March is not exactly a favorite month for most people. At least not for those of us living where wind, rain, sleet, snow, and damp cold weather are typical of late winter. Anything goes. I can feel it in my bones just writing about it. March roars in like a lion, they say, and out like a lamb. It’s such a transitory month.
I may have been lucky enough to have a respite in Hawaii, but I’m already tucked right back in my cocoon in Jersey City.
I happen to like cocooning and so I’m feeling a little anxious knowing that my hibernating time is coming to a close. If all goes according to Mother Nature’s plan, however, soon I will feel ready to burst forth with stored energy and fresh ideas from the winter.
One good thing about gloomy March is that it gives us a few weeks to tackle (or at least think about tackling) some things that have been crying for attention. Think inner and outer world. Mind/body/spirit AND your clothes closet and relationships. Spring cleaning…or cleansing.
So, what is all this hype about cleansing?
Until I entered this sometimes mysterious world of holistic health I had never heard of the concept of cleansing. For most of us, cleansing meant soaping up our bodies during our daily shower or bath.
Over the past several years, the topic of dietary cleansing has become absolutely front and center. Juice cleanses, liver flushing and the Master Cleanse have all become household words.
But probably the most ancient and effective method of cleansing and rejuvenation began thousands of years ago with the Ayurvedic practice from India known as panchakarma.
Originally intended for royalty to promote longevity, panchakarma (means five actions) is still widely practiced in India and has gained popularity in the West.
Panchakarma is usually done over a two to three week period and should be done under the supervision of an Ayurvedic doctor to insure that the cleanse is safe and effective for your particular constitution.
People who have undergone panchakarma will attest that the healing effects are profound.
March/April and September/October are the months generally chosen for this type of deep cleansing, but it can be done at other times during the year, as well. I highly recommend looking into panchakarma treatment if you are dealing with serious health issues, especially those of a chronic nature.
But because cleansing for most of us is something we need to ease ourselves into, I want to focus today on sharing some easy tips that you can do yourself to help clean your system of toxins, give your digestion a rest, and reset your digestive fire.
Mother Nature knows that Kapha Season (late winter-early spring) is the best time for cleansing. She wisely provides us with the foods/herbs that naturally work to detoxify the body after a long winter of eating heavier, fattier and often sugar-laden foods.
If we don’t rid the body of excess fat and mucus at this time, it will rebel. Spring colds, stomach upset and lung congestion are all signs of excess mucus.
Ama, an Ayurvedic term for a toxic gunk formed from undigested food, travels in the body and its presence can lead to all kinds of disease. This substance needs to be eliminated if we hope to stay healthy, and spring is one of the best seasons to do this.
There is even mental ama, those destructive undigested thoughts and emotions that wreak havoc on our mind and body. That’s why an Ayurvedic type of cleanse will always address both mental and physical imbalances by recommending journaling, meditation, pranayama (deep breathing), spending time in nature, and eating foods that will support a healthy state of body/mind.
Begin by eliminating troublesome foods and other substances.
- Take a week to wean yourself off of foods and other substances you know are your weaknesses, aka addictions – coffee, caffeinated tea, chocolate, soda, junk food, alcohol, recreational drugs/tobacco, etc. A friendly tip - get them out of your house and go slowly – especially with coffee.
- Eliminate foods that are mucus-forming such as sugar, meat, dairy, wheat and eggs.
Add more cleansing foods to your diet.
Certain foods are excellent at helping to move congested, sluggish lymph and support the vital organs, especially the liver and gallbladder. The right foods will also help to cleanse our circulatory system which is often limping along after a winter of indulging in sweets and fatty food.
A popular Ayurvedic saying is “Bitter is better”. Bitter foods help to stimulate digestion and healthy bile flow.
Some good food choices for spring cleansing are:
- Beets and carrots–cooked or juiced
- Apples–stewed, raw or juiced
- Leafy greens (bitter) like dandelion, kale, arugula, collard greens, spinach, etc.
- Lemons, limes and grapefruits
- Healthy fats (in small amounts) like ghee, virgin coconut oil and cold pressed olive oil
- Gluten-free whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat and millet
- Spices/herbs like turmeric, cumin, fennel, coriander, ginger, manjistha
- Kitchari - an Ayurvedic dish consisting of yellow split mung dal (lentils) and basmati rice along with spices is an excellent food to eat during a cleanse or anytime you’ve overindulged. It’s a complete protein meal which is easily digestible. There are a myriad of ways to cook kitchari. I don’t find it necessary to soak the lentils for a long time like whole lentils. If I have time, I will for a bit. You can also add a small piece of kombu which will help eliminate gas if that’s a problem. You can purchase an all-in-one kit of ingredients HERE.
Properly hydrate. One of the main reasons we cleanse is to reset our digestive fire which can become sluggish and weak due to ama buildup. Truly good health is impossible without a well-functioning digestive system and dehydration is a big reason many of us have weak digestion.
