Today, we celebrate The International Women’s Day. It is an irony that we seem to celebrate women when we know so little about them. I am not referring to any abstraction about women or about being feminine. I am referring to the simple physiology of having a female body – what it means to have one and how it is influenced by things around it.
Regardless of how far we have come in modern science and technology, a number of common diseases pertaining to women lie unexplored and unexplained – from the common Period Pain to the emerging diseases like Endometriosis – modern science’s laid-back answer has been a consistent ‘we do not yet know the reasons…..’
So, it is no wonder that the struggling lens of modern medicine often falls short in explaining the impact of religious practices on women’s health. For many people, even the idea that religion has anything scientific about it or that it impacts physical health, might sound amusing. But, you will be surprised.
Why this topic?
I began writing on cultural practices around menstruation about four years ago. Since then, several women have written to me, some sharing their experiences and others asking questions. The tricky questions are always the ones where women intuitively correlate their health problems to their religious practices, but are unable to explain it “scientifically”. So while they know the reasons for their menstrual disorders, they lack confidence in stating it out loud because it cannot be fully explained through the language of modern medicine.
Take the topic of this write-up. It is well-known that if we go by ancient rules, The Gayatri Mantra chant is not recommended for the uninitiated and for women. While the rules are known, the reasons are rarely explained. Who can really explain why women have been told not to recite The Gayatri Mantra?
If you ask a religious person, the answer, in all humility, would be a set of dos and don’ts passed down since time immemorial and hence not to be questioned. If you asked a spiritual person, the answer would be so beautifully abstract that you would forget your question. If you ask a modern day scientist, the answer is likely to be a negation of all things religious and how it has no impact on health. And, if you were adventurous enough to bring it up with a feminist, you might find yourself dragged into a legal battle against religion and its oppression on women!
The answer to this question, in the few instances where I did find it, has been something of a riddle. Certain religious masters have said that women who recite The Gayatri Mantra are likely to develop masculine physical features such as facial hair, experience menstrual difficulties and lose their reproductive ability, i.e. they become infertile. Now, this might seem so strange that we might end up dismissing it as another means of denying women their religious rights.
Following something on faith is easy. But if we are going to change the rules, shouldn’t we be fully aware of what it is that we are playing with and how it will impact us?
Can science explain it?
Hinduism is scientific. Modern Medicine is also scientific. Science is one. So the answers from different sciences might at worst, vary with regard to the depth of their knowledge, but they cannot be contradictory. Let us put this to test by attempting to explain how The Gayatri Mantra impacts women’s health, through the lens of indigenous sciences as well as modern medicine.
We will be lost if we attempted to straightaway correlate The Gayatri Mantra to the understanding of human body through modern medicine. While modern medicine can go as far as hormones and their impact, we need to delve into the subtler Indian sciences to explain the root-cause of complications. Therefore, we will systematically move from the subtle sciences of Chakras to Ayurveda’s concept of Tridoshas and then to grosser explanations through Modern Medicine.
My intention in sharing this is to point women in the direction to look for answers, rather than provide conclusive answers myself. To know something conclusively, you should have experienced it, and should be able to comprehend what you have experienced. I hope that with the necessary tools, women who are seeking the answers will at least know where to look.
Understanding Mantras through its impact on the Chakras
The source of the Vedas and the Mantras that emanate from it are a mystery. Regardless of what historical findings on this may suggest, we have to admit that those who came up with it had a much deeper understanding of subtler aspects of science than what most of us know today. So a book of modern medicine which deals with the grosser dimensions of science may not be able to explain how a Mantra might impact women’s health. For this, we need to understand the inner workings of the Mantra. The subtle science of Chakras is a great start in this direction.
I am grateful to Jayant Kalawar, an Advaita Life Coach, for his well-articulated write-up “Feminine and Masculine in Each of Us: Dancing with our Chakras” which neatly explains the science behind Chakras and how The Gayatri Mantra impacts different Chakras. Indeed his writing has pointed me in the right direction to begin looking for answers.
