For Ayurveda a regular rhythm of cleanses is a vital part of your healthcare plan – it allows for waste and toxicity that has accumulated in your body and mind to be cleared. An Ayurvedic cleanse is usually undertaken at the change of the seasons – summer to autumn and winter to spring, or when you are feeling under par.
On this cleanse you get to eat! It’s a dish called Kitchari – India’s number one comfort food. This nutritious, nourishing, gently cleansing dish is made from basmati rice and split mung dahl. People sometimes mistake the split mung dahl for the red lentil, or yellow split peas, both of which can upset some people’s digestion. So it’s important you buy the split mung dahl (the green mung bean that has it’s green outer layer removed which is then split, becoming a little yellow dahl). If you can’t source this dahl use mung beans.
This is a simplified version of the Ayurvedic cleanse that can be carried out at home, there’s three stages:
- 3 days pre-cleanse
- 3 days active cleanse
- 3 days post-cleanse
NB: you could just do a 1-3 day digestive reset by carrying out just the active stage.
I’ll quickly run through when to carry out a cleanse and when not to. Then I’ll explain each stage of the cleanse followed by the recipes and therapies you may want to include.
Why Carry Out an Ayurvedic Cleanse?
Here are a few reasons why you may want to carry out an Ayurvedic Cleanse:
- You get to eat meals – an Ayurvedic cleanse differs from a typical Western cleanse where we usually stop eating and drink only juices or water.
- The meal you eat for a traditional Ayurvedic cleanse is called kitchari and it’s delicious, a real comfort food.
- An Ayurvedic cleanse supports your body’s detoxification systems, rebalances your constitution and strengthens your digestion.
- This cleanse supports you to create a healthy gut microbiome.
- The Ayurvedic cleanse can be adapted and carried out over different lengths of time in order to address your health needs and circumstances.
- This cleanse is suitable for all constitutions – liquid cleanses can upset some constitutions and cause constitutional imbalances.
- You can weave together an Ayurvedic cleanse with a sattvic approach to eating and living over time, in order to take a steady approach to cleansing, nourishing and bringing peace to both your body and your mind .
- The Ayurvedic approach to cleansing will allow you to realign with your true nature in a gentle and nurturing way – Ayurveda offers a healing process that connects you to your body’s innate intelligence and provides you with a map for maintaining this once achieved.
- An autumn to winter seasonal cleanse can set you up for an easier and healthier winter, and a winter to spring seasonal cleanse can remove winter sluggishness and help to offset seasonal allergies.
- This cleanse continues to give you the macro-nutrients of protein and complex carbohydrates that you need for nourishment and balanced blood sugar levels – the body can become stressed if blood sugar levels are not steady, which causes weight gain for people whose tendency is to put on weight.
- You’ll be eliminating toxins you may have taken in through your food, personal care products, cleaning products and drinks.
- The Ayurvedic cleanse is a sustainable approach for your mind and body because it is gentle and nourishing for your digestive and nervous systems.
- This cleanse is simple and easy to apply.
- This cleanse doesn’t have to cost a lot.
Here are a few reasons why you may not want to carry out an Ayurvedic Cleanse:
- When you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
- When you are menstruating.
- When you are debilitated and in need of rejuvenation a cleanse can be weakening, in this instance, you could combine the one-day digestive reset with a rejuvenation programme, if you were able to rest on the reset day.
- When there are high levels of toxicity, a staged approach under the guidance of a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner is needed.
- When you are under medical supervision or in need of medical advice – check with your doctor before carrying out a cleanse.
Ayurveda suggests that to get the most out of your cleanse you should carry out three stages: pre-cleanse, active cleanse, post-cleanse. Each lasts for the same amount of time – if your active cleanse is 3 days, you’d also spend 3 days on the pre-cleanse and 3 days on the post-cleanse. The entire cleanse supports the removal of toxins from your system and aims to balance your constitution.
The 3 Parts of an Ayurvedic Cleanse
- Pre-Cleanse – to prepare your mind and body for the cleanse and move any toxins in the tissues back into the digestive tract ready for elimination
- Actual Cleanse – elimination of any toxins through the digestive tract, to rebalance your constitution and strengthen your digestive system
- Post-Cleanse – includes two parts: reintroduction – gradually bringing back the foods and beverages you normally consume, and rejuvenation – replenishment on all levels.
For some people 3 days of active cleansing will be too long, for others it may not be long enough! If it’s too long you could carry out a regular routine of digestive resets by following just one day of the active cleanse and leaving out the pre-cleanse and post-cleanse stages, perhaps once a week or month. If it is too short you could spend 5-7 days on each of the three stages. Some people may need to incorporate a very gentle approach to the Ayurvedic cleanse, with an Ayurvedic healing approach to life for 3 months to a year, as they gently detoxify while remaining nourished and grounded in their life. It all depends on your health and circumstances. So, if you carry out this cleanse and it feels too long, stop. The cleanse described in this ebook is simply to get you started, to introduce you to the Ayurvedic approach to cleansing, and should be adapted to your needs and circumstances.
