What is an Ayurvedic cleanse?
Seasonal cleanses are an important part of Ayurvedic teachings. They can take place at any seasonal transition, but they tend to happen at the beginning of spring and the beginning of fall. Ayurvedic cleanses focus on incorporating a variety of supportive lifestyle and dietary habits over the course of anywhere between a few days to a few weeks. The cleansing process tends to be most effective over the span of 2-3 weeks versus a few days, but any opportunity the body receives to clean out toxins is beneficial for the system.
The phases of an Ayurvedic cleanse:
Ayurvedic cleanses are split into three main phases:
- Pre-Cleanse (about 25% of the total length)
- Cleanse (about 50% of the total length)
- Post-Cleanse (about 25% of the total length)
As an example, if you’re cleansing for two weeks then the pre-cleanse would account for the first three days of the cleanse, the post cleanse would last about 5-7 days, and the post cleanse would last another three days.
The pre-cleanse is a period of eliminating or drastically reducing caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, recreational drugs, processed foods, sweets, refined sugars, and meat. This helps to prepare the body for the core of the cleanse.
The heart of the cleanse (the middle portion) focuses on eating a mono-diet of a staple Ayurvedic healing food called Kitchari. During this phase it’s best to eat Kitchari for all meals except breakfast, which should also be an easily digested meal like oatmeal.
Lastly, the post-cleanse period is a time to slowly integrate foods back into your diet that were eliminated during the cleansing period. Try to add one new thing each day so you can notice the impact it has on your body. Be gentle with your body during this time, especially because it’s in a phase of restoration.
Kitchari, Kitchari, Kitchari
There are many variations of Kitchari, but it’s commonly a mixture of basmati rice, mung dal (split mung beans), and spices. Some people will also add vegetables such as carrots and zucchini to their Kitchari. This ancient healing food balances all doshas within the body. It’s also very easy for the digestive system, which then allows the body to cleanse itself of accumulated toxins, or ama. It does this while still nourishing the body. The combination of rice and beans make Kitchari a complete protein, ensuring that the body isn’t neglected of amino acids during the duration of this part of the cleanse.
Why should I cleanse?
The primary goal of a cleanse is to rid the body of toxins and increase the strength of agni (digestion). Toxins, or ama, tend to accumulate in the body throughout the year as we experience stress and consume processed foods.
Toxin build-up in the body is a rather natural process. But when toxins accumulate year after year with few or no opportunities to be released, they can and will ultimately lead to fatigue, skin conditions, improper digestion, emotional distress, disease, and more.
Thankfully, an Ayurvedic cleanse helps to loosen these toxins and encourages them to move out of the body through the body’s natural elimination systems: skin, urine and bowel.
This process naturally brings about a number of other benefits. Cleanses can restore one’s energy, help to reestablish balance, bring more clarity in one’s life, calm the mind and nervous system, and support regular stool elimination. By clearing the channels of digestion and elimination, a cleanse resets the body and prepares it for the coming season.
Benefits of an Ayurvedic cleanse:
- Clear the body of toxins (ama)
- Improves digestion and metabolism
- Promotes regular and balanced stool elimination
- Elevated energy, vitality, and joy
- Feel a sense of clarity and groundedness
- Improves sleep and encourages a balanced sleep cycle
- Can bring about emotional balance
- Strengthens immunity
- Supports excess weight loss
Why is Spring a good time to cleanse?
The transition between winter and spring can make many of us feel heavy and slow. For many people this time of year involves congestion, allergies, lethargy, mucus build up, and more. Can you relate? These are all defining qualities and symptoms of kapha dosha.
Kapha accumulates throughout the winter season and begins to liquify as we enter spring. This is similar to the environment around us as winter’s accumulated snow begins to melt and dislodge the stagnation of the colder months. One way to help the body release the excess kapha is through an Ayurvedic cleanse, which clears out the body and prepares it for the invigorating and lively qualities of springtime and summer.
In general, Ayurveda places great emphasis on living in harmony with the seasons. That’s why Ayurvedic cleanses are performed at the transitions between different seasons of the year. By eating seasonally, transitioning with the seasons, and more, we remember our innate connection to nature and begin to live in harmony with its rhythms.
When exactly should I cleanse?
There aren’t exact dates for spring cleansing, although it’s best to do so around the time that winter transitions to spring. The official date for spring in the Northern Hemisphere is March 20th, but cleanses can happen anytime before or after this date. Find a time that works best for your schedule, but try to stay within the transition period of the new season.
How do I cleanse?
Each person will approach an Ayurvedic cleanse differently depending on their unique needs, schedule, and life circumstances. But generally, Ayurveda encourages that you follow the eating suggestions mentioned earlier, prioritize rest and relaxation, and incorporate supportive self care activities. The most important part of the cleanse is your diet. You’ll experience the greatest benefit if you eat a mono-diet of kitchari during the primary portion of the cleanse.
Suggested practices for cleansing
- Cook all of your food fresh each day. Avoid leftovers, but if you must then do your best to make sure the leftovers aren’t over 24 hours old and are reheated with oil and spices.
- Allow space between meals (4-6 hours is ideal) by reducing or eliminating snacks. If you find yourself needing a snack, try reaching for fresh fruit.
- Avoid eating after 7 PM
- Drink at least 8–12 cups of room temperature, warm, or hot fluids each day to stay hydrated and to help flush toxins from the system. (You can always drink detox teas, like CCF tea, for even more support.)
- Go to bed before 10 PM and get plenty of rest to help your body cleanse.
- Make space in your day for relaxing activities: meditation, yin yoga, pranayama, being with plants or animals, spending time with family, getting lost in a book, and other self care practices.
- Perform regular abhyanga (self massage) throughout the cleanse. This practice counteracts vata and also supports the detoxification process by releasing toxins stored in the deep tissues.
- Ayurveda encourages using herbs at this time if it feels appropriate, like Triphala to aid in elimination.
- Wake early (before the sunrise), scrape your tongue with a tongue scraper, and pull oil in your mouth.
- Try to turn off screens and social media at least one hour before bed. If it feels supportive, you can also do a news detox during this time.
What should I expect?
Ayurvedic cleansing is safe and supportive for a diverse range of constitutions and imbalances, and each person’s experience will be different. It’s normal to feel tired, emotionally drained, and physically uncomfortable during the cleanse. Although a cleanse is ultimately very beneficial and supportive for the body, the process of eliminating toxins can stir some things up. If you feel particularly emotional, that’s okay! That’s why rest is important during this time.
You might notice that you feel increasingly better as the cleanse progresses and your body clears out toxins. Though parts of the cleanse can be uncomfortable, we’d be mistaken not to emphasize how amazing your body will feel after! You will certainly be rewarded for the hard work of having to temporarily eliminate certain foods from your diet.
During the cleanse, practice asking yourself “How do I want to feel?” An Ayurvedic cleanse will leave you feeling lighter, clearer, more energized, and healthier in general. The greatest benefit of regular Ayurvedic cleansing is long-term health and wellbeing. Who doesn’t want that?