What An Ayurvedic Cleanse Does & Kitchari: An Important Recipe For Healing
Have you ever done a cleanse before? Chances are you have tried one kind or another. It seems a modern phenomenon but in fact, Ayurveda has used specific cleansing rituals for thousands of years as preventative medicine and to encourage deep healing.
What is an Ayurvedic cleanse?
Traditionally the deep Ayurvedic cleansing process is known as panchakarma. The word ‘panchakarma’ means 5 actions. Those actions are purgatory actions, meant to forcefully expel excess dosha, and include therapeutic vomiting, purgation of the small intestine, enema, nasya (nostril cleansing) and blood letting.
Typically this process should last anywhere from weeks to months and would be completely tailored to which of these actions a person needs. Most importantly, there is very thorough preparation before those actions, as well as rejuvenations afterwards. Deep cleansing processes like Panchakarma should always be supervised by an experienced practitioner or Vaidya, and there are very few places in the world that truly offer this service.
Most of us will not be able to go receive panchakarma. But that does not mean we’re cheating.
We can use understanding of important Ayurvedic principles to turn on the healing and cleansing functions of our physiology. Our organs that are naturally and constantly detoxifying us include the bowel, kidneys through urination, skin, sweat glands and liver. This innate healing capacity is what strengthens our metabolism and in doing so, our immunity, to prevent future disease and to help us heal from current imbalances.
The definition of health (swastha) in Ayurveda states that the doshas must be balanced, the digestive fire or agni must also be in a balanced state and the tissues and wastes must function normally. The mind, body and senses must be in a pleasant state, or bliss.
That said, an Ayurvedic cleanse of any protocol, should move us towards whole health – meaning to balance our agni, which will start the cleansing process, and remove or digest toxins (ama), and reduce mental stress.
What is Agni?
Agni is basically the opposite of ama – when agni is low, ama may form. Agni means ‘fire’ – it is our metabolic strength, our ability to digest and assimilate food, and other impressions that we take into ourselves through the sense organs. Agni is hot, light, and subtle.
Agni could become impaired when there is sickness (chronic or acute), overeating, eating at improper times or eating poor food combinations that are hard to digest, when taking pharmaceuticals, or after surgery. Signs of low or impaired agni are very similar to those signs of ama.
What is Ama?
Ama is defined as ‘undigested food’ – it is the ‘toxin’ or ‘poison’ in Ayurveda. Ama is considered to be the cause behind all disease and disorder, ultimately. Ama is formed when agni is low, and agni can be low for many different reasons.
Ama can be physically felt and seen. It is heavy, thick and sticky. Signs of ama are unclear thinking, pain, bloating, gas, thick tongue coating, foul smell, mucous, indigestion, lack of appetite.
What is Sattva?
Sattva is one of the three major energy forces called gunas which interact to manifest our universe. These energies can be most easily understood in relation to our state of mind.
Rajas and Tamas, meaning action and inertia respectively, are the other two gunas or energies. These energies are constantly transforming into and out of one another.
Sattva is defined as ‘essence’. It is subtle, graceful, peaceful, good and pure. Sattvic qualities allow us to improve our health and well-being by allowing us positive space to rest, renew and rejuvenate into our best self. Think calm, quiet and easy. The goal of this cleanse is to increase our sattvic qualities, so we take in sattvic foods and impressions to increase this quality in our body and mind. One of the sanskrit names for the ‘mind’ is sattva – it’s nice to know that the mind is inherently calm and peaceful.
Is it possible to cleanse with Ayurveda at home?
Yes. And as with anything, it’s good to have guidance when we’re trying something new. There are many nuances to the process, and our body might be different from one season to the next.
Signs it is time to cleanse:
Lethargy, body odor, sinking or sticky stools, constipation or sticky, sinking bowel movements, brain fog, stress, poor sleep, body pain, skin issues…
When it is not appropriate to cleanse deeply:
Pregnancy, breastfeeding, weakness, acute illness, fever, during chemotherapy, times of great stress, business, or grief…
The tools involved in an Ayurvedic cleanse at home can include understanding rtucharya (the doshas influence on the seasons), dinacharya (the doshas influence on the day, and daily self-care practices), deepana and pachana(stoking of agni, and burning of toxins) through simple diet or use of spices, and resting of the senses to balance the mind and emotions. Herbs might be involved, if recommended for you personally by a practitioner, as well as internal oleation (drinking ghee) and even purgation or an enema (again, only if personally guided and recommended by a practitioner.)
Dietary changes are extremely important during an Ayurvedic cleanse, as it serves quite a few important functions. One, a simple diet decreases sensory stimulation. Two, one wants to be sure to be digesting their diet fully in order to not create further ama. Three, the meals could included spices to kickstart agni and burn up toxins directly in the GI tract.
For most Ayurvedic cleanses, eating of kitchari is adopted.
What is kitchari?
Kitchari is a simple dish made from mung beans and rice. It is an ancient healing combination.
Kitchari is a holy food, eaten at times when the immune system is compromised or for special seasonal cleansing purposes. Think of kitchari as the Ayurvedic (and vegetarian) equivalent to chicken noodle soup. Nourishing for mind, body and soul, kitchari kicks up the metabolism and immune system.
Mung beans and rice combine to create a complete protein combination. Mung beans have special affinity for cleansing the liver, and they are also easily digestible, unlike other legumes. Rice is consider sweet and gently nourishing, and white rice in particular is easy and soothing on the bowels.
The vegetables can be tailored to your constitution. Traditionally, vegetables are usually excluded from kitchari. They provide extra fiber and calories and are added in for those of us who can not completely stop our lives while cleansing.
The spices, like turmeric, coriander, cumin, fennel and black pepper, do deepana and pachana actions, without being overheating or aggravating to Pitta when used with awareness.
Ghee is also cooling and calming to the gut. It lubricates the GI tract to help ama move out as well as nourishes the deeper tissues. Another oil, for example coconut or flax, could be used for those who are vegan, though ghee is traditional.
A basic kitchari recipe:
1/2 c split yellow mung beans, soaked
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground fennel
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 1/2 tbsp ghee
1/2 c basmati rice, rinsed twice
1 tbsp chopped ginger root
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp dried organic coconut, optional
chopped cilantro, optional
Soak 1/2 c split yellow mung beans in water for several hours or overnight, especially if using whole beans. After soaking, rinse the beans and set aside.
In a large saucepan, lightly brown all spices in the ghee.
Drain the mung beans or dal of excess water and then stir it into the spice mixture in the saucepan.
Next add 1/2 cup of basmati rice that you have rinsed twice. Stir in the ginger, salt and optional organic coconut, followed by 4+ cups of water. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook on low heat for approximately 25 to 30 minutes until soft.
Add your vegetables to the saucepan as the kitchari is cooking. Add root vegetables (chopped golden beet, sweet potato, carrots or peeled winter squash) after about 10 minutes of cooking time. If you are going to add zucchini or kale, wait until you only have about 5 minutes left of cooking time. Stir in cilantro if you so choose, after you have turned off the heat.
Want to test the waters?
Get Adena’s free 1 Day Ayurvedic Cleanse Guide