Springtime. The senses become awaken to witnessing the process of rebirth. The brown hues of winter begin to transform into vivid shades of green. The soil feels damp below our feet from new fallen rain. The fragrant smells of blooming flowers and new life fill the air. We are graced by the melodies of the bird’s song again. The sun’s rays grow brighter, the days become longer. The recent arrival of the spring equinox welcomed the changing of the seasons. Mother Nature is waking up from the slumber of winter! Here and now—we are reborn in the warmth and the possibility of spring.
In Ayurveda, this time of year is known as kapha season. The Sanskrit word kapha can be translated as “flourishing with water.” It is the season when the water and earth elements are at their highest. Since human beings are a direct reflection of nature, these elements are also dominant in our own constitutions during the wet, earthy spring months. Ritucharya (seasonal routines) is an essential practice in Ayurvedic medicine, especially during the major transitory seasons like spring and fall. Ritucharya could be defined as living one’s life in the context of the seasons. Incorporating diet and lifestyle practices around seasonal changes help to ease the transition and cultivate inner and outer vitality and radiance.
Spring is the ideal time of year for cleansing the body, mind and spirit. I find that the heavy, wet spring season creates a favorable condition for practicing a cleanse. Ayurvedic cleanses are unique because they are just as nourishing as they are cleansing. The diet of an Ayurvedic cleanse causes the body to release deeply stored toxins while continuing to build bodily tissue and increase agni (digestive fire). Digestion and elimination are improved while the body’s major cleansing organs like the liver, kidneys, colon, and skin are supported. This form of cleansing also allows the body to rest and gives us time and energy to rebuild new habits around food. Ayurvedic cleansing not only happens on a physical level, but emotionally as well. Pulling toxins from the tissues of the body can cause past trauma and undigested emotions to surface. Cleansing the physical body is a powerful way to cleanse the emotional body, allowing “emotional garbage” to emerge so it can be acknowledged, accepted and released. You can’t imagine the emotional releases that occur when we begin to alter our diet and lifestyle!
Due to the physical, and more importantly the emotional cleansing nature of an Ayurvedic cleanse, it is recommended to cleanse for only one day without the supervision of an Ayurvedic coach. A typical Ayurvedic cleanse lasts for five to seven days, the third day being the most detoxifying. The science of Ayurveda strongly advises individuals to not cleanse if they are sick, pregnant, breast-feeding, menstruating, or recovering from an acute condition. It’s the season to shed a layer of ourselves after the cold, quiet hibernation we experienced during the winter months. Honor the potential of personal transformation this spring. Begin your ritucharya practice by completing your own, safe, one-day Ayurvedic cleanse!
Cleansing the Physical Body
The first step of our cleanse is to understand that food is medicine. The basis of every Ayurvedic cleanse is a traditional Indian dish called kitchari. The term kitchari means mixture and it is often called “the chicken soup of India.” The dish is highly nourishing—it was originally served only to babies, the elderly and the sick. Kitchari contains all of the necessary protein needed to continue building new tissue in the body and it is easily processed by the digestive system. By nourishing ourselves with food that allows the digestive system to rest; our bodies are able to devote more energy towards nurturing the liver, cleansing the blood and pulling deeply rooted toxins from the physical body.
Kitchari is to be eaten three times a day, for all three meals during the cleanse. During a longer Ayurvedic cleanse it is acceptable to introduce other easily digested foods like oatmeal or broths for some meals. For a one-day cleanse, keep it simple and stick to kitchari. Kitchari is a mixture of mung beans, basmati rice, cooked vegetables, spices and a healthy vegan fat such as coconut oil or sesame oil. (Traditionally, ghee—clarified butter—is used.) The combination of beans and rice form what is called a perfect protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids. I have included a simple kitchari recipe at the end of this article! Cooking with organic food is always best if you’re able to do so.
Split mung beans are a superfood that are anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and alkalize the system which stimulates the release of toxins in the body. They work wonders on eliminating and stabilizing digestive imbalances. Split mung beans are best for an Ayurvedic cleanse. It is also important to soak split mung beans at least two to three hours (soak longer for whole mung beans) before they are cooked, this helps them to be digested even easier.
Basmati white rice should be used instead of brown rice, this is important. Although brown rice contains more fiber, it is harder on the digestive system than white rice. Make sure to rinse the rice well before it is cooked.
Cooked, seasonal vegetables should always be used in kitchari. Every meal should be at least 50% vegetables if not more! Avoid using raw vegetables; they are particularly difficult for most people to digest. No cruciferous veggies. Greens are GREAT. Root vegetables are absolutely fine; however, avoid too many root vegetables that are sugar rich.
Spices are an essential part of Ayurvedic cooking and of kitchari! Turmeric, cumin, coriander, fennel, fenugreek, cardamom, aesofetida, ginger powder, cloves, bay leaves, mustard seed, salt, black pepper, mint and cilantro are all great options to add to your personal spice blend.
Avoiding dairy, unhealthy fats, processed foods and sugar is a general rule for all Ayurvedic cleanses. Refraining from sugar also means not eating fruits during a cleanse. Lemons, limes and avocado are okay.