The concept of Chakras can be found in certain Tantric texts such as Shat-Chakra-Nirupana and Padaka-Panchaka. Some of the Upanishads also mention Chakras. Chakras are 7 subtle energy centres that run along the spinal column invisible to the human eye. Each Chakra (beginning from the base) can be associated with different types of energies, actions and emotions – Mooladhara is associated with the energy that drives basic instincts, Swadhisthana with procreative energies, Manipura with materialistic drive, Anahata with nurturing and emotional energies, Visuddha with articulation, Ajna with analytical intelligence and Sahasrara with the ultimate spiritual realization.
The impact of The Gayatri Mantra on the female body is explained by Jayant Kalawar in the below passage from his write-up:
“The female physical body manifests capability to pro-create and nurture. To activate these capabilities it draws upon the energies of the MooldhArA, SwadhisTAnA, MaNipurA and AnAhata.
Vibrational mantras (set apart from contemplative mantras) are practiced to activate specific energy centers. The GAyatri mantra is a vibrational mantra, practiced to activate the AjnA energy, to enable access to analytical intelligence.
Practice of the GAyatri mantra on a daily basis over a sustained period of time may lead to more energy channeled towards analytical (AjnA) actions and relatively less energy towards survival (Mooldhaara) and pro-creative (SwadhisTAnA) actions. The VishudhA expressions may also be more analytical and less compassionate and nurturing, by those practicing the GAyatri.
The GAyatri mantra practice, therefore, may not make sense to be practiced for those with female bodies, who wish to be mostly active in pro-creation and compassionate nurturing.”
It is important that women have a choice when it comes to deciding their religious practices. But isn’t it equally important that this choice is made with knowledge of the consequences as well?
Correlating Chakras to Doshas and Menstrual Health
With an insight into how the Chakras are impacted by The Gayatri Mantra, let us now move closer to understanding the physiological changes through this impact. While modern science is useful for expressing symptomatic changes, we need Ayurveda to explain the cause behind the symptoms.
Among the three Doshas (biological forces) of Vata, Pitta and Kapha, the important one with respect to menstruation is the Vata Dosha. There are five sub-types of Vata Dosha – Prana, Udana, Vyana, Samana and Apana.
- Some of these correspond to the different Chakras by virtue of location and functionality [2,3,4].
- Ajna and Anahata Chakras are related to the Prana Vayu which is located in the brain, nose and throat. Its direction is inward and downward, from the atmosphere to the inside of the body, towards the throat and chest. Its key action is breath and in connecting to the subtle sources of energy.
- Vishudha Chakra is related to the Udana Vayu, which is the upward moving air in the opposite direction of Prana Vayu, located in the region between nose and umbilicus. It governs output of energy via speech, physical effort, emotional enthusiasm and mental judgement.
- Manipura Chakra is related to the Samana Vayu, which is the balancing inward energy located in the gastro-intestinal tract, in the abdomen and small intestine which it governs absorption of energy via digestion.
- Swadishtana and Mooladhara Chakras are related to the Apana Vayu, located in the lower region of pelvis, urinary tract and reproductive region. It is the downward moving force responsible for elimination of urine, faeces, menstrual flow, sexual activity and birthing. It is central to processes of ovulation, menstruation and child birth. Its impairment manifests as difficulty in these processes. 
(Vyana Vayu is said to be not related to any specific Chakra, as it moves throughout the body and is responsible for all the activities of the body).
The Gayatri Mantra, while energizing the Ajna Chakra, causes a decreased flow of energy to the Swadisthana and Mooladhara Chakras and therefore, Apana Vata. Apana Vata is the main force behind downward moving menstrual flow. If Apana is obstructed or insufficiently energized, it would result in menstrual irregularities. Repeated chanting of The Gayatri Mantra for a long period of time, could therefore result in an impaired Apana Vata, causing menstrual problems.
Correlating Chakras to the Endocrine System and Modern Medicine
And now, let us explore the interrelations of Chakras with Modern Medicine. It is interesting that the Chakras are located at similar spaces as various endocrine glands. There have been studies which correlate the functioning of different glands to specific Chakras .
- Sahasrara Chakra is said to be correlated to the Pineal gland
- Ajna Chakra to the functioning of Pituitary gland
- Vishudha Chakra to Thyroid and Parathyroid glands
- Anahata Chakra to Thymus gland
- Manipuri Chakra to Adrenal Gland
- Swadishthana and Muladhara Chakra are correlated to the Gonads
If we consider that The Gayatri Mantra energizes the Ajna Chakra, then we can correlate it to the functioning of the Pituitary glands. The Pituitary glands play an important role in reproductive process for both men and women, by secreting two hormones called Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH).
