Hello, friends! Spring is here! I know this because my family has been going on about the fact that I haven’t left my overalls in weeks. In my defense, there were a couple days in there where they were too dirty to wear. In my book, spring means overalls. And rhubarb. And peas. And cleansing! Ayurveda is big on cleansing. Seasonal cleansing, to be specific. Fall and spring are seen as the prime times to cleanse. This makes sense to me because springtime often creates a dichotomous sensation in my body. On the one hand everything is coming alive around me. The earth is waking up and with that awakening there is an instinctive desire to follow suit. At the same time, I feel sluggish, heavy and a little bit cloudy. Ayurveda has helped me to understand why…
There are three constitutional types in Ayurveda, called doshas: vata, pitta and kapha. They are elemental forces that are at work in nature, in our bodies, and in our minds. To put it far too simply, vata is air, pitta is fire and kapha is water. Each of us is born with a specific combination of the doshas as our baseline constitution, called our prakruti. Our prakruti determines what will imbalance us and what will support us. Our present day imbalance is called our vikruti and it is generally what Ayurvedic medicine is treating, balancing the elemental forces that are too high, thus creating imbalance and disease in the body.
My prakruti is vata-pitta in pretty equal measure, but my vikruti generally tends towards vata. This means that I easily become spacey, depleted and tend towards anxiety, dry skin and sensitive digestion. The term “space cadet” was coined for the vata-imbalanced. When my vata is balanced I am creative, energetic and flexible – some of the qualities of vata that aren’t a bummer. My husband and son have a predominately pitta prakruti and tend to imbalance towards pitta. This means that I have two fiery dudes on my hands. Pittas are intense, focused, precise and have strong digestion. They tend to run warm and in our house, have trouble sleeping with their feet under the covers. When imbalanced they can be argumentative, hot tempered and will tend towards rashes, heartburn and ulcers. Kapha predominate people have strong builds and good endurance. Their skin is often smooth and sometimes oily. When balanced, kaphas are loving, loyal and have a steady temperament and regular digestion. They also tend to be good sleepers. When kapha builds up in the system, the result is lethargy, heaviness, and a stubborn, deflective attitude. The standard American diet is kapha-aggravating and much of our current health crisis is a crisis of kapha. Obesity, diabetes and candida are all kapha disorders.
Winter is ruled by the kapha dosha and it shares many of its qualities: dark, damp and cool. While we each have a unique prakruti and vikruti, all of the doshas are at work in our bodies. The dry, cool windy season of autumn will stir up the vata in all of us, and the heat of summer will activate pitta. Likewise, kapha builds up over the course of the winter and by spring time many of us feel heavy, lethargic and ready for a shift…
Enter the kitchari cleanse!
Kitchari is the Ayurvedic prescription for cleansing. A mono-diet of kitchari resets the entire system. The beauty of it is that no matter what your imbalance is, kitchari will help to balance it. It is tri-doshic, meaning it balances all three of the doshas. Kitchari is a simple dish made of mung beans and rice and it is used in Ayurveda to heal all that ails, kind of like chicken soup in the west. I sing the praises of this cure all in more detail here.
For most of us, the idea of cleansing with beans and rice is a little crazy. Where’s the green juice? Where’s the cayenne-lemonade? Where’s the feeling of gnawing hunger that let’s you know that you are really purging those toxins? You see, the Ayurvedic approach to cleansing contrasts the the cold, raw, liquids that we generally associate with detox. And it’s kind of a paradigm shift for those of us used to raw protocols for cleansing. Raw food is cleansing. There is no doubt about that, but it is also hard to digest. Ayurveda comes at the whole thing from another angle.
In Ayurvedic philosophy, health starts in the digestive system. The function of the whole system is dependent on the proper digestion, assimilation and elimination of our food. If these things aren’t happening properly, we become vulnerable to disease. The metabolic energy of digestion, called agni in sanskrit, literally means fire. This fire must be strong for us to properly digest and assimilate our food and so its strength is a direct indicator of the health of our entire system. And so, beyond just cleansing the body, kitchari will rekindle low agni, paving the way for greater balance in the entire system.
The purpose of a mono-diet of kitchari is to give the body just one thing that it has to digest. In allowing our bodies to sink into the rhythm of digesting one really digestible thing, we give it a rest. In resting, the miracle of self-healing starts to occur. Our bodies know how to cleanse and they know how to heal, they just need the proper container. Kitchari cleansing is one such container. Each ingredient in the kitchari plays a specific role in the process. The mung beans are alkaline forming and blood-purifying but they also provide protein and nutrients to nourish the body. The rice is easily digested, the warming spices kindle the agni, and the ghee lubricates the system, allowing for smooth passage. As simple as it is, this ancient remedy works some insane alchemy on the body.
The Nitty Gritty
To do this cleanse you need some simple, indian cooking staples and just three days. Well, really five. You will want to make sure you shop and have everything you need to start the kitchari cleanse the day before and you will want at least one day to come off the cleanse before you jump back into burgers and fries and coffee and cocktails.
To technically do the cleanse you just need to eat kitchari and drink the Digest + Detox Tea and plenty of water. But to go through the motions while living your life normally would be kind of missing the point. So below I have included some things that you might want to consider adding to your routine while on the cleanse. The whole point of kitchari cleansing is to nurture yourself and to clean house, so to speak. It is a time to attend to your body and to your mind with love. This is not a self-flagellatory weigh-loss plan. And that is precisely why I love cleansing in this way. You are eating super nourishing food. There is no actual deprivation, except, for some of us, the perceived deprivation of not eating chocolate. Ayurveda says that kitchari is both cleansing and strengthening, which is part of what makes it such a special food.
-The evening before you start the cleanse you will want to soak your mung beans for the following day.
-Upon rising, scrape your tongue with a tongue scraper, if you have one. (They are quite inexpensive and I suggest purchasing one for your cleanse!) If you are new to tongue scraping, be sure to scrape from the back of your tongue right after the bumpy section of your tongue (where your taste buds live) ends. When I first started scraping my tongue, I accidentally clipped a taste bud, which is, incidentally, not much fun.
-Prepare a cup of warm water and lemon and drink it while you begin to prepare your kitchari and tea for the day.
-While your kitchari is cooking you can do some gentle yoga or spend some time in meditation.
-Once you have an appetite, eat breakfast. If the idea of eating kitchari for breakfast is repulsive, you can eat a simply prepared grain such as oatmeal or quinoa. Warming spices like cinnamon and cardamom would be good additions, just don’t put fruit in your oatmeal, as you will want to be diligent about food combining on your cleanse. Fruit is best digested alone!
– For the remainder of the day, eat as much kitchari as you wish, whenever hungry, but try not to stuff yourself. You can take a little of the ginger tonic before eating to stimulate your agni. In between meals, drink the Digest + Detox tea and plenty of room temperature water, but limit your liquid intake during and directly following meals. A little water or tea is good for digestion, but a lot will dilute the stomach acid (dampen the agni), making digestion difficult.
-Try to eat your final meal before 7 pm to give plenty of time for digestion before sleep.
-About a half hour before bed you can take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of triphala powder in boiling water. Triphala is a combination of three fruits that are native to India: amalaki, bibhitaki and haritaki. Combined they create a super detoxifying formula. Triphala is one of the only things that Ayurveda recommends that all people, regardless of constitution, take everyday for the rest of their life. It is particularly helpful during the detoxification process, as it will bathe your liver, cleansing and restoring it. It is quite bitter and so if you are new to herbs, or have trouble drinking foul-tasting things, you can take it in tablet form. Triphala also helps to maintain healthy digestion, cleanses the internal system, rejuvenates the tissues and assists in weight-loss. You can continue taking triphala after you come off the cleanse for gentle, daily detoxification and nourishment.
-Soak your mung beans for the following day.
What to expect:
This is a pretty short cleanse, as cleanses go, and it’s very gentle, but you may find yourself experiencing some of the symptoms of detoxification. Headaches, body aches, irritability and exhaustion are all normal. It is helpful to put these symptoms in the context of detoxification so that you know that they have purpose. If you are experiencing these symptoms, make sure that you drink plenty of water, to make sure that the toxins are being ushered out of the system.
Creating the container:
As I said above, it is helpful to see the three days of cleansing as time you are devoting to yourself and your body. When you are at home, create a soothing atmosphere. Light candles, take baths, listen to music that is calming. Try to limit your time in front of screens and instead read something inspiring, go for a walk or do gentle yoga. This is not the time for super vigorous exercise. Your body is actually working really hard already, trying to make use of the propitiousness of what you are giving it. Gentle exercise like walking and mellow yoga will, however, help to keep things moving, energetically and physically. Socially, try to keep company that will be supportive and not draining. Going out with friends and watching them eat cheesey enchiladas and drink cerveza while you eat cold kitchari from a tupperware is probably not a good idea.
