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Ayurveda - Breaking the Rules Without Breaking the Principles

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Pros and Cons of Doing a Cleanse

I just read a wonderful article about The Extensive History and Modern Use of Detoxification and Cleansing by Dr. Sarah Bennett, NMD. Here, she highlights how in spite of the controversy around “modern day detox” and cleansing of the body, cultures around the world have been performing these techniques for the last 5,000 years to help rejuvenate one’s physical, emotional, and spiritual health. From Ayurveda’s Pancha Karma protocols, to Traditional Chinese Medicine’s cupping and scraping, and Native American sweat lodges and fasting, millions of people all over the world have been engaging in these purification methods for centuries.

So is a cleanse right for you? First, let’s break down the reason for cleansing. Many health system like Ayurveda recommend cleansing at least once a year.There can be an accumulation of pathogens, whether environmental or internal, which need to be gently removed or corrected. Natural pathways can become obstructed (like build up of plaque in the arteries), inflammation can perpetuate (like in acidity of the digestive tract), or toxins can build in the body (like the increase of free radicals in the cells). Many people only cleanse for weight loss, and although it may be a side effect through changing the metabolism, only a healthy diet and lifestyle will be an effective and lasting way to lose weight.

In traditional Ayurveda, specific types of cleansing are done to directly target a problem or disease. Some examples are: 

  1. Liver/Gallbladder Cleansing – this type of cleanse helps remove “sludge” or stones by breaking them up or safely removing them from the biliary tract and into the digestive system. 
  2. Mold, parasites and other environmental pathogens – addressed mostly through detoxification and herbal therapies.
  3. Nasal Cleansing – medicinal oils are applied throughout the nasal passages, clearing the sinuses and draining excess mucus.
  4. Colon Cleansing – herbalized enemas are administered that flush out your intestinal tract, accessing the deeper tissues and eliminating fat-soluble toxins.
  5. Blood Cleansing – traditionally performed by using leeches, we also use herbal therapies and massage to stimulate the lymphatic system.
  6. Medical Vomiting or Emesis – a procedure in which waste products or toxins are eliminated through upper channels after being brought to the stomach and duodenum (this technique is not performed outside of Traditional Ayurvedic hospitals).
  7. Purgation – this involves the intake of stimulating oils and herbs that function as laxatives to remove waste from the epigastric region to the colon. 

These types of cleanses are targeted and should not be administered without a proper understanding of the patient’s pathology. 

There are, however, gentle ways of resetting the body prior to, or instead of engaging in a more pathogen specific cleanse. Ayurvedic Medicine encourages these in addition to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet. We call this “purva karma” or “before the cleanse.” This allows the body to prepare the digestion to naturally eliminate any pathogens in the body. This is a technique I recommend to many patients. 

Sometimes, I will tell a patient they are not eligible for a cleanse. The reasons can be anything from a compromised immune system to low body mass or weight. In those cases, I recommend beginning with Rasayanas, which are techniques or therapies that add to the body instead of breaking it down. Also, since cleansing involves movement to occur within the channels of the body, the quality of Vata or Wind can increase and it can cause physical and emotional instability if not performed correctly.

This is why I recommend always consulting with a provider before simply engaging in a cleanse.

Is it ok if you don’t do a cleanse? Yes, as long as you are taking preventative measures in diet and lifestyle. Eating whole foods, staying active, and having a good mental health practice that keeps the mind growing and at peace, will naturally trigger the body back into balance. 

“The natural healing force within each of us is the greatest force in getting well”

~ Hippocrates

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