Traditional Ayurvedic Cleansing
While not all cleanses are Pañchakarmas, the traditional structure that is followed during Pañchakarma cleansing can be incorporated into other forms of modern cleanses. There are three stages in a traditional Pañchakarma:
1. Pūrvakarma: pre-Pañchakarma stage which includes limiting the diet to specific foods, along with internal & external olation, and sweating.
2. Pañchakarma: the climax of a cleanse, which consists of the appropriate act(s) of cleansing for the culprit dosha(s). The five methods are basti (enema), virechana (purgation), vāmana (vomiting), raktamokṣha (bloodletting), and nasya (nasal olation) *disclaimer: these traditional Pañchakarma methods are most safely practiced under the guidance of a qualified physician.
3. Paschātkarma: the post cleansing stage, focused on rebuilding strength and rasāyana (replenishing healthy tissue).
*Note: Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and people who are elderly or very feeble should not participate in cleansing. Instead, those demographics can focus on nourishing the body with wholesome foods.
The initial stages of cleansing (Pūrvakarma) start by eliminating heavy foods from our diets and limiting our food intake to a specific type of food(s) or liquid(s) (for example, kitchari or green juice). By limiting the varieties of foods we eat, we reduce the amount of energy our body requires to digest, while still allowing our cells and tissues to receive optimal nutrition. This allows the body to increase agni and burn away ama.
Due to the sudden lightness in our digestive organs, agni becomes very high, and it is common to feel hungry, slightly fatigued, and possibly irritable due to the absence of fullness we are accustomed to feeling after eating. Gradually, as we continue to cleanse, our agni levels out, our body starts feeling light and agile, our digestion becomes balanced, and our elimination becomes effortless. Even our mind and emotional state feels clear and peaceful. These are the tell-tale signs that our body has begun to burn ama and release toxins.
Eventually, the period of detoxifying must end, to avoid destroying healthy tissue and to wean the body back into digesting hardier, strength-building foods, and to focus on replenishing new, healthy cells. Returning to our daily life routine often requires more energy and sustenance than the simple and bland foods consumed during cleanses, when a person is generally more physically at rest.
But what happens when we immediately jump from a juice fast back into veggie burgers? Without a proper transition, clean internal organs are shocked with the heavy, dense, oiliness of rich foods, and the body will immediately begin to feel symptoms of constipation, heartburn, and sluggish digestion. These are signs that the body has begun to re-develop ama, due to the incomplete digestion of the food matter consumed. Hence, the significance of the Paschātkarma stage of a cleanse, which bears the responsibility of facilitating the transition back into wholesome eating, so that our cleansing efforts are not done in vain.
Transitioning Out of a Cleanse
The day of a cleanse: It is normal to feel a delicate appetite on the day of and in the days following a cleanse. To re-kindle agni, “deepana” (agni enhancing) methods, are used, such as sipping hot ginger tea or CCF tea throughout the day. Because agni will be delicate, It is best to stick to a diet of plain rice water broth, or very watery rice porridge (with very little salt and no spices) on the day of a cleanse.
Day after a cleanse: The next day, you may advance to a slightly thicker rice porridge and a pureed vegetable soup with a little salt. Avoid solid foods the first day after a cleanse, depending on the strength and success of the cleanse.
Days 2-5 after a cleanse: Observe your agni. Depending on how your digestion feels, you can continue to follow a pureed soups and rice porridge diet for 2 more days, gradually adding in mild spices (not spicy!). If your agni already feels strong, you can advance to steamed vegetables and steamed rice, gently seasoned, directly on day 2 after the cleanse. After a few days to a week of observing an easy to digest diet, you will slowly be able to start incorporating heavier and hardier foods.
Whatever is put into a clean body immediately after a cleanse is directly absorbed, like a dry sponge soaking up whatever liquid it is immersed in, be it water or gasoline. Thus, it is pertinent to retaining some level of self-discipline, even in the after-stages of cleansing. Otherwise, it is possible to end up with new and worse forms of ama.
Always keep in mind that your original reason for cleansing is to create a long-term change, which starts with creating new and improved eating habits, which is not possible if we totally regress to old, bad habits. The cleaner you come off your cleanse, the longer you will reap the results.
Easing Back Into Eating After a Cleanse
Here are a few general tips for easing back into eating after a cleanse.
- Always stop eating at the first burp (start paying attention to this when you eat and you WILL start noticing it!)
- Eat only the amount of food that can fit in the space of your two copped palms (use this as an approximate measuring tool to visualize your serving size)
- Remember to fill the stomach with 1/3 air, 1/3 food, and 1/3 water (exceeding these limits will cause indigestion)
- Avoid snacking between meals; if you feel hungry, have a snack of fresh fruit midway between lunch and dinner
- Be regular with meals times and agni will naturally kindle itself at the time of the meal
- Avoid drinking water 30 minutes before, and 1 hour after meals
- Take a pause to offer a moment of gratitude for your food before and after indulging in meals
The advantages of cleansing are stated in the Charaka Samhita, an ancient book of Ayurvedic wisdom, proclaiming, “Oh persons desirous for vitality! Rejuvenation therapy is like ambrosia and is beneficial even to the gods. It has unimaginable and wonderful, beneficial effects. It promotes life, maintains positive health, and maintains proper balance between Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. “ (Ca.Ci.I:2,1-2)
Wishing a strong agni, a sound mind, and smiling heart, during and after your cleanse!
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.
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