In men, LH stimulates testosterone production from the interstitial cells of the testes. So an activated Ajna Chakra in men corresponds to a well functioning pituitary gland and production of testosterone.
Similarly in women, LH stimulates testosterone production in the ovary. Unlike men, however, women must have much lower concentrations of testosterone and it only rises at the time around ovulation. In women, testosterone is important for bone strength and to increase sexual libido necessary for procreation. The female hormone Estrogen is made from Testosterone and other adrenal hormones. Without the ability of our bodies to make testosterone, we cannot make estrogen. Estrogen is what causes ovulation, followed by menstruation.
However, it is likely that regular chanting of The Gayatri Mantra by women imbalances the functions regulated by the Swadishthana and Mooladhara Chakras, causing the Apana Vata to becomes less active and ovaries to eventually become dysfunctional. This probably results in lesser or inadequate production of estrogen by the ovaries and hence excess testosterone.
While an increase in testosterone is not harmful for men, even a slight increase in testosterone in a woman’s body can suppress normal menstruation and ovulation. The release of hormones from the Pituitary gland is influenced by a feedback loop from the ovaries during the menstrual cycle. However, in the case of dysfunctional ovaries, such a feedback does not happen, resulting in the Pituitary producing excess LH. 
The resulting symptoms of excess LH and excess testosterone might be the cause for such women to have male characteristics of excessive facial hair (Hirsutism), deepened masculine voice and difficulty reproducing. In modern medicine, this condition is termed as Polycystic Ovarian Disorder (PCOD) or Polycystic Ovarian Symptom (PCOS).
So it is possible, that continuous chanting of The Gayatri Mantra by women might result in PCOD and associated menstrual and reproductive difficulties.
In conclusion, the same Gayatri Mantra creates very different impact on men and women. In men, the active production of semen (which contains testosterone) gets transformed to Ojas and Tejas, paving the way for spiritual enlightenment. While The Gayatri Mantra takes men on the path of spirituality, it puts women in conflict with their reproductive health. Women might argue that they too have a right to experience spiritual highs, and hence can choose the same path. But, is it possible to be in constant battle with your body and still be at peace? After all, the aim of spirituality is to help people experience peace.
This is not to say that women cannot follow the spiritual path. It just requires a different process and should only be done under the initiation and guidance of a Guru.
Additional Information: Based on the comments of some of the readers, we did a little more digging on why the Gayatri Mantra is recommended to be recited even by women these days. And here is what we learnt.
The original Gayatri Mantra, as given in the Rig Veda is different from what we recite today. It comprises of the following lines:
Bhargo Devasya Dhīmahi
Dhiyo Yonaḥ Prachodayāt
This details in the above blog are pertaining to these three lines. And it is for the recitation of these three lines that the restrictions apply to women. However, the version that is recited today has the addition of
Om Bhur Bhuvaḥ Swaḥ
The lesser known fact is that these are an addition from the school of Tantra, in order to make it universally available, for all persons, including women. The 3 sounds following Om are called Vyhartis and they help to balance the Mantra in the following way:
Bhur – activates the Muladhara Chakra
Bhuvah – activates the Swadishthana Chakra
Swah – activates the Manipura Chakra
Thus, when these Vyahartis are added to the original Gaayatri Mantra, it is not just the activation of the Ajna Chakra, but also of the three essential chakras w.r.t women.
- Blog by Jayant Kalawar, The Feminine and Masculine in Each of Us: Dancing with our Chakras
- Vata Dosha and its sub-types from The National Library of Ayurveda Medicine – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7oI6RD65kY
- Sawant Shreya Umesh et al: Interrelation Of Endocrine Glands With Shatchakra And Vata Dosha in Ayurveda, published in International Journal of Applied Ayurved Research ISSN: 2347- 6362
- Kamath et al: Kriyatmaka Anveshana of Shat Chakras, published in Unique Journal of Ayurvedic and Herbal Medicines 2013, 01 (03): Page 34 – 36
- Adam H. Balen, Biochemical Features of the Polycystic Ovary Syndrome