A Simple Spring Cleanse
By Julie Neitzel
As spring arrives, we instinctively want to clean out the accumulated debris of winter to make room for new growth. Winter has required us to eat heavier foods for warmth but, as the sun gives us more of its heat, spring allows us to burn off the reservoirs of stored energy and transition to a lighter diet. This often leads folks looking for a way to further “cleanse” their bodies to Community Pharmacy’s digestive aisle.
Many theories about cleansing exist, including liver flushes, colonics, and fasting. Ayurvedic medicine presents us with the world’s most detailed, holistic science of digestion and cleansing, the goal being to assist the body with its natural urge to detoxify. This approach can give us a blueprint for a purifying springtime plan.
The basics of Ayurveda tell us that all disease starts as mental stress and/or indigestion. Digestive power is envisioned as a fire that transforms food into useful nutrients for our cells and waste to be excreted for the body with help from our skin, liver, kidneys, lungs, and intestines. Under optimal conditions, the fire burns strong and the body is a self-cleaning mechanism. But when the fire is overburdened by environmental toxins (in water, air or food), pathogens, stress or undigested food, unwanted substances remain in the body. For ease of conversation, most people call these substances “toxins.” The primary focus of Ayurvedic medicine is the prevention of toxic accumulation in the body through its vast information on what and how to eat as well as how our environment, emotions and habits are intertwined.
Each day we have opportunities to practice preventative medicine by keeping diet and lifestyle routines that do not add to our toxic burden. Ideally, we choose the right foods at the right time, considering the time of day and season in addition to our own digestive power. As we all know, this is easier said than done, so Ayurveda reminds us to periodically check in with ourselves and help the body reset when we have not chosen wisely. The strategy is to remove the causes — the ones we can control, anyway — by not adding more digestive challenges, and to kindle our fire so it can burn up toxins.
Ayurvedic cleansing methods differ from most in that they encourage the body to relax and release toxins in a gentle, non-threatening way. They work with the whole person, not just one isolated system, to avoid creating stress or new symptoms.
The simplest way to cleanse is to rest the digestive system and allow it to work its magic. This is accomplished through a light, cleansing diet for a week or two. (If this commitment is too much, even one day per week — or just one day — is a start). Rather than complete fasting, which can create stress about deprivation, the body is allowed nutrition but does not have to expend much energy in breaking down food.
A cleansing diet for spring mimics the warmer, lighter qualities of the season. Eat mainly gently cooked, warm and spiced foods. Emphasize grains, seasonal and local leafy greens and new vegetables, fresh herbs, lemon juice, warm water and tea, a bit of ghee or olive oil and yogurt. Prepare simple dishes like dahl, steamed veggies with grains, and soups. Think of the bitter greens like dandelion and nettles that become available in spring and use them abundantly; these herbal friends encourage detoxification, too. The most common dish for a cleansing diet is kichadi, a stew of mung dal, veggies and basmati rice. (A recipe for kichadi can be found in most Ayurveda books). Often, a monodiet of just kichadi is taken for several days. This has the added benefit of letting the mind take a break from choosing, and can give great insight into how often we eat emotionally.
You can further support cleansing with spices that kindle digestion and support elimination. Spice your food well, and also ingest warm spices in tea or capsule form between meals. Pungent and bitter tastes like ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, fenugreek, and black pepper are best for spring. Coriander, cumin and fennel support digestion and the kidneys and can be prepared together as a tea or toasted for chewing after meals.
While eating a cleansing diet, minimize foods that are more difficult to digest; these include alcohol, meat, milk, nuts, hard cheese, vinegar, yeast bread, processed food, white flour and sugar, raw food, leftovers, caffeine, cold beverages, and anything iced. Also, take a break from supplements — they’ll be more useful when you can better absorb them anyway. Eat three to four regular meals per day with the largest meal at midday. Do not read or watch TV while eating; avoid snacking between meals and avoid eating after 7 pm.
Make sure that elimination is happening daily by taking one-half teaspoon of triphala in warm water before bedtime. If needed, take psyllium in the morning as well. Triphala is a great antioxidant and bowel tonic that gradually helps to release toxins with regular, long-term use.
A complete home cleanse also includes strategies beyond diet, as Ayurveda speaks of digestion occurring through all five senses. Include massage, sweating, aromatherapy, adequate rest, gentle exercise and fresh air. Use only natural products on the skin. Try to create time and space for quiet contemplation to allow the senses to rest.
If you’re interested in going a step further, Community Pharmacy sells several products to assist detoxification. They usually require ten to fourteen days of taking supplements on a schedule and could be used in conjunction with the cleansing diet or kichadi monodiet. Or visit an Ayurvedic practitioner for a three-to-six-week Pancha Karma regimen.
Early spring is ideal for starting new endeavors, and traditionally the change in seasons has been seen in the Ayurvedic system as the best time to assist the body in detoxifying. A simple cleanse can be a jumpstart for creating better habits and digestion, increased immunity, mental clarity, decreased stress, clearer skin and fewer symptoms of all kinds, including PMS, allergies, and headaches. Repetition of this kind of occasional digestive break is a preventative measure that can help keep other disorders from taking root in the body while helping us remember the things that make us feel well.
A Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies by Vasant Lad
The Ayurvedic Cookbook by Andrea Morningstar
Ayurveda: A Life of Balance by Maya Tiwari
Julie Neitzel graduated from the California College of Ayurveda in 2002 and has worked at Community Pharmacy for 14 years.