by Prashanti de Jager
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As I pondered where to begin this article these words of my teacher came into my mind:
“From before the beginning you are pure consciousness.”
So let’s take a look at women’s True Wellness from before the beginning. There is a saying in Yoga that “well begun is half done.” If a woman’s wellness is focused on for the first four years then the chance of her living in wellness for the rest of her life goes up, and with it, the probability that she will attain her highest potential.
In Ayurveda, specific care for a woman typically starts a year before she is conceived, so the “first four years” finish when she is about 2 years old. However, because an ovum is formed inside a fetus by the time that it is 5-6 weeks old, the true Ayurvedic care of a woman actually starts with caring for her grandmother, as it is in her pregnant grandmother that she starts to take form.
Pre-conception care includes the couple taking herbs to optimize the physiology of womb, and the vitality of the ovum and sperm. Both parents can take both of the classic herbs for this, which are Ashwagandha and Shatavri. Her mother would take mainly Shatavri and her father mainly Ashwagandha. Her mother would also take a significant amount of Red Clover infusions, Turmeric, Nettle to help with optimizing many facets of systemic physiology, including making her mind as sattvic (infused with clear balanced power) as possible. They both may take liver herbs like Punarnava, which means “rebirth,” and Katuki to help ensure their body/minds are optimized to “rebirth” themselves as her, their child.
Yoga means union and yoking, and so this word can refer to both the sexual union of her parents and the union/yoking of the ovum and sperm at the moment of conception. In fact, the greek term “zygote” also means “to yoke.” So during the dual yoga of conception, to ensure that her mother and father can pour as much high quality Prana into her initial physical manifestation, they may choose to take large amounts of Shatavri, Saffron, Ashwagandha, Guduchi, Safed Musli (Chlorophytum borivilianum) and Atma Gupta (Mucuna pruriens) both as sattvic aphrodisiacs and also to optimize endurance and deep core vitality. (For more information on this see the February 2011 article on Sexuality and Core Vitality)
As her physicality transforms into a fetus, her mother continues to take deep core tonics like Shatavri and a broad spectrum nutritive like Nettle. The miraculous transformation within her mother would otherwise drain core strength and vitality from both of them. Her mother can also take low doses of Triphala to help with colon health and average doses of Turmeric, especially in food, for many reasons. Here is a summary of Turmeric doses throughout pregnancy:
Please note that we are not providing medical advice. This information is intended to educate readers about traditional Ayurvedic practices. We strongly recommend that you speak with a qualified healthcare practitioner before taking any herbs while pregnant, trying to conceive or lactating.
Another herb that will help her mother during lactation is Harjor (Cissus quadrangularis). Harjor is usually considered a “bone” herb but deep in its mechanisms to promote bone health is the very thing required by her lactating mother now: Support for the management and metabolism of minerals, for instance calcium.
The science of what herbs to give her as an infant mainly involves what herbs to give her mother, then allowing the herbs to be delivered to her via one of the greatest anupanas (vehicles) ever: her mother’s milk. During this time her mother is taking the earth-element restorative anabolic adaptogens like Shatavri, Guduchi, Licorice, American Ginseng and Dong Quai. Keep in mind that while she is lactating, pungents are taken to help digest the earth element herbs and conversely, the demulcent earth element herbs protect the milk from drying pungents. These herbs can be taken as capsules, in teas, or often are traditionally brewed in broths and soups. Shatavri Sweet Potato soup garnished with finely sliced almonds is quite delicious and very restorative for her mother, and what truly empowers her mother’s motherhood empowers her.
In order of importance and depth, her mother’s motherhood is actually her first home, the relationship between her mother and father are her second home, and their house is the third home. To really ensure her wellness, we support the first two “homes” the most, and often the biggest threat to these all-important homes is stress. Hence her father is also consuming anti-stress empowering anabolic adaptogen herbs in order to be a clear, wise, steady empowered source of protection and support for her and her mother.
During childhood, all else being equal, the herbs used for her care focus on supporting the balanced growth of her body and mind. To ensure her body grows she is given Shatavri with a little Ashwagandha and Guduchi in warm raw organic cow milk or almond milk sweetened with a little honey and/or Licorice and/or cane sugar. These also do very well mixed with cookie dough, as she is more likely to consume a cookie than a slightly bitter herb. Note that soy milk is not usually given to her as it is difficult to digest and its phytoestrogens are not consistently beneficial as Shatavri’s are.
As a child her mind is like an empty slate or sponge, and to ensure she has a suitable mental and emotional terrain in which to soak up experience and education rewardingly, she is given Brahmi, mainly Centella asiatica but also Bacopa monnieri for her mind. A formula like Joy!, which is made of those adaptogens most suited for the mind, is also good. During her childhood drinking Tulsi (Holy Basil) tea with Chamomile or Licorice daily is something she likely enjoys and even asks for, I know my child did.
