Why Detox? An Ayurvedic Guide to Seasonal Cleanses
I don’t know about you, but as I live month to month, season to season, I notice myself enjoying a little too much of “the good life.” Even those of us who have balanced daily self care routines can get swept into indulging in things that give temporary satisfaction. In doing so we get pulled away from the daily habits that make us feel awesome.
For me, the things that can throw me off balance are fresh-baked cookies, a glass of wine, or late night dinner to celebrate with a friend. Most of these small indulgences are no big deal when they are occasional, let’s say – once per month. It is when we begin to use the wine or cookie as an escape, having it weekly or even daily, that it can develop into a new bad habit which can be hard to shake.
How Indulgences Becomes Sticky Goo
When our habits don’t support our true nature and go against the rhythms that support our being, we accumulate Ama. Ama is the sticky, gooey sludge that is leftover from anything undigested – be it too much food or too much sun. You might equate Ama to the concept of metabolic waste in modern science. Ama takes hold in our fatty tissue and our joint spaces, which is why you may find yourself with an extra 10 lbs after a sluggish winter, or with painful joints after an overactive summer.
What do you do when you notice your over-indulgences emerging too often? What do you do when you realize those ama-building bad habits are beginning to produce the symptoms of disease?
Try Seasonal Cleanses
Try seasonal cleanses! Seasonal cleansing is an old tried-and-true practice in Ayurveda. From an ancient tradition to a popular modern day practice, Ayurveda recommends cleansing protocols on a biannual basis to clear the body’s channels, strengthen digestion, clear Ama and break negative habits and their effect on the body. When we cleanse, we tap into our true and natural rhythms.
Align with Ayurvedic Rhythms
When we think of the word “rhythm” in the Ayurvedic and yogic sense, we are thinking of the natural cycles that are present in nature and how our daily habits either support those natural rhythms or go against them. Think of seasonal rhythms, such as winter snow that blankets the environment and lends its inherent qualities (cold, insular, quiet) to the hibernation of plants and animals. During this seasonal rhythm we, too, are meant to retreat, sleep longer, and nourish our body with warm food. Daily rhythms in nature can be observed by watching the sun rise and set. When the noonday sun rises highest in the sky, it aligns with our body’s bile production, which also reaches its peak at noon. When we protest these rhythms by keeping too busy in winter, or by eating our largest meal when the moon is up instead of the sun, we create dis-ease.
In reality, our body desires to keep us aligned with nature, in sync with both daily and seasonal rhythm, and in pure health. Seasonal cleanses gives you the opportunity to slow down enough to sense your own pace, your own rhythm. It gives your body and your digestion the space to rest, where it is able to resolve the residual effects of those negative habits by processing the Ama collected from your fat, your joints, and your mind.
Cleansing is the ultimate renewal. Just as you feel the urge to “spring clean” your home or to rake the decaying leaves of fall, you may feel an urge to clean your internal space. While any cleanse protocol requires some discipline, the qualities of spring and fall naturally support what is required of the body during a cleanse.
The Vata Season
Think of nature in autumn. The leaves begin to change color, dry out and fall away. The breeze becomes friendly. There is an ethereal state to autumn mornings and evenings, as crisp, cool air takes the place of summer humidity. The food we find in season during this time, squash, apples, and root vegetables, have a naturally sweet taste. Fall is Vata season in Ayurveda, a naturally light and dry time of year. Tapping into the impulse to lighten the body, one may follow any number of dietary cleanses, paying special attention to fresh juices, the abundance of weeds available in fall for salads, and the various root vegetables for balancing the constipating effects of Vata on the body. Following the same impulse, one may want to release and cancel all activities that aren’t absolutely necessary. When there’s less to do, the fall seasonal cleanses time will be sweet, sweet with rhythm, relaxation and release. In this way we support the needs of the body to slow down, not only for this season but for the duration of our fall cleansing cycle.
The Kapha Season
In the Spring, we find nature supports us in choosing different cleansing foods and activities. The spring is Kapha season in Ayurveda, a time known for its damp and cohesive nature. The wonderful effect of this time is that young, new plants provide themselves for our nourishment. Greens and sprouts are abundant, which dry any accumulation of mucus in our body. Weeds, too, are sprouting with young, succulent leaves. Those new to using weeds in their diet may find the natural sweetness of weeds at this stage to be an enjoyable addition to their dietary repertoire. Cleansing in the Spring eliminates many seasonal allergies, especially if we eat locally and seasonally.
