It’s in our blood: Revitalizing Menstrual Health Practices from South Asian Religions

Hey! How are you? Today, we have a special blog piece here by a dear friend in the community, Taq Bhandal. She discusses revitalizing period practices in religions like Sikhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism for surviving the modern world. 

Taqdir (Taq) Kaur Bhandal ਤਕਦੀਰ ਕੌਰ ਭੰਡਾਲ is a mxnstrual and pelvic health researcher.  She spends most of her days as a teacher at the University of British Columbia, and running two social enterprises, @imwithperiods and Researchbox.ca. @imwithperiods recently released a new book called Self-Care Down There: An All Genders Guide to Vaginal Wellbeing, that includes 100+ self-care tips to do at home or on-the-go for periods, pelvic health, mxnstrual cycles, mxnopause, and overall wellbeing. Taq is also a dog lady, passionate about nachos and nach (dance), and lives in Vancouver/Coast Salish Lands & Halifax/Mi’kmaw Treaty Territory. 

Hi & Sat Sri Akal friend, dost, mitar, bhanji, bhaji, and bhxjis. Thanks for taking the time to read this short article about some of the South Asian religions and mxnstrual health!  I’m on a journey to support self-care for women and all genders, especially when it comes to our periods and mxnstrual cycles. In doing research for my new book Self-Care Down There, I learned some really uplifting ideas about mxnstruation in South Asia that I just have to share with you.  In this article, I use the term mxnstrual with an ‘x’ to respect all genders’ mxnstrual health experiences, except for in the title so that people can find it on different search engines. 

Being from the Punjab region of modern-day India/Pakistan, my ancestors seem to have drawn their knowledge of mxnstrual health from four particular ‘religions’ in South Asia: Sikhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism.  This is backed up through written text such as academic literature written in English, oral histories, and even geography. For example, some friends are filming a documentary in India/Pakistan as I type these words (@lions_rise; @diaspora_creative), and they came across a site where all four spiritual temples are located on four corners of some canals and connected to each other by a short distance of water!!! If you also have thoughts, ideas, experiences, fun facts, and more to share about your amazing connection to these four religions I would love to hear from you! 

In the following paragraphs I share brief introductions and a few interesting narratives I came across that revitalize positive connections of mxnstrual health in Sikh, Hindu, Islamic, and Buddhist scriptures and practices. 

Sikhism

Born in the Punjab area of modern-day India/Pakistan, the first Sikhs were frustrated with the interplay between politics and interpretations of Islamic and Hindu scriptures that bred intense amounts of violence and trauma.  It should be noted that there are many feminist interpretations of Islamic texts (see the work of Dr. Ayesha Chaudry) and of the large group of scriptures referred to as Hinduism (see the work of the Brahma Kumaris).  Overall, Sikhism is one of the newest religions where scriptures (a youthful 500+ years old) and the entire faith are based on the principles of gender equality (see the work of Dr. Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh).

Generally, I practice Sikhi through three principles that can also be translated to promoting pelvic health: Langar, a vegetarian meal that is served at no cost in any Gurdwara = gotta have food to fuel our pelvic wellness; Sangat, a community of compassionate people = such as the one facilitated by Blume; and Seva, service to humanity and the more-than-human world = taking care of our mxnstrual health while also respecting the health of the planet. 

Pelvic self-care tip: Take 10-15 minutes to reflect on the following questions: What kinds of statements and stories are told about the vagina and its powers in the Guru Granth Sahib and other scriptures? What were the original intentions of the Gurus, sisters, wives, non-binary partners, and followers of Sikhism? How are modern mainstream interpretations different? What are you taking from these teachings and what’s ready to be let go and/or evolved?

Hinduism

Hinduism is apparently a bit of a misnomer.  A significant number of scholars of the ancient religion suggest that it’s actually a whole bunch of traditional belief systems that kind of morphed into one in the English language. In fact there are actually about 33 million forms of “Hindu” gods, goddesses, and goddexx.  One of which had the pleasure of being covered in a thousand vaginas… talk about needing time for self-care down there. 

