Ayurvedic Spring Cleanse

Spring hits and my sluggish winter layers become more apparent. I can no longer blame inactivity on bad weather, yet the sun shines and I want to keep sleeping. The seasons are changing and I too feel that a change is in order.

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A yoga teacher once explained to me the importance of spring cleansing, as our bodies have spent the winter laying low, eating heavy food, all important and necessary. But before the season revs to the full throttle of hot summer, those stores must be burned clean, to maximize our operating efficiency, preparing us for the busyness of fall harvest, and storage, preceding yet another sleepy winter.

The purpose of spring is to slowly awaken, move our joints, luxuriate in the sunlight and the scents of blooming flowers carried on mildly cool breezes, and to clean out the closets.

Ayurvedic Medicine has been dubbed the “sister science” of yoga, a medical system that has scrutinized the human body for over 5,000 years (much longer than microscopes and autopsies), and seems obsessed with the digestive tract. Recently, Western medicine has begun to catch up with its petri dishes and bacterium cultures, and the gut is becoming the new frontier in medicine.

In our culture of rushed meals and laboratory foods, focusing on diet and wellness has been bad for business. Plus, it’s much easier to take pills than change lifestyles. The latter often requires slowing down and de-stressing, something everyone seems to want, but finds hard to do. Our culture simply is not set up for a slow, full, luxurious appreciation of life, and seeking that out (while possible) tends to take a lot of effort and deviation from the norm.

I digress. I’m just saying it’s not easy. I want to be as productive as the next person. The squirt of dopamine I get every time I cross something off the “list” is much more tempting than sitting still and tending my wild mind. But the more I take on, the more my health seems to suffer. That brings me back to Ayurvedic medicine (of which I am no expert), extolling a healthy, well-functioning gut as the core of emotional, mental, and physical health. Recent Western studies estimate that 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut.

I have seen first hand the effects of my diet on mood, depression, and energy levels. I’ve battled parasites and observed which foods cause me minor allergic reactions, such as headaches, stuffiness, and joint pain. As this spring hits, my old injuries seem especially achey, and getting out of bed seems harder and harder, so naturally I turn to my diet.

I eat pretty well. By this point in my life I’ve mostly cut out common allergens: gluten, dairy, peanuts, and red meat for my own reasons. I eat vegetables every day, and try (try) to avoid too much sugar and caffeine which send my emotions roller-coasting even more than usual. But that’s the thing about fine tuning your body. Quality of life just keeps getting better and better, and you start to notice little clogs here and there, knowing how good it can be.

I deliberated a change of diet, as I’d sunk into a mindless routine over the winter, eating the same few meals day after day. A friend of mine mentioned a raw food diet, but knowing my system well, I need the extra digestive help of cooked veggies. Not every body needs the same. Ayurveda suggests cooking veggies to encourage digestive fire, so I remembered the Kitchari cleanse.

The cleanse consists of a simple diet of Kitchari (cooked rice and split mung beans with spices and veggies) eaten every day for a week. Rather than blundering around through a self-designed cleanse that I might abandon any day with the excuse that it doesn’t feel right and I must have chosen wrong, I decided to seek out a credible, time honored system, and follow a plan. I searched online and found this GUIDE from Banyan Botanicals, a source I’ve heard of and trust.

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The cleanse includes a few days before and after to prepare the body, cutting out certain heavy foods, and caffeine and refined sugars. Then during the Kitchari diet, the body is provided with all it needs to continue normal functions, but a chance to take a break from heavy digestion, as well as a break from the input of toxins and cloggers (cloggers is a medical term). As the input is shut off, built-up toxins have a chance to work themselves out.

I remember the same yoga teacher explaining that as the accumulated gunk starts to burn off, there is the potential for anger and heated emotions to flare with it. The liver is the organ of purification, as well as the organ associated with anger, so it makes sense that a spring cleansing (or any detox), will shake things up a bit. It is important to clear this fire before summer hits and our heads explode.

It just so happens that our amazing natural world plans perfectly for our seasonal diets. All that is available in winter are storage crops, heavy, starchy, energy rich, when we need it. By spring we are full and heavy with such foods, so she pushes up new leaves and shoots, full of life, minerals, and cleansing compounds. Spring is the time for greens, salads, herbs. Then comes summer, ripe with fruits, berries, veggies. And back to fall, winter, roots. The simple cycle of plants’ annual maturity mimics our seasonal diet and vice versa.

I made a shopping list and rushed out to the store, excited as I always am before a new diet (before the reality and mental challenge of eating the same food every day kicks in.) As I returned home to decanter all the bulk herbs and spices into tiny glass jars, I decided it was time to organize and clean my food drawer. Pull out the moldy sweet potato, wipe up the spilled oils and coffee grounds, dust off the canned food, take a whiff to identify the forgotten mystery powder in the plastic baggy (ground ginger, whew!), and sort my Kitchari ingredients into a nice new red plastic basket.

I stood back to admire my food drawer, which beamed back at me ready for the adventure ahead, and I realized that this excitement is about more than food and eating. It is about intention.

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I’ve gone through many phases of “fasting” and “dieting”, for different reasons, some less healthy than others. Many religions set aside a time for fasting, and I think because there really is (or can be) a spiritual component to food. I guess there can be a spiritual component to anything really. It’s just a matter of the intention behind it. We can intentionally drive to work, or not, or we can intentionally watch a movie, or not. The flip side of intentionality seems to be reactivity, where we act based out of habit, routine. Where we don’t take the time to notice what it is we’re about to do, or be present for the things we are doing. How much of our lives have we missed, racing ahead in our minds to the next thing, or dwelling on the last?

I’ve been eating reactively for a while, I realized. This comes with a fast paced life, which comes from the desire to be productive, to “do it all.” But somewhere in all that flurry, my heart craves to experience the life I’m racing though, to move slowly and intentionally. And when I’m not, I feel the effects in my body and my mind. Luckily though, I react to poor health by analyzing my diet, which leads me back to intentionality, so there is a built-in check in my stress system.

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I look forward to a week of intentional eating, where I cook my food each morning, prepare accompanying teas, stretch, massage cleansing oils on my skin, and focus on the changes in my body. I look forward to an intentional start to the spring, to clearing myself out for the upcoming year, and to hopefully feeling more energetic, and more present for my walk through life.

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