Understanding Ancient Wisdom to Shift Menstrual Taboos (Part 1)


As a little girl, I wasn’t a fan of the “telephone game”- someone whispers a word or phrase into the ear of the person next to them; then the next person whispers what they hear to the following person and so on, until the person at the other end of the line says the word or phrase. I often found it odd that the original word or phrase got lost in the mix. I thought about this game and how original and empowering messages get lost sometimes, as I sat on the edge of my seat listening to Sinu Joseph from Mythri Speaks present, Experiences from India: Reclaiming a Positive and Celebratory Outlook towards Menstruation at the Biennial Conference of the Society of Menstrual Cycle Research in Boston, Massachusets. Over time, the positive and healing messaging about menstrual practices based on ancient science and our innate connection to nature morphed into inaccurate messaging that women are unclean or impure.

Sinu Joseph shared eye-opening and enlightening insights about ancient menstrual practices that were never intended to suppress girls and women. They were put into place to enhance and support a woman’s fertility, menstrual well-being and overall health. Aruyveda – an ancient cellular science – is approximately 7000 years old and based on the body’s natural healing ability and its relation to nature. Many of the cultural practices that exist today in India is based on this ancient healing wisdom.

If you’re sitting in Poughkeepsie, New York or anywhere else in America, and you’re wondering what do menstrual practices in ancient India have to do with me? By understanding the context of these ancient practices, it helps to shift menstrual taboos that still exist in the US and elsewhere.  By opening up perspective,  there are more opportunities to learn ways in today’s world to be in sync with our feminine nature. Check out Part 2 – Why Ancient Menstrual Wisdom Matters in Today’s Fast Paced World. You’ll hear valuable insights on why this ancient wisdom matters from a good friend – Shweta Parmar, an Aruyvedic Practitioner and Aruyvedic Doula in New York City.

Here are 7 prevalent menstrual taboos and the ancient wisdom behind these practices based on Sinu’s presentation.

  1. Menstrual blood is impure

Ancient Wisdom:

  • Menstrual blood was considered extremely powerful and important to a woman’s health.
  • A woman’s period provides the opportunity for monthly cleaning and clearing of excess of Doshas. In Aruyvedic medicine there are three types of Doshas:
    • Vata (air element) –relates to communication, perception, and cognition;
      • During menstruation Vata is the strongest dosha; women experience a buildup of energy a few days before getting their period.
      • Apana vayu- one of the functions of the vata dosha, is the responsible for the downward flow of menstruation.
      • Anything that interferes with the downward flow of energy should be avoided. During this time, it’s easier for women to absorb other energies around them.
    • Pitta (fire element) – relates to assimilation and metabolism
    • Kapha – water element; stability
  • A traditional practice was to taste a drop of first menstrual blood in order to support a girl’s health for the long term.
  • In order to ensure a female’s health and overall well-being, cultural practices focused on aligning the menstrual cycle with the moon cycle.
  • A menstrual period ends the fertility cycle and should be the last 4 days/nights before the new moon. This alignment applied to all women. (Imagine if every woman in the world bled together before the new moon?)

2. Women should avoid attending religious function and visiting temples because they are impure.

Ancient Wisdom:

  • A menstruating woman was considered pure and revered as a living Goddess.
  • Menstrual energy moves downward into the earth, the energy of the “puja table” (altar and offerings) moves up. The opposing energy movement was thought to bring discomfort in the woman’s body.
  • When a menstruating woman (a Goddess) enters a temple, any idols in the temple will turn lifeless, which makes it confusing for people to know who to worship.
  • Currently there are temples in India (i.e. Andhra Pradesh) where women are priests and the’re free to be at the temple during their period.

3. Women should not cook and eat with others during menstruation because their blood is unclean.

Ancient Wisdom:

  • Eating was considered a spiritual activity in ancient times. The lower chakras (energy centers in the body) caused people to release negative energy all around while eating.
  • Since cultural practices believed that it was easy for menstruating women to absorb others energies, she could be adversely affected by absorbing other people’s lower energies.
  • Ancient people believed that food (plant based) is made of rising energy flowing up from the earth towards the sun and sky and is kapha based.
  • The energy flow of preparing food or slaughtering animals conflicts with the downward energy of the cleansing process of menstrual blood.

4. Restrictions of sex during menstruation because of being unclean.

Ancient Wisdom:

  • During sex, when a man ejaculates, a woman absorbs the male energy that is released.
  • The priority for menstruating women is to release their own energy without disruptions. If women absorb their partner’s energy then it could negatively affect her health.

5. Avoid swimming or washing hair during the menstrual cycle.

Ancient Wisdom:

  • Ancient practices were based on natural elements (ie. Fire, water, air) to bless, cure, heal, nourish, nurture and revive the body, mind, and spirit.
  • Ancients believed water is powerful and sacred and has a cosmic energy and memory.
  • Due to its strength, water was thought to be able to influence the menstrual cycle to its own rhythm and beat.
  • The fire element is related to the memory of blood and is supposed to flow in tempo with its own unique movement and not be disturbed by the water element.

6. Avoid eating certain types of foods during menstruation

Ancient Wisdom:

  • Aruyveda mentions that any food that generates heat – animal, dairy – can cause excess body heat and cramps during menstruation.
  • Focusing on foods that are easy to digest and high in iron and calcium–fruits, ragi, drumstick, fenugreek, jaggery – is recommended for menstruating girls and help to reduce cramps.

7. Isolating women in menstrual huts because their blood is not clean.

Ancient Wisdom:

  • Back in the day, men travelled for months at a time with sheep in search of work.
  • When men returned home, they were eager to have sex with women and didn’t give a lot of consideration if their partner was pregnant or on her period.
  • The community created seclusion huts for women in order for them to have the time they needed to rest during menstruation or pregnancy without having to worry about having sex.
  • Women could also take the time to rest and relax with each other.

The intention of this post is to tap into the original messaging of the power and reverence for the menstrual cycle. The context and point of reference described by Mythri Speaks provides an opportunity for women in Arkansas, Delhi, and all over the world to shift the inaccurate perceptions of menstruating women as unclean, dirty, and unnatural. Let’s start a new game and share the positive and empowering message of menstruation to honor the goddess within each young girl and woman.

 Suggested reading:


Lorraine Giordano
Inspired To Health