Written by John Immel,
Why Cleanse?The primary goal of an Ayurvedic cleanse is to remove toxins (ama) from the body. Toxins clog your lymphatic system, weaken immunity, and hamper organ function, leaving you feeling exhausted, uncomfortable, and anxious. You don't want toxins hanging around for New Year's.
The secondary goal of cleansing is to strengthen digestion (agni). Weak digestion is seen as the root of all disease in Ayurveda - it's what allows toxins to accumulate in the first place (along with poor choices). So to ensure that those uninvited guests don't find their way back into your body, you need to kindle your digestive fire. Doing so restores your body's optimal function and intelligence.
A Simple Cleanse for the "Day After"Before getting out of bed, massage your GI tract. This will gently wake up your digestive organs and get your bowels moving. Brush your teeth and scrape your tongue - you can use a spoon if you don't have a tongue scraper. Scraping the tongue also enlivens your digestive organs and removes toxins from your mouth.
Start your day with a glass of hot water with lemon. The sour taste of lemon is cleansing, alkalizing (your body is often acidic after indulging in sweets and heavy foods), and sour stimulates the liver to release bile. Hot water clears stagnation, mildly cleansing and lightening the body.
Do some stretching. Twisting yoga poses help the body detox by wringing out the internal organs and encouraging elimination. Avoid eating until after you have a bowel movement and feel true hunger. If you still feel full, you might prefer to skip a meal or two to digest the heavy foods you had the day before. Don't force feed your body. When you feel hungry, make a pot of kitchari (rice and an easy to digest beans) or a simple soup like miso. Sip hot water or CCF tea throughout the day. Take a walk or bike ride, as movement and fresh air are essential for detox. Take a hot bath before bed and add some epsom salts if you have them; they will draw toxins out via the skin.
The General Formula for CleansingA mono-diet of Kitchari provides simple, easy to digest and nourishing food that is supportive to your body after a cleanse. Kitchari is basically a recipe containing rice and an easy to digest bean. Ayurveda suggests mung dal as the legume of choice because it is easy to digest, high in fiber, and mildly astringent (which helps to tone the colon). However, you may also choose chick peas, string beans, or even sweet peas. Spices, oil, salt and a vegetable may be added as well according to taste and body type.
Eat three meals of this traditional Ayurvedic dish while cleansing and add lots of warm fluids to flush the system. Warm water is a simple accompaniment, however you can also incorporate herbal teas according to your doshas. Daily self oil massage (abhyanga) is recommended to improve circulation, which flushes out toxins.
Personalizing Your CleanseBecause Ayurveda sees every body as unique, each body type needs a unique approach to clearing toxins and building digestion. What causes toxicity in Vata types is different than what causes toxicity in Pitta or Kapha types, so the origin of toxicity has to be considered when designing a cleanse. The road back to a balanced, healthy digestive fire is also distinct because each body type has particular challenges in digesting, absorbing, and assimilating food. Your practitioner will consider these factors when deciding how to guide you in cleansing. If you already know your doshas you can use some of the basic guidelines below. This will ensure you maximum benefits for the time, energy, and discipline you put into this endeavor while minimizing the dangers of cleansing.
VataVata types need food. Austerity and fasting is not healthy for Vata individuals and often creates more toxins than it releases because it's much too depleting. Instead, Vata needs nurturing, easy to digest food. It's especially important for Vata types to get adequate rest during a cleanse, as they already tend to be deficient. Vata individuals should be sure to get to bed by 10:00 pm and feel free to take an afternoon nap if needed. Rest helps hyperactive Vata individuals recharge. Vata should work to soothe the nervous system by slowing down and spending time at home. They should indulge in comfort and self nurturing, such as a new soft pillow!
After a hot bath, take haritaki before bed to encourage a healthy bowel movement. It's particularly important to keep the channels of elimination (feces, urine, sweat, and breath) open when cleansing because toxins are being pulled from the tissues for excretion. You want to ensure them a clear exit! Another possible add on to your cleanse includes a home enema with dashamoola tea. This promises to give your colon one final sweep and should be the grand finale of your cleanse.
PittaPittas also do well on a kitchari fast. Pitta individuals have strong digestion and high metabolism. They may need to eat larger quantities of food to feel satiated.
Pitta Kapha individuals can also do a juice fast in the warmer months. Enjoy fresh green juices at mealtimes to cool and cleanse the liver and sip CCF tea throughout the day as needed. Pitta does best with twisting yoga poses to clear heat and detoxify the liver and should emphasize the exhale to cool and calm the body.
For Pitta individuals, screen time should end by 9:00 pm and lights out by 10:00 pm is strongly recommended. Before bed, a mild purgative like triphala or bhumyamalaki is recommended to clean the colon and support the liver. While Vata benefits from a medicated enema, Pitta does best with a stronger purgative to finish off the cleanse. This part is optional, but if you want to go all out, consider drinking a cup of ginger licorice tea with a tablespoon of castor oil added. Do this before bed on the final night of your cleanse and clear your morning schedule the next day, as you'll want to keep close to your bathroom.
