As we ease into another new year, you may be feeling inspired to take charge of your health. Many people make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, exercise more, or eat a healthy diet, yet according to research from the Statistic Brain Research Institute, only about 9 percent succeed in their goals. One reason why so many people abandon their resolutions is that they try to make too many sweeping changes all at once, quickly becoming overwhelmed and frustrated.
A powerful alternative to this all-or-nothing approach is starting small and gradually making incremental changes to create a lifestyle that cultivates health and well-being. I recommend beginning with a gentle three-day Ayurvedic detox that you can do at home—an extended weekend within for you to nourish your mind, body, and spirit.
What Are Toxins?
According to the healing system of Ayurveda, your natural state is health, balance, and happiness. A toxin is anything that enters your body-mind and interferes with your natural state, creating imbalances that, over time, can lead to illness. There are many kinds of toxins that you can distill into two major sources:
- Physical toxins found in your food, personal and household products, air, water, and other elements of your environment
- Emotional toxins, such as negative thought patterns and beliefs, self-criticism, chronic stress, and painful experiences that you haven’t fully digested
Ayurveda recommends detoxifying on a regular basis to eliminate toxins and return to your innate state of health and well-being. While a complete Ayurvedic detox often lasts several weeks, undertaking a three-day detox will still give you many benefits, awakening your body’s capacity for renewal and self-regulation.
How to Detox
Here are a few guidelines to create your own three-day detox that can facilitate your body’s release of toxins, optimize your body’s detoxification pathways, and reverse some of the effects of chronic stress.
1. Set a Date to Implement Your Intention
Your three-day detox will require some preparation and planning, so begin by scheduling time for both your preparation and for the detox itself. Ideally, set aside a three-day period when you won’t be working so that can take time to rest and rejuvenate. For example, you can make the commitment to begin your detox on Saturday morning and complete it Monday evening.
2. Eat a Simplified Diet
Simplifying your diet allows your body to redirect its energies to mobilizing and releasing accumulated toxins. According to Ayurveda, some foods are easier to digest than others and are preferred when you undertake a detox. In general, foods that come from the vegetable kingdom, are freshly harvested, and are low in calories are more detoxifying that those that come from animals, are packaged, and are rich in calories.
Easy-to-Digest Foods that Support Detoxification
- Lentil soup
- Kitchari (see recipe below)
- Light vegetable soups
- Steamed or sautéed broccoli, carrots, zucchini, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and beets
- Lightly steamed greens such as spinach, chard, and beet greens
- Basmati rice, quinoa, millet, and barley
- Spices such as ginger, cumin, coriander, and fennel
- Flaxseeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds
- Poached apples and pears; cooked apricots, prunes, and figs
- Fresh berries – raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries
Foods to Minimize or Eliminate During Detoxification
- Animal and dairy products (clarified butter, or ghee, is fine in small amounts)
- Refined sugar and flour products
- Canned, leftover, processed, and microwaved foods
- Fermented foods, including pickles and vinegar
- Cold and raw foods
- Fried foods
Since your digestion is strongest when the sun is brightest, it’s best to eat your largest meal at noon, and have a small, light dinner, such as vegetable soup.
Recipe for Kitchari
The consistency of this rice and legume dish should be soft, like a porridge.
- 1 cup uncooked split mung beans
- ½ cup uncooked white basmati rice (rinse with water until water runs clear)
- 1 tablespoon of ghee (can substitute sesame oil)
- 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger root or 1 teaspoon dried ginger powder
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon each black mustard seeds, cumin, and turmeric powder
- Optional: ½ teaspoon each coriander powder, fennel, and fenugreek seeds
- Optional: 1 pinch hing (also called asafoetida or asafetida)
- 6 cups water
- ½ teaspoon salt (rock salt or Himalayan pink salt is best)
- Optional: 1 small handful fresh chopped cilantro leaves
Rinse the mung beans until the water runs clear. Bring mung beans to a boil in 4 cups of water and then turn them off. Allow to rest for 1 to 2 hours in the boiled water, then drain and rinse.
Heat a large pot on low-to-medium heat and add the ghee or sesame oil, followed by all the spices (except the bay leaves), and roast for a few minutes, stirring constantly. This roasting will enhance the flavor. Keep a close eye on the spices to make sure they do not burn. Add mung beans and rice and stir again.