Do not cook with garlic and onions during this time. Although these foods are considered medicinal in Ayurvedic cooking, they are to be avoided during a cleanse.
I recommend holding off on taking additional herbs, supplements and over the counter medications during a cleanse. Never stop a prescription unless instructed by your doctor. Spices and herbs for cooking and teas are fine during this time. Taking a digestive Ayurvedic herb like triphala or trikatu can be helpful for anyone who experiences constipation during a cleanse. Overall, try to give the body and particularly your liver time to rest and time to reset itself.
Drinking warm lemon water upon waking in the morning can be beneficial during an Ayurvedic cleanse (and in general!). This ritual cleanses the liver and improves digestion and elimination.
Be conscious of what food you’re putting in your body the day before and after a one-day cleanse. A full Ayurvedic cleanse will actually last one month total. The week before involves preparation, week two is the cleanse itself, week three is the transition and week four is the completion. We want to ease in and out of a cleanse. Start avoiding some of the recommended foods the day before and continue refraining from them the day after. Taking a break from foods and then reintroducing them to the body can demonstrate which foods are working for us—and which foods are not.
Cleansing the Emotional Body
According to Ayurveda, digestion is governed by a subtle force known as samana vayu. This force can be thought of as a fire, an internal fire that helps us transform food into energy and experience into wisdom. The body can be a storehouse for pain and trauma. Life experiences that we may not have been able to process and fully digest often remain stored as tension and toxicity in the physical body. Undigested traumas can also leave stored fight or flight patterns in the body which tends to produce imbalances such as anxiety and depression. To cleanse the physical body is to cleanse the emotional body.
Since the most detoxification happens around the third day of an Ayurvedic cleanse, a one-day cleanse will only allow whatever emotional toxins are closest to the surface to emerge. Practice a one-day cleanse when you are able to completely clear your schedule. No plans, no commitments. On an emotional level, Ayurvedic cleanses are all about turning inward. Give yourself time and space to allow anything that needs to be released to come up.
Writing can be a powerful emotional clearing technique. Journal about any thoughts or emotions that arise during a cleanse. Self-reflection brings awareness into the emotional body and the light of our awareness is where inner healing begins.
Bathing is a ritual to cleanse the physical and emotional body that has been practiced traditionally for thousands of years. Take a relaxing bath or shower! This can be beneficial after emotional clearing exercises like writing.
Abhyanga (Ayurvedic self-massage) is another way to unwind and release tension. This practice stimulates circulation, eases the nervous system and boosts lymphatic draining in the body. Allow self-massages to effortlessly assist you through the detoxification process.
Rest. Give yourself permission to rest. This will tremendously help the body to cleanse itself. Make sure to get proper sleep at night. Sleep is one of the three pillars of health in Ayurveda!
Avoid sex during an Ayurvedic cleanse. Although sex can be a healing practice, try to refrain from sex while cleansing.
Less technology use can be a cleansing ritual in itself! During a cleanse, try to spend less time in front of screens (especially in the morning and evenings). This includes phones, computers, televisions, etc. Be conscious of what information you are taking in while you are in the process of emptying yourself of physical and emotional toxins. Try to nourish yourself on all levels. Less screen time has been proven to decrease stress and help you sleep better at night!
Exercise is great while cleansing, however, keep any physical activity light with low impact during this time.
Spring cleaning can be a powerful practice around an Ayurvedic cleanse! Although we are encouraged to rest and restore during the cleansing process, spring cleaning either before or after a cleanse is highly recommended. Cleanse not only your body but your environment. Purify your space and toss anything that no longer serves you! You will feel lighter after this practice and create possibility for new things to enter your life.
Try practicing a one-day Ayurvedic cleanse this spring to release toxins, rejuvenate and re-nourish the physical and emotional body. Allow the experience to guide you into the next season of your life- with a body that is bursting with health and radiance. If you feel drawn to practicing a full Ayurvedic cleanse, find an Ayurvedic coach that can help lead you through the process!
Simple Kitchari Recipe
1 tbsp coconut oil or sesame oil
1 1/2 tsp spice seeds
1 1/2 tsp powdered spices
2 1/2 cups of water
1/4 cup basmati white rice (rinsed)
1/4 cup split mung beans (soaked and rinsed)
1-2 cups seasonal vegetables (cut into small pieces)
Melt oil in a pot on low heat. Add spice seeds and cook until the seeds pop. Add powdered spices and heat for 1 minute (you should begin to smell the aroma of the spices). Next add rice and mung beans. Stir to coat both in the oil/spice mixture. Cook for another minute. Add water and bring to a boil. Add vegetables and turn to medium or low heat. Cover and let it to cook until almost all the water has reduced. Turn off heat and allow the dish to sit covered for several minutes. Garnish with cilantro or mint (if desired) and serve warm! It’s helpful to make one big pot of kitchari to eat for all three meals a day.
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References: Katie Silcox and Meredith Klein, The Shakti School Ayurveda School Certification Program; Textbook of Ayurveda: Fundamental Principles of Ayurveda Volume 1 by Vasant Lad; High Vibrational Beauty: Recipes and Rituals for Radical Self Care by Kerrilynn Pamer and Cindy Diprima Morisse
Photo: Ally Snead; Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash