Easy Ayurvedic Tips for Cleansing the Body and Mind in March
March roared in like a lion this year for those of us in the NYC area. The wind was gusting up to 50 mph and the temperature has been like a teeter-totter – 70 degrees yesterday and dipping down into the 30’s tomorrow.
Typically a sorry and dreaded month, March seems to be even more unpredictable than usual. It’s usually soggy, cold, damp, and gloomy – sometimes rainy and sometimes snowy. You feel it in your bones. It’s definitely a transitory month.
I daresay not many of us are fond of March unless perhaps it’s your birth month or you live in a temperate climate. Those of us in the Northeast are often desperate for it to end and it’s the month when many lucky travelers head south for some well-needed sunshine and Vitamin D.
Our hibernating time is coming to a close and some of us are ready to burst forth with stored energy and fresh ideas from the winter.
Ayurveda recognizes that this is the perfect month for clearing out both internal and external clutter.
Gloomy March gives us a few weeks to tackle some things that have been crying for attention. Think inner and outer world. Mind/body/spirit AND your clothes closet and relationships!
The more I study Ayurveda and practice its principles, the more in tune I become with the seasons. I now look upon March as a valuable month to clean house – literally and figuratively.
I started the process today by letting my hairdresser lop off six inches of my hair. The change felt so good!
Soon warmer weather will tempt us outdoors to play. Our lives will become more active and we can take advantage of this last bit of winter down time to clear out that which is weighing us down – both literally and figuratively.
Twenty years ago I had never heard of the concept of cleansing. For many of us, cleansing meant soaping up our bodies during our daily shower or bath. But over the past several years, the topic of dietary cleansing has become more mainstream.
Juice cleanses, liver flushing and the Master Cleanse have all become household words. But probably the most ancient and effective method of cleansing and rejuvenation began thousands of years ago with the Ayurvedic practice from India known as panchakarma.
Originally intended for royalty to promote longevity, panchakarma (means five actions) is still widely practiced in India and has gained popularity in the West.
Panchakarma is usually done over a two to three week period and should be done under the supervision of an Ayurvedic doctor to ensure that the cleanse is safe and effective for your particular constitution. People who have undergone panchakarma will attest that the healing effects are profound.
March/April and September/October are the months generally chosen for this type of deep cleansing, but it can be done at other times during the year, as well. I highly recommend looking into panchakarma treatment if you are dealing with serious health issues, especially those of a chronic nature.
But because cleansing for most of us is something we need to ease ourselves into, I wanted to focus today on sharing some easy tips that you can do yourself to help clean your system of toxins, give your digestion a rest, and reset your digestive fire.
Easy Ayurvedic Tips for Cleansing the Body and Mind in March
Begin by eliminating troublesome foods and other substances
- Take a week to wean yourself off of foods and other substances you know are your weaknesses, aka addictions – coffee, caffeinated tea, chocolate, soda, junk food, alcohol, recreational drugs/tobacco, etc. A friendly tip – get them out of your house and go slowly – especially with coffee.
- Eliminate foods that are mucus-forming such as sugar, meat, dairy, wheat, and eggs.
Add more cleansing foods to your diet
Certain foods are excellent at helping to move congested, sluggish lymph and support the vital organs, especially the liver and gallbladder. The right foods will also help to cleanse our circulatory system which is often limping along after a winter of indulging in sweets and fatty food. Some good choices are:
- Beets and carrots–cooked, shredded, or juiced
- Apples–stewed, raw or juiced
- Leafy greens (bitter are better) like dandelion, kale, arugula, collard greens, spinach, etc.
- Lemons, limes, and grapefruits
- Healthy fats like ghee, virgin coconut oil, and cold pressed olive oil
- Gluten-free whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, and millet
- Spices like turmeric, cumin, fennel, and coriander
One of the main reasons we cleanse is to reset our digestive fire which can become sluggish and weak due to toxic overload and undigested food (called ama in Ayurveda). Truly good health is impossible without a well-functioning digestive system and dehydration is a big reason many of us have weak digestion. Some tips for proper hydration are:
- Avoid cold liquids. They literally put out the digestive fire.
- Sip warm/hot water and non-caffeinated herbal teas consistently throughout the day rather than chugging down glassfuls of water. It is a much more efficient way to hydrate and also helps clear toxins from our system. Ideally, sip a bit of hot water each half hour. I set my phone timer to remind me and now it’s a habit.
- Vata types generally have the most problem staying hydrated, no matter how much water they drink. A pinch of sea salt in warm water can help with this.
- Read this great article on hydration.
- Kapha types tend to retain too much water and should be careful not to drink voluminous amounts.
- Drink a glass of warm water with lemon, lime and/or fresh ginger a half hour before your meals to hydrate the stomach and produce enough hydrochloric acid to digest your food.