Add water and bay leaves and increase the heat of the stove. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. Turn heat to low, cover pot, and cook until mung beans and rice become soft (about 30 to 40 minutes).
Add cilantro leaves as a garnish just before serving, if desired. Add salt to taste.
3. Include the 6 Tastes in Every Meal
During your detox, make sure to include the six tastes (sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent) in every meal to ensure that you are eating a balanced and satisfying diet.
By incorporating all six tastes, you’ll get all the nutrients your body needs and decrease any cravings for unhealthy foods. Learn more about the six tastes here.
4. Drink Fresh, Pure Water and Ginger Tea
While detoxifying, it is critical to stay hydrated in order to flush toxins and waste out of your system. Drink at least eight 8 oz. glasses of filtered water daily. Ayurveda recommends ginger tea to help purify the body and boost your digestive system. You can drink several cups a day, as tolerated. For those whose Ayurvedic dosha type is Pitta, strong ginger tea, which is heating, can lead to symptoms such as irritation and burning sensations. They can dilute the tea with water, drink less tea, or simply drink water instead.
Recipe for Ginger Tea
Ginger tea will help purify the body and boost your digestive system.
- Unpeeled ginger root
- Hot water
- Raw organic honey (optional)
- Chopped mint (optional)
- Lemon slices (optional)
To make one cup of tea, put approximately one heaping teaspoon of coarsely chopped unpeeled ginger root into a cup of hot water. Let the tea steep for 2 minutes. Strain or let the ginger settle to the bottom of the cup.
To make one quart of ginger tea, coarsely chop an unpeeled 2-inch piece of whole ginger. Place the pieces into a 2- or 3-quart pot with one quart of purified water. Bring the water just to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the tea simmer for 15 minutes.
Strain the ginger pieces and put the tea into a thermos bottle or store in a glass jar. Reheat the tea as needed. Try sweetening your tea with raw organic honey and chopped mint or lemon slices (optional).
5. Lubricate Your Digestive Tract
Internal oleation is the process of introducing healthy oils into the digestive tract to begin gentle elimination and facilitate release of fat-soluble toxins, as well as to stimulate release of bile salts that help us eliminate cholesterol and excess estrogens through the GI tract. According to Ayurveda, oleation (ingestion of oils) helps you loosen and eliminate toxins, also known as ama.
One way to provide internal oleation, along with healthy fiber, is through a combination of sesame seeds and raisins. Here’s what to do:
Recipe for Oleation
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
Mix sesame seeds and golden raisins. Take a teaspoon of the mixture one hour before each meal, or two hours after each meal.
Tip: If you have problems digesting seeds, try taking 1/2 teaspoon of sesame seed oil along with three or four raisins, three times a day. Another option is to take one teaspoon of tahini (ground sesame seeds) and about six raisins, three times per day.
6. Consider Triphala Supplementation
Triphala is an Ayurvedic herbal supplement used to support the digestive tract and the healthy bacteria in the intestines through antioxidants and healthy fibers. To encourage elimination, you can take 1,000 mg of triphala two hours after dinner and one hour before bed (assuming you have eaten by 7 p.m. and are in bed by 10 p.m.) Learn more about triphala here.
7. Enjoy Daily Self-Massage
Each day of your detox (and, ideally, every day after the detox) give yourself an Ayurvedic self-massage, or self-abhy, using therapeutic aromatherapy oils. Regular massage and loving touch detoxifies the body’s tissues, increases circulation, calms the mind, and enhances immune function—and it feels blissful. You may also want to get a professional massage at a wellness spa or healing center. Find instructions for performing a self-abhy here.
8. Sweat Out Toxins
Exercise is a cornerstone in a detoxifying program. The increased heat and sweat generated through exercise helps to purify and detoxify your body. Each day, aim to engage in at least 20 minutes of aerobic activity that is vigorous enough to leave a light layer of sweat on your skin. You can also take hot baths or go to a sauna or steam room to encourage the removal of toxins through your skin.
9. Turn Off the Electronics and Nourish Your Spirit
During your detox, take the opportunity to withdraw from the flood of energy and information that can create emotional toxins in the body-mind. Excessive TV viewing, hours of mindless web surfing, disturbing movie and news watching, and compulsive social media engagement can deplete your energy and well-being. Eliminate or at least reduce your consumption of electronic media and instead participate in activities that nurture your senses and strengthen your vitality.
