18th June 2015
Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of health and well-being, has an empowering approach to optimising male and female fertility. It gives you insights to balance and boost your sexual and reproductive strength.
Procreation is seen as the ultimate creative act and one of the most potent driving forces in our human destiny. The quality of our fertility is regarded as the sum total of our genetic inheritance coupled with digested foods and experiences. This logic is based on the principles of Ayurvedic anatomy and physiology which considers that eggs and sperm are the result of the deepest level of nutritional and experiential transformation. All that we eat, drink and think is continually refined until it is transformed into the most vital essence, the potential of life, known as ‘ojas’ in Sanskrit (the ancient Indo-European language of India). This is the magical seed of life.
Optimum fertility involves the quality of the reproductive organs, the quality of the digestive fire, healthy nutritive tissues and freely flowing circulation. When these are all flowing freely then the reproductive tissues can be nourished and fertility can take its natural course. Of course, being loving and loved is one of the best tonics for life itself as well as for helping fertility flourish. Love feeds our immunity, fertility and vitality like the sun warms the earth.
If it is possible to plan, ideally the path to pregnancy starts about six months before conception with both partners preparing themselves for the gift of creation. Just as when preparing the soil for a fertile garden, so you can prepare your body to be clean, nourished and unobstructed by blockages ensuring that your fertility is in glowing condition.
There are six vital steps on the path to optimum fertility:
- Understanding and living appropriately for your Ayurvedic constitution (vata, pitta, kapha) for both partners.
- Clearing the ground.
- Tuning into your monthly cycle.
- Nourishing deliciously.
- Relaxing the nervous system and creating space.
1. Understanding your constitution
A priority for understanding your health in Ayurveda is establishing your constitution, known as your prakriti. It is best for you and your partner to see an Ayurvedic practitioner to determine your individual combination of doshas - vata, pitta or kapha. Go to www.apa.uk.com to find a practitioner in the UK but to get a quick idea of what constitution you might be try our online Dosha Quiz.
Most of us have elements of all three doshas, but establishing your predominant strengths and weaknesses can be an art. Once you know, you can then tell the best lifestyle and diet for you and your partner.
2. Clearing the ground
Ayurveda believes that any obstructions in the body can adversely affect the reproductive system in which case a programme of detoxification followed by rejuvenation is necessary to re-establish the health. Examples of ‘obstructions’ might include an erratic digestive system, constipation, excess weight, anaemia, poor circulation, sperm irregularities, auto-immune issues, blocked fallopian tubes, cysts, endometriosis or fibroids.
3. Tuning into your monthly cycle
Ayurveda is all about observing nature and following the rhythms of life. It divides the monthly cycle into three phases, each one dominated by a particular dosha.
According to the Ayurvedic utopian cycle, the menses rotate on a 26-30 day rhythm. Menses are usually five days long, have a moderate flow, normal colour, no clots, no discomfort, no PMT and do not cause any weight gain, breast pain, digestive upset or insomnia. Of course, there may be individual differences, such as some women regularly having a long cycle, but essentially the above pattern is the goal.
Vata phase: This predominates during the period itself. The force that regulates all downward movements in the body pushes the menstrum down and out, therefore emptying the contents of the womb when menses occur. The vata phase lasts from approximately day 1-5 (from the first day of bleeding) but may spread before and after the period if there is any vata aggravation manifesting as digestive upset, constipation, pain with intercourse, tiredness, anxiety and/or insomnia indicating the need for some vata balancing practices.
This is a time to keep warm, rested and safe. Manage your diary so that you have some calm space during this time to recharge and keep life on your terms. This is an opportunity for an extended teatime - metaphorically speaking.
Kapha phase: From the end of bleeding until ovulation is a time of building the endometrium (the mucous membrane that lines the inside of the uterus) and increasing kapha. Oestrogen is the hormone that builds and increases at this time. It is the phase of restoring strength to the body and preparing for conception. Kapha imbalances may manifest as fluid retention, breast distension, weight gain, discharge, tiredness, back ache and general heaviness.
This is a time so often filled with energy and vitality when you can rebuild your nutritive strength, take tonifying herbs and spread your wings.
Pitta phase: This lasts from ovulation until your period starts. The corpus luteum (meaning ‘yellow body’ in Latin and what is left of the follicle after a woman ovulates) secretes progesterone that peaks during this phase. This prepares the endometrium for implantation of the fertilized egg and the breasts for milk production. This can be a time of PMS due to hot pitta accumulating in the blood and liver. As the blood channels and menstruation are connected, there can be extra heat in the system, leading to skin irritations, headaches, diarrhoea, feelings of irritation and emotional overload.
This is an important time to help the liver metabolise the high hormone levels; increase the amount of colourful vegetables, do your exercise and let your spirit soar.
