According to Ayurveda, there are specific times during the year when recalibrating our systems is essential. The time for cleansing is at the Ritu Sandhi or the 2 week or so juncture between the seasons.
This cleanse routine isn’t meant to be a method for losing weight (necessarily) and it certainly isn’t designed to deprive you of nourishment. On the contrary, Ayurvedic cleanses support and nourish your digestion so that you can reestablish your sleep habits, elimination, energy levels and, ultimately, restore your overall well-being.
How does a seasonal cleanse re-balance our systems?
In a previous post, I gave you the information on what happens to the essential oils once they enter the cells of the body. But, this month, I’d like to start back at the beginning of the process – essential oil application.
This month we have been exploring all of the basic aspects of the heart: the feelings, emotions and connections that it provides as well as the subtle energies of the heart chakra. But, there are still lesser known and deeper layers of the heart that Ayurveda and Yoga describe to us. These “deep cuts” speak to the expansive quality of the heart chakra as it relates to its element – air.
The term ayurveda means the “science of life.” Its practice utilizes diet, herbs, bodywork, breathing and meditation in a holistic fashion for healing the body. Ayurveda teaches us how to harmonize ourselves with sunrise and sunset, the seasons of the year and the stages of life. Ayurveda and yoga are sister sciences that grew up from the same root in ancient India.
Ayurveda recognizes that we all possess individual constitutional types or doshas in mind and body. Vata, Pitta and Kapha are the specific doshas and the categories by which the science of ayurveda is designated. Someone’s dosha can be determined by their body type, their temperament or even by the kind of food, exercise and lifestyle they gravitate toward. Ayurveda can give us a better understanding of our unique nature.
As summer approaches and things begin to heat up, it’s a good time to consider the concept of Ayurveda and discover what the Pitta (fire) dosha has in store for us. The practice of ayurveda can help to alleviate any excess heat that we experience in these months because we all gravitate toward a specific dosha in certain seasons despite our natural inclination.
Any activity in the summer can get strenuous. These are the months when our bodies generate the most heat. To combat the warmer temperatures, we eat refreshing fruits, seek the shadiest spots and relax near the water with a good book. Inherently, we are searching to balance summer’s intensity.
This past week, I completed a wonderful detox diet that I discovered in Yoga Journal several years ago. Because the reference is difficult to locate on the web nowadays and I have had so many requests, I will link it here as I address this week’s subject of detoxification.
Tool #1: Diet
Scott Blossom, practitioner of Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine and yoga has developed an effective and balanced cleansing diet that I have tried numerous times over the years. It was originally presented as part of a Fall Detox program. Since summer is officially winding down, now is the perfect opportunity to share some of his recipes with you.
As summer approaches and things begin to heat up, it’s a good time to return to the concept of Ayurveda and discover what the Pitta (fire) dosha has in store for us.
If you are new to the sister science of yoga called Ayurveda, please look back to my Warm Up to Ayurveda post for an introduction to its principles and the doshas called vata, pitta & kapha.
Warmer temperatures tend to aggravate or even initiate a pitta constitution. In general, pitta types are fiery in nature and tend to exhibit the main characteristics of a strong metabolism, good appetite, oily skin and hair, irritability, intensity, and inflammation. Emotionally, when there is too much heat or passion in the system, pittas demonstrate anger and aggression. However, when balanced, the pitta constitution is capable of forming dynamic, focused and determined individuals.
Because pitta is the fiery or transformative force responsible for digestion, warmth and inflammation, the small intestine is its main site in the disease process. Therefore, pittas should watch their habits and attempt to balance their food choices (especially in the summer months).
Pittas tend to eat lots of food and get irritable if a meal is missed. They are drawn to hot, oily, and spicy foods which aggravate their already heated dispositions.
To balance the extreme inclinations in diet, pittas should take in more raw foods and salads (particularly in late spring and summer). In general, cooling, nutritive, lacto-vegetarian diets should be consumed. Sweeter oils such as sunflower, coconut and ghee oils are recommended. Spices that are balancing to pittas include: coriander, cloves, cinnamon, cumin and turmeric. Herbs such as aloe gel/juice, shatavari and licorice are also good items to incorporate into the pitta diet.
Yoga is effective for pacifying the heat of a pitta. Specific practices should include postures to cool the head, calm the heart and relieve tension. Pittas should not push too hard in practice because it only increases their irritability. Heat and tension can be alleviated if the body and mind are kept cool and relaxed with asanas that generate openness and surrender.
To reduce excess pitta, yogis should practice in an effortless, non-goal oriented way, working at about 75% of capacity. Rest assured that when a pitta person practices effortlessly they will still be working harder than everyone else!
Begin a pitta-balancing yoga practice with a slow and easy form of Sun Salutation. Use the breath to monitor the level of work involved. Continue to employ breath awareness in seated forward bends, gentle back bends (focusing on extending the spine) and twists (which are very effective in reducing excess pitta). Limit time in positions that invert the head. Supported shoulderstand is most effective. A longer savasana may irritate this dosha so end practice with a short 5 minute Savasana (you can gradually lengthen it over time).
Pittas need to realize that they can use their powerful will to maintain a soft and gentle approach. When a pitta constitution is balanced properly, one should feel a sense of coolness, calmness, openness, patience and tolerance.
The term ayurveda means the “science of life.” Its practice utilizes diet, herbs, bodywork, breathing and meditation in a holistic fashion for healing the body. Ayurveda teaches us how to harmonize ourselves with sunrise and sunset, the seasons of the year, and the stages of life. Ayurveda and yoga are sister sciences that grew up from the same root in ancient India.
Ayurveda recognizes that we all possess individual constitutional types or doshas in mind and body. Vata, Pitta and Kapha are the specific doshas and the categories by which the science of ayurveda is designated. Someone’s dosha can be determined by their body type, their temperament or even by the kind of food, exercise and lifestyle they gravitate toward. In the weeks to come, we will discover how ayurveda can give us a better understanding of our unique nature. We will use these discoveries to see how our yoga practice can help to balance our individual constitutions.
For this challenge, I would like to introduce you to the vata dosha.
Vata types are airy in nature. This quality is expressed in the bones and joints where vata accumulates in the body. These types have the weakest build and stamina, but also have the greatest capacity for change and adaptation. Vata is the energetic force responsible for movement, expression and the discharge of all impulses. It acts primarily through the nervous system. The colon is its main site in the disease process, in which waste gases or toxins accumulate and spread to the blood, bones and other parts of the body. Psychologically, feelings of ungroundedness and instability signify too much vata or wind and create fear and anxiety. Balanced, vata can be expressive and creative.
Although periods of change and disruption come easy for the vata types, it is not a healthy path. During the holidays, many of us were over stimulated by excess noise, crowded shopping malls and unsettled in our eating and drinking habits. We also tend to travel more and get less sleep during this season. In general the holidays, while being a wonderful time for gathering with family and friends, tend to create havoc in our systems and bring about an increase in vata.
January is an opportune time for reestablishing stability and routine for your body and mind. The way in which you practice your yoga is an excellent place to begin.
To reduce excess vata energies, you should practice in a quiet, grounded and structured way. Your challenge is to try one or two of these suggestions each day this week:
It is best for vatas to work the poses with the breath and hold the standing, seated, forward bends and twists longer than they are inclined to do. Seated lateral bends or Sun Salutations should be done expressly while focusing on the breath. Pause in Uttanasana and feel your connection to the earth.
Back bends tend to increase the vata dosha if done excessively or unconsciously. Done gently, they keep the spine supple preventing excess Vata from accumulating in the vertebrae. Try Sphinx pose or a fully supported back bend such as Mountain Brook Pose.
Vatas should think of building core strength in the body while maintaining flexibility. Practice Navasana in stages so that you can sustain your time in the pose with balance and poise.
Savasana is the best pose for pacifying vata and should be practiced daily for 15-20 minutes as a conclusion to the asana practice. Be sure to stay warm.
Remaining still will be the vata’s challenge as well as the reward.
This week’s challenge is for a practice that you do off your mat.
Cleaning your tongue. It should be a daily ritual and maybe some of you do it already. It’s more than a quick brush over the area after you attend to your teeth. Chandra dhauti, sanskrit for “the daily cleansing of the tongue”, involves “scraping” the tongue. Gasp! We will do it gently, I promise.
Why Should We Cleanse the Tongue?
For one, its dirty.
And just like the teeth it can harbor germs and a build up of mucous that should be removed. Your diet will determine the amount of build-up that sits on the tongue. In Ayurveda terms, the build-up is a sign of excess ama. Ama is a sanskrit word defined as the residue of toxins that remain undigested in the body. We all carry them to some extent. Clean eating can reduce the amount of ama but “unhappy or unfocused eating” can also lead to incomplete digestion and an accumulation of ama.
A clean tongue absorbs prana.
With an open pathway, oxygen and prana can flow through the body more effectively. This will make your eyes sparkle and your mind function more clearly. Mystically, the tongue is connected to the moon center or the chandra chakra. The chandra chakra is the portal between the inner and outer worlds. Some say that it is the channel to the fountain of youth. Therefore, it is vital that the tongue gathers each breath effectively, like nectar, in order to stimulate the moon chakra.
What is a Tongue Scraper?
A tongue scraper or cleaner can be plastic or stainless steel. I recommend a stainless steel cleaner as it is easier to keep germ free. I use a relatively inexpensive one by Dr. Tung (click here for the amazon link). A sterling silver or silver plated spoon or butter knife could work also. Just make sure that you use the dull side of the utensil. Traditionally, silver is used because that metal is associated with the moon. It is also known that small deposits of silver on the tongue protect it from infection.
How Do We Cleanse the Tongue?
Brush your teeth and rinse away any toothpaste residue.
Dissolve a pinch of salt into a glass of room temperature water and rinse your mouth again.
Hold the tongue cleaner in both hands, open your mouth & extend your tongue.
Place the loop of the tongue cleaner at the back of the tongue and pull forward gently.
Repeat 2-3 times.
Rinse the tongue cleaner and your mouth with the remaining salt water.
May silvery moonlight stream into your inner space and fill your body with ambrosia, the nectar of immortality.