These first three days involve eating a simplified diet that is sattvic (explained further on), swapping processed sugar for fruit, avoiding alcohol, and if you are able to without experiencing cold turkey, avoiding caffeine. If that is a challenge, swap caffeine drinks for small sips of green tea throughout the day – make a flask of green tea and sip when needed, making sure most of your day is spent drinking herbal tea – drinking lots of warm herbal teas is important to help with the cleansing process.
Sattvic food is light, fresh, energising, vitalising and balancing; it brings clarity to your mind, peace to your emotions and energy to your body. Sattvic foods are pure, whole, organic, fresh and plant based. They are healing foods, they keep you alert, give you a clear, balanced mind and support a healthy body – sattvic foods promote longevity, health, strength and cheerfulness.
Sattvic foods are lacto-vegetarian – fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, pulses, grains, raw (unpasteurized) honey, cereals and nuts. Sattvic spices include: cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, fresh ginger and turmeric. Meat is avoided along with certain vegetables – onions, garlic, and the deadly nightshade family: tomatoes, potatoes, aubergines, peppers. Pickles, chilli, black pepper (a tiny pinch to make the healing properties bio-available) and hot spices are also avoided, along with strongly salty and sour tastes.
I post ideas for sattvic recipes on the website in the Peaceful Belly Kitchen and on my Instagram feed – details at the end.
During the pre-cleanse stage of the cleanse it’s a good idea to make sure you’ve got everything you need for the active stage of the cleanse – so have a look at that section before you need to begin it!
It’s a good idea to start introducing the Ayurvedic daily rhythm of eating three meals a day – the largest for lunch when digestion is at it’s strongest, the second largest at breakfast and the smallest for supper.
The ideal time to get up is at sunrise, practicing some gentle calm abiding meditation or yoga. It’s recommended that you go to bed by 10pm if you want the best nights sleep, avoiding all screens an hour before bed. You could also begin the practice of calm abiding meditation first thing and just before bed, here’s some simple directions for this:
- Sit comfortably with a straight spine, either on a cushion with crossed legs, kneeling or on a chair with feet flat on the floor
- Place your hands flat on your knees, or in your lap with right hand in left and tips of thumbs touching
- Have your spine relaxed but straight
- Head slightly tilted, eyes gaze gently down to the floor just ahead of you (without bending the neck or focusing on anything), or you can close them if you prefer
- Breathe naturally counting each breath (in and out equals 1) until you reach 21, then start again
- When you lose count or realise you’ve gone beyond 21 (most of us do) simply start from 1 again
Begin with a 5-minute routine each morning and evening, building up to 20 minutes – this is the time it usually takes for our brainwaves to shift from beta (awake state) to alpha (calm state).
If you are feeling emotional and stressed spend a few minutes taking twice as much time to breathe out compared to the breath in – this calms your body by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure and relaxing your muscles. This technique switches your body from the sympathetic nervous system (fight and flight) to the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).
It is good to carry out the active cleanse during 3 days when you can rest and let the cleanse do it’s work. It’s possible you will release emotional toxins – disturbed emotions that were stuck in the cells of your body. Dr Candice Pert, whose work brought recognition to a new field of science called psychoneuroimmunology, has shown that our organs, tissues, skin, muscle and endocrine glands can all store emotion.
Ayurveda suggests really relaxing throughout the active stage of your cleanse. Continue with the daily rhythm discussed for the pre-cleanse.
While actively cleansing you need to be gentle with yourself. If you have a yoga practice, focus on restorative postures carried out in a slow and rhythmic way. You need to focus on asanas that support detoxification and increase digestion. Gentle twists can support detoxification of the digestive tract, spine and vital organs, as well as strengthening your digestion. Many of the reclining postures that open the solar plexus area are very supportive during your cleanse since this is an area of the body where we often hold tension. Gentle inversion postures like shoulder stand can help to flush out toxins, improve blood flow and promote overall rejuvenation – a headstand would be too strong for this gentle home cleanse. If in any doubt check in with a Yoga teacher.
Throughout the 3 days of the active stage you’ll be giving yourself a massage first thing before breakfast, it’s called Abhyanga. This massage is a lovely way to soothe your mind, nourish your heart and feed the healthy bacteria on your skin, which protect you from unhealthy pathogens.
You’ll be eating Kitchari for breakfast, lunch and supper – the ingredients in Kitchari take toxins that are in your digestive tract out of your system. For instance both the mung bean and cilantro (coriander leaves) have chelating properties – take things like heavy metals out of your system by binding to them as they pass through. If you prefer not to eat Kitchari for breakfast, eat stewed apples with cardamon, cinnamon and a little ghee, or a basic porridge.
Here’s a routine you could follow for the active stage:
- Wake just before sunrise
- Carry out self massage (explained further on) then have a warm steamy bath (shower if you don’t have one) followed by some gentle exercise
- Eat Kitchari for breakfast, or if you prefer stewed apples/porridge with a little ghee, cinnamon and cardamom
- Have a relaxing morning doing things you enjoy that are restful
- Eat your largest bowl of Kitchari for lunch between 12 noon and 1 pm
- In the afternoon spend time in nature in a relaxed way
- In the evening have your Kitchari supper around 6 pm
- Relax the evening away doing things you enjoy
- No technology if possible
- Drink herbal teas throughout the day
- Have some golden milk (turmeric latte) in the afternoon if you’re hungry or just feeling the need for a little something
- Bed by 10 pm
This part of the cleanse focuses on the gradual reintroduction of the things you normally consume, and rejuvenation. The reason you reintroduce foods, drinks and life experiences gradually, is because if you hit your system with caffeine, alcohol, processed sugar, processed foods or some life experiences too quickly, your mind and body may struggle to cope.
You can spend longer than 3 days on this stage of the cleanse if you would like to, for instance for a 3-5 day cleanse you could spend a month rejuvenating. This could include continuing to eat sattvic food for a time that felt right for you, before beginning to introduce the foods you normally eat – if you feel ungrounded, tired and sensitive this could mean you need to introduce dense protein into your diet – meat or fish – along with fresh fruit, vegetables and rejuvenative foods.
Rejuvenating foods and herbs (called rasayanas) include: dates, figs, almonds, ghee, organic milk taken warm, mung beans, whole grains, ashwagandha, triphala, chyawanprash (Ayurvedic medicinal jam), vegetables, turmeric, ginger, fennel, saffron, cardamom, cumin.
During your post-cleanse make sure you get good sleep, continuing with a regular daily routine – waking early and in bed by 10 pm – Ayurveda explains that we get the best nights rest when we are asleep by 10 pm. If you have trouble falling asleep Ayurveda suggests drinking some warm milk with a little raw honey, or perhaps a Golden Milk before bed. You can also make a nourishing almond milk –
The post-cleanse is a good time for reflecting on your life, thinking about what supports your health and what doesn’t. For instance you may decide to carry out a regular digestive reset each week, or month. You may also decide you would like to incorporate some regular sattvic meals into your week, and continue with the self-cleanse on your days off.
Recipes & Therapies
Here’s what you need to know to carry out the Ayurvedic self-massage (Abhyanga). Abhyanga is a traditional Ayurvedic therapeutic massage. The following is a simplified version suitable for a home cleanse – on a cleansing retreat (panchakarma) you might have four therapists giving this to you!
This self-massage is a great way of bringing love, stability, nurture, comfort and nourishment into your body and your life. It involves applying oil to your whole body before having a steamy bath or shower. Sesame oil is a good one to use and easy to find (untoasted and organic – you don’t want to be massaging pesticides into your body during a cleanse). The idea is to coat every part of your body in a thick layer of oil from your head to your toes – which traditionally includes the scalp but miss this out if not practical.
During this massage, oil moves deep into the pores of your skin and strengthens the tissues. The longer you massage your skin the deeper the oil will penetrate and the stronger the effect it will have – you could spend anything between 5-15 minutes.
Abhyanga helps with detoxification, encouraging toxins to move towards the digestive tract from where they can leave your system. It softens your tissues at surface and deeper levels, nourishes your nervous system, reduces stress and pacifies your mind and body. This self-massage is beneficial for your skin, sleep patterns, increases circulation, brings warmth and stability into your body and mind, while grounding your nervous system. And, sesame oil feeds the healthy bacteria on the surface of your skin – acting as a defence to pathogens.
- Use about 1/2 cup of oil
- Place this in a jar
- Place the jar in hot water to warm the oil
- In a warm bathroom run yourself a bath (it’s fine to have a shower if you don’t have a bath)
- Coat yourself from head to toe in your oil – take 5-15 minutes (the longer you take the deeper the oil will penetrate the tissues)
- Start on your scalp (leave your scalp out if this isn’t practical for you), move to your face, neck and shoulders
- Next move to your hands and feet, massaging up your arms and legs towards your heart using long strokes – gentle and circular strokes on joints
- Then massage the oil towards the middle of your body, always moving towards your heart – up your lower back, down your upper back and around the sides of your body to your abdomen
- Massage your abdomen following the clockwise flow of your intestines – up the right side, along the top and down the left side (when you look down at your abdomen)
- As soon as you’ve finished, relax in a warm bath for 20 minutes if possible or take a hot shower. The aim is to be relaxed and warm in a wet and steamy environment
- Don’t wash the oil off just pat dry with a towel
Here’s a basic recipe for Kitchari that all Ayurvedic constitutions can eat (tridosha) – traditionally you cook everything together in one pan – very easy. For this recipe I cook the rice and split mung dahl separately so you can make enough for a whole day without worrying about the health risks of reheating rice; I’ve also separated out the spices in case you want to change your mix of spices at different meals.
