar cycles may have been stronger in ancient times, but exposure to artificial light in modern life has dulled the moon's influence". She also writes that it was noted in one study that "the young women whose cycles did not synchronize with the moon's luminance cycle at all were "night owls", hinting that exposure to lots of artificial light at night could override the potential effects of moonlight". Ayurveda invites us to embrace the wisdom of the ancients and blend it into our modern day lives. This includes recognising and adjusting our days to nature's rhythms. As women, we can include the rhythms of the feminine moon who radiates ojas and the light of the cosmic female force. By bringing new and full moon practices into our daily lives, we can do much not only to nourish our physiology but also our hearts and minds. Marking the new and full phases of the moon can have a wonderful impact on our female health and vitality, and our longevity. There are specific practices to replenish the female physiology and spirit during new moon time, and to prepare body and mind for the new lunar cycle. And likewise, there are practices which can be engaged with to help reawaken and strengthen our energy during full moon time. These practices increase our female potency on all levels of being. That increased female potency can carry us through each month with an inspired sense of purpose and creativity, with our physical health and energy cleansed and replenished, and with a deeper sense of connection to the feminine spirit within and around us. The new moon is associated with apana prana. This is a downward moving force, which is perhaps why in ancient times it was recognised that the new moon is the optimal time for women's menstruation. Apana prana governs the elimination of waste products from the body, including the menstrual blood. Being still, resting, eating light, cleansing and warming foods, engaging in grounding, gentle restorative Yoga postures, and turning to special breath and visualisation practices at the time of the new moon can be a great way to regularly balance and strengthen the apana prana within us. A balanced apana prana supports the reproductive organs and helps to regulate menstruation, ovulation, conception and overall female health. A balanced menstrual cycle supports the cleansing of our female force which runs through the female blood, thereby helping to keep it strong. This is a force that is said to be active in all female species on this planet, moving in and around the womb. It is sometimes called Shakti energy. When apana prana is strengthened and brought home (to its seat in the pelvis), supporting regular menstruation, that female force is regularly cleansed and strengthened. Strengthened, it can draw further nourishment from the energy of the moon on full moon days. Even after menopause, adapting our days to the rhythms of the moon can support our strength and vitality as a woman, and our hormonal balance for some years post-menopause. The new moon is also a time for letting go psychologically. Enquiring into what no longer serves us, such as outmoded self-perceptions and belief-systems, and resolving to let those go can support us in moving into a new lunar cycle somewhat strengthened and clearer in heart, mind, and body. During the full moon time, when the moon’s energy is at its fullest, we can draw on this energy through nourishing, ojas-rich (strengthening) foods. This is a good time to eat foods which feed our heart and soul as well as our physical bodies, such as those our mothers or grandmothers used to cook for us. It is a time for enjoying Yoga postures and breathing practices which draw this fuller energy into us, but in a grounding way which helps us to contain it by steadying our mind and nerve currents. This is a time to remember to celebrate ourselves as a manifestation of Shakti in form, and as such, as an expression of the Divine Feminine herself. Enjoying uplifting songs and dance, walking in nature, and joyfully drinking in all her myriad expressions in the natural world through our senses are wonderful ways to celebrate the highest expression of ourselves as women on full moon days. As a woman, not only is our physical health and vitality linked to that primordial female force we have named as Shakti. We are her. The inclination to nurture and to protect are natural expressions of the feminine spirit. We grow a baby inside the womb, we nurture the child through its formative years, and fiercely protect it if anything or anyone threatens the child or anyone we love. We have all seen this in females throughout the animal kingdom. Let's honour the feminine heart of our being by ritually acknowledging the changing phases of the moon, adjusting our days accordingly, and thus empowering ourselves in body, mind, heart and soul with positive feminine force.With love.
About the author
Sara Palmer (Shama) is an ayurveda practitioner and registered senior yoga teacher and therapist. If you'd like to learn more about agni, ama, ojas, your constitutional type and self care in ayurveda, Shama is running Ayurveda Living courses online.