Cleanses are so hot these days.
They’re like a bikram yoga class in the summer.
But just like not every yoga class is for every body, not every cleanse is going to benefit every body in the most optimal way. So, before diving into the vast juicer-kale-mung bean laden world of cleansing, take a moment and use this guide below.
We’re aiming to get the Ojas-full feelings of detoxification & rejuvenation just right and skip the fatigue-and-depression of depletion cleansing.
I realize this post might be a little controversial and so I want to start off with the old adage of Ayurveda (the medicine of the Vedas): “Nothing is good. Nothing is bad.” Everything in this world has a way of acting as a medicine and a poison; it all depends on who it’s for and how it’s used. So, keeping that in mind, one could say that all methods of cleansing could potentially be good just so long as they’re used by the right person and for the appropriate length of time.
For clarity, I’m going to go through some of the most common types of cleansing below—but first the basic constitutional types so that you have a frame of reference for the doshas.
Imbalances of the Vata-type Cleanser: very low weight or potentially underweight, weight accumulates around waist/belly, anxiety, worry, feels easily overwhelmed, insomnia (waking in the night), lack of direction, dry skin, constipation (lack of daily bowel movement or small pebble-like poops), abdominal distention, bloating, gas, dislike of wind, often cold, PMS: cramps bloating fatigue, lack of menses. And, if you’ve had an eating disorder in the past, look no further.
Imbalances of the Pitta-type Cleanser: medium body fat, weight accumulates around thighs & hips, stress, perfectionist, critical, anger (repressed or quick to explode), insomnia (can’t settle down at night), inflammatory skin conditions, acne, loose bowels, very smelly gas, generally runs hot, PMS: acne anger.
Imbalances of the Kapha-type Cleanser: plentiful body fat (can be overweight but not necessarily), weight accumulates evenly all over body, dullness of mind, lethargic, depressed, over-attachment to belongings, emotions and habits; wakes feeling sluggish even with eight-to-ten hours sleep, prone to congestion, can have constipation due to stagnancy but will improve with exercise, PMS: breast tenderness water retention.
Now that we have the basics covered, what’s the right cleanse-medicine for you?
Sunshine & Water Cleanse
This is sometimes recommended in Ayurveda for true Kapha constitution individuals and only for a short amount of time. This is not something I would ever recommend to someone living in a city, who has a job and/or can’t take absolute rest. Continue to juice cleansing for why…
This is perhaps the most popular type of cleansing at present and for good reason. Juice cleansing can balance Pitta and Kapha all depending on what types of juice you use. Juice cleanses typically use lots of bitter and astringent greens both of which are balancing for Pitta and Kapha. Kapha needs ample spices to be sure it’s digestive fires stay up (try ginger, black pepper and cinnamon).
Pitta can follow a juice cleanse for a day perhaps but without the strong fire of pitta being fed, it can blow out of proportion even more so than before. Don’t believe me? Find a fiery type who is doing a juice cleanse and see how “balanced” they stay before they want to rip someone’s head off. Thinking, “Oh, but surely that passes?” Scroll down to Signs of Good Cleanse below.
Now, Vata-types, I know that juice cleanse appeals to you because it looks so simple. Like, you wouldn’t have to think about anything and you’d feel so clean and clear.
I know and I hear you. But how about feeling grounded and calm so you can think clearly? How does that sound? Cleansing isn’t really what Vata-types need. In some ways they can cleanse their lives of things that aggravates the Vata energy, like coffee, sugar, alcohol and eating mindlessly, which for most will feel like a big change. What Vatas don’t need is something that’s going to strip them down and make their nervous system even more raw to the elements around them.
They need to build a comforting home in their own bodies through nourishing rituals and meals so that they feel that they can better weather the storms of life. Vatas, darlings…scroll down to Kitchari Cleanse.
Raw Foods Cleanse
I love me some raw foods. And, yes, that was my Pitta talking.
Raw foods for a few days can be just what the doctor ordered for someone of strong Pitta constitution. Their blazing digestive fire can happily handle eating raw for a little while and the extra work required to digest raw foods can help bring that excess fire to balance.
