I don’t see cleansing as a sacrifice; I see it as a profound (and albeit challenging) opportunity to look closely at my cravings and habits in regards to food--not to mention as a tool for feeling great! It's a lot like attending an alignment-focused yoga class where I learn to focus on matters like stretching my pinky toe deeply into the ground to see if the action makes a difference to my tight outer hip.
In the last few years there's been a lot of attention on cleansing in the yoga community, but if you've never tried it you might not fully understand what it's all about. So, what is cleansing, really? It's a way to rinse the body from the inside out. Just as you would take a bath to wash your body on the outside, cleansing is a practice (much like yoga) of clearing out the dirty, unavoidable residue that accumulates on the inside from living, eating, and breathing. Cleansing stimulates the removal of toxins that build up in our bodies over time. It can also "re-set" metabolism, and make us more sensitive to true feelings of hunger and the effects food has on our mood, spirit, well-being, and physical enjoyment.
When we cleanse, we eat a plethora of foods that digest easily, contain little to no toxins or preservatives, and that actually stimulate the removal of toxic waste or undigested food particles that have remained in our guts. This phenomenon of built-up toxic waste is referred to as "ama" in Ayurvedic medicine. When we allow the digestive system to rest, freed up energy flows more powerfully to other parts of the body, including the liver, kidneys, skin and even the brain!
Gaining more energy, improving body awareness and improving elimination are among the many benefits of cleansing. Spring, a season of shedding winter in exchange for new beginnings, is one of the most natural times of the year to cleanse since the body is ready and willing to shed what has come before.
This from-the-inside-out approach can yield amazing health benefits such as clearer skin, weight loss, increased energy, better sleep, and even reduced pain. Regular cleansing may even help reverse diabetes, lower cholesterol and help prevent diseases like cancer and heart disease. In essence, cleansing is one of the best places to start taking action towards greater health and vitality – no matter where you are at with your health.
The simplest way to approach a cleanse is by simplifying and purifying your diet. More than anything, a clean, clear diet supports the body’s natural inclination to purge, waste and detoxify. A foundation of internal health and healing is restored when the body gets an opportunity to rest. Because cleansing foods are easy for the digestive organs to utilize, absorb and assimilate, the body doesn’t have to work as hard to digest them.
Ayurveda rests on the premise that the digestive system is at the root of vital health. A clean and clear digestive system equals greater health, clarity, consciousness and vitality. To cleanse even for one day can make a difference to your overall well-being. But the longer you cleanse, the more powerful the effect. Perhaps Hippocrates said it best: "Let medicine be thy food; let food be thy medicine."
Ready to get started? Here are a few easy suggestions:
- Focus your diet on as many fruits and vegetables as possible – especially vegetables! Enjoy them in fresh juices, smoothies, salads and soups: think baked, steamed, boiled, and poached when considering how to prepare cooked vegetables. Eat fruit by itself – don’t mix fruit with your meals unless you’re making a smoothie.
- Eat lots of slippery fiber like flax seeds and chia seeds that are also amazing sources of Omega 3 and protein.
- Eat foods that lubricate your digestive tract such as sweet potatoes, spinach, licorice root tea, fresh olive oil (not cooked), and ghee (clarified butter).
- Put spices on your food. This is an Ayurvedic tool for removing “ama” (toxic waste) and for strengthening “agni” (digestive fire). About 1/8 teaspoon of some spice – such as cumin, coriander, rosemary or basil – on top of your food at each meal can work wonders for digestive function.
- Eliminate foods sprayed with chemicals, hormonally injected and pesticide-ridden foods and all genetically modified foods (GMO’s) such as corn, soy, white potatoes, canola oil and tomatoes.
- Say YES to organic produce, organic cultured dairy (like organic yogurt), organic gluten-free grains (like amaranth, quinoa and millet), and eat only eggs or meat that come from cared for, organic, grass-fed animals.
- Avoid all processed foods, fried foods, flour, and sugar.
- Try replacing coffee, even one cup of it per day, with more rejuvenative caffeine sources like yerba mate, green tea, and maca root powder as a tea.
- Sweeten your meals with healthy sweeteners like fresh dates, raw honey, and pure maple syrup.
- Start your day by hydrating your body with water or a hot morning drink like the ones below.
My Favorite Cleansing Morning Drink
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
16 ounces hot water or ginger tea
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbs. ghee or expeller pressed coconut oil
1/2 tsp. cinnamon, turmeric, or cardamom
Put everything together in your favorite mug and drink first thing when you wake up in the morning. This concoction warms the body, sets your hydration for the day, stimulates liver function, lubricates the digestive tract and strengthens digestive fire. What a great way to start the day!
Warm Saffron Nut Milk
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
1 cup almond milk, hempseed milk, oat milk, or rice milk
4 saffron strands
1 tsp. cinnamon or cardamom
1 tsp. raw honey (optional)
Place the milk in a saucepan over low heat and gently simmer with the saffron and cardamom. Add raw honey to sweeten if desired. This drink promotes deep hydration and good sleep.
Talya Lutzker is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, nutritionist, chef, and yoga teacher, and the founder of Talya’s Kitchen. Her latest cookbook is The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen. Learn more at TalyasKitchen.com.