This is a guest blog written by Jayant Kalawar.
Jayant Kalawar is a corporate management consultant with over 35 years experience, who has increasingly been interested in finding ways to blend traditional knowledge systems with modern knowledge systems. He is the author of The Advaita Life Practice . He acts as an advisor to Mythri SpeaksTrust.
Over the last twenty years or so I have been researching into ways of bringing into play traditional knowledge developed over millennia in India along side modern knowledge systems that we use today, so that we can all benefit and live a more balanced and happier life. Over the last few decades learnings from Patanjali Yoga sutras have been incorporated into modern ways of living at an individual level: asana, pranayama, dharana and dhyana are methods that are being practiced to promote mental hygiene – often going by the name of stilling the mind, de-stressing and so on. These Yoga methods easily blend in with the individuality that global capitalism promotes, in its quest for making each of us more and more productive.
The same ease of adaptation is not possible with traditional knowledge which tells us about how human cycles are closely connected with natural cycles and how, therefore, cultural practices arose to support them. For example, do women’s bodies go through menstrual cycles which are not only dependent on certain natural cycles, but also the emotional environment in which they live as well as diet and physical and mental exercises? For the productive economy of the 21st century, which increasingly requires all women to be productive whenever they are called upon to do so, menstrual cycles are something to be managed in a way that they do not come in the way of their being trained for the workforce (through schools and colleges) and especially when they are in the workforce itself. Thus, cultural practices which support women withdrawing from activity during certain times during their cycles are seen as unacceptable in the 21st century. They are made to be seen as anachronistic and women are in fact made to think that by making them work against their natural cycles it gives them freedom.
It is not, however, enough to simply appeal to the traditional cultural practices as having been supportive of women’s natural cycles. The economic argument now to ‘free’ women of whatever ‘handicap’ of menstrual cycles may present to them is very strong – that is an integral part of how women will be able to achieve economic equality with men. Hence the push is not only for managing menstrual hygiene, but increasingly to do chemically change one’s bodies so that the menstrual cycle simply does not happen for very long periods of time (labeled as extended cycle combined hormonal contraceptive). The potential negative impact of such manipulation of women’s bodies, and therefore their health, appears to be seen as an acceptable trade-off for the right to work and therefore have at least have some chance of gaining some degree of economic freedom. It is in this context that I raise the question whether we should ask whether the economic system can be changed such that it adapts to natural human cycles, in this specific case for women, and then rewards them appropriately taking these cycles into account, so that they still can achieve the same, if not higher, level of economic freedom that global capitalism claims it offers them, while at the same time maintaining or improving their menstrual health.
But before we can go further with a meaningful conversation with our question, we need to do considerable homework about the alternative traditional cultural patterns that evolved through thousands years of experience, practice and negotiations. One way to start this process is by developing and researching on hypotheses such as these, about the moon and fertility cycles:
- The fertility cycle on earth begins with each new moon: each of the first nine nights (nava-ratra, the nine nights of the Devi) after the occurrence of the new moon have a specific significance in what happens and what action needs to be done. This is connected intimately with when to sow seeds in the ground, when to add fertilizers and when to water the seeds etc. Ground water comes up to nourish the seeds / plants the most in the days between the end of the nava-ratra and full moon (approx 5 days / nights). This agri / framing / plants cycle needs to be re-discovered and re-instated through careful empirical study.
- For women (i.e. human females), the fertility cycle comes to an end in the last four days / nights leading to the new moon. Hence the ideal menstruation period, which heralds the end of the fertility cycle, should be the last four days / nights leading to the occurrence of the new moon.
It could be that the ideal cycle is more possible with a certain set of diet and exercise, both physical and mental, including asanas, pranayama, dhyana and dharana. Also the impact of supportive emotional environment at home, school / work may need to be factored in. Designing experiments to test out such hypotheses would need to be a thoughtful collaborative process across disciplines and cultures. The question to raise at this point is whether such research should also be promoted and funded, even as massive funding becomes available for funding research into how to turn off the menstrual cycle in women.