EVEN MORE ways to support the process:
-Take epsom salt baths. The sulfates in epsom salts help to draw out toxins and heavy metals from the cells. Plus it is also a really good way to get your relax on.
–Abhyanga or self oil massage is an important part of the daily Ayurvedic routine. It lubricates the joints, nourishes the tissues, increases circulation, calms the nerves and moves the lymph, aiding in detoxification. To perform abhyanga you will take sesame or coconut oil that has been warmed and slowly massage it into your body, working from the extremities, towards the heart. You can do it right before your shower and then bathe, using soap where needed, but otherwise letting the oil continue to soak in. You can read a more in depth description of abhyanga here.
-Jump on a trampoline. It will help to flush your lymph of trapped waste. It is also the most fun.
-Cleanse with a friend. It’s awesome to have someone to process the experience with, if not to cook and eat with. Otherwise you run the risk of reporting every feeling of tiredness, feeling of abounding energy, bowel movement and the flavor profile of your kitchari, batch by batch, to someone who is not cleansing. It is also helpful to work off of someone else’s momentum in the moments when you want to just say, “screw it, I’m eating a donut”.
Kitchari cleansing is a tool that I am grateful to have in my back pocket. It helps me to stay balanced through the change of seasons, but is also is a fantastic reset when I feel off. In those cases, I will sometimes just do one day, allowing my system to rest and reboot.
If you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section below, so that others can benefit from your inquiry!
obscene amounts of love,
Note: Kate Hudson’s book, Pretty Happy, incorporates elements of this cleanse.
Adapted from Usha and Vasant Lad
- 1 cup yellow split mung beans (not the whole green ones!), washed and soaked at least 6 hours, preferably overnight, see note
- 2 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil
- ½ teaspoon mustard seed
- ½ teaspoon cumin seed
- 5 cardamom pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- pinch asafetida, if available, otherwise omit it
- 6 cups water
- salt to taste
- 2-3 cups turnips, sunchokes or other mild root vegetables, thinly sliced into half moons
- ½ bunch of kale or the reserved turnip greens from the turnips, sliced very thin
- 1 lime, juiced
- 1 cup basmati rice, preferably soaked for one hour, otherwise rinsed
- 1 tablespoon ghee or coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 4 cardamom pods
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups boiling water
- cilantro leaves
- shredded coconut
- sesame seeds
- melted ghee
- ginger tonic, recipe follows
- Drain and rinse the mung beans in a fine mesh sieve and leave them to drain of their excess water.
- In a medium pot, heat the ghee or coconut oil, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, cardamom pods and cinnamon stick over medium heat until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Immediately add the turmeric, asafetida and mung beans and cook, stirring frequently for about a minute. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, partially covered and cook for about 45 minutes or until the mung beans have broken down, loosing their district form. Add the root vegetables and salt and cook for 15-20 minutes more, until they are quite soft. Add the greens and cook about five minutes more. Turn off the heat and add the lime juice. While the dal is cooking, make the rice.
- Drain the rice in a fine mesh strainer and rinse a couple of times.
- Heat the ghee or coconut oil, cumin seeds and cardamom pods over medium heat and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently for a minute or two more, until the rice is well toasted but not yet browning. Add the boiling water and boil the rice, uncovered for five minutes. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer until all of the water is absorbed, about 10 minutes.
- To serve put some rice into a bowl and ladle the dal over top of it. Garnish with cilantro, a hearty squeeze of lime juice, the coconut, sesame seeds and melted ghee, if using. Top with a couple of teaspoons of the ginger tonic.
- a large piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into tiny cubes
- lime juice
- sea salt
- Place the ginger in a small bowl and coat with a liberal squeeze of lime juice. Sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and set aside to let marinate for at least 20 minutes.
- Cover and store in the refrigerator.
- 1 teaspoon cumin seed
- 1 teaspoon coriander seed
- 1 teaspoon fennel seed
- Bring 4 cups of water and all of the spices to a boil. Turn off heat, cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Strain and store in a glass jar. Reheat as needed or drink at room temperature.