The earthen, physical nature of Kapha time allows us to tolerate more vigorous exercise, burning through the accumulation of cold from the winter. We may choose cleansing protocols that are high in warming spices, greens and pungent foods. We may choose exercise that allows us to sweat, or take dry sauna baths to further balance the moist, phlegm producing nature of excessive Kapha in our system.
Listen to Your Body
What exactly are we supposed to do to cleanse? Allow me to dispel the myth that seasonal cleanses has to be hard on the body, or needs to include fasting of any type, or that it must involve complete austerity. I like to think of my seasonal detoxification (or cleansing) cycles as lovely opportunities to re-connect. We are so frequently swept up in life we forget to truly listen to our body. We begin to use the brain to make executive decision about everything. “What will I do today? What pace will I force my body to keep because of work, family, or other external commitments? What food will I put in to solve my feelings of boredom, sadness, anxiety, or joy? What music, tv, and electronic stimulation do I choose even when I’m tired?” You see, it is SO simple to develop bad habits when we are using the brain to override the needs of the body. Detoxing allows us to listen to what our body needs.
As seasons change and we feel the natural urges to lighten up, clean up and try new things, it is completely natural to also lighten up, clean up and try new things in the the body. When we do so, we fine tune the body’s listening skills. We have the chance to renew the natural intelligence and rhythm of the body and give it a chance to speak, to override the loud voice of the mind, to break bad habits and, most importantly, to heal.
Designed for You and Only You. You can design your cleanse to go as deep or as subtle as you like. The main goal of a cleanse should be to attune the body’s rhythm to that of nature, to create space for healing and to fine tune your ability to listen to your internal voice.
My top five tips for an Ayurvedic seasonal cleanses
- Take a break from electronics. Turn down external noise by setting a defined time to go screen free. During this time you should use devices sparingly. You may find it helpful to set 15 minute periods when you can check and respond to only the most imperative communication, but otherwise let it go. Give friends and family a heads up that you will be social media free during this cycle and limit computer use to only what is necessary in your business day. Free your mind from these Vata-stimulating distractions and use the time to tap into nature, connect with family, or sit in silence.
- Let go of excess social engagements. It is important to get quiet during cleanse, and it’s hard to do that when you are focused on meeting the needs of others or when you are stuck in loud or over-stimulating social settings. You may look ahead at your calendar and block a period of time in which you will say “no” to outside engagements. While the slower rhythm can, at first, seem unnerving, your body will soon learn to relish these seasonal periods of freedom and the quiet break to go internal.
- Make nourishing practices like self-massage and mineral baths a priority. You may feel anxious about what to do with the new found space and time. Let your mind know that the body is in charge with practices that send the clear signal “Don’t worry, ‘mind,’ I’ve got this!” Dry brushing, silk glove, or oil self massage puts your hands in touch with your tissues. As you cleanse you will get the sense of how your tissue is changing, and perhaps more importantly, what your tissue needs. For example, if you notice your skin drying you may want to add oil to your massage or diet. And if you notice your fatty tissue dissipating, it may give you incentive to continue forward in your cleanse cycle and stay engaged with your body. Mineral baths can follow self massage as a way to let go at the end of the day and quiet the mind for deep, restful sleep, further attuning you to natural daily rhythms of wake and rest. Both practices can be part of a lovely, self-nourishing and relaxing bedtime routine.
- Create a plan and ask for specific support. Meal plan! Include the what, how and when of the meals you will eat on your cleanse. The planning will ease your stress around the process of cleansing and stave off cravings. It is also very helpful to tell your friends and family what you will be doing and how that will affect your availability to their needs. Set expectations and give specific ways in which friends and family can help you to be successful with your cleansing process. You may wish to follow a book, a doctor’s advice, or join a detox support group. All of these things will help ensure the success of your cleanse.
- Be easy on yourself. Even the best laid plans sometimes must change. Being an experienced seasonal detoxer, there have been times when I have planned a deep cleanse only to encounter illness or an emergency that required me to take a lighter approach. Or the opposite – when I plan to take only an electronic device detox, but end up following my body’s desire into a deep juice cleanse. All is good and all is well. Just use the opportunity to explore, be curious, slow down, and be at ease with what arises. That is what seasonal cleanses is all about.