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Renew Yourself - Ayurvedic Internal Cleansing

  by Shreelata Suresh,

Ayurvedic healers highly recommend periodic internal cleansing as a way to maintain good health and prevent disorders from taking root in the physiology. Just like you regularly flush out the plumbing system in your home or change the oil in your automobile engine, periodically helping your body flush toxins out thoroughly is a good maintenance technique that will help organs and systems stay more efficient for a longer period of time.

Especially after the age of 40, when your body's own cleansing and rejuvenating capability starts slowing down, supporting it with a cleansing regime is important for ongoing health and vitality.

The Seed and Land Theory of Ayurveda

Proper digestion is crucial for health. When digestion is efficient and complete, all of the food you eat is either converted into nutrient fluids for absorption into the body, or flushed out as wastes. When the digestive process is incomplete or inefficient, partially digested food matter is left behind in the digestive system. This substance, called ama in ayurveda, becomes toxic to the physiology if allowed to stay in the body or build up over time. Ama is not only inherently toxic in itself, it also clogs the channels of the body, further disrupting the flow of digestion and leading to an escalating cycle of toxin build-up. Ama is fertile ground for infections and disorders to germinate, take root and flourish. Ama build-up is considered the first stage of imbalance in the physiology. If not addressed, disorders invariably follow.

The digestive process leaves behind toxins either when you eat foods that are not fresh, natural or suited to your constitution and digestive capability, or when you follow eating routines and practices that are not ideal. Eating processed or artificially flavored foods and foods that are grown with chemical pesticides and fertilizers can lead to toxin build-up. Drinking iced water or ice- cold beverages douses the digestive fire and causes ama to be generated. Eating heavier foods after sundown, eating a new meal before the previous one is digested, or eating when stressed or working also impact digestion.

How to Tell if You Have Ama Build-Up

It is best to visit an ayurvedic healer and have him or her assess your ama levels. The following are general indications that you may have an accumulation of toxins in your physiology:

1. Your tongue has a white coating in the morning when you wake up.

2. You yawn after a main meal and just want to curl up and snooze.

3. You feel tired and lethargic all day long, even though you eat well and sleep well.

4. Your appetite is poor or you crave junk foods.

5. You feel a general lack of motivation or zest for life.

6. You feel "spaced out" and your mind is cloudy.

7. You experience abdominal bloating and gas, especially after a main meal.

8. You feel heavy and congested or constipated.

9. You have a general sense of malaise, with vague aches and pains.

If you experience three or more of the above on a regular basis, your physiology would probably benefit from a cleansing regime.

Full-fledged ayurvedic cleansing programs, called Panchakarma, are best done under the supervision of an ayurvedic physician. Harsh sudden purges are also not recommended in ayurveda. A gentle program of cleansing, done over 45-60 days, is least stressful for the physiology, easiest to follow on a regular basis, and adequate for enhancing the digestive fire to burn off simple ama accumulation.

The Best Time for Internal Cleansing

Ayurveda recommends a seasonal routine (ritucharya) as well as daily routine (dinacharya). Each season brings with it its own challenges with respect to your health and needs for balance. The time when the seasons change is the best time to do an at-home cleansing regime, to divest yourself of the earlier season's accumulation of ama and to prepare the physiology for the new season.

Spring, especially, is considered an ideal time to rejuvenate the physiology, in keeping with Nature's own calendar for rejuvenation. With the melting of the snows and the thawing of the ground, the fluids in the body also start flowing more freely, and performing an internal cleansing routine at this time accelerates the flushing of toxins from the physiology.

The "At-Home" Cleansing Routine: Diet

The Don'ts:

Start by eliminating from your diet all foods that can create ama. This includes leftovers, foods with preservatives, additives or chemicals, and foods grown in an environment laced with chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and canned, frozen or processed foods.

Eliminate junk foods from your diet. Avoid heavy desserts, heavy meats and cheeses, deep-fried foods, candy and chocolate, white sugar, carbonated drinks, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. Minimize breads made with yeast and fermented foods.

Avoid raw foods such as uncooked salads, sprouts and cold sandwiches, because raw foods are harder on the digestive system. Avoid yogurt, as it sometimes clogs the channels of the body. If you drink milk, boil it with a pinch of nutmeg for Vata, cardamom for Pitta and a slice of fresh ginger for Kapha to enhance digestibility.

Avoid iced water and cold beverages.

The Dos:

Pick foods that are best for your constitution and needs for balance, as well as the strength of your digestive agni. Stick to lighter, easier-to-digest foods from the choices you do have.

Eat whole, fresh, natural foods, organic if you can get it. Buy your produce fresh, and consume it quickly.

Eat cooked foods, warm or at room temperature.

