Ayurvedic Cleanse: Yoga Food for Thought

I am so tired of kitchari. I’m at the tail end of an Ayurvedic cleanse that I’ve kept to for the past 12 days.  For the uninitiated, an Ayurvedic cleanse is a period of about two weeks (or longer) that generally occurs at the beginning of the transition seasons: spring and fall. During this time, the cleanser eats only kitchari (a dish made of split or sprouted mung beans, basmati rice, spices, vegetables, and ghee), perhaps some steel-cut oats or other simple grain for breakfast, and fruit and nuts for snacking. Oh, and tea. Cumin, coriander, and fennel tea.

It’s not been one of my most disciplined cleanses. I’ve gone off cleanse for one or two cups of chai tea, frozen blended fruit (frozen foods are a big no-no when it comes to Ayurveda), granola, and one very contraband gluten-free bagel with cream cheese, which sounded better than it actually tasted.

Why would anyone eat the same thing for two weeks, you might wonder?

An Ayurvedic cleanse is more than just the sum of its parts. Eating the same thing every day definitely cuts down on decision fatigue. I don’t have to think about what I’m going to eat; I already know. Physiologically speaking, when you cleanse, or regulate your diet in a strict way, your body gets a rest. It’s hard work to digest the random assortment of things we throw in our faces on a daily basis. It’s especially tough for meat-eaters. It can take a few days to fully digest animal protein. It can leave us feeling fatigued, sluggish, and out of sync with our bodies and minds.

Ayurveda blames this state of being on a substance called “ama”. “Ama”, Sanskrit for “uncooked” or “undigested” translates not just to our digestive systems, but to our whole beings. Banyan Botanicals lists a pretty exhaustive list of habits and circumstances that can produce Ama:

  • A poor diet, which might involve:
    • Overeating or emotional eating
    • Improper food combinations
    • Especially heavy food
    • Fried food
    • Excess amounts of cold or raw foods
    • Highly processed or sugary foods
    • An excess of the sweet, sour, or salty tastes
  • A detrimental lifestyle (e.g. high stress, excess or inadequate sleep, lack of routine, excessive or inadequate exercise, etc.)
  • Irregular eating habits
  • Sleeping or eating before food is digested
  • Sleeping during the day (for some constitutions)
  • Lack of exercise
  • Repressed or unresolved emotions

Sound familiar? Me too. Hence the cleanse. A cleanse facilitates a space for one to digest not only the physical “undigested” aspects of our bodies, but also the mental and emotional things left undigested. It facilitates a space to rest and rejuvenate. Think of it as the ultimate “stay-cation” for your body, mind, emotions, and spirit.

Which brings me to being so tired of kitchari. My body is used to kitchari at this point, so it’s not a physical uncomfortability. And my tongue doesn’t mind it. In fact, though this cleanse, I’ve come to realize that my tongue actually has no preference whatsoever when it comes to food. Nor does my body, at this point. Occasionally I’ve fantasized about hamburgers or salad or cookies or ice cream. But at no point did I feel my body craving anything other than kitchari. I didn’t really crave kitchari, either. Especially in these later days! I’ve simply felt hungry or not hungry.

My taste preferences and cravings are all in my mind. For so long, I’ve used food and drink as an escape. I think it’s a common thing, this day and age. There’s so much to choose from. But these preferences or desires have nothing to do with the actual food or drink. It has to do with my beliefs surrounding what these foods or beverages will evoke in me. The belief that a piece of chocolate, or a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine will “take me away” from whatever is bothering me, or whatever I’m feeling or thinking. And it may, for a moment. But it’s actually the perception that heightens these effects, rather than the reality. At the end of it all, we are still back where we began. No food or drink can alter our circumstances, only our perceptions of our circumstances.

And that’s the key, of course. Altering my perceptions without the aid of sugar, or caffeine, or alcohol. And caring for myself in a sustainable way that actually supports a real shift of perspective and the resulting change that comes from it.

Whenever I broke cleanse and ate or drank things that were contraindicated, it had nothing to do with physically wanting or needing those things. It had to do with emotional restlessness, a phantom itch that distracted my focus. And after I broke cleanse, I didn’t indulge any feelings of guilt, I just observed how I felt afterwards. And always, the idea of the food or drink far surpassed the actual experience of it. I felt the same, afterward. And there were some days that I stuck to the cleanse, but ate more than I should have, in order to feel another sensation besides my evolving thoughts and feelings.

It's a dubious gift, to give oneself the experience of sitting in things undigested, rather than spending so much time (and money!) trying to avoid it. 

If you're interested in trying an Ayurvedic cleanse, schedule a free consultation with me to see if it's a good fit for you!