Because America is one of the unhealthiest countries in the “developed” world (ranked about 30th) and has one of the poorest diets in the world as well, there will be a significant chance that her circumstances will support her gaining excessive weight. High quality body tissue can come only from high quality digestion: Not too sharp, not too slow. Keeping non-agitating thermogenic herbs like Tulsi (Holy Basil), Turmeric and Ginger in her diet will help enable this high quality digestion. Note that these herbs, especially Tulsi (Holy Basil), will also assist her in the emotional digestion a young woman so requires.
What changes she finds herself in now, our little goddess! The Coming of Age in our day and age is more stressful and meaningful than ever. Just the fact that it happens, on the average, 3 years sooner than it did 100 years ago, means she has less time to prepare for this. The time she does have is inundated with so many expectations for her to be a woman that not enough time is allowed for her to be a girl, a kanya, and then a kumari. In so many dimensions of her life she is experiencing rapid change now, as she transforms from a girl to a woman and connects with the power of her womanhood. Again, all else being equal, when there is rapid great change that we have to adapt to, it is time to use our adaptogens. Tulsi (Holy Basil), the queen of balancing endocrine function, molecules, hormones and neurotransmitters is a boon here as well. Menarche, a word from the Greek literally meaning “moon beginning” marks the natural initiation, a rite of passage into her womanhood, her tuning to the natural rhythms of nature, symbolized here by the waxing and waning of the moon.
Turmeric is one of the best herbs to build blood, clean blood and move blood, and hence it is an excellent herbal ally, along with Tulsi (Holy Basil), to ensure menarche arrives not too early, and not too delayed. Often the more stressed she is, physically, emotionally, socially, etc, the earlier her menarche will come, and the more unstressed and wholesome her childhood experience is, especially around her diet and her father, the more it will be delayed.
To have a healthy, easy, predictable, pain-free menstrual cycle is a gift far too few women experience. She often has to work diligently to protect herself from the biases around her that would disturb her moon cycle. These biases include:
Sometimes these biases are to her healthy life what gale winds are to a picnic and in all cases our herbal allies can assist in restoring and maintaining her deep reproductive balance, ease and happiness.
The species will most likely succeed via those women who are healthy, strong, well adapted, and minimally stressed. In other words, if she has a great diet and balanced digestion to properly assimilate food, and she has the ability to successfully cope with the stress in her life, then her menstrual cycle will tend to be healthy as well and she will be able to reproduce. The more she strays from the basics of health, or is pushed by social and environment biases, the less likely she will be able to propagate the species, and the more “disturbed” her menstrual cycle might be in order to preclude her from becoming pregnant.
So if she wants a healthy menstrual cycle then she has to eat, digest, breath and live empowered and relative stress free as if she is the perfect candidate to have child. Otherwise, “Nature” will also start to disturb her menstrual cycle. For instance, if her diet and actions keep her body fat to less than 10% of her total body weight, it is very unlikely that “Nature” will allow her to even have a menstrual cycle much less become pregnant.
So the primary tack to take in assuring a happy and healthy menstrual cycle is to consume herbs that support and balance her systemic endocrine function. These include most adaptogens and Nettle, which has a place in her life always, from before her conception to deep into her wisdom years.
If this is done then you do not need to reach for the secondary herbs for balancing her menstrual cycle, such as assisting a late period with the mild emmenogogues like Parsley, Turmeric and Licorice or significantly altering hormone levels with the stronger herbs like Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) and Renuka/Sindhuvara, also known as Chastetree (Vitex Agnus-Castus). In natural holistic forms of medicine you always support terrain first and foremost. Then, if imbalances arise they are addressed in the context of the greater terrain.
Turmeric and Tulsi (Holy Basil) are important adaptogens for menstruation as they are excellent support for her hematopoietic progenitor cells, the stem cells in her bone marrow that create all the cells of the blood and immune system and help renew, purify and empower her blood and immunity supply over every one of her moons.
Spasms can affect all our cells and tissues but are especially conspicuous in the tissues of our hollow organs and structures, such as the lungs, intestines, bladder, stomach, ureter, and uterus. There are many examples of conditions where spasms are central to the issue, for instance IBS, uterus cramps, dysmenorrhea, and so many others.
Sometimes spasms are caused by congestive accumulation of ama and metabolic wastes that thermogenic and blood-moving herbs like Turmeric, Tulsi (Holy Basil), Atis (Aconitum heterophylum), Amapachak (Cyperus rotundus) and Cayenne can help move. Sometimes it is caused by a lack of certain nutrients that have electrical potential, like potassium ions, which bananas, celery juice and magnesium supplements can often support. Or it might be by calcium ions, which the bone healing “mineral management” herbs like comfrey and Harjor (Cissus quadrangularis) can often remedy. Sometimes it is caused by histamine-like reactions, sort of like cellular allergies. First-reach herbs for balancing histamine function are Guduchi and Turmeric. (See April 2011 Newsletter on Histamine Function)
Many challenges are clearly spasm-based, like peri-menses uterine spasms which cause many women so much intense or annoying pain. Three of our best urinary tract antispasmodics are Bhumyamalaki (Phyllanthus amarus or Phyllanthus niruri), Turmeric and Triphala.