- Avoid drinking liquids with meals, except for sipping a bit of herbal tea. And drinking liquids directly after a meal will make digestion even more difficult.
Follow a regular meal routine. Our bodies like routine and our digestive fires depend on regularity.
- Eat a light breakfast between 7-8 a.m. Vata types need a little more protein. Kaphas can get away with no breakfast or just a little fruit if they’re not hungry.
- Eat your biggest meal between noon and 1:00 p.m. Our digestive fire is strongest at this time of day.
- Eat a light dinner around 5:30-6:00 p.m.
- Avoid snacking after dinner. You will be completing a mini-fast each night if you follow this simple suggestion.
Remember, cleansing is not just about what we eat or don’t eat.
Here are a few tips for clearing out mind clutter, emotional baggage and our environment:
- Focus on eliminating negative thoughts and actions.
- Journal those thoughts! It’s an effective way of moving them out of the body/mind.
- Get bodywork! This is an excellent time for a massage, acupuncture, energy healing, craniosacral, Chi Nei Tsang, etc. Stuck energy needs to get worked out of the body before disease sets in. I love Ayurvedic Abhyanga massage which is both detoxifying, calming, and centered around your particular dosha. Or…dance!
- Clear your surrounding of unnecessary clutter. We all know how good that makes us feel and how much clarity it gives us.
- Clear your life of unnecessary toxic relationships.
- Let there be light! If you’re living in a cold gloomy climate right now and can’t hop a plane to Hawaii or the Caribbean, invest in a light box and optimize your Vitamin D3 levels. Oral supplementation is not always effective if your liver is particularly toxic. I love this Vata oil with Vitamin D and Magnesium. I use it all throughout the winter.
A word about the doshas
Vata is the most sensitive of the doshas and care should be taken not to attempt too intense of a cleanse. Rather than balancing the dosha, a harsh cleanse can easily drive Vata even more out of balance.
It is the dosha of depletion and so Vata types should primarily focus on calming, nurturing and rejuvenating, rather than cleansing.
Juice fasts are generally not the best type of cleanse for Vata types because they are cold, light and dry – all unbalancing. Vata types like myself are usually raring to go and bursting with fresh ideas after the long challenging Vata Season.
Pitta types usually have the easiest time cleansing, especially in the spring when the weather is still cool.
They have lots of internal heat and generally very strong digestive fires. Pitta types are also the ones who do best with green juices because of their cooling nature.
Kapha types are the ones who will need encouragement from their Vata and Pitta loved ones to even consider a cleanse, although they are the ones who benefit the most because of their often sluggish metabolism.
March is a very difficult month for Kapha types and depression is a real problem at this time.
They would much rather bury themselves under the covers for a couple of months than get up and get moving. Kapha types generally have both internal and external sluggishness which is especially prevalent at this time.
Of course, most of us are dual-dosha types and should put our emphasis on whichever dosha is dominant during a particular season.
Hang in there!
Not sure what your Ayurvedic constitution is?
First and foremost, when doing any type of a cleanse, listen to your own body.
Start with baby steps, perhaps just by assessing whether you’re chronically dehydrated or not, or by eliminating the habit of snacking in the evening. If you overdue it, especially your first time around, you may do more harm than good.
Consulting with an Ayurvedic practitioner is always a good idea to help you figure out your particular needs based on your constitution. I’m happy to be that person!
Unfortunately, we live in a toxic world now with a food system that does little to help us stay healthy. It’s up to us as individuals to make smart choices for ourselves and our children.
My friend, Alisne, who grew up in Honduras told me that twice a year, in the spring and fall, her grandmother would gather a variety of herbs from their family farm and put them in a heavy iron pot. Mixed with fresh water from their mountain spring, this mixture of wild plants simmered on a coal stove for three days. The end result, a bitter concoction, was served up to young Alisne and her siblings each morning and evening for one week.
This simple tradition was a wise woman’s way to keep her family healthy and happy. The homemade cleanse guaranteed that Alisne’s family was rarely ill. In fact, she recalled that she never once visited a doctor in her childhood.
Around the world, people like Alisne’s grandmother have developed their own methods of naturally cleansing their bodies. This is a great thing to remember when critics refer to detoxes as fads. Just make sure whatever method you use is tried and true and steer clear of gimmicks (i.e. the maple syrup cleanse) which are nothing more than dangerous crash diets.
Ayurveda is all about common sense and feeling into the wisdom of your own body. This is how our ancestors lived and thrived for generations. Ayurveda is not some complicated restrictive system of medicine only for academics. It is our birthright and the knowledge that it brings is part of our ancestral memory. Tap into it and you will be amazed!
Some great resources to help motivate and support you.
P.S. For my friends living in the Southern Hemisphere and heading into fall, it’s important to begin to pull excess heat out of the body. Here are some tips for you!