Kapha folk, you could do this for a short period of time. But, ultimately, you’ll want to bring back those heating spices I mentioned in the juice cleanse section as well as hot teas or you’ll never stoke that fire that you need to get the spring back in your step. Instead, the food that you eat will just sit in your belly like a weight and not feel like it’s going anywhere anytime soon.
Vatas, if you want to feel spacey and more prone to fatigue, bloating and constipation, give this a try; in other words, please don’t go there with the raw food diet.
Ah, Kitchari…the traditional dish of Ayurveda made of mung beans, rice, ghee and spices.
Kitchari is the star of the Panchakarma diet (if you don’t count ghee). The Ayurvedic cleansing that I offer, as well as the majority of Ayurvedic Practitioners in the west, is an incredibly mild version of PK—if we can even say that—as PK should only be done under the keen supervision of a qualified practitioner and away from life (work, family, bad weather etc).
Kitchari is balancing to all doshas, provided it’s done with appropriate portions and spices, for an appropriate time (not too long for Vata). Kaphas do well with more beans and spices and less ghee and rice. Pittas do well with equal parts beans and rice, lots of cilantro, and some ghee & appropriate spices. Vatas do well with more rice, ghee and spices and less beans.
Like the above cleanse methods, a Kitchari cleanse follows the signs of good/bad cleansing too.
Some of the many great things about Kitchari:
1. It’s a complete protein, which means you can eat it and still have energy for a full day of work (life).
2. It’s incredibly easy to digest. As the spices are right no one has any belly or GI trouble after eating this.
3. It soothes the nervous system without bogging it down. Kitchari, because it’s so easy to digest, removes any stress from digestion, allowing the body’s tissues to detox what they don’t need and absorb the nutrients they do.
4. Kitchari heals with amazing spices like cumin, coriander and fennel.
5. Mung beans have been used for centuries to detox the body.
Whole Foods Cleanse
For some, this is perfect.
This diet will suit all doshas, though might not be the best medicine for Pitta and Kapha.
Giving your body a break from all processed or refined foods, stimulants and depressants can be huge! The better your digestion can function, the better your body can eliminate the toxins you naturally come into contact with. If your week typically includes more days with than without coffee, alcohol, refined sugar, baked goods or processed meats then this could be the perfect place for you to start.
If you’re considering one of the other cleanses it’s wise to include a few days of this whole foods diet at the beginning and end to avoid the boomerang-effect of bringing you back into your old habits.
What To Look For While Cleansing
Signs of a good cleanse:
> Improved sleep
> Improved energy (after the initial rest period that your body has been craving)
> Feeling less sluggish in the morning
> Clear lustrous skin
> Improved digestion (happy belly)
> Sattvic (peaceful) mind
> Grounded, clear thinking
> Increased comfort in your body
Signs that it’s not the right cleanse for you (or that you were doing the right one but for too long):
> Increased aggression, anxiety, lethargy
> Feeling “spacey”
> Feeling cold, especially hands and feet
> Waking in the night
> Loss of appetite
> Deep fatigue
> Sustained achiness and/or popping joints
If you’re giving up the famous dietary crutches (caffeine, alcohol, sugar, meat) there are often a few days of the less fun detox with some headaches, body aches etc. It varies completely from person-to-person, often having little correlation with how much of the crutch foods they were using.
If in two or three days these detox symptoms haven’t cleared up and you’re not feeling more of the good cleansing signs, then adjustments need to be made.
I hope this article helps shed some light on what method of cleansing would best suit your current state of health. If you’re looking to learn more about what fits you, you can always book a consultation with an Ayurvedic Practitioner. If you’re considering a cleanse of any kind, it is always a good idea to consult your health practitioner first.
Kate Lumsden, a San Francisco-based Ayurvedic Practitioner & Yoga Teacher, spreads her love for these healing practices in her home city and beyond (via phone & skype) through her recipe blog, group cleanses, yoga classes and wellness coaching practice. Catch her on Facebook or Twitter where she posts regularly on how to weave Ayurveda into everyday life in fun, juicy ways.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise