It’s almost the middle of April, the perfect time to cleanse according to Ayurveda. With the “shelter in place” order in full effect, I don’t have the excuse of parties, travel or meals out with friends to delay my spring cleanse! On that note, I will celebrate my birthday next week by starting my annual tradition. Meanwhile, I am sharing the experience of one of my clients, Carolyn, below, as she chronicled her cleanse day-by-day….
Diary of an Ayurvedic Cleanse
By Carolyn Chilton Casas
I recently had a consultation with Holly, a clinical Ayurvedic specialist. I took her four-week Eating with Ayurveda class before going to India in 2016. In the class I learned some of the key points about how this practice of medicine operates.
Ayurveda is an ancient system of natural medicine originating in India. The practice teaches that each of us has a unique body type or dosha, which can be any combination of the three types: pitta (fire and water), vata (air and ether) or kapha (earth and water) that regulate our physical, mental, and emotional constitution. Your dosha provides specific information about which foods are better suited for you. This tradition also teaches that eating seasonal produce will lead to better digestion and focus, as well as a more favorable state of mind.
Using a detailed questionnaire I had filled out beforehand and questions she asked during the consultation and a physical assessment, my friend determined that my body type is 50% pitta, 34% vata and 16% kapha. With this knowledge, she could recommend certain foods to eat and other actions I could take to remedy my imbalances. She gave me tips on Ayurvedic self-massage which provides healing benefits to the body and the mind; daily eating routines; meal size; and the best time to go to bed for optimum cleansing of the organs. She also suggested a twice-yearly cleanse.
You can complete an Ayurvedic cleanse in 3 to 7 days, depending on your schedule and the amount of cleansing needed. Holly suggested a 4-day kitchari cleanse, which she does twice a year herself. All body types can use this cleanse. kitchari is a stew-like dish prepared with split yellow mung beans, basmati rice, ginger, Indian spices and cilantro. Vegetables can be added in while the dish is cooking. A mono-diet of kitchari resets your body and allows the digestive system to take a much-needed rest and properly flush out toxins. The best news is that no matter what your imbalances are, kitchari will help to rebalance them. In Ayurvedic tradition this dish is used to heal all that ails, like chicken soup in the west.
The Benefits of a Kitchari Cleanse
- Increases the digestive tract’s function
- Removes toxins from the body
- Decreases heaviness and congestion from the body and mind
- Enhances a balanced state of mind
- Boosts energy and feelings of wellness
Truthfully, searching for the ingredients, preparing the dish and limiting myself to one food for multiple days didn’t sound fun. Well, Holly did tell me that besides the kitchari, I could drink water, of course, and tea. Also, some mornings I could eat plain cooked oatmeal. But I might not have followed through with doing this cleanse, if it weren’t for an illness my husband had been diagnosed with that involved his organs, specifically decreased kidney function. Holly agreed that this cleanse might help him. Since we were waiting for our second appointment with a specialist at Stanford who would run new tests, I mentioned this cleanse and its benefits to my husband. I offered to buy the ingredients, prepare the kitchari, and to do the cleanse with him. We saw that our next week’s calendar was not too busy and so he agreed to give it a try.
It’s a good idea to attempt the cleanse during a week when you can arrange for some quiet time. This could be a restorative yoga session each day, gentle breath work or meditation. You can journal, read uplifting books, sit in silence, be out in nature, make art or whatever feels good to you. Ayurveda teaches that to be truly healing, there is a mental detoxification part to the cleanse too!
The day before we started the cleanse, I went to the SLO Natural Foods Co-op to look for the recipe ingredients, which I was not familiar with. An employee there helped me find everything I would need. That afternoon I followed the recipe Holly had emailed me to make the kitchari. It was simple, and I made the big pot of food with only one text question: when to put the vegetables in. I added the following vegetables: chopped tomatoes, carrots and Mexican squash. As she had suggested, I doubled the spices; I might have even added a little more than double.
Kitchari is not unpleasant tasting; I actually liked it. It reminded me of dishes I had eaten in India and because of the cumin and coriander spices and fresh cilantro it had some flavor similarities to Mexican food, too. One of the spices, hing, which the recipe only asks for a pinch of, smelled so strongly that I could not keep it in the house. I stored the spice in the garage in double zip-lock bags. Before adding it to the pot, I was brave and licked a tiny bit from my finger. It tasted much calmer than it smells; it reminded me of celery. Indeed, it is related to the celery plant and has some good health properties.
I was proud of myself for what I had accomplished at that point: finding the ingredients and preparing the kitchari. It was easier to make than I had thought it would be. And I felt happy I wouldn’t need to think about what we would eat for the next four days, go to the store or spend hours cooking and cleaning up. It would be a huge time saver.
Before we started the cleanse, I had a feeling it might be easier for me than for my husband. I’ve been a pescatarian (I eat fish, but no beef, pork or chicken) for about nine years and I am used to being satiated with vegetables and other non-meat foods. He likes his coffee in the morning and glass of wine or beer at the end of the day; all I’d have to give up was coffee. He looks forward to eating out with his co-workers at noon. I work at home and eat simple lunches. Overall, he puts more emphasis on food than I do.
When my husband got up to go to work, I heard him in the kitchen heating up a small pan of kitchari with some water. I had set out a container for him to fill for lunch, but he decided to come home instead. When he returned at noon, he was in a cranky mood. I think the enormity of facing four days of only this food had begun to set in. He remarked irritably that he didn’t understand why he couldn’t eat other foods along with the kitchari. He told me he wasn’t going to complete the four days. I was a little disappointed because of the effort I had put into this project, but I told him he could stop whenever he wanted to. I was going to attempt to complete the four-day cleanse.
When he came home in the evening, I was already eating my portion of kitchari because I had a class that night. I had boiled a few small potatoes and set out the cayenne pepper for him to sprinkle on top of the kitchari, hoping that would make it tastier for him.
By the end of this first day, I realized how often I reach for food – a piece fruit, almonds, toasted bread topped with almond butter, mashed avocado or fig spread. I really didn’t feel hungry after eating the cleanse food, but I felt like something was missing. I liked that I had a lot more free time. I was also relieved that my schedule allowed me to work and eat at home. In class that night, I drank an herbal tea during break and turned down the snack that was passed around. When I got home from class my husband was asleep, so I didn’t get to find out how the rest of his cleanse day had gone.
I did have an unusual headache in the afternoon. It wasn’t severe. I thought it might be from skipping my morning coffee.
I woke up to the sounds of my husband heating the kitchari in the kitchen; it appeared he had decided to continue the cleanse. My stomach was gurgling. I hoped that meant that my colon was being cleaned out.
For breakfast, I ate a small portion of oatmeal with only a little cinnamon on top. Between meals, I drank lots of water and a cup of hot tea. One type I enjoyed was an Ayurvedic tea containing cumin, coriander, and fennel (CCF), that is good for releasing toxins. In the mornings, I replaced my beloved cup of coffee with organic herbal tea.
This morning I did a three mile very brisk walk with two friends – down the Bob Jones trail to Avila, up around the San Luis Bay Inn, through town and then back down the trail. My energy level was as strong as it usually is. They invited me to lunch afterward. I asked for a rain check.
When my husband didn’t come home for lunch, I was sure he had given up on the cleanse and was eating out with his friends. Later that day, when I saw him, he told me he had taken his kitchari in a container and that the second day had been easier for him than the first. He now thought he could make it through the four days. I was glad I’d be able to share the entire experience with him. On our way to the co-op to buy more mung beans to make another batch of kitchari, he told me the cleanse was also making him realize how often he snacks during the day.
Halfway through! I really didn’t feel any different than usual, although maybe my digestion was smoother. I was two pounds lighter, as well.
Again, I felt like not having to prepare food had opened up a big amount time and space in my day. I was getting more things checked off my to do list. For almost five years I have been doing a regimen of morning exercises called the Tibetan rites. Normally my cup of coffee is my carrot, a strong motivator for completing them. I have found that I don’t really need that incentive.
Today was an easy day because I spent the morning with my mother, after again eating plain oatmeal sprinkled with cinnamon and drinking herbal tea. Then I went home and made a fresh batch of kitchari. I ate it for lunch and then went to town with my husband to look for comfortable sandals for our upcoming trip to Spain – an early birthday present. What hit me strolling through town was that I couldn’t stop to eat out, or at least to have an ice cream. Eating is definitely a social event. We went home for our ninth meal of the cleanse. Both of us had slight headaches, but Holly told me later it was from our bodies’ detoxing and their reaction to being denied caffeine.
The last day! Today was the first morning for me in eleven years of playing beach volleyball without having a cup of coffee beforehand to give me more energy. I’m 58 years old and although I’m used to playing two on two or three on three beach volleyball regularly, it is quite a workout, especially when we play for three hours straight. I’ve always felt that the coffee gave me a little more oomph, but I felt strong without it today.
Lunch was the second to last kitchari meal. In the afternoon my friends came over for our monthly Healing Intentions Circle. I had snacks for them, but I only drank a cup of tea. After the last person left it was time to heat up one last cleanse meal.
The next morning, my husband wanted to celebrate finishing the cleanse by taking me out to breakfast. My intuition told me a simple breakfast of a scrambled egg and a half a bagel at home would be a better idea, but he was so looking forward to this first breakfast out that I didn’t want to disappoint him. What would coffee taste like after four days of abstaining? What would eggs and blueberry pancakes taste like? It had only been four days, but I was ready to be done with kitchari for now. I’m glad I found out that I have the determination to give up the foods I like for a short time. Today I didn’t have a headache.
My husband was awake at 5:00 am, ready for what he called real food. Our favorite restaurant for breakfast, Village Café, doesn’t open until 6:00. We were there when the door opened for business and he ordered eggs, bacon, a biscuit and gravy and coffee. I had eggs, potatoes, salsa, one of my favorite blueberry pancakes and coffee – our usual breakfasts. It didn’t seem like we overdid it, but it turned out to be too much food, too soon.
After breakfast we went to Pismo to do our regular routine of fast walking from the parking lot at the SeaVenture Hotel north to the rocks at the end of the beach. We were starting the second part where we walk to the creek that lets out into the ocean, when suddenly, my husband told me he felt nauseous. I had him sit down on a rock for a while. Then we walked slowly back to the car at half our usual speed. By the time we reached the truck and after he sat and drank some water, he felt much better. Maybe it was the coffee or eating food that was too heavy.
I should have listened to my intuition. After talking to Holly, I now know you should slowly ease back into a normal healthy diet and eat simple cooked meals after a cleanse. It is also recommended to stay away from raw foods, refined sugar and all processed foods for the first week and gradually add back intense workloads, extreme hikes, traveling, and so forth.
So, what was my take on this cleanse? The first day after completion, I felt good, strong, maybe stronger than normal. Doing the Tibetan rites this first morning after the cleanse, they seemed easier and I felt lighter. I was still down a few pounds which was nice, but that wasn’t my reason for doing the cleanse. After that first restaurant breakfast, my stomach cramped a tiny bit and my stools were looser for a day or so.
Now, a few weeks later, I am aware that my digestion is definitely smoother. Before, if I ate late in the evening, my body didn’t have time to digest the food before going to bed and I wouldn’t sleep well through the night. I haven’t noticed this problem since the cleanse. Yes, I think I would do this cleanse again. For my husband, I’m not sure I’ll be able to bewitch him a second time around.