Some tips for proper hydration are:
- Avoid cold liquids. They literally put out the digestive fire.
- Sip warm/hot water and non-caffeinated herbal teas consistently throughout the day rather than chugging down glassfuls of water. It is a much more efficient way to hydrate and also helps clear toxins from our system. Ideally, sip a bit of hot water each half hour. (I set my phone timer to remind me.)
- Vata types generally have the most problem staying hydrated, no matter how much water they drink. A pinch of sea salt in warm water with or without fresh lime can help with this.
- Read this great article on hydration.
- Kapha types tend to retain too much water and should be careful not to drink voluminous amounts of water.
- Drink a glass of warm water with lemon, lime and/or fresh ginger a half hour before your meals to hydrate the stomach and produce enough hydrochloric acid to digest your food.
- Avoid drinking liquids with meals, except for sipping a bit of herbal tea. And drinking liquids directly after a meal will make digestion even more difficult. Best to wait about an hour.
Follow a regular meal routine. Our bodies like routine and our digestive fire depends on regularity.
- Eat a light breakfast between 7-8 a.m. Vata types need a little more protein. Kaphas can get away with no breakfast or just a little fruit if they’re not hungry.
- Eat your biggest meal between noon and 1:00 p.m. Our digestive fire is strongest at this time of day.
- Eat a light dinner around 5:30-6:00 p.m.
- Avoid snacking after dinner. You will be completing a mini fast each night if you follow this simple suggestion.
Remember, cleansing is not just about what we eat or don’t eat. Here are a few tips for clearing out mind clutter, emotional baggage and our environment:
- Focus on eliminating negative thoughts and actions.
- Journal, journal, journal those thoughts! It’s an effective way of moving them out of the body/mind.
- Get bodywork. This is an excellent time for massage, acupuncture, energy healing, craniosacral, chi nei tsang, etc. Stuck energy needs to get worked out of the body before disease sets in. I love Ayurvedic abhyanga massage which is both detoxifying, calming, and centered around your particular dosha.
- Check out The Emotion Code.
- Clear your surrounding of unnecessary clutter. We all know how good that makes us feel and how much clarity it gives us.
- Clear your life of unnecessary toxic relationships. There’s no time like spring for this uncomfortable task.
- Let there be light! If you’re living in a cold gloomy climate right now and can’t hop a plane to Florida, invest in a light box and optimize your Vitamin D3 levels. Oral supplementation is not always effective if your liver is particularly toxic. I love this Vata Abhyanga Oil with Magnesium and Vitamin D. I’ve been using it all winter. Smells great!
A word about the doshas:
Vata is the most sensitive of the doshas and care should be taken not to attempt too intense of a cleanse. Rather than balancing the dosha, a harsh cleanse can easily drive Vata even more out of balance.
Vata is the dosha of depletion and so Vata-types should primarily focus on calming, nurturing and rejuvenating the dosha, rather than cleansing. Juice fasts are generally not the best type of cleanse for Vata types because they are cold, light and dry – all unbalancing.
Pitta types usually have the easiest time cleansing, especially in the spring when the weather is still cool. They have lots of internal heat and generally very strong digestive fires. Pitta types are also the ones who do best with green juices because of their cooling nature.
Kapha types are the least likely to even consider a cleanse, although they are the ones who benefit the most because of their often sluggish metabolism.
March is a very difficult month for Kapha types (please read my article on Kapha Season) and depression is a real problem at this time. They would much rather bury themselves under the covers for a couple of months than get up and get moving. Kapha types generally have both internal and external sluggishness which is especially prevalent at this time.
Remember that most of us are dual-dosha types and should put our emphasis on whichever dosha is dominant during a particular season (or any given moment, for that matter!)
Hang in there!
First and foremost, when doing any type of a cleanse, listen to your own body. Start with baby steps, perhaps just by assessing whether you’re chronically dehydrated or not, or by eliminating the habit of snacking in the evening.
If you overdue it, especially your first time around, you may do more harm than good. An over-rigorous cleanse can have the opposite effect and drive toxins deeper into the tissues or overtax the organs.
Consulting with an Ayurvedic practitioner is always a good idea to help you figure out your particular needs based on your constitution.
Unfortunately, we live in a toxic world now with a food system that does little to help us stay healthy. It’s up to us as individuals to make smart choices for ourselves and our children.
Soon the weather will change and tempt us outdoors to play. We can take advantage of this last bit of winter down time to clear out that which is weighing us down – both literally and figuratively.
Ayurveda is all about common sense and feeling into the wisdom of your own body. This is how our ancestors lived and thrived for generations. Ayurveda is not some complicated restrictive system of medicine only for academics. It is our birthright and the knowledge that it brings is part of our ancestral memory. Tap into it and you will be amazed!
Some great resources to help motivate and support you.
Are you unsure of your Ayurvedic constitution? Click HERE to take a simple quiz.
Need a little help getting back in balance? Sign up for a consultation via phone or Skype (or come see me in person in NYC!).