We are experiencing ritusandhi or season change now. Ritusandhi is the junction between two seasons, the 15 day period when one season ends to bring on another. Ayurveda recommends an internal cleanse or detox at season change time. Detox is considered especially beneficial in spring because it is an ideal time to get rid of all the stagnation and heaviness from winter. If detox is too strong a word for some of you out there who have never experienced the benefits of this and have apprehensions, it is best to start slow and for smaller durations (1 day is great!). Try to think of it as a time to give your digestive system a break – any working system needs regularly scheduled breaks to function optimally. At the same time, the cleanse should not be too drastic and hence turn out to be depleting or detrimental to the body. Balance is the key. This is a time to give your body, mind and general being a break of sorts from the routine to take some time to slow down, rejuvenate, relax and recharge your batteries!
So, what is Ayurveda’s take on detox, in general?
Goals of Detox:
- Remove ama (toxin build-up) in the body.
- Balance agni (digestive fire).
- Improve energy levels.
- Increase immunity.
- Stop premature aging.
- Bring lightness and clarity to the body and mind.
Duration of Detox:
Can range anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks, in general – but my take is that even one day for starters should be beneficial.
Precautions before Detoxing:
It is important to consult your health professional before undertaking any form of rigorous diet or routine change program. This is especially important for individuals who have any health problems like diabetes, anemia, kidney problems, blood pressure problems etc.
How to Detox:
There are several aspects to a detox plan – diet, exercise, routine, herbs. Let’s look at them individually.
- Avoid packaged, canned, processed and preservative laden foods, white refined flour, white sugar, restaurant food, heavy foods like cheese, butter, deep-fried foods, leftovers, and frozen foods.
- Avoid soda, alcohol and caffeine.
- Avoid dairy for at least a day (depending on the duration of your detox regimen). Exception to this is buttermilk from homemade yogurt. You may use other non-dairy drinks like almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk etc.
- Follow a diet that is suitable to your dosha.
- Drink a LOT of water! Hot water is great, but if you are a pitta type, warm water will work better. Aim at drinking at least 8-10 cups of water, not counting teas and juices etc.
- Include ghee as part of your diet. Start your day with a couple teaspoons full of ghee. It drains the toxins into the stomach so they can travel out of the body through the intestines in daily elimination of toxins. Ghee loosens up sticky toxins/ama lodged in the body. Ghee improves digestive ability, nourishes and lubricates the system.
- Make fresh fruit and vegetables the mainstay of your diet. Fruit may be consumed as is or spiced with Himalayan pink salt, chaat masala etc., and as juices. Fruit like papayas, pears, cooked prunes, figs, pineapple and apple are especially good. Vegetables should be consumed cooked as far as possible. Small amount of raw vegetables should be okay for pitta types if they can digest it. The vegetables may be steamed, stir-fried, or served as warm soups. Leafy greens, brussel sprouts, cabbage are especially good. Depending on your detox regimen’s duration, try to include at least one day with just fruits and vegetables.
- You may include seeds (toasted is better) like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds etc. in your diet. Dried fruits like dates, figs, prunes, raisins, all soaked in water are also a great addition to your diet at this time.
- Include a variety of digestive spices in your diet – coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, curry leaves, cinnamon, saffron, turmeric, Himalayan pink salt etc. Spices help to stimulate digestion, open up body channels, flush out toxins, and add flavor to foods among their numerous benefits.
- Sip on green teas, Ayurvedic spice teas through the day – CCF (cumin-coriander-fennel) tea is a popular tea known for its dosha balancing and digestive benefits. You can come up with your own tea recipes, suitable to your constitution and the season also.
- When re-introducing grains into your diet, small quantities of rice (Basmati) is great – easy on the digestion, highly sattvic and tridoshic in nature! Other grains that are great are brown rice, barley, quinoa. Avoid heavy grains like wheat and oats and all kinds of breads.
- When re-introducing lentils and pulses, choose small lentils like moong (split green gram) – it is highly digestible, nutritious and tridoshic in nature.
- Khichdi (a wholesome mix of rice and mung lentils) is a mainstay of any Ayurvedic detox plan. It is very sattvic, nourishing and balancing to the digestion and mind, in general.
- Try to eat at the same time everyday, don’t skip meals, make lunch your biggest meal, and don’t overeat in general.
- Do some moderate amount of aerobic exercise that allows you to sweat (removes toxins) to an extent. Walking is great, just be careful to not overdo and overtire yourself during this time.
- Yoga is a great way to strengthen, stretch, relax and rejuvenate all at once. Twists like Natarajasana (Shiva Pose), Ardhamatsyendrasana (Fish Pose), Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), Surya Namaskars (Sun Salutations), Shavasana (Corpse Pose) are all great. Pranayama (breathing techniques) like Anulom Vilom (Alternate Nostril Breathing), Bhastrika (Bellows Breath), Kapala Bhati (Shining of the Crown), Brahmari (Bee Buzzing) are useful for flushing the toxins from the body. These practices of yoga and pranayama also help the mind to relax and the breathing to slow down, thereby helping the body’s ability to heal itself.
- Ensure that you get lots of rest during this time. The body is working hard to get rid of the toxins and needs extra rest. Allow yourself some extra R&R!
- Follow the recommendations of Ayurvedic daily routine to the extent possible. Specifically, try to wake up early and meditate early in the morning. This helps in setting the right mental tone for the rest of the day. Also try to include an Abhyanga (self oil massage) at least once (if not more times) during the detox period. Try to do a nasya (drops of herbal oil into the nose) at least once during the detox period. Sleep early at night and ensure that you get enough sleep at night.
- This is a good time to get a steam, full-body massage or natural, relaxing facial.
- Try to keep a positive mindset through this period. Do things and spend time with people that relax and invigorate you, rather than doing things and meeting people that rankle and sap you of energy. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things may not go our way. Go with the flow at such times and try your level best to maintain your equanimity. These small mental shifts are as important as the other things we do for detox – the mental and emotional toxins are as dangerous for the system!
Just the above 3 changes itself will be highly beneficial. Including herbs like triphala, manjishtha, guduchi, kutki, punarnava, neem, chitrak etc. will expedite the process of expelling toxins from the body. But these are best done under the guidance of a trained Ayurvedic professional.