While there are so many powerful, super witty, intelligent, gorgeous, body-positive Hindu goddexxes, somehow it still gets translated mostly into misogyny IRL.  Thankfully, much vaginal self-care can take place in our safe spaces outside of the gaze of modern systems like colonialism, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism. We can also have the awesome option of visiting Mandirs (temples) with yoni statues all over the place. 

Pelvic self-care tip: Take 10-15 minutes to reflect on the following questions: What kinds of statements and stories are told about the vagina, periods, mxnstrual cycles, mxnopause and pelvis, and their powers in the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads and other scriptures? What are you taking from these teachings and what’s ready to be let go?

Islam

Since tensions are so high these days for our people who practice Islam, for this section I want to pluralize the voices sharing knowledge about Islamic scriptures and faith. Many of my friends and relations identify as Muslim from across the diaspora, and will be participating in the ceremony of Ramadan in the coming weeks.

Last year, I asked a few of them to share some wisdom and knowledge about their periods and menstrual cycles during the fast.  There are thousands of years of philosophy, writing, experiences, storytelling, and more that elaborate on the beauty of Ramadan as a spiritual process.  In this blog post, I share just four of these many interpretations. One of which is my own. 

Samiya (pseudonym) described Ramadan as practice that, for her, allows people with privilege to be in solidarity with human beings in our communities who are not able to access daily nourishment.  Fasting goes beyond just food and drink consumption to include an overall period of what I interpret as self-control (something that I definitely struggle with!). As written in the Quran, Habiba (pseudonym) describes that people who have periods are required not to restrict consumption during their bleed.  Even though they would prefer to continue the ritual, they say “I trust the wisdom in this teaching and my body is likely better off that I don’t fast while I’m bleeding.” Maya (pseudonym) adds that people who are breastfeeding, pregnant, elders, or sick will also choose not to fast and make up the days later in the year.

I really appreciate how Ramadan makes class and financial privilege visible. Especially as it relates to mxnstrual health.  I find myself asking about people for whom periods of hunger are not a choice, but a daily reality that impacts their bodies (including uteri, ovaries, and more).  Moreover, Ramadan celebrates the life-giving power of the more-than-human beings we consume for sustenance. Thanks plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, air, water, soil, and everything that keeps humanity going.  I’m so appreciative of Ramadan as a time of prayer, inner reflection, meditation, service, and collective healing. 

Pelvic self-care tip: Take 10-15 minutes to think about the following questions:  What kinds of statements and stories are told about the vagina and its powers in the Qur’an, Hadiths, and other scriptures? What are you taking from these teachings and what’s ready to be let go?

Buddhism

Buddhist texts and people who practice some form of the religion are keenly aware of human suffering and unhappiness.  Navigating the choppy waters of human existence especially in a body with a uterus, ovaries and more requires careful meditation.

In Vajrayan Buddhist tradition, Dakinis are femme knowledge keepers who emphasize using our human senses to make it through life, rather than trying to tamp them down.  By realizing that most people can’t commit to life as a monk in a monastery (especially if you have a modern-day vagina!), Dakinis are harbingers of feminine power and balance.  Their biographies and emergence are documented in English here. Through their wisdom, we can draw on practices such as vulva massage (touch) or paying close attention to our anatomies (sight, smell, taste, touch, sound) on our spiritual path.

Pelvic self-care tip: Take 10-15 minutes to meditate on the following questions: What kinds of statements and stories are told about the vagina and its powers in the Pali Canon, Sutras, The Book of the Dead, Dakin stories and other scriptures? What are you taking from these teachings and what’s ready to be let go?

Thanks for reading to the end y’all! In what ways are you practicing or appreciating Sikhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism in the modern world, especially to support your mxnstrual and/or pelvic health? Did I miss anything in my blog post? Is there a point of excitement or contention that you have with anything I’ve written? DM me on Instagram @imwithperiods. I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories. - Taq