According to Ayurveda, poor nutrition and lifestyle lie at the root of all diseases. The reason? An unhealthy diet of processed food introduces toxic compounds into the digestive tract. It can also lead to constipation, which prevents the effective elimination of these toxic compounds. When we can’t excrete toxic buildup, our bodies absorb and store them in our tissues, leading to weight gain and disease. A lifestyle void of exercise or regular activity can exacerbate the problem, as it hinders the release of toxins through the lymphatic system. In sum, poor lifestyle choices are conducive to disease because they result in the buildup of ama, or toxic material, in the body. The solution? An Ayurveda cleanse.

Ayurvedic medicine is a holistic prescription for wellness that treats the whole person—body, mind, and spirit—via nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle optimization. One of the most critical components of an Ayurvedic lifestyle is regular cleansing, or detoxification. Both regular detoxification practices, like proper diet and regular exercise and massage, and periodic cleanses are integral to the Ayurvedic lifestyle. Today we explore the nature and benefits of an Ayurveda cleanse. Remember that you should only cleanse under the supervision of an Ayurvedic consultant.

The Role of Agni in Detoxification

The objective of an Ayurveda cleanse is to expel ama from the body by igniting dwindling levels of agni. Agni, also known as the “digestive fire,” governs metabolism, excretion, and the cellular absorption and exchange of nutrients. It also regulates the assimilation of thoughts and feelings and thus has a powerful impact on mental and emotional health. When agni is strong, our bodies are nourished. When agni is weak, we face nutritional imbalances and toxic buildup.

In repleneshing depleted levels of agni, an Ayurveda cleanse works to expel toxic material from the body, balancing the doshas and restoring homeostasis. The buildup of toxic materials in cellular tissue can lead to liver damage, cancer, inflammatory conditions, and developmental disorders. It also interrupts the proper functioning of the reproductive, neurological, endocrine, and immune systems. If you suffer from any of the aforementioned conditions, you may find relief through an Ayurveda cleanse. You may also experience more positive moods, improved cardiovascular health, and lower levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress. In general, Ayurveda considers cleansing mentally, spiritually, and emotionally detoxifying. In the world of Ayurveda, it is virtually a panacea.

How to Practice an Ayurveda Cleanse

Ayurvedic philosophy acknowledges and caters to our bio-individuality. Specifically, Ayurvedic philosophy recognizes that we all possess varying levels of the three life forces, or doshas. How you should conduct an Ayurvedic cleanse therefore depends upon your doshic makeup. It also depends on a host of other factors, such as age, season, and general health. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for cleansing in Ayurveda. There are, however, a few preferred methods of detoxification that we will discuss.

An Ayurveda cleanse ranges in length from one day to several months depending on the nature of the cleanse. While some Ayurvedic cleanses require fasting or juicing, most entail the consumption of solid, wholesome, and naturally detoxifying foods, as depriving the body of food and/or liquid can actually smother the digestive fire. One form of Ayurvedic cleansing requires that one adopt a monodiet, consuming only one type of food. This form of cleansing reduces the burden on the digestive tract and detoxification system, allowing the body to expend energy on detoxification. Kitchari  is one of the most popular features of a monodiet. This warm, nourishing blend of grains, greens, legumes, and spices fuels agni and promotes detoxification without stressing the body.

Ayurvedic cleansing is not just a matter of altering your diet. It also encourages the incorporation of other detoxifying practices into your life. Dry brushing, for example, stimulates the lymphatic system, as does self-administered oil massage. Meditating and journaling are excellent ways to detoxify the mind and heart. A “digital detox” can do wonders in balancing stress levels and restoring lost energy. Finally, exercise and steam baths also encourage the release of toxins through the sweat glands.

Iron Fist Cleansing vs. Cleansing as a Lifestyle

The signature Ayurvedic cleanse, panchakarma, is not for the faint of heart. It is an extended and extensive cleanse that involves massage, oil enemas, purging, and a strict monodiet of kitchari. Panchakarma should never be performed without the consultation and oversight of an experienced Ayurvedic practitioner.

The objective of panchakarma is to reverse the movement of toxic material. Typically, toxic material is absorbed through the digestive tract into the cells. Practicing panchakarma instead draws compounds from the cells into the digestive tract for expulsion.

While extreme measures like panchakarma can work wonders for some, others may find that eating in accordance with Ayurvedic principles has a sufficiently cleansing effect. The Ayurvedic diet optimizes every bodily system and maintains sufficient levels of agni. Dense in nutritious whole foods, and Ayurvedic diet reduces the ingestion and promotes the excretion of toxins. Thus, adopting an Ayurvedic diet may eliminate the need for extreme cleansing.

Whether you choose to practice the occasional, strict cleanse or to incorporate cleansing practices into your everyday lifestyle is merely a matter of your dosha and preference.

Is Ayurvedic Cleansing Effective?

People have practiced Ayurvedic cleansing for thousands of years, but it is only recently that its efficacy has been scientifically validated. Dr. Herron, Director of Research at the Institute of Science, Technology, and Public Policy at Maharishi University concluded through both longitudinal and cross-sectional studies that Ayurvedic therapies are effective in reducing the burden of fat-soluble, lipophilic toxicants on the body. Not to be confused with toxins, toxicants are unnatural, man-made toxic substances like PCB’s and DDT. These harmful toxins make their way into the food supply in several ways. For example: fish consume plastic debris in the ocean, allowing PCB’s to travel up the food chain and contaminate our foods. These sorts of substances are in all sorts of foods, from fish and meat to dairy and even produce.

The study incorporated multiple methods of cleansing, including the consumption of Ghee in the morning and the elimination of meat, fats, oils, and cheese. It also entails castor oil cleansing, daily massage, herbal steam baths, and herbal oil enemas. The study found that these methods worked synergistically to significantly reduce toxic buildup in the body. In fact, subject’s final PCB levels were less than 1% of what scientists would have anticipated based on it’s half life. The reason? The scientists believed that the use of healthy oils like ghee and oil enemas drew fat-soluble toxicants out of cellular tissues and into the bloodstream to be eliminated.