Loss of Energy with Menstruation

A reader sent in the following question:

“I would be so happy if you would post your thoughts about the menstrual blood.  Do women really lose so much energy?  Can someone quantify this loss? And if a woman sublimes, what really happens there?”

There are two different ways to look at energy.  One is a medical, or physiological, approach that deals with the annamayakosha.  The other deals with the esoteric facets of chakras, prana, and divine flow.

When it comes to physiology, some women can lose energy from menstruation, but most women do not.

Each month the lining of the uterus, the endometrium, is built up to prepare it to sustain life in the event that an egg is fertilized.  Under the influence of estrogen during the first part of a cycle, the stromal and epithelial cells of the endometrium grow and divide, forming a new layer to replace the one that was lost.  Under the additional influence of progesterone in the second half of the cycle, the endometrial cells swell and begin to secrete nourishing substances.  Like within the yolk of a chicken egg, fat and sugar stores are deposited in the cells to nourish a fertilized ovum.  When none presents itself, a little Kali cycle occurs right there in the uterus.  The new cells become old and need to be replaced by rejuvenated ones, and so menstruation begins.

This is similar to the natural process of growing and dividing, then sloughing of cells that we see in other body areas.  For example, the intestines lose the inner layer of cells every two to three days, then grow and divide to replace it.

In the endometrium of the uterus, blood vessels grow within the developing layer for support.  When estrogen and progesterone are withdrawn from the endometrial cells so that they can re-cycle, the blood vessels begin to spasm and stop providing blood and nourishment to them, and the cells begin to die.  Then, as things dissolve, bleeding into the dying tissue begins and the dead, bloody layers separate from their base and are released through the cervix and vagina.

Normally, only 35 ml of blood is lost on average during a menstrual cycle.  In comparison, a donation of a pint of blood to the Red Cross equals 470 ml.  With the latter, you might feel fatigue for a day or so if youre small, but the loss of blood quickly stimulates the bone marrow to produce new red blood cells, and no harm is done.  The same quick stimulation of growth of new red blood cells occurs with those lost through menstrual blood, but the lost amount is so little that no fatigue or other symptoms are felt because of blood loss.

Our red blood cells are regenerated every 120 days or so anyway, their own little Kali cycle, just as occurs throughout our bodies on a continuous basis with many tissues.  It’s natural and healthy.

If there is some abnormality, such as unregulated bleeding or too much bleeding, then the body may have a hard time keeping up.  There’s a natural window, a balance of life, and beyond that, energy is lost.  The lost energy is felt as fatigue and presents itself on the medical front as anemia.  Although the bone marrow tries to make enough red blood cells, the diet is sometimes deficient in iron, or the intestines often cannot absorb enough iron, to keep up.  The iron is needed for hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying part of the blood.  Without it, you can feel exhausted.

All living cells are energy, including the endometrial cells.  All living things die, and the energy is recycled on a universal scale.  We are not the same bodies we were a year ago.

Some blood loss occurs with the loss of endometrial cells during menstruation, but it’s a small amount under normal circumstances.  Those red blood cells, and the other constituents of blood, are easily replaced during the natural cycle without any significant net loss of energy.  With pathological conditions, such as hormonal imbalances or disorders of blood clotting that make the blood “too thin,” an abnormal amount of blood is lost and fatigue and lost energy results.

Some women who practice tantric Yoga drink their own menstrual blood to conserve energy.  Esoteric energy aside, this practice likely stems from an intuitive understanding by the gurus that iron within the lost blood could be recycled and used again to make hemoglobin for red blood cells in hard times when the diet was iron deficient.  There are other ways to get iron these days, and thus conserve energy and relieve fatigue when disorders of menstruation occur.

Fatigue is one of the most common complaints in doctors’ offices, but it’s not generally due to lost energy.  The primary reasons for it are stress and inadequate sleep.  Pain is a stressful, and when the uterus cramps to remove the dead tissue, that’s painful.  Many women feel fatigued during their periods, but it’s not related to a loss of physical energy. In Yogic terms, you could say it’s a disturbance of the manomayakosha.

Painful Periods?

For some women, menstruation can be particularly painful. Sometimes it is for me, too. There have even been a few days when Ive curled up in a ball on the floor unable to do anything else until the waves of pain, lightheadedness, and sweating receded. Im not complaining. I understand periods are a natural part of being a woman. I could take ibuprofen when I know Im about to start, and that wards off my discomfort. I choose not to do that.I dont like to take any medicine I dont absolutely have to take.

Yoga has helped a lot. Ive found pavana muktasana, the wind releasing pose, to be one of the best asanas for relief. There are different versions of this one. In mine, both knees are brought to the chest while lying on the back. The head is brought to the knees and the focus is on manipura lotus at the navel. Concentrating on this area of subtle energy is an important aspect of pavana muktasanas benefits. I hold this pose for at least three minutes when Im having the worst bouts of pain.

During menses, whether hurting or not, I include bhadrasana (bound angle),  pascimottonasana (seated forward bend), viparita karani (legs up the wall) and savasana (corpse) in my daily program. Sometimes I add bhujangasana (cobra), matsyasana (fish) and marjari asana (cat) poses. I find them all to be helpful.

In a recently published study from Iran, the latter three were shown to be effective for preventing painful periods in a group of fifty young women aged 18-22. The women practiced these three asanas all during the luteal phase of their cycle, which means the entire second half. For the average 28 day menstrual rhythm, the first day of a period is the first day of a cycle. Count 14 days in and there you have the beginning of the luteal phase. Compared to a control group of 42 women who didnt practice any Yoga or have any other intervention, there was a significant decrease in the pain intensity of menstruation. When each womans pre-Yoga rating of pain was compared to their own post-Yoga rating, there was also a significant reduction.

Yoga decreases the pain of menstruation and helps women to cope with residual discomfort. No specific asana is necessarily better than any other. What matters is what works for you. If you suffer from dysmenorrhea, the medical term for painful periods, consider trying the Yoga poses mentioned above.

Yogas not just about asanas though. Its also a lifestyle, and a big part of a Yoga life is making an effort to eat more pure, nutritious vegetarian food. A vegetarian diet with limited dairy and an increased amount of omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to lessen menstrual pain.

References:

  1. Rakhshaee Z. Effect of Three Yoga Poses (Cobra, Cat and Fish Poses) in Women with Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Randomized Clinical Trial. J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. 2011 Apr 20. [Epub ahead of print]
  2. Barnard ND, Scialli AR, Hurlock D, Bertron P. Diet and sex-hormone binding globulin, dysmenorrhea, and premenstrual symptoms. Obstet Gynecol. Feb 2000;95(2):245-50.
  3. Harel Z, Biro FM, Kottenhahn RK, Rosenthal SL. Supplementation with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the management of dysmenorrhea in adolescents. Am J Obstet Gynecol. Apr 1996;174(4):1335-8.