As summer moves into autumn, this is a perfect time to talk about Ayurvedic cleansing. Treat yourself to a tune-up the Ayurvedic way.
The idea of cleansing means many things to many people. A cleanse can be subtle or intense, simple or involved. A cleanse can be done on your own, or as part of a program overseen by a healthcare professional. Cleanses are especially recommended in Ayurveda as a means of staying balanced and vibrant during seasonal shifts.
Ayurveda promotes cleansing as an effective way of removing ama (toxic buildup), reestablishing the strength of the digestive fire, and balancing any imbalanced doshas. As with other Ayurvedic modalities, Ayurvedic cleansing works from the premise that the body, mind, and spirit are inseparable parts of the being, and each contributes to your health and well-being. So a good cleanse addresses each of these aspects.
You may well be wondering:
Without a doubt, diet and lifestyle choices are important. But we aren’t in control of everything we are subjected to, and may even be unaware of things that we take in on a more subtle level. The great thing is, we can do something about it and promote our own best possible health.
In Ayurveda, the first rule of healing is to remove the cause of dis-ease. If we decrease our exposure to known toxins, we will enjoy more vibrant health. Choosing organic foods, for example, reduces your exposure to pesticides, hormones, and chemicals. Eating whole foods instead of processed, packaged foods diminishes your intake of sugars, salt, corn syrup, preservatives, dyes, and other artificial ingredients that may be harmful to your health. Avoiding unhealthy behaviors like cigarette smoking lessens the toxic buildup in your system. With less of a toxic load to bear, your body is free to work its own magic.
“The system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing. Not so with technology.”
What about things like environmental pollutants that we unwittingly encounter? Both natural and man-made calamities cause air, water, and soil pollution. Ash from volcano eruptions, industrial waste, radiation leaks at nuclear plants, wild fires clouding our air… Often, we can’t prevent our exposure to these things. But we need not panic (panic will only increase vata); instead we can look for healthy ways to live in our current times. We can do things, like an Ayurvedic cleanse, to reduce the impact of these toxins on our system.
An Ayurvedic cleanse also helps eliminate the other kinds of toxins that we take in through our senses. Undigested thoughts and emotions can create quite a buildup. We often only think of digestion in relation to food and drink. But according to Ayurveda, our digestive fire (agni) is responsible for other kinds of digestion, too. Digestion of the sights that we see, sounds that we hear, smells that we, well, smell…they enter our senses, and are immediately processed by our brains. They translate into some sort of a thought or emotional response. You may see a tragic accident and have to digest the grief and sorrow that arises. You may hear abusive words being shouted at you in the midst of an argument and have to digest the anger that floods your being. You may smell the perfume of an old flame and have to digest the bittersweet memories. Ayurveda says that when these thoughts, memories, and emotions remain suppressed and are not dealt with, they also create toxins in more subtle ways in the body—lingering presences that don’t allow the body to function optimally.
“Sorrow is mere rust of the soul. Activity will cleanse and brighten it.”
Think of the last time you felt sick to your stomach because you were nervous about something, or the way your heart raced when you were excited. You are bound to have experiences that, if not properly digested, can be detrimental your health. Ayurveda’s preventive approach is to eliminate toxic thoughts and emotions before they have the opportunity to become permanent residents in your tissues. A great tool for this eradication is an Ayurvedic cleanse.
Whether it’s due to your habits, or your environment, or experiences that created an emotional charge, if your body is already giving you signals that it needs attention, consider doing a simple cleanse. The change of the season, too, creates a certain challenge for the system. So why not try an Ayurvedic cleanse? Doing a cleanse at the change of each season helps purify any excess dosha activity and prepare the body, mind, and spirit for the season to come.
While Ayurveda offers a wide variety of cleansing regimens, panchakarma (“five actions”) is probably the most well known. A full panchakarma cleanse should only be done under the care of an Ayurvedic practitioner, as a practitioner can individualize the cleanse to your particular situation. The cleanse itself incorporates one or more of the “five actions” referred to in the name: herbalized enemas, purgation, blood-letting, emesis (vomiting), or nasal administration of herbs. Each of these addresses one or more of the doshas (vata, pitta, and kapha), and can be supported by other treatments as well. Preparing for any of these five cleansing procedures is an integral part of panchakarma, and involves a change to a simple diet, along with warm oil massage and sweating to get the channels ready for toxins to move out. Also, once the cleansing procedures are complete, it is of utmost importance to rejuvenate the body with supportive and nourishing herbs, diet, and actions. Ideally, the preparation, cleansing, and rejuvenation processes take a total of three to four or more weeks, depending on your individual constitution. So for a proper panchakarma treatment, you’ll want to have the time and space to slow down, and reduce or stop the hustle and bustle of daily life.
If you are not in a time and place to take on a full panchakarma regimen, you can still do an effective cleanse on your own at home. The key in both panchakarma and a simple home cleanse is to stop adding toxins to the body, and give your digestive fire a break, so that it can eliminate accumulated wastes. If the digestive fire is not burdened with incoming toxins, it can turn its attention inward and address what has already accumulated in your body. A simple Ayurvedic cleanse can get the job done.
"From purity of food follows the purity of the internal organ."
A simple whole food diet cleanse is very useful, especially during a change of seasons. We call it simple because to do the cleanse, you simplify your diet, giving your digestive fire the chance to burn up the accumulated gunk. Plus, it’s an easy cleanse to do and still attend to daily life matters. It goes as follows.
For one week:
- Limit your diet to foods that are very easy to digest, such as rice and mung lentils. For an Ayurvedic cleanse, you always want to use warm, cooked foods, because having to break down raw foods requires more work from the digestive fire. A popular food that works well for this cleanse is kitchari made with ghee (clarified butter) to keep everything healthily lubricated. Again, the idea is to stop the intake of anything harmful, so it is best to choose organic wherever possible.
- Give yourself a daily massage with warm oil.
- Give yourself some gentle herbal support. Triphala, for example is an excellent aid to the cleansing process.
- Slow down as best you can. Avoid any unnecessary activity, as activity also taxes the digestive fire.
Once the cleansing period is finished, gently ease back into your normal diet and routines so as to avoid any sudden change that might shock your system. Also, this is a wonderful opportunity to discover, reevaluate, and shift those things in your diet and lifestyle that may not be benefitting you.
An Ayurvedic cleanse, be it a simple home cleanse like the one described here or a more involved cleanse with a practitioner, is the perfect pause to allow your health—body, mind, and spirit—to come back into balance.
“When nourishment is pure, reflection and higher understanding are pure, memory becomes strong. When memory becomes strong, there is release from all the knots of the heart.”
For more information about Ayurvedic cleansing, see our Ayurvedic Cleanse E-booklet.