Updated: Jul 14
Let's talk about cleansing. What does it mean? Why do we do it? And what really are the benefits?
A 'cleanse' is:
a very restrictive short-term diet primarily intended to remove toxins from the body. - Merriam Webster Dictionary
Personally, I'm not a fan of any of these definitions because they sound rather negative using phrases like 'very restrictive', 'stop taking' or 'consuming only water or other liquids'. I honestly have never felt more full or eaten as much food as I do when I'm 'on an Ayurvedic cleanse'.
What is an Ayurvedic Cleanse?
Ayurveda teaches us that the twice annual cleanses in Spring and Autumn are a time to honor your body, to give thanks for all that it does tirelessly every day, year-after-year, and to offer it sanctuary and rest. Imagine if you never went on vacation or could never sleep? Wouldn't you be exhausted, grumpy, irritable and ready to stop at any minute?
Cleansing is a beautiful time to reflect with gratitude on the miracles your body performs. It's a dedicated time, 12 days for an Ayurvedic cleanse, to give your organs a much needed 'rest' from the myriad of food, situations, substances and thoughts we inundate it with daily. Yes... there are some cherished guidelines to follow that do require a period of abstinence from certain foods and activities. BUT when viewed through the lens of love and compassion for your body, it's a small token of appreciation and not a major sacrifice.
The cleanses are a time to detoxify the body and provide nourishment for the liver and digestive organs. Most chemicals, toxins, heavy metals and other pollutants are stored in the adipose tissue - the fat layer of the body. The fat-metabolizing cleanse practiced in Ayurveda helps the lymphatic system purge these deep-seated inhabitants so the major organs can function properly. It clears the 'plaque' from the digestive system, purifies the blood and creates an environment in which bile breaks down the fat to release the toxic sludge. It also helps the kidneys, heart and liver reset.
The recommendation in Ayurveda is to complete a cleanse at two critical times per year: Spring and Autumn. Why?
During the summer and winter, the body experiences the most environmental stress. The extreme heat and cold initiates the survival instinct, and makes it challenging for the blood to remain alkaline as stress hormones increase.
In winter, the body needs to store fat to withstand howling winds and frigid nights. In the summer, regulating body temperature is challenging hence the need for swimming, ice tea and watermelon. Neither time is optimal to introduce a fat-metabolizing cleanse.
The transition points (Spring & Autumn) between these extremes marks a difficult time for the body. Often people will experience mucus build up, hayfever, congestion, etc. because we continue to eat and behave as if the sun is scorching or the snow is falling. The body has been so busy regulating temperature (a full time job) and managing a scarcity of resources during these times, that it often has little capacity to fight off illness and the immune system is taxed. This is when we can help the body by allowing it time to rest and detox.
Spring and Autumn represent a time of thriving vs. surviving, and the body and mind are operating from an abundance mindset vs. scarcity. This naturally reduces the flight or fight response and is the optimal time to stabilize the blood's pH. Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are highly acidic, and can take 24-48 hours to reset.
The benefits are numerous and probably a bit too much to document here, so for simplicity I've captured the top reasons why we restrict and incorporate certain things:
Things to eliminate on the cleanse:
Caffeine - triggers the production of cortisol and blocks the production of biochemicals signaling the body's need for rest. The parasympathetic nervous system is only activated when the body is calm. It's primary responsibility is to repair the damage of the day - self-healing.
Alcohol, sugar, simple carbohydrates, processed & fried foods - These highly acidic foods are immediately burned for energy, difficult to digest and create a low pH blood. To counteract this, the body must take minerals from the thyroid and bones, for example, to increase and stabilize the pH to an alkaline state. This initiates glucose intolerance and doesn't allow the body to burn energy from fat thereby increasing the chances of weight gain. These foods are also what the 'bad bacteria and parasites' in the GI system crave. For the cleanse, we want to reset the gut microbiome and feed the good bacteria.
Soy, dairy and meat - We decrease these to help reset hormones such as estrogen & testosterone.
Wheat, night shades (peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, etc.) and onions - cause inflammation and block the main channels for the elimination of waste. Also some of the pesticides used on wheat are known contributors to 'leaky gut'.
Fruit - although super healthy and a necessary part of a balanced diet, fruit contains naturally occurring sugar that gets burned for energy very quickly. On a fat-metabolizing cleanse, we want the fat to become our main resource for energy.
Things we incorporate on the cleanse:
Grass-fed, organic ghee - used for lubrication and is one of the easiest fats for the body to breakdown. We use ghee to understand how the body digests fat and whether or not it is producing enough bile
Green Soup (aka Bielers Broth) - the bitter greens create bulk and fiber used to 'scrape' the intestinal walls clean from plaque. Bitter greens also help initiate the production of bile.
Meng Beans - a simple and efficient source of protein that is astringent. This helps pull excess fat, water, and toxins from the body. They are extremely easy to digest and offer an abundance of nutrients.
Basmati Rice - this is the lowest glycemic carbohydrate that will provide a slow burning fuel for energy without causing a significant spike in blood-sugar.
Licorice Root and Dandelion Teas - help increase the production of bile
Ayurvedic Gatorade - helps remedy deep tissue dehydration. We need the digestive tract well lubricated and hydrated to fully evacuate the bowels.
Why I Opt to Cleanse...
I choose to do the cleanses because I feel so darn good afterward. I find I have more energy, stamina, and mental clarity post-cleanse, and I typically lose some girth in my mid-section. I also sleep more soundly and wake up feeling well-rested. My mood becomes stable and I often do some of my best self-evaluations during the cleanses - sometimes even offloading old stories, trauma or thought-patterns that no longer serve my higher purpose.
Personally, I become cranky, irritable, impatient and can easily get angry by the end of summer. It's like my body can't keep up with the pace and heat. I have been known to have some of my best explosions in summer. The Autumn cleanse helps me return to normal and by the end, I'm more calm and aware of my short-tempered alter ego of summer.
I never noticed until after the Spring cleanse this year just how lethargic and melancholy I become during winter. I lack motivation to do much of anything and just want to stay bundled up in front of the fireplace. I become a complete hermit and want my fair share of comfort food. By the end of winter, I feel heavy, often constipated, somewhat sad and have a general 'blah mentality' where I don't have much desire to do anything. After the cleanse, I feel lighter and much more engaged... like eagerly anticipating the return of sunny days and warmer temps.