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Herbal rose infusion and saffron with spices

Traditional Ayurvedic cleansing 101

Our bodies are constantly confronted with toxins, whether they come from our environment or our own natural cellular processes, which create metabolic waste from the digestion of our food. As these toxins accumulate in our various body tissues, subtle energy channels and mind, disease and imbalance result. An Ayurvedic cleanse is the solution to release toxins and restore the body to its natural state of health.

In today’s world, cleansing has taken on many forms, so you may wonder what exactly is an Ayurvedic cleanse, how does it work, what are its benefits and is it right for you. In this blog post we’ll cover many of the frequently asked questions surrounding a traditional Ayurvedic cleanse.

Top view of woman laying on bed in bad mood. Unhappy female at home alone.

How do I know an Ayurvedic cleanse is needed?

The following are a few of the signs and symptoms which can indicate that it’s time for a cleanse

  • You’ve gained weight and it’s not going away
  • You feel generally tired or fatigued
  • You don’t get a restful night’s sleep, insomnia, frequent and/or difficulty waking
  • You feel exhausted and/or have no energy
  • You are struggling with digestive difficulties 
  • Your bowel movements are inconsistent
  • Your mind feels fuzzy or you are experiencing lack of focus

When should I do an Ayurvedic cleanse?

Cleansing can be done at any time, but is especially beneficial at the junction between seasons, or Ritusandhi. During this transition time, the Doshas of the approaching season begin to accumulate so we must adapt our diet and lifestyle to prevent accumulation and aggravation, thus warding off potential disease.

How long does an Ayurvedic cleanse last?

Cleanse length may vary depending upon the conditions and circumstances surrounding each individual and can range from several days to weeks. Irrespective of the duration, all cleanses should dedicate an equal number of days to the preparation, active cleansing and restoration stages. At Kerala Ayurveda we offer supervised cleanses during the Fall and Spring season transitions.

indian lentil dhal with vegetables and basmati rice on the table. healthy vegan Ayurvedic cuisine

How does an Ayurvedic cleanse work?

Ayurvedic cleansing involves three distinct phases or stages. The preparation for the cleanse (Purvakarma), the actual cleanse (Pradhankarma) and the post cleansing rejuvenation (Rasayana). Each phase should be included, no matter the length of cleanse, as it helps to ease the body into and out of the cleanse and leave tissues in a nourished state.

Stage 1: Preparation (Purvakarma)

During Purvakarma, you’ll clean up your diet and modify your lifestyle in order to prepare for the active cleansing phase. Your diet will focus on consuming simple, whole, organic foods while eliminating fast and processed food, meat, refined sugar and sweets. Additionally, you’ll work to eliminate or significantly reduce alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco. Digestive herbs and teas are also consumed during this phase to help support the elimination of toxins as well as increase your overall digestive strength.

The suggested diet is rich in nutrients but also easy on your digestive system, making it more efficient. As your digestion becomes more efficient, less energy is consumed. That energy can then be shifted to the elimination of toxins or ama during the next phase.

Dietary changes should also be accompanied by a more sattvic lifestyle bringing calm to the physical body as well as the mind. (Afterall, Ayurveda is a holistic science based on the balance of the body, mind and spirit). The goal being to minimize external stimuli (yes, an electronic cleanse as well), get plenty of rest and engage in daily pranayama, meditation and gentle yoga practice.

Stage 2: Active Cleanse (Pradhankarma)

The active phase of cleansing begins with Snehana or the oiling of the body both internally and externally. Oiling helps to lubricate the body’s channels and loosen the impurities in your body. Internal oleation is performed by consuming herbalized ghee, or clarified butter, and external oleation through self-Abhyanga or massage.

During this phase you’ll eat a nourishing, easy to digest, diet of mung dal and basmati rice, otherwise known as Khichadi, well-steamed vegetables and stewed fruits.

Once the body reaches optimal oleation, sudation begins. Sudation involves heating the body via a sauna, sweatbox, steam, hot bath and/or shower. The intention is to cause Swedana or sweating which pushes the loosened toxins into the digestive tract for elimination. A natural, herb-induced purgation (virechana) follows, removing the toxins.

Stage 3: Restoration (Rasayana)

While the active part of cleansing is complete, your system now needs to be rejuvenated before resuming your normal activities. During this stage you will slowly transition back with a simple, clean diet and gentle lifestyle while your system regains its strength. Nurturing and strengthening herbs may be recommended and massage, restorative yoga and massage help you complete the last phase of the cleanse.

Is Ayurvedic cleansing recommended for everyone?

Cleansing is not recommended during pregnancy/postpartum, nursing, weakened conditions following surgery, illness or trauma, for children under 13 years of age or the elderly.  Where there are any underlying health concerns or conditions, cleansing should only be done under the guidance of an Ayurvedic doctor or practitioner.

Before embarking on a cleanse, it’s very important to know and understand your body constitution (prakriti), imbalances (vikriti), and the state of your digestive fire (agni) and toxins (ama). Meeting with an Ayurvedic doctor or practitioner is recommended so that they may help you assess each of these components and customize the cleanse accordingly.

What should I expect while cleansing?

Cleansing is a time of self care and nurturing. A time to slow down, relax, recharge and restore your body. For many of us this means substantial shifts in our diets and lifestyles. As a result, during the cleanse you may feel less energetic, emotional, and at times physically uncomfortable as your body focuses its resources on both the physical and mental detoxification process. But not to worry, the best is to come as you complete your cleanse and find a renewed purity, clarity and lightness of body and mind.

What are the benefits of an Ayurvedic cleanse?

“The strength and complexion of the person, knowing the suitable diet and regimen for every season and practicing accordingly, are enhanced”. -Charaka Samhita

An Ayuvedic cleanse has many benefits that range from general improvement of health and immunity to alleviation of disease and disorders.  Cleansing detoxifies the body by removing ama (toxins), brings balance to the doshas and resets your digestive system to optimal operation. 

Ayurvedic cleansing can also help you to:

  • Calm the mind and nervous system by reducing mental/physical stress
  • Increase your energy levels
  • Find more balanced sleep cycles
  • Gain mental clarity and groundedness.
  • Reduce and/or maintain healthy body weight.
  • Restore regular and balanced elimination.
  • Prepare the tissues for deep nourishment and rejuvenation.
  • Promote optimal health

    Fall is a great time to prepare and protect your body and mind for the upcoming Vata season and the imbalances it will bring. Give yourself a little extra support and immunity boost by joining our Fall Rejuvenation. Let our Vaidya’s customize a traditional Ayurvedic cleanse just for you and provide you with support every step of the way.  Learn more about our Personalized Ayurvedic Fall Rejuvenation here.

About the author

  • Anuradha Gupta

    Anuradha “Anu” Gupta is a NAMACB Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, Engineer, MBA, Meditator, Writer, 200hr Yoga Teacher and Ayurvedic Doctor-in-training at Kerala Ayurveda Academy. She serves as Guest Faculty Member, Content Specialist and AP Mentor at Kerala Ayurveda USA. She also runs her own Ayurvedic practice, Ayurvedic Footprints.

    Anu has an extensive corporate background. She...

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