After winter’s holiday indulgences and kapha-aggravating weather, spring is an ideal time for a fresh start. But forget what you’ve heard about celebrity fads and crazy crash diets. From the perspective of yoga and Ayurveda, the primary purpose of cleansing isn’t to lose weight or detox, it’s to help us return to a natural state of balance or sattva. Whether you decide on a simple tune-up or an all-out spring cleaning, here are a few basics to keep in mind:
For optimal effectiveness, choose a cleansing approach that honors your work and travel schedule and your general state of health, as well as your dosha or constitution. For example, if you’re a delicate vata-type with a demanding job, think twice before embarking on a restrictive fast.
The fact is, you don’t need to undertake a rigorous cleanse to reap serious benefits. Many traditional yogic and Ayurvedic cleanses are easy to incorporate into a daily schedule while doing wonders for your health and well-being. Simple changes in everyday routines are more likely to stick, becoming part of a yogic lifestyle that leads to cumulative rewards.
If you’ve never tried cleansing before, start with small steps and seek support. Several companies offer packaged cleansing regimens that provide helpful structure. Even better, enlist support and guidance by joining a yoga teacher training, going on a retreat that incorporates cleansing, or—if you’re on a budget—setting up a buddy-system within your yoga community to learn cleansing techniques from experienced students and teachers.
Be aware of possible cleansing reactions—energy fluctuations, nausea, headaches, etc. Sometimes, as your body releases toxins, things may seem worse before they get better. Journaling will not only highlight progress but also help you identify and cope with cravings, reactions, or mood changes. Not everyone experiences detox reactions, and you can curb many of these side-effects by “pre-cleansing”—cleaning up your diet a few weeks before embarking on a cleanse. For instance, cut out most processed foods and eat more wholesome, easy-to-digest meals that include some leafy greens and brightly colored vegetables. Befriend carminative spices and herbs like fennel, cumin and ginger.
Keep things moving—not just in terms of digestion and elimination, but also your lymph system, which removes toxins on a cellular level. Drink plenty of water and herbal teas and dry-brush your skin daily. Practice asanas that include forward folding, twisting and laying on your belly to stimulate peristalsis and lymph flow.
Remember that cleansing can occur on all levels—physical, emotional, mental and energetic. Take a break from reading the newspaper, watching television or using social media. Clean out your closets—literally and metaphorically. Practice cleansing pranayamas such as kapalabhati and nadi shodhana, and meditate to de-clutter the mind.
Most of all, be patient. As part of a holistic yogic lifestyle, cleansing supports shaucha, or purification, the first of the five niyamas (personal disciplines or observances). Rather than offering a quick fix, a simple cleanse can lead to permanent change—a sattvic life of inner peace and well-being on all levels.
What advice would you give a friend who is thinking about trying a cleanse for the first time?