Cleansing and detoxing the body isn’t a millennial trend. It’s a way of life that has existed in cultures for thousands of years, especially within the practice of Ayurveda and Ayurvedic cleanses.
First things first, what is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda, a system of medicine from India that originated centuries ago, is a holistic approach to health and lifestyle management. The practices of Ayurveda incorporate diet, movement, meditation, massage, and botanical medicine to promote balance within each individualized body.
Ayurveda is based on the five elements of ether, air, water, fire, and earth. An individual possesses a unique combination of these elements, which in turn coincides with one of the three doshas in Ayurveda.
According to Ayurvedic beliefs, each individual has a unique and dominant dosha based on the type of energy in his or her body. This energy makes up a person’s physical, physiological, and psychological functions (including metabolism) and can easily become unbalanced.
You can determine your dosha constitution by doing an assessment online or through meeting with an Ayurvedic practitioner who can best determine what your dosha is. In general, the three doshas can be broken down by a few specific characteristics.
The Three Doshas
Vata – According to Denise O’Dunn, lead practitioner of Balance & Bliss Ayurvedic Lifestyle center, vata is associated with air and ether. Within the body, vata movement includes breathing, blinking, heartbeat, and blood circulation within the joints and muscles. “Those who are Vata tend to be taller or shorter than average build with a thin, delicate body type and unique and prominent features. The balanced Vata is creative, full of life and vitality. When out of balance, vata produces fear, distraction, and anxiety.”
Pitta – According to O’Dunn, Pitta is made up of fire and water and is associated with energy that control’s the body’s metabolic and digestive system. Those who are pitta tend to have average body height and weight and can easily put on or lose weight. In balance, Pitta individuals are intelligent, focused, and goal oriented. When out of balance, Pitta can become aggressive, angry, and have stomach issues such as ulcers.
Kapha – The Kapha dosha is composed of water and earth elements and is associated with energy that controls the body. Its energy hydrates, maintains the immune system, and keeps skin supple. According to O’Dunn, “those who are Kapha tend to be heavier and powerful, have a slow metabolism and gain weight easily. When in balance, Kapha is sweet, forgiving, and self-preserving. Out of balance, Kapha is envious, sluggish, and insecure.”
It is within balance that differentiates Ayurveda form several other systems of medicine. Ayurveda focuses on the prevention of disease along with practices of self-care to restore health and balance within the body. One of these practices is panchakarma, a prominent tool to restore balance to the body.
Panchakarma is the original detox. Through the use of various whole foods, spices, herbs, oils, body treatments and therapies, Panchakarma is “designed to allow the body to rid itself of toxins that have accumulated and become stuck within the body” according to a study published in Scientific World Journal.
These toxic buildups create blockages within the various doshas and body systems, including the circulatory, nervous, and digestive systems. Once the Ayurveda cleanse is complete, the body can easily go back to its normal, happy functioning.
How To Begin a Panchakarma Detox
Panchakarma cleanses can be done at home or at a specialized Ayurvedic retreat or healing center. Usually, an Ayurvedic cleanse is done for 7-12 days, although can be as short as 1-3 days.
In retreat settings, the panchakarma cleanse is highly individualized to each individual’s dosha constitution, age, digestive strength, immune status, and more. If you’d like to undergo an Ayurvedic cleanse at home, there are some simple rituals to cleanse your body in a gentle and easy way. But as with any detox or cleanse, always consult with your primary care physician before you start, particularly if you are taking any medications.
Cleansing Panchakarma Rituals
Ghee. Clarified butter, aka ghee, is a staple within Ayurvedic medicine. Ghee is thought to be a digestive, meaning it helps to tone the GI tract, and improve the absorption and assimilation of nutrients.
While undergoing panchakarma one should drink two ounces of warm ghee every morning. Ghee is suitable for Pitta and Vata and can be consumed in moderation, for Kapha. Purchase an organic, grass-fed ghee from your natural grocery store. Or better yet, make your own ghee at home from organic butter.
Journal and Reflect. Another proponent of panchakarma is interpreting how your body is adjusting to the cleansing process. Detoxification can bring up a lot of emotions, tensions, and thoughts, so keeping track of them is important to the process. Jot down thoughts throughout the day and stay mindful of how your body (including your mind) is feeling.
Utilize Self-Care Rituals. Dinacharya is the act of self-care and daily routine within Ayurvedic medicine. This includes self-massage, oil pulling with coconut or sesame oil, tongue scraping, dry brushing the body, exercise, gentle movement like yoga, and meditation.
Rest. Need we say more? A good night sleep is essential to the cleansing process, as it allows the body to repair and revitalize itself, promoting the restoration of dosha energy.
Eat Kitchari. Like a Western doctor prescribes Advil for headaches, Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe kitchari for panchakarma. Kitchari uses the principles of mono cleansing, or eating the same types of foods for a variety of time. Within panchakarma, kitchari is to be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is made up of soaked and sprouted mung beans, rice, and warming spices. Of course, if undergoing a gentle panchakarma cleanse, eating kitchari at all meals is not essential.
Eat Whole. If undergoing a true panchakarma Ayurvedic cleanse and eating kitchari all the time does not sound like your cup of tea, another way to cleanse the body is to eat simple, whole foods.
To reset your body for the autumn and winter, consume a variety of cooked and roasted vegetables like winter squash and root vegetables. Minimize the consumption of raw fruit (especially tropical fruits), as these are cooling to the system.
Experiment with roasted vegetable soups, stews, and bone broths. Incorporate more whole grains like oats and buckwheat, lentils, and beans, just make sure they are soaked and sprouted, which is easier on the digestive system.
Liberally use warming spices, like ginger, turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, cumin and fennel, onto your food. These spices aid in deepana (digestive fire) and pachana (burning of toxins) to cleanse the blood and digestive tract, according to O’Dunn.
The easiest way to undergo this Ayurvedic cleanse is to simply eat cooked food found in season. The farmers market is the easiest place to find all sorts of seasonal fruits and vegetables along with grains, nuts, and seeds.
Do You Need an Ayurveda Cleanse?
Feeling bloated, angry, stressed, unmotivated, lazy, or overwhelmed? Partaking in a panchakarama detox may be a good idea before the holiday season (or after!). Remember, this is a cleanse to honor the body and find balance, not to restrict and deprive yourself.
Listen to your body and emotions, eat simple cooked whole foods, and give your body both gentle movement and rest. If you have more questions about panchakarma and Ayurvedic medicine, look for an Ayurvedic practitioner near you.