Here are a few alternatives:
- Read an inspiring book.
- Listen to uplifting music.
- Spend time outdoors—go for a hike, take a bike ride, or feel your bare feet on the earth.
- Practice yoga.
- Breathe deeply and consciously.
- Visit a museum or art gallery.
- Get a massage.
Think of the senses as portals through which you ingest the raw materials of the world and create your picture of reality. Your health depends on the positive input of your five senses as much as it does on nurturing food. What nourishes your soul, nourishes your body. Take care to seek out moments of joy and beauty, which are the gifts that are senses continually provide.
Meditation is the perfect vehicle for rejuvenation of the body, mind, and spirit. By its very nature, meditation takes you to the quiet place inside yourself and works gently to stem the fight-or-flight stress response. Our physical body reacts to ongoing stress by creating physiological changes that damage the body and accelerate aging. Prolonged stress can make you sick and accelerate the aging process. During the stress response, your heart beats faster, your blood pressure rises, your breathing becomes shallow, your blood sugar level rises, and your immune system is suppressed.
Through the restful awareness of meditation, it is possible to quiet and purify the mind and calm the stress response. In short, meditation is a very important way to purify and quiet the mind, thus rejuvenating the body.
If you have difficulty meditating and experience lots of thoughts, restlessness, or boredom, don’t be discouraged. This means you are actually releasing stress. Keep a neutral attitude towards the thoughts, and gently return to the focus of your breath or mantra. The more you put your attention on a single focus during meditation, the more distractions will recede. When you begin to meditate on a regular basis, you will start to notice that thoughts and feelings that may have been building up inside of you are gently released and you reach the quiet place that was always there, waiting for you—the place of pure awareness. It is there that you experience peace, healing, and true rejuvenation.
If you are new to meditation, try the So Hum technique below to start your practice. Remember not to force anything, and allow your breath to move easily and gently. Don’t inhale deeply or hold your breath, just breathe normally. After you have practiced this meditation, you may wish to learn a more specific and personalized process through a certified meditation instructor.
- Choose a place where you won’t be disturbed. Sit in a chair or on the floor, using blankets and pillows to make yourself as comfortable as possible.
- Close your eyes and for a few minutes and take a few moments to observe the inflow and outflow of your breath.
- Now take a slow, deep breath through your nose, while thinking or silently repeating the word So.
- Then slowly exhale through your nose while silently repeating the word Hum. Continue to allow your breath to flow easily, silently repeating So . . . Hum . . . with each inflow and outflow of the breath.
- Whenever your attention drifts to thoughts in your mind, sounds in your environment, or sensations in your body, gently return to your breath, silently repeating So . . . Hum.
Do this process for a few minutes when you’re first getting started, gradually building up to half an hour. Just breathe easily and effortlessly, without trying to concentrate. When the time is up, sit with your eyes gently closed, taking a moment to rest in the stillness and silence. When you emerge from your meditation, you will carry a little bit of still and silence into all of your daily activities.
11. Create a Daily Schedule
Set a schedule of activities to follow during the detox to make it easier to stay on track and enjoy the experience. For example:
- Gentle stretching or yoga
- Warm breakfast such as ginger tea with cooked cereal or grains with almond milk (remember to eat the sesame-seed mixture an hour before each meal or two hours after)
- Main meal at lunch
- Take a 10- to 15-minute walk after lunch to aid digestion
- Engage in exercise that helps to generate sweat or take a sauna
- Light dinner
- Short walk
- Read something inspirational
- Warm bath
- Reflect in journal
- Be in bed by 10 p.m.
As you create your schedule, make the appropriate appointments or reservations and acquire the necessary supplies or equipment you’ll need. Make a trip to the local natural foods store to stock up on healthy food. Purchase the ingredients for the delicious healthy meals you’ll be preparing.
After the Detox
At the end of your three-day detox, it’s important to gently transition by gradually introducing more complex foods into your diet, such as meat and dairy products. Pay attention to how you feel when you try these foods again—you may discover that your body doesn’t actually want or need some of the foods you’re used to eating and feels better without them.
You can use this three-day detox on a regular basis to eliminate toxins and balance your body.