Drink lots of warm water through the day. Accompany meals with small sips of warm water as needed. A detoxifying "tea" is even better. Coriander, cumin, fennel and ajwain (carum copticum) are digestion- enhancing spices to choose from. Here are suggestions for detoxifying herbal waters for the three doshas:

Bring two quarts of pure water to a rolling boil. Add the herbs/spices listed below, turn off heat after a couple of minutes and let steep for about 15-20 minutes. Strain and pour the water into a thermos. Drink the tea through the day, especially 15 minutes after a meal. Throw out any that remains after 6.30 pm, and make a fresh batch the next morning.

Vata: 1/2 tsp cumin seed, 1/4 tsp ajwain seed, 1/2 tsp fennel seed

Pitta: 1/2 tsp cumin seed, 1/2 tsp coriander seed, 2 fresh mint leaves

Kapha: 1/2 tsp cumin seed, 1 clove, 1-2 slices fresh ginger root

If you can find fresh Tulsi (Holy Basil), add a leaf or two to the water for all doshas. Tulsi is known for its ability to cleanse the physiology of environmental toxins.

Include lots of cleansing fruits and vegetables in your diet. Barley water or rice kanjee, made by cooking a small amount of grain with a large quantity of water (1/2 cup to 10 cups) are also wonderful cleansers of the digestive system and the urinary tract. Greens, daikon radish, bitter gourd, cabbage and celery are examples of cleansing vegetables. Cooked apples and pears are a great way to get elimination going in the morning. Prunes, pineapple, papaya and pomegranate are other fruits that aid digestion and cleansing. Herbs such as cilantro, mint, fresh ginger and lemon are also helpful for cleansing and purifying the digestive system.

Cook with digestion-enhancing, detoxifying spices such as turmeric, cumin, coriander, clove, ajwain, fenugreek, dried ginger, Chinese cinnamon and fennel. Add the turmeric to foods as they are cooking, and sauté other spices in ghee or olive oil and pour over prepared dishes for the best therapeutic benefit. Digestion-enhancing lassi, made by blending one part yogurt and three parts water with some of the herbs and spices mentioned in this section, is an excellent choice for a lunchtime beverage.

The "At-Home" Cleansing Routine: Lifestyle

Follow ayurvedic guidelines for proper digestion. Eat three meals a day at about the same times, eat lighter in the morning and evening than in the afternoon, and eat in a quiet, pleasant atmosphere.

Get lots of rest. Sleep is important any time of year, but especially during purification, when your body needs the quiet time to cleanse itself and recharge. Go to bed early and rise early.

Meditate everyday. Stress contributes to disrupted digestion, and meditation can help reduce stress levels.

Exercise, done everyday, is important. Exercise early in the morning. Walking is excellent exercise for all body types. Practice deep breathing to draw in oxygen and cleanse the air channels of the body. Avoid napping during the day.

The ayurvedic daily massage, called abhyanga, helps loosen toxins deeply embedded in body tissues for ease of elimination.

If there is a day spa that offers ayurvedic rejuvenation treatments in the area, treat yourself to a shirodhara—a routine where a stream of warm oil is poured steadily on the forehead for 30-45 minutes, followed by a scalp massage. The shirodhara is wonderful for calming the mind and nervous system and recharging the entire physiology.

Regular elimination is important. Empty your bowel and bladder regularly to flush the toxins that have been loosened or released from the tissues, joints and organs out of the body before they get back into circulation.

The "At-Home" Cleansing Routine: Herbal Rasayanas

Triphala and Tulsi together can help cleanse the physiology of internally generated digestive ama as well as toxins drawn in from the environment through less-than-ideal air, water or food.

Triphala, a classical ayurvedic herbal combination of three fruits, helps cleanse and tone the entire digestive tract, strengthens the digestion to deter further ama formation and strengthens and purifies the liver. It can be taken by all body types.

Tulsi (Holy Basil) helps balance Kapha dosha, which tends to get aggravated in the spring, and helps purify the system of spring- related ama problems as well as environmental toxins. It also helps bolster your natural immunity. (Vata, Pitta and Kapha are the three psycho-physiological principles that govern all the activities of mind and body)

After Cleansing: Ongoing Maintenance

After the 30 days of cleansing, you can gradually add back heavier foods and small portions of raw foods into your diet if your constitution and digestive fire permit you to have these foods usually. Continue your diet of fresh, whole, pure foods and continue to drink lots of water through the day. Get plenty of rest, moderate exercise and some relaxation every day.

At the next change of seasons, perform the cleansing routine again to keep ama out of the system and to support natural good health and vitality on a long-term basis.

Note: This information is educational, and is not intended to replace standard medical care or advice. Before making changes to your diet or lifestyle, please consult your physician.

About the Author

Shreelata Suresh is a yoga instructor from the Bay Area. She writes for various publications on yoga and ayurveda. For more information on ayurveda or to buy ayurvedic products, visit


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The information provided on this site is provided for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Should you have any serious health concerns, you should always check with your health care practitioner before self-administering any natural remedy.

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