What Does Cleansing Look Like?

Updated: Mar 2

Recently, I spoke with a naturopath/friend of mine about healthy digestion and the word “cleansing” came up. I told her about the gentle way Ayurveda approaches cleansing, and that it looked nothing like the raw food, juice fasting and colonics that I used to associate with a cleanse. My friend said the same thing. We both felt it would be good 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 other people do too.

The importance of seasonal cleansing can't be overstated according to Ayurveda. Even if we're observing a mostly healthy lifestyle and diet, still, our bodies and minds accumulate a certain excess that becomes toxic to the body. And then there are those of us who aren't living the best habits or eating as well as we would like. For all of us, seasonal maintenance through gentle cleansing is one way to support the body in doing the release and repair needed to rid the body of this excess and get us back on track. The intentional time we set aside around our normal work activities allows us to simplify our lives, rest our mind and senses and rejuvenate our bodies. This allows us to halt and even reverse some of the negative effects of aging.

Good at the beginning. Good in the middle. Good in the end.

The first step in cleansing is a preparatory phase called “purva karma” which means "before action." It sets the stage for the body and mind to relax and let go. In this stage we focus on:

  1. Establishing a consistent daily life-rhythm first will support any cleansing routine: regular bedtimes, wake times, mealtimes, regular hydration and elimination, etc.

  2. 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.

  3. Begin to reduce or 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).

  4. At the same time, we bring in 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, good quality oils, nuts, etc.

Once the purva karma is complete–we are ready for the cleanse itself, which consists of:

  1. A mono-diet of kitchari and for a week or so. These foods are so gentle that they take little energy to digest, but have sufficient protein to help you feel nourished.

  2. Spices and herbs to strengthen the digestive process (agni) and eliminate any toxic buildup (ama).

  3. 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.

  4. Cleansing protocols that help the body release any built up toxicity and purge it from the system. The might include a mild purgative and a gently home 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. Through living a healing lifestyle, eating good foods, and taking some tonic herbs, we support our bodies and minds to come into greater harmony and we emerge from the cleanse with healthier cravings, less toxicity and excess, and more clarity, energy, and ease.

Spring and fall are the best time for cleansing as the weather is mild. I would love to support you to a gentle and transformative cleanse this season. This is an all inclusive cleanse--I gather all the supplies you'll need for you, and guide you every step of the way. Sign up for the spring cleanse here. We're beginning April 5th. I've designed 3 protocols to address the intensity level that is appropriate for each person. If you have questions, please contact me. I'd love to talk with you.

In health and love, Shannon

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