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Spring is a time of rebirth, new life, and all things fresh and clean.
This makes it the perfect time to cleanse, whether “spring cleaning” your home or your body.
Out with the old, in with the new, right?!
This change of season may have you feeling like you’re ready to go full Marie Kondo in your home, and maybe also do an extreme dietary purge. Letting go of what no longer serves us is really what detoxing is all about—but maybe there’s a better way to detox, like Ayurveda’s common sense approach.
Several years ago, before I started seeing an Ayurvedic practitioner regularly, I noticed my digestion was off and I felt like my weight was stagnant. Summer was quickly approaching, and I thought for sure that a strict fast would not only reset my system, but help me let go of a little excess weight.
After 10 days of water, coffee, and that God-awful lemon juice/cayenne pepper/maple syrup concoction that Beyoncé once swore by, I was dismayed. I had lost a total of maybe three pounds, which came back as soon as I started eating solid foods again.
The other thing that came back, and this time with a vengeance, was my digestive trouble. It was even worse than before. Ignorant of how to “detox” in a way that was appropriate to my dosha, I unknowingly caused myself an even greater imbalance.
This is the risk we run when assuming that our bodies are “toxic” and flock to extreme practices to “fix” them.
The following month, I began seeing my Ayurvedic practitioner for digestive issues, and found that the Ayurvedic approach to restoring balance is not only gentle, but easy and common sense.
Ayurveda teaches that until we stop the behaviors that have led us to feeling the need to detox in the first place, a special cleanse or program is pretty pointless. It also teaches that balance is never created by extremes, and that we must match the strength of medicine to the severity of illness.
Detoxifying cleanses and juice fasts are sometimes prescribed by doctors in cases of extreme illness, so the treatment is extreme. Prescribing such treatment for ourselves can be particularly alluring this time of year, especially if we begin to notice a little bit of extra weight we’d like to shed before hitting the beach in a bathing suit. Hello, kapha season!
Spring is the season of kapha, made up of earth and water elements. Kapha’s nature is cool and dense. As kapha accumulates in late winter and aggravates in the spring, our digestive systems may feel slow and sluggish. As the snow and ice begin to melt at the start of spring, stagnant fluids and tissues in our bodies build up as well.
From the Ayurvedic perspective, this explains why so many of us experience seasonal allergies this time of year and wonder whether our metabolism has gone on spring break without us.
Ayurveda does encourage gentle cleanses and fasts, though they are typically mild and designed to simply help your body do what it was designed to do. The body is smart. It possesses the innate wisdom to heal itself, and often, all we have to do is slow down enough to discern what it needs.
Before jumping into an extreme cleanse, here are some safe ways Ayurveda approaches detox:
Proper sleep. Sleep is the body’s biggest tool for detoxifying itself. Between the hours of 10 p.m. and 12 a.m., the liver cleans itself, and this triggers other cleansing mechanisms throughout the entire body. It is best not to eat during these hours, and even better to be asleep during them! The vagus nerve becomes more active as we fall into deep sleep, signaling the body out of the sympathetic nervous system response of “fight-or-flight” and reducing our heart rate. As the parasympathetic nervous system takes over, the body knows it’s time for healing, repairing, and resetting. Getting quality sleep for 7 to 10 hours each night—preferably before 11 p.m.—is the simplest and most effective detoxifying practice we have.
Proper food. Nutrition is fundamental to every aspect of life, and Ayurveda has numerous eating guidelines, which seems appropriate as Ayurveda considers food as medicine. Ayurveda teaches us to eat only until we are satisfied, as opposed to full (or even worse—stuffed). Simply by eating the proper amount, we keep our digestive fire strong and encourage the body to fully utilize the fuel we’ve given it. However, when we overeat, we put out the digestive fire, which can feel like sluggishness or indigestion, and leads to toxic buildup in the body.
Along with eating the right amount of food comes eating at the right times. Three square meals are what most of us need to keep us energized throughout the day. (Though there are exceptions to this. Please consult your Ayurvedic practitioner for your specific needs.) We should wait at least three hours between eating anything, as this is the amount of time it takes to fully digest a meal. Fruit should be eaten on its own, and for those of us with sensitive digestion, is easier digested when cooked.
Simply eating more fruits and vegetables, cooked or raw, will have a detoxifying effect on the body. Other things to add in are warm water with lemon and ginger, which can be enjoyed in the morning and sipped throughout the day.
Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of saying grace before eating our meals, even if that’s simply taking a silent moment of gratitude for the nourishment you’re about to receive.
Finally, in order to promote the best digestion and absorption of nutrients, Ayurveda reminds us to sit down to eat, in a pleasant atmosphere, without distractions. Simply taking a few extra minutes to sit down and eat breakfast at home instead of during your commute to work, or waiting to watch your favorite show until after you’ve eaten dinner may make a big difference in how you feel.
Proper exercise. It is so crucial for the body’s internal detoxification system to move. Sweat is another way that the body automatically eliminates toxins. It doesn’t need to be an extreme form of exercise, either, so if hot yoga isn’t your thing, don’t panic. Instead, gentle hatha yoga and walking about two miles each day is sufficient for most of us. Great ways to incorporate more exercise are to make it fun, like playing outside or dancing around the house.
If you have these basics down and still feel like a spring cleanse is in order, consider making a khitchari, with plenty of fresh vegetables, some mung beans, and a small amount of basmati, brown rice, or quinoa.
It is safe for most people to eat this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for up to three days (though you should consult with your Ayurvedic practitioner or medical provider before making any drastic dietary changes).
At the end of three days, digestion should feel greatly improved, and there will likely be a reduction of the heavy earth and water qualities within the body.
Balancing Khitchari: Tridoshic
Yield: Serves 4
>> 1 tsp whole black mustard seeds
>> 1 tsp whole cumin seeds (or substitute ground cumin)
>> 1 tsp whole coriander seeds (or substitute ground coriander)
>> 1 tsp turmeric powder
>> 1 tsp garlic powder
>> 1 tsp ginger
>> ½ tsp salt
>> ½ tsp black pepper
>> (optional) ¼ tsp cinnamon
>> 1 tbsp. ghee or coconut oil
>> 1 cup mung/moong beans (available at specialty stores—can be subbed for red lentils)
>> ½ cup brown or basmati rice or quinoa
>> 6 cups water or vegetable broth
>> 2 cloves garlic, minced
>> ¼ any color of onion, minced
>> 1-2 cups colorful veggies of choice (e.g.: bell peppers, kale, spinach, sweet potato, squash, zucchini, broccoli, carrot)
>> juice of ½ lemon
>> fresh parsley and/or cilantro for garnish
1) In a large pot over medium heat, sauté all spices in the ghee or coconut oil until the aromas start to mix and the seeds start to pop.
2) Add garlic, onion, other desired veggies, mung beans, and rice, sautéing with spices.
3) Add water or broth and bring to a boil.
4) Cover and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, for around 45 minutes until rice is cooked. (This will take less time if using basmati rice or quinoa.)
5) When finished cooking, stir in lemon juice and top with fresh parsley or cilantro to serve.