Every time I visit Nepal to run one of my spiritual retreats, I take some time to visit an Ayurvedic clinic or spa and enjoy some relaxing treatments. And when I injured my back once in India (right before a yoga teacher training – perfect timing!) I sought out an Ayurvedic doctor to help me recover quickly!
India and Nepal are the original homes of Ayurveda – the world’s most ancient surviving medical system, and a sister science to yoga. A truly holistic form of healing, it encompasses herbal medicine, diet, massage treatments and certain cleansing practices.
Ayurveda means the “science of life”, and similar to traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine, it encompasses a rich philoshophy based on the balance of natural elements. In a human being, these elements manifest as a balance of three dosha essences known as vata, kapha and pitta. ‘Vata’ corresponds to the energy of air and ether; ‘kapha’ to water and earth, and ‘pitta’ to fire and water. We are each born with a genetically predetermined combination of the three doshas that influence our biological and psychological tendencies. The three doshas work together to maintain health, but if there is an imbalance in one of the doshas, physical or mental symptoms can result.
Toxicity: The Basis of Disease
According to Ayurveda, when the digestive fire (agni) is working properly, the body cam break down and assimilate food properly and process toxic waste with ease, and thus the 3 doshas are kept in balance. But when the digestive fire is not working properly, “ama”, or toxins begin to develop. Detoxification then, is an essential part of Ayurvedic medicine, and to do an in-depth program, an Ayurvedic doctor needs to create a personalised plan for you.
But never mind if you can’t visit an Ayurvedic doctor, you can also do the following simple detox at home which is suitable for all doshic imbalances. This program is best done several times a year, ideally with each change in season.
This detox program runs for 7 days, and involves the following:
1. Start the Day with Hot Water
Every morning upon rising, drink a large mug of hot water (filtered or spring) to start cleansing the lymphatic and digestive systems. Throughout the day continue to drink at least 2 litres of hot water – ginger may also be added if preferred.
2. Eat a Cleansing Diet for 7 Days
Your digestive system uses huge amounts of energy each day to break-down complex foods. A clean, simple, easily-digested diet allows your digestive system to rest and get to work on removing toxins.
For the first 3 days, just consume organic fruits and vegetables. This can be as juices, raw salads (don’t add any salt or oil), simple vegetable soups, or steamed vegetables or a combination of all 4. Go easy on the sweet fruit and fruit juices and make sure you are getting a lot of bitter greens, as these are the best for stimulating the liver. If you are diabetic or hypoglycaemic, skip the fruit juice altogether.
For the final 4 days, you can add in a more substantial, traditional, ayurvedic meal called kitchari – the ultimate ayurvedic detox recipe. You can have this between one and 3 times per day depending on how hungry you are. Made from basmati rice, mung beans and coriander, it is filling and contains protein and carbohydrates while being easily digested. Coriander also has the unique ability to chelate toxic heavy metals so that they can be easily removed from the body.
Detoxifying Kitchari Recipe:
- 2 cups yellow mung dal beans
- 2 tbsp ghee or organic sesame oil
- 2 tsp black mustard seeds
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 2 tsp ground turmeric
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 cup uncooked white basmati rice
- 2–5 cups of chopped, organic, seasonal vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, beets, sweet potato, squash, celery, kale, and bok choy (avoid all nightshades such as tomato, potato, eggplant or peppers)
- 2 cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 green cardamom pods
- 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro/coriander
Try to use organic ingredients where you can, and be sure to soak the mung beans overnight or for at least a few hours to improve digestibility.
Rinse and strain the mung dal beans until the water runs clear, about 5 times.
In a large pot over medium – high heat, heat the ghee or oil. Add the black mustard, cumin, fennel, and fenugreek seeds and toast until the mustard seeds pop, about 1 minute.
Add turmeric, black pepper, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon, and mix together.
Stir in the rice and beans.
Add 8 cups of water, chopped vegetables, cloves, bay leaves, and cardamom pods.
Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
Cook at least one hour, until the beans and rice are soft and the kitchari has a porridgelike consistency.
Serve warm with fresh cilantro on top, if desired.
(*if you are extremely weak, convalescing, pregnant or breastfeeding, seek your doctor’s permission before trying a detox diet).
3. Stimulate Circulation with Abhyanga or Self-Massage
Definitely the best part of the program, be sure to take some time either in the morning or evening for an indulgent self massage every second day. Known as Abhyanga, this is a very important aspect of ayurvedic detoxification to nourish the skin and nervous system and also stimulate the lymphatic and circulatory systems. Be sure to use warm oil, ayurvedic herbal oils can be purchased from some health food stores, otherwise coconut, sesame or almond oil are good choices too.
Directions for Abhyanga:
- Gently warm a ¼ cup of oil by placing in a glass, and then placing the glass in a bowl of hot water.
- Make sure the room is warm
- Apply oil to the scalp of the head, spending a few minutes massaging the head in circular strokes. Don’t be afraid to get it all through your hair, it’s a great conditioner .
- Then move onto the face in small circular motions spending extra time on the ear lobes where there are a lot of energy and nerve points.
- Use long strokes always moving towards the heart on the arms and legs and circular motions around the joints.
- Massage the chest and abdomen in broad circular strokes going in a clockwise direction, and follow the path of the large intestine on the belly – sweeping up the right side of the abdomen, then across, then down the left side.
- Spend the last few minutes taking some time to massage the feet, as there are reflex points that relate to all of the body’s organs located in the feet.
- If you have time, sit for 5 to 15 minutes to allow the oil to sink into the skin.
- Have a warm bath or shower using a natural soap if there is excessive oil and you may want to shampoo any oil out of your hair.
4. Support Elimination with a Triphala Supplement
With all of this getting rid of waste, we definitely need the bowels to be working properly! Triphala is a supplement made from 3 fruits which supports bowel regularity, enhances digestion and absorption or nutrients, and is also an anti-oxidant. You can source it at most health food shops or online from an Ayurvedic retailer.
There you have it – a simple ayurvedic detox plan that you can easily do at home. Let me know in the comments – have your tried Ayurvedic medicine before? Are you going to give this detox program a go?