If you’re reading this article, you may have done some sort of Ayurveda-inspired cleanse—or you’re about to.
Kitchari-based cleanses seem to be very popular right now. I think this is wonderful—this one-pot meal is full of nourishing goodness. As a practitioner, I am so grateful to have it in my healing arsenal and I love giving this tool to others, too. A seemingly simple cleanse can be quite powerful and transformative. And truthfully, isn’t that what we’re doing it for?
I believe it is important, perhaps even necessary, to have guidance through any sort of Ayurvedic cleanse—not only because my teachers also heed this, but because it is important to know that you are safe and that you are doing it right.
Food-based cleanses, or we might call this a cleanse with a mono-diet, are usually slower to detox you, and “safer” than a cleanse which involves fasting, like a water fast, or a juice-based cleanse program. A food based cleanse, though, is still a cleanse. Especially when other, new-to-you techniques are included like self-massage, or drinking ghee, or taking herbs. Just because something is natural does not mean it is benign. These healing techniques have been perfected over thousands of years—and they are very effective.
Ayurveda is a holistic medical system, so the cleanses are meant to have effect on multiple layers on our being. Around here, we know that food equals medicine. We understand that the food we eat not only influences our body, but how we feel, our energy, as well as our emotional, and mental state. When we fast, physically, the mind layer of our being needs to manage the changes as well. When we change the sensory stimulation, we discover patterns in the way we cope with daily life. We may come to realize a lot about our true state of hunger, about what we really need to feel satisfied and about how food can feed our emotional discomforts as well.
I feel that this is actually one of the most profound pieces of an Ayurvedic cleanse: we come to learn so much about our relationship to food beyond just the nutrition and sustenance. Often, it’s surprising to my clients how emotional it is to change their diets to eating a simple kitchari diet. Even when they know they are eating enough food, and their lives are not on the line, the emotional swings are strong enough to make the ground feel unsteady beneath their feet (figuratively and sometimes literally.)
A guide becomes their rock during the process.
Once into a cleanse, there is not really any going back. It’s not to say that one can’t just stop taking action, and go back to eating or acting like they did pre-cleanse—but often that is not going to alleviate the discomfort, physically or emotionally. The changes have started to occur, even if it’s just questioning the old patterns. Any time patterns shift (even if for the better!) vata dosha can become imbalanced. As I mentioned above, our stability becomes unstable, and an emotional support can be very helpful, if not necessary.
Take this quote from a recent client of mine:
“...last night I could not fall asleep for hours. I was so anxious and could just not calm down at all, which used to happen every night but now it has been months since I have experienced that. My heart was racing and I felt like I had had a ton of coffee or something. It just seemed to kind of come out of nowhere and today I am still feeling super, super anxious.”
This client was “simply” eating kitchari and doing dinacharya and she was experiencing deep emotional detox. We were able to check in daily through email, and I was able to make adjustments, give vata-balancing suggestions to her, as well as assure her that her experiences were normal.
This is especially important when some of the deeper purgation practices like internal oleation (drinking ghee), castor oil (virechana), or enema (basti) is to be done.
Many of my clients, my students, and many of the people drawn to Ayurveda are sensitive types—I believe in the best ways, even if challenging and often-inconvenient ways. I have seen too many clients brought deeper into imbalance by doing a cleanse involving deep purging when they were not ready, or it was not the right action for their constitution, just because an online cleanse told them to do so.
I remember one woman in particular: one of my classmates in Ayurveda school was doing an online group cleanse. She had a very light vata constitution but she did castor oil purgation twice, as the cleanse instructed. She threw up when taking the castor oil, had loose bowel movements, and figured this was a normal reaction. There was no one-on-one guidance during the cleanse. When another practitioner assessed her at school she told her to stop immediately and had to work for a few months at getting her vata back into balance. (Not to say she didn’t learn a lot, but if she was not in that setting, she would have never known that her cleanse may have actually been hurting her, rather than helping her.)
Do not underestimate the power of these practices. I don’t write this article to incite fear or to say Ayurvedic cleansing is dangerous. Just that it is powerful and deserves to be taken seriously. I think most practitioners out there DO have the experience, or will say if they do not. I simply encourage you to not go it alone; there is GREAT value in guidance, even if it seems expensive. You will learn so much by having a guide, as well as get the most benefit out of the process. You want it to be something you return to season after season, and year after year.
Adena is creator of The Healing Diet, a 10 week journey in self healing with Ayurveda. Apply Ayurveda to your body week by week. Click here to learn more, and apply for the next course which begins October 1.