This week, I was talking with a naturopath about healthy digestion and the word “cleansing” came up. I spoke about the gentle way Ayurveda approaches cleansing, and that the approach looked nothing like the raw foods, juice fasting and colonics that I used to associate with a cleanse. My Naturopath friend said the same thing. We both realized we needed to clarify what we are talking about when we bring this up to clients, because we both associate cleansing with these other protocols, and imagine a lot of others do too.
Ayurveda teaches the importance of seasonal cleansing to support the body in releasing excess from the preceding season, and also to give the digestive system a rest and support its optimal functioning through healing foods and herbs. While the overall cleansing practices might be the same, some of the details such as length of time, specific herbs and the amount of some foods might change according the individual’s constitution. Other factors that will influence how and when we cleanse are the seasonal environment, the age and strength of the individual, their current stress-level and work demands and their individual desires.
The first step in cleansing is called “purva karma” and it is a kind of setting the container. This is the pre-cleanse, where we get ready to cleanse. Here are some of the purva karma practices:
Establishing a consistent daily life-rhythm first will support any cleansing routine: regular bedtimes, wake times, mealtimes, regular hydration and elimination, etc.
Add in a little more yoga and meditation practice, say 15 minutes in the am or pm, and a refreshing daily walk outdoors, maybe 20 minutes.
Begin to eliminate any major toxic foods such as fast food, junk food, excessive caffeine, white sugar, white flour, alcohol, tobacco, bad oils, dairy (if you can’t digest it), etc. If you have been habituated to a certain food for a while, taper so as not to shock your system (Ayurveda recommends letting go 1/3 at a time–see what makes sense). These shifts might work best over a weekend or other time when it will be easier to bear any discomfort (usually the first few days are the hardest).
At the same time, eat and drink more of the good stuff: whole, organic, freshly prepared foods: lots of local, fresh produce, a little high-quality meat, if its part of your diet; beans, whole grains rather than flour; good quality oils, nuts, etc. Ideally, the exact diet is tailored to the constitution of the individual.
Once the purva karma is complete–a week or two–then we are ready for the cleanse itself, which consists of:
A mono-diet of kitchari and ghee for a week or so. These foods are so gentle that they take little energy to digest, add some healthy oleation to the intestinal tract and support a repair process of the guts.
The use spices and herbs to strengthen the digestive process (agni) and eliminate any toxic buildup (ama).
An increase in supportive and nurturing practices that are gently detoxifying. These include: receiving massage, daily self-massage with oil before or after bathing, gentle exercise like yoga, dry skin brushing, epsom salt baths, saunas, catnaps, meditation and breathing practices and emotional clearing practices. All of these aid the body and the mind in letting go of what is no longer needed.
The final practice would be some kind of purgation through taking herbs, and/or administering a basti (ayurvedic enema).
The last part of the cleanse, arguable the most important part, is a slow return to a whole foods, constitutionally appropriate diet. We take a week or two to move back into this, just as we did in the purva karma phase, gradually reintroducing more foods so as not to overwhelm our digestive tract, and continuing with the good habits we have learned while cleansing. Good at the beginning. Good in the middle. Good in the end.
If you would like to undergo an Ayurvedic Cleanse this season, consider coming in for some support. I would be happy to customize a protocol for you, and support you through the process. You can contact me at Shannon@livingintobalance.com.
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