Golden tips to balance the menstrual cycle:
To help keep your system clear ensure that there is no sluggishness in the pelvis; no constipation or abdominal pain including ovulatory or period pain. One of Ayurveda’s most famous formulas for clearing obstructions that can help with sluggishness is triphala. A mixture of three nourishing fruits, it literally draws stagnating toxins out of the tissues to be eliminated naturally. Another practice to help the flow in the pelvic area is to apply castor oil packs. Read how to apply a castor oil pack here.
Another treat is to have regular professional or self-massage using warm organic active oil followed by a warm shower or bath. To help pelvic circulation focus on a clockwise abdominal massage for a few minutes a day.
Ayurveda offers a lot of herbal support as well. One of the favourites is aloe vera is known as ‘kumari’ in Ayurveda, meaning ‘young princess’; its affinity with youthfulness is legendary and you can take organic aloe vera juice throughout the cycle to support you at your best. Another Ayurvedic gem is shatavari that survives in the dry heat of India. This succulent root is a member of the juicy asparagus family and whilst it literally means ‘the plant with a hundred roots’, it has become colloquially known as ‘the plant that brings you the strength to live with 100 husbands’. You can use shatavari on its own as a nutritive support and it is also found in Pukka’s Womankind tea or Womankind capsules with red clover, motherwort and turmeric.
For anyone in need of some deep roots then ashwagandha is a plant that thrives in extremely dry and hot climates where it learns to adapt to the extreme stresses of the world it lives in. Ashwa-gandha means ‘the plant that brings you the essence of a stallion’, renowned for their grace, endurance and strength.
Of course, eating well is an essential and wonderful way to help your fertility flourish too.
4. Nourishing deliciously
Nourishing fertility is one of the delicious arts of Ayurveda as so many fertility tonic foods are an epicurian’s delight. Certain foods and herbs have an affinity for the reproductive system and greatly help to enhance fertility. These are usually delicious foods which are sweet, nourishing and building. Some examples include:
- Grains: Rice (especially basmati or red rice), oats, quinoa
- Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, sesame and pumpkin seeds
- Dairy: Milk, cream
- Oils: Ghee, coconut oil, Hemp seeds oil
- Seafoods: Seaweeds
- Vegetables: Asparagus, sweet potatoes, beetroots
- Superfoods:Spirulina, chlorella, aloe vera
- Flowers: Roses (eg rose water or jam), saffron, jasmine, flower pollen
- Fruits: Dates, pomegranates, figs, grapes, blueberries
- Herbs: Organic ashwagandha, shatavari, licorice
In order to keep your digestion in the best of health see if these suggestions suit you:
- Eat the right amount for you, not too much or too little, making sure that you leave a bit of space free so your stomach can breathe.
- Routine is the way to health so keep meal times as regular as you can.
- Leave a few hours between meals so your food can settle. You will know when the previous meal is digested when your breath is fresh and you feel light.
- Eating cold, wet, heavy foods like cheese-fondu and sticky toffee-pudding weaken the digestion, so food should be warm, light and cooked with herbs and spices.
- Avoid ice, chilled drinks and eating cold foods straight from the fridge. The raw food-smoothie craze just isn’t Ayurveda’s cup of tea.
- Drink hot water and herbal teas to feedyour digestive fire.
- Go organic; organic food and drink isoften more nutritious and is the best farming system for improving the earth’s fertility.
6. Relaxing the nervous system and creating space
Trying to get pregnant should be fun but it may also be stressful. Planned or unplanned it can be a tense time waiting for day 28 to come around. What is important to remember is that optimising your health can facilitate fertility and that this is completely within your control. However, just as we need to practice to be good at anything, we also need to practice to be good at relaxing. We so easily forget to be calm and at ease. In the context of optimising fertility when we are tense then our circulatory channels are also tense, tight and contracted. If this happens then the blood vessels nourishing the uterus, the fallopian tubes and the nervous system can also be constricted, which is the opposite of what is needed. It is easy to say it, but just try to relax and let nature work her course. Trust in nature. You come from a long line of fertile ancestors.
Ayurveda recommends a regular oil massage to keep your body relaxed and your spirit calm. Of course, the benefits of yoga postures, breathing exercises and meditation practices have a deep impact on the quality of the nervous system and I would strongly recommend you include a regular practice in your flourishing-fertility plans.
A final word
The above ideas are an introduction to some of Ayurveda’s insights into health, life and fertility. Whilst you are probably your best doctor and can help yourself enormously it goes without saying that for more serious conditions, longer-term infertility or if preparing for IVF you should see a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner and a gynaecologist.
That said, our fertility is the natural expression of life, god, gaia and love. By following some of these insights Ayurveda helps you to tune into your own inner being, your own inner natural rhythms and to bring your potential to life.