NB: Rice is the one grain that can cause food poisoning if it is left around at a warm temperature. It contains spores of bacillus cereus that are not destroyed by cooking; they can grow into bacteria that cause food poisoning. The way to avoid this is to cook the rice, then immediately cool it down under cold water if not being eaten straight away. Store this in the fridge for 1-2 days, reheating only once and making sure you bring it up to 75 degrees centigrade.
The quantity in this recipe serves 3 portions depending on how much you need to eat, so you may have to vary the proportions. I recommend you play with the spice mix along with the amount of ginger, lemon juice, salt and black pepper, to come up with a combination that suits you.
- 1 cup mung dahl
- 1 cup basmati rice
- 8 cups water (approx.)
- 2 cups chopped root vegetables or spinach
- 1 to 2 inches fresh grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons ground coriander seed
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cumin seed
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cardamom seed
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon turmeric powder or 2-4 inches fresh turmeric root grated
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida
- 2 tablespoons ghee or creamed coconut if vegan/lactose intolerant
- 1 lemon (juice)
- Handful of freshly chopped coriander leaf (cilantro)
- Rock salt to season
- Soak the split mung dahl and rice the night before separately
- The next morning rinse the soaked mung dahl and rice separately until the water runs clear(this can take a few rinses for the mung dahl)
- Cook the mung dahl by bringing to the boil then simmering on low (if you cook too quickly the water will evaporate before the dahl is cooked), together with any hard vegetables and grated fresh ginger – begin with 7 cups of water and keep checking in case you need more
- At the same time, cook the rice separately – once cooked, cool any you are not using straight away under cold water and store in the fridge until the next two meals (you could make enough for the next two days – Ayurveda recommends always preparing fresh food for each meal, but the Western lifestyle doesn’t always allow for this
- Divide the mung dahl into 3 meal portions (cool and store in the fridge any you’re not using straight away), and add the tempered spices when heating up each meal – this allows you the option of adding different spice mixes for different meals
- Melt the ghee or some coconut oil in a pan and temper the ground spices – sauté until you can smell the spice aromas
- Add these spices along with any quick-cooking vegetables like spinach to the mung dahl and basmati rice when warming up for each meal
- Once cooked season with fresh lemon juice, rock salt and black pepper
- Serve in a bowl with freshly chopped coriander leaf
So, you’re using 1/3 of the cooked mung dahl for breakfast, 1/3 for lunch and 1/3 for supper, along with 1/3 of the rice each time. If you were just cooking for one meal to eat straight away you would cook as a one pot dish, beginning by tempering the spices in ghee (or coconut oil); then adding the freshly grated ginger, mung dahl, rice, any hard vegetables (add quick cooking vegetables like spinach just a couple of minutes before serving) and water; seasoning at the end with lemon and salt before garnishing with the chopped coriander.
You’ll find details for making ghee on the website in the Peaceful Belly Kitchen.
If you find you’re getting peckish in the afternoon you could make yourself a soothing, nourishing mug of Golden Milk (rebranded as Turmeric Latte).
- 1 mug of milk (traditionally cow milk but you can use any)
- 1 teaspoon ghee or coconut oil (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cardamon
- 1/2 – 1 teaspoon jaggery/ 1 teaspoon maple syrup/raw honey
- Cinnamon to sprinkle
- Mix the spices with the milk and ghee/oil (if using) and bring to the boil. Take off the heat and stir in the sweetener – Ayurveda explains that cooked honey changes chemically and becomes toxic for us, blocking the bodies subtle channels, so if using let the milk cool a little first). This is also a lovely drink just before bed.
The next step
This has been a simple introduction to the Ayurvedic cleanse. The length of time you carry out your cleanse will be determined by your circumstances. You may decide to just do a simple one day digestive reset. Three days may work well for you, five may be better – it all depends upon your circumstances and health needs.
Some people will benefit for three months to a year moving gently through cycles of cleansing and rejuvenating. For others even one day would be hard to accomplish if they had no time to rest and were undernourished. So always check with your doctor if you have any concerns, and stop or change what you are doing if you need to.
If you would like to learn more, my book ‘Your Peaceful Belly’ explains how to create an Ayurvedic approach to your health. I also offer consultations and coaching, virtually, or from Neals Yard Therapt Rooms in Bath, U.K.