Ayurveda & Cleansing | A Healthy State of Mind

Posted by Mary R. Fry, N.D. on Thursday, February 27, 2014

Signs of spring are starting to show – with bulbs pushing through the soil and buds on trees forming. With the first day of spring still a few weeks away, now is the time to plan for a spring cleanse. Cleansing has been performed for centuries, but is perhaps all the more important in our current time with chemical, emotional and physical stressors abounding. Cleansing not only helps clear the body of accumulated physical toxins, but also helps clear out ‘emotional’ toxins or stagnant patterns of thinking and feeling.  While I have long known the benefits of cleansing, it has not always been foremost in my treatment approach for a couple of reasons: there are so many more pressing issues to address in an office visit and many cleansing regimens I was taught do not address the individual, but rather focus on a single protocol for all. I find this inherently unappealing as my focus in treating people is to customize treatment as much as possible. The robust, hearty individual who tends to be warm, resilient and perhaps a little over-indulgent needs a different cleanse than a petite, cool and fatigued individual with a poor appetite. Thankfully Ayurvedic medicine, in all its wisdom, provides an answer.

In Ayurvedic medicine, each individual is seen as having their own unique constitution. This constitution is described according to 3 different doshas. An individual is made up of a unique combination of the 3 doshas, known as Vata, Pitta & Kapha. Each dosha is said to be a distinct combination of universal energies (air, fire, water, earth and ether) and is said to predict one’s mental-emotional and physical constitution. Let me give an example: someone who is predominantly Vata dosha is more prone to digestive disturbances, muscle aches and pain, insomnia and mental illness (anxiety often) with  an improper diet or psychological or environment stressors, whereas someone who is predominantly Pitta dosha is often more prone to inflammatory conditions of the skin, ulcers and heart disease when imbalanced. Identifying one’s unique combination of doshas helps guide diet and lifestyle regimens to restore a balance of the doshas.  Knowledge of one’s constitution is also used to decide on the most appropriate cleansing regimen. To determine your predominant dosha, you can take the following quiz (please note that this is a guide only, a skilled practitioner is best suited to determine your dosha(s)): http://doshaquiz.chopra.com/

Cleansing in Ayurveda is an extensive system of steps that help to restore a harmonious balance of the doshas, rid the body and mind of toxins and restore health. A cleanse consists of a preparatory phase, the active cleansing phase and a post-cleansing phase. The term given to the active cleansing phase is ‘panchakarma’. ‘Pancha’ means five and ‘karma’ loosely translates as cleansing procedures. The five procedures classically consist of:

  1. Vaman (vomiting)
  2. Virechan (purging)
  3. Basti (enemas)
  4. Nasya (nasal treatment)
  5. Raktmokshan (bloodletting)

Now before you stop reading and decide that you would never do this, please realize a more modern, less intense set of cleansing procedures have evolved for short seasonal cleanses – thank goodness! Using the principles behind the classic steps, one can follow a more practical, protracted and tolerable regimen.This regimen can be followed for 4 to 7 days and consists of specific diet, exercise, and self-massage routines and the use of a mild laxative (once) to mobilize and excrete toxins. Such a regimen can be followed quite simply at home and is advised at each seasonal transition (ideally within a two week window of the change of season) to revitalize body, mind and spirit.

Each dosha will follow these core cleansing practices, but the particular herbs used in the detox tea and in the meals consumed during the fast (a rice, vegetable, lentil and herb porridge) will vary according to dosha. The oil used in self-massage will also be selected according to dosha.  Most of these herbs and oils are readily available in grocery and health food stores. While there is a bit of work involved in preparing for and following a cleansing regimen, it can be done around a work schedule typically. The cleansing period is a great opportunity to get more in touch with oneself and one’s health, often emerging on the other side with renewed health and an appreciation of the habits needed to maintain this higher level of health and vitality. If you are interested in learning more about Ayurvedic cleansing, and ways to reduce your exposure to toxins, please contact the office.

The following resources are helpful introductions to Ayurveda:

  • -Beginner’s Introduction to Ayurveda by Vivek Shanbhag, ND, MD (Ayurved), BAMS, CYEd
  • -Ayurvedic Healing by David Frawley
  • -Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra

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Lad, V. (2010). Ayurvedic Medicine. Continuing Education. Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. Retrieved from integrativemedicine.arizona.edu/online_courses/ayur.html

Shanbhag, V. (2013, Dec. 7). Natural Cleanse with Ayurvedic Herbs, Food & Yoga. Continuing Education. Kenmore, WA: Bastyr University.

Categories: Diet & Nutrition, Environmental Medicine Tags: Ayurveda, cleansing, detoxification, spring