Among the juice fasts, liver cleanses, and 10-day detoxes lives the traditional Ayurvedic kitchari cleanse. It’s hard to know if there were dietary trends at the time of Ayurveda’s origin over 5,000 years ago, but it’s safe to say this cleanse has stood the test of time. Its relevance, wholeness, and effectiveness tells us there’s nothing trendy about it.
You might be called to an Ayurvedic cleanse for the same reasons other cleanses or detoxes beckon you. Your energy is low, your digestion is variable, your sleep cycle is off, and you’re in need of an overall reset. Different than today’s popular detoxes, Ayurveda’s take on cleansing goes beyond the food to achieve the balance you seek. Focusing on the three doshas—vata, pitta, and kapha—the cleanse should be adjusted to meet your unique needs. If you're unsure where to begin, the Ayurvedic Profile™ quiz is a great place to start because it will help you determine which dosha is currently out of balance in your system.
What Is Ayurvedic Cleansing?
The traditional cleanse we practice in Ayurveda today is a more accessible version of what’s called panchakarma or PK. A PK is a very thorough method for clearing the body of ama, or the tangible and non-tangible build up accumulated in our body and mind when we have not properly processed it. Using specific diet and bodywork, it’s meant to wipe our inner slate clean so that our body is prepared to receive its medicine. PK’s are still performed in clinics around the world today, but they aren’t meant to be done on your own or at home.
Though not quite as inclusive as the revered PK, the Ayurvedic cleanse we can do on our own has some of the same components and still serves its purpose to reboot and restore our system. It consists of a mono-diet of kitchari, a dish made of mung beans, rice, and Ayurvedic spices that are easy to digest, absorb, and eliminate. Along with this special diet are recommended self-care practices, such as tongue cleaning, dry brushing, and oil massage.
It requires minimal supplies, but does ask that you clear your calendar for the duration you choose, so you can be in it fully with your mind, body, and heart.
How It Is Different and Why It Works
You’re fully nourished. While there are times when fasting is recommended, there is no skimping on food in this cleanse. Three meals of kitchari each day ensures you won’t go hungry, but also that you won’t be overfull. Kitchari is considered to be the most nourishing dish one can consume, as the combination of mung beans and rice makes a complete protein and the spices come with a digestive guarantee. All of this is important as it supports you in being physically and mentally energized throughout the cleansing process.
With emphasis on preparation, cleansing, and rejuvenation, it's multi-faceted. This isn’t the type of cleanse where you binge on the foods you’ll be eliminating before you begin and readily eat french fries once you have completed. Instead, like all things Ayurveda, there is a gentle entry. The cleanse happens in three phases. First, there is a slow elimination of processed food, alcohol, caffeine, and pretty much anything except mung beans, rice, and veggies. This helps to prepare your body for eating only kitchari. Then, there is the active phase of cleansing consisting of the kitchari diet and designated self-care practices. Finally, there is a rejuvenation period. This phase is key as once you have eliminated ama and revamped your digestion, your body is ready to absorb what you consume. It’s important to choose a diet and herbal supplements that will help to address any tissues or dhatus that need rebuilding.
Oh, the oil! If you have any experience with Ayurveda at all, you know that oil is usually the answer for any ailment. We love our oil and the cleanse is no exception. In the active phase, you partake in an internal and external oleation process by drinking ghee first thing in the morning and doing abhyanga, a self-oil massage, before showering. Ghee is consumed in increasing amounts to act as a vehicle (or in this case, gheehicle) for loosening and removing ama, while the external oiling helps to both circulate lymph and nourish tissues. Other options for oiling during a cleanse often include Nasya Oil (nose oil), consuming castor oil, and oil enemas.
Digestion is the focus, but not only the physical kind of digestion. By Ayurvedic principle, most of our illnesses begin with digestion, but proper processing of food isn’t the only thing vital for health. Ayurveda uniquely believes that we also have a mental and emotional digestive system. Thus, an Ayurvedic cleanse isn’t only body focused, but also encourages us to take time to work through past and current emotions, thoughts, and experiences. True, the kitchari is a big component due to its digestibility, but you’ll find a mono-diet can also free up headspace. And when we have the freedom to navigate our mind, we often realize that our well-being depends on things beyond the macronutrients.