KaphaKaphas can do a more aggressive cleanse since Kaphas easily tend toward excess. They can limit themselves to one meal of kitchari midday and sip hot water and CCF tea as needed. Hot water is warming and cleansing. CCF has the added benefit of flushing excess fluids from waterlogged Kapha types. Joyful Belly's Liver and Lymph Cleanse Tea is another great choice for ridding the body of toxic buildup.
Kapha can also add daily neti pot rinsing and/or nasya oil in the morning to clear the sinuses as Kapha tends toward mucus congestion. Post nasal drip leads to excess stomach mucus, which hampers digestion. A dry or infrared sauna helps to rid body of toxins and is ideal for damp, cold Kapha types.
Rather than abhyanga, Kaphas should practice dry skin brushing and exercise daily. They benefit from a more invigorating yoga practice emphasizing backbends and the inhalation to open and clear the lungs and enliven the body. They too should take triphala before bed and aim to be asleep by 10:00 pm. Rather than daytime napping, Kaphas should aim to go to bed earlier if feeling worn out.
Longer CleansesLonger cleanses require more planning, time, and commitment. It's ideal to allow that period to be restful and as stress free as possible. What length of time and intensity can you realistically commit to?
Contraindications for CleansingCleansing gets rids of toxins, but the process of shedding toxins also depletes your body. So many of our clients do home cleanses without guidance or use new cleansing techniques that haven't been tested by time. These clients often come to our clinic with health problems caused by overzealous cleansing. Ayurveda's approach is more gentle.
Ayurveda's approach to cleansing has been developed over thousands of years. Ayurveda shows you how to minimize depletion while maximizing the release of the bad stuff. Ayurveda's approach to cleansing is specific to each person's body to make sure that your cleanse is supportive to you. The art of cleansing is a well developed specialty in Ayurveda.
Cleanses are contraindicated during menstruation, as the body is already cleansing. Ayurveda always considers the age and strength of a person in determining what cleanse is optimal. The person should not be too young (under 7), too old (over 70), or too depleted.
It is not a good idea to do a long cleanse when pregnant or breastfeeding, but a cleanse 3 months before getting pregnant is a common Ayurvedic practice. However, once pregnant, the body is hard at work growing something - it's not a time to encourage shedding. Toxins love to make a nest in fat. Breastmilk is rich in fats. Cleansing while breastfeeding will transfer your toxins to your baby. Avoid cleansing when ill, as the body is already depleted.
When to CleanseThink about when to cleanse. Cleansing after a holiday, a celebration, a stressful weak at work, after a vacation, or even after a difficult conflict can be very helpful. The change of seasons, particularly at the beginning of fall and spring, are considered to be the prime times for detoxifying. It's best to avoid intense cleansing during extreme hot or cold temperatures, however, a mild cleanse just after excess indulgence or exposure to toxicity can be healthy preventative medicine. Cleanses are also recommended when you start to feel sick in order to prevent disease. In some cases a detox is useful just after an illness to ensure complete recovery and rejuvenation.
Recovery time from your cleanse should be equal to your cleansing time. So the longer you cleanse, the more time you need to allow for recovery. For all dosha types it's important to maintain a strong routine while cleansing to get the most bang for your buck. Eat, wake, and sleep at the same time daily and keep a low key schedule outside of that. For longer cleanses, consider taking time off from work, be still, stay home, keep warm, and limit social obligations.
RecoveryComing off of a cleanse mindfully is just as important as doing a cleanse mindfully. Slowly reintroduce easy to digest foods like soups and one pot meals. Maintain a simple diet for as many days after the cleanse as you did the cleanse. For example, if you did a 3 day cleanse, eat simply for 3 days after your cleanse. Continue to maintain a strong routine as your body eases back into full swing. Use dosha-appropriate rejuvenative herbs like ashwagandha for Vata, guduchi for Pitta and punarnava for Kapha.
Feel vibrant, prevent disease, and support healing by periodically scheduling time and space to cleanse your body. Attention and prevention is the best health insurance.
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About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda. His approach to Ayurveda exudes a certain ease, which many find enjoyable and insightful. His online course Balance Your Ayurvedic Diet in a Week provides tools for gracefully healing with Ayurveda to thousands. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda , which specializes in digestive tract pathology & Ayurvedic nutrition. John and his wife Natalie recently published Explore Your Hunger: A Guide to Hunger, Appetite & Food.
John's interest in Ayurveda and digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, including his public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well.
Questions, Comments & Impressions of 'how to cleanse your gut'?Is there something you'd like to know about 'how to cleanse your gut'?
(3.00 out of 5 stars) 1 review, 69 likes
The only reason for 3 and not 5 stars is that there is no mention for either persons over 70 or being "depleted" and what they can do to make their lives better.