Though we discussed some of this in regard to what her mother did before and after conceiving her, suffice it to say that living a life in balance is key here, and the first steps in balance these days is to be able to deal with stress. Adaptogens help her create and maintain the deep stable wellness from which she can best become a mother herself.
To protect her from life’s stresses our anti-stress herbal ally adaptogens support her body in adapting to immediate and long term environments. These adaptogens would include Tulsi (Holy Basil), Ashwagandha, Triphala, Amalaki, Turmeric, Brahmi, Guduchi, Reishi, Astragalus, Schizandra, Saffron and Shatavri.
Knowledge is something you have but wisdom is something you are, and her menopause marks the time when it becomes much easier for her to fully own being her wisdom. Again, Shatavri and Tulsi (Holy Basil) are incredible allies here. The more she has lived a life in wholesome balance, the easier and more rewarding this transition will be for her. Our herbal allies are fantastic at creating terrains suitable for a life in balance.
Throughout life, as is throughout the day and year, the five great elements take turns dominating. Earth element is stronger in beginnings, like morning, spring, and in children. Fire element is stronger in the middle, like noon, summer and in mid age. Air element is strongest in endings, like late afternoon, early winter, and in old age. It is the air element that allows the elder to see and transmit wisdom. It is also the air element that will dry the elder out. This is why anti-air element therapies like massages with warm oils medicated with deep demulcent herbs like Shatavri, Ashwagandha, Guduchi, Licorice and many “root” herbs are so important for her health and wellbeing now. Also, her ability to share her wisdom is a key element to the health and wealth of her friends and family. So we give her herbs for mental acuity, but now especially these herbs are given in anti-air element anupanas (vehicles) like warm teas, hot baths, angelically moisturizing face creams and medicated ghees. Now we protect her from the negative facets of the air element and help her to make the most of the positive facets and their relationship to her wisdom.
Obviously Shatavri and Tulsi (Holy Basil) are mentioned frequently in this article. I do not write about these herbs because ORGANIC INDIA grows and sells them. Have no doubt: We grow these herbs, and I write about them because they are amongst the greatest herbal allies that Nature shares with us. In the 5,000 year-old herbal tradition of Ayurveda there are about 3,600 main herbs used and, by the estimation of most experts, Shatavri and Tulsi (Holy Basil) are in the 99.5 percentile. In fact, if I were writing this newsletter for an herbal magazine about the only thing that would change is that I would go into far greater detail of how they can assist us. However that detail is precluded by laws associated with the FDA and DSHEA. Hence we have to get by with vague descriptions of the herbal medicines that Mother Earth has given us.
There are many herbs that represent woman and amongst the most renowned and potent are Lotus, Tulsi (Holy Basil), Bel, Ashoka, Saffron and Shatavri. The Lotus is considered a manifestation of the principle of maintaining health, wealth and beauty. Tulsi (Holy Basil) is considered a queen of sustainability. Bel is also nourishing and deeply supportive in so many ways. Ashoka, which literally means “the removal of burning afflictions,” is one of the greatest herbs for woman. Ashoka (Saraca asoca) is now very rare, almost extinct in fact, and only low potency adulterants (Polyalthia longifolia) are used now. Otherwise, I would have certainly included it in this article. Saffron, the stamen of the Himalayan Crocus, not only is a great herb for women, but also is a Yogavahi, meaning that saffron can amplify any herb that it is with. Shatavri, literally meaning “the hundred rooted one,” and by extension, “the one who can have 100 husbands,” is named so because it has a dozen main mechanisms by which to empower and ensure a woman’s true wellness, especially her ability to be a lover and a mother.
My teacher once told us:
“There is no difference between your Mother, Mother Earth and the Divine Mother”
Clearly the Mother is literally a vehicle of consciousness, and to serve her Wellness is to serve the clarity and evolution of our individual and collective consciousness as well. When ensuring the True Wellness of a woman, we have to make sure that the herbs that we use for her are products of endeavors that protect Mother Earth as well. So we use herbs that are organic, biodynamic, fair trade, processed responsibly and that protect and serve the ecosystem and the farmers within that ecosystem. Optimally, we grow herbs ourselves as a connection to Mother Earth. Yes, from before the beginning we take care to take care, always, in all ways, of Her!
I dedicate this article to mothers everywhere, and especially to my precious mother, Jantje de Jager.
Prashanti de Jager
May 5th, 2011