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By Nadia Marshall

This is a copy of Nadia’s First Nutrition Column for Nova Magazine, published in July 2013

Every man, woman and their dog writes about cleansing at this time of year or offers some sort of super ultimate detox program. I am loathe to join in but can’t let my Spring nutrition column go by without giving the Ayurvedic perspective on detoxing. Why? Because a detox done well can help rebalance the body and prevent disease while a detox done badly can actually be quite harmful. Let me explain.

The change of seasons are great for detoxing and the change over from Winter to Spring is the best time of all! Throughout Winter the predominant elements building in the body/mind are Water and Earth, increasing ‘Kapha’ (you can think of Kapha as mucous). As it starts to warm up, this Kapha that has accumulated in the colder months begins to liquefy and move. This is why we are all more susceptible to mucousy colds as well as hay fever at this time of year.

In addition to the melting mucous, we also generally have a rather large stockpile of toxins to deal with post-Winter. Our tendency to eat heavier foods, splash out on comforting sweeties and cuddle up on the couch watching dvds instead of exercising can over-tax our digestion (‘Agni’ in sanskrit) and lead to the accumulation of undigested food wastes or toxins (‘Ama’ in sanskrit). Ayurveda teaches that these toxins/Ama gather in the digestive track but, given the right conditions, can overflow into the channels of the body, relocate into the tissues and eventually become the root cause of all disease. So it is very important to remove these toxins while they are still in the digestive tract.

So we’ve established we have some yucky, sticky, congestive stuff in our bodies that we need to get rid of. If our digestive fires were in perfect balance, it is possible that they would be able to burn up these toxins without a problem. But not many of us are in perfect balance, particularly at the juncture of the seasons – because they are a time of change. And any change, especially significant changes in the environment, will aggravate ‘Vata’.

Vata is made up of the Air and Ether elements within the body. It is responsible for governing all movement, communication and circulation so is closely associated with our nervous system. When Vata is increased it instantly affects our digestion which becomes like a fire blowing in the wind – flaring up one minute and nearly going out the next. As a result, it is pretty rare for our digestive fires to be strong enough at this time of year to mop up all the yucky stuff floating around. This is where an Ayurvedic Detox comes in.

An Ayurvedic Detox (or cleanse) does four things simultaneously:

1)     promotes stronger, more balanced Agni

2)     eliminates excess Kapha/mucous

3)     eliminates excess toxins/Ama

4)     doesn’t aggravate Vata.

Sounds complicated but you’ll be happy to hear how simple it is.

An Ayurvedic Detox involves the consumption of specific foods and drinks that are very light and easy to digest; foods that will cleanse the body but at the same time, promote stronger digestion. The detox foods of choice in Ayurveda are yellow mung daal (made from dried, split mung beans), mild spices, green veggies and papaya. Sometimes buckwheat and basmati rice are included if necessary. Herbal teas made from ginger, fennel, coriander and cumin sipped throughout the day also support the cleansing process enormously.

The food and drinks are important during an Ayurvedic Detox but just as critical is your lifestyle which can have a huge effect on the digestive fire throughout the cleansing process. Having a consistent routine including regular meal times and going to bed and getting up at a similar time each day is recommended. It is also important to stay warm, slow down, rest, relax and avoid stress and overwork as much as possible. Exercise should be kept to a minimum and only be very gentle such as walking, light gardening or restful yoga.

If have access to a good Ayurvedic Therapist, some Ayurvedic treatments can also help the detox process enormously including Pindaswed Massage. If you feel you need something extra to aid the process of elimination then take ¼-1 tsp of the Ayurvedic herbal preparation known as ‘Triphala’ in hot water before bed each evening throughout the cleansing process.

You might be wondering how the Ayurvedic approach to detoxing differs from all the other detox programs and products out there in the world. Obviously all approaches have the aim of eliminating toxins from the digestive tract and some programs and products even recommend herbs that help to increase metabolism. But most approaches recommend dietary (and other) techniques that actually significantly aggravate Vata and cause our Agni/digestive fire to become more imbalanced. For example juice fasts aggravate Vata, raw food fasts aggravate Vata and colonic irrigation deeply aggravates Vata. So although most detox approaches may eliminate Ama/toxins in the short term, they usually increase the production of Ama in the longer run and can leave the body depleted and the nervous system agitated.

The exact details of your Ayurvedic Detox would ideally be recommended by an Ayurvedic Practitioner based on your constitution and current state of health. For example, a Vata person who is very light and ethereal should not fast for long periods and may need to eat rice throughout to avoid dizziness.  A Kapha person who is robust and on the heavy side could handle a longer fast, eating just soups and juices the whole time. A more moderate Pitta person, on the other hand, might be somewhere in-between.

But, whatever your constitution, here is an Ayurvedic Detox menu appropriate for the majority of people:

Days 1-2

Breaky: Mung Daal Pancakes or Mung Daals Soup

Snacks: Stewed Apples or Fresh Papaya

Lunch: Mung Daal Soup with Greens or Veggie Soup

Dinner: Mung Daal Soup with Greens or Veggie Soup

Drinks: Ginger, Lemon and Honey Tea; Coriander/Cumin/Fennel Tea, Black Tea (no milk), Hot Water.

Days 3-5

Breaky: Buckwheat Pancakes or Mung Daals Pancakes

Snacks: Spicy Puffed Rice or Stewed Apples or Fresh Papaya

Lunch: Kicharee with Steamed or Stir-fry Greens

Dinner: Kicharee with Greens or Mung Daal Soup or Veggie Soup

Drinks: Ginger, Lemon and Honey Tea; Coriander/Cumin/Fennel Tea, Black Tea (no milk), Hot Water.

Cooking videos and recipes are available here.

When you’ve finished your detox, remember to ease back to your ‘normal’ diet over several days. Don’t celebrate the end of your cleanse with a 3 course meal and a bottle of wine! Instead, keep taking good care of your Agni and listening to what it needs. Introduce heavier foods slowly and steadily until you feel able to digest them with ease. This approach is like a ‘reset’ button for your entire system but particularly your digestion. You’ll feel amazing afterwards! So good, in fact, that you might be inspired to do it every year. Your health will surely thank you for it!

If you are in any doubt about your health please be sure to consult an Ayurvedic Practitioner or your local health physician.

Spring Detoxing, Ayurveda Style!

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Agni - the digestive fire.

Ama or Aama - undigested food waste, toxins.

Ojas- the foundation of our immune system and longevity.

Dhatus - the tissues of the body.

Srotas - the channels of the body.

Vata - the air/ether

intelligence in the body.

Pitta- the fire/water

intelligence in the body.

Kapha- the water/earth intelligence in the body.

Sattva- the quality of purity, intelligence, peace and love.

Rajas- the quality of

turbulence and activity.

Tamas- the quality of

dullness, darkness and inertia.

Rasa - the taste of a food (Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter, Astringent)

Virya - second level of digestion (either Heating or Cooling)

Vipaka - third level of digestion, the deep taste of a food (can be Sweet, Sour or Pungent)

Prabhav - the 'special effect' of a food or herb/spice

Rasa - also the name for plasma tissue

Rakta - blood tissue

Mamsa - muscle tissue

Meda - fat tissue

Asthi - bone tissue

Majja - nerve & bone marrow tissue

Shukra - sexual reproductive tissue

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