How & Why To Do An Ayurvedic Cleanse | Panchakarma

 reading time: 10 min

Episode 9.
If you have been following my blog for a while, you probably know that I have been incorporating Ayurvedic practices like oil pulling (a few times a week), drinking boiled water in the morning (daily), tongue scraping (twice a day), and occasionally eating golden turmeric oatmeal for breakfast into my daily routine for years now. As you are reading this, I am in the middle of my first at-home Ayurvedic cleanse.

I am not a physician, and the information provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.
About Panchakarma In General
Panchakarma is an ancient Ayurvedic cleansing and rejuvenation practice that is usually done in an Ayurvedic center or clinic by trained Ayurvedic doctors. However, it can also be done at home by following changes in our lifestyle, such as diet, body care and other holistic habits. 
It goes without saying that it is advisable to follow panchakarma only after discussing with your doctor to ensure your eligibility. Avoid this program if you are a child, pregnant, weak, anemic, or debilitated. 
With that being said, read on to know what I am doing on my 14 day panchakarma!

You don't necessarily need to know all about Ayurveda in order to do an Ayurvedic cleanse, but it's important to know the basics:
According to Ayurveda, our physical bodies are all made up of the 5 elements (air, aether, earth, fire, water), but the proportions of each elements in our bodies differ. This specific elemental combination is referred to as "dosha", which can be Vata, Pitta, or Kapha, or a combination of those three. Each dosha has particular attributes, and each person has a natural predominance of one or more doshas which amounts to your "constitution". This constitution determines your physical, mental and emotional characteristics. It's important to know that your constitution is established at conception, and remains constant over the course of your lifetime. 

Here's a quick overview on the three doshas:

air and aether, equated with the nervous system. creative, artistic, free-spirit. governed by movement and communication. light, cold, dry, rough, mobile, subtle, and clear.
in balance: energetic, bubbly, enthusiastic, friendly. 
out of balance: nervous, anxious, forgetful, spacey.

fire and water, equated with enzymes. ambitious, fearless, warrior-like, leader. governed by transformation. light, sharp (or penetrating), hot, oily, liquid, and spreading.
in balance: decisive, funny, cooperative, confident. 
out of balance: angry, workaholic, dictator-like, critical.
earth and water, equated with mucus. devoted, loving, tender, confident. governed by structure and cohesiveness. heavy, slow, cool, oily, smooth, dense, soft, stable, gross, and cloudy.
in balance: patient, diplomatic, kind, generous.
out of balance: stubborn, grudge-holding, melancholic, feels "stuck".
So before you start your Ayurvedic cleanse, you'll have to find out which dosha or constitution you have. More on that below!

What You Will Need For This Method

  • a minimum of 3 free days, ideally 14 days of free time
  • LOADS of basmati rice and split mung beans or moong dal, about 1.5 to 3 kg of basmati rice and 1 to 2.5 kg split mung beans for the full 14 day cleanse (you can get these in Asian supermarkets)
  • ghee or flaxseed oil
  • triphala powder (you can get this online, e. g. this organic one on Amazon)
  • sesame oil or jojoba oil (vata) / coconut oil or sunflower oil (pitta) / almond oil or sunflower oil (kapha) for self-massaging
  • sesame oil or coconut oil for oil pulling
  • dosha-specific tea spices: ginger, cumin, and coriander (vata); cumin, coriander, and fennel (pitta); ginger, cinnamon, and a pinch of clove (kapha)
  • a tongue scraper
  • optional: body brush for dry brushing
  • optional: a neti pot for nasal rinsing
  • optional: an enema

If possible, take a vacation for the duration of your Ayurvedic cleanse. You can do as little as 3 days over a long weekend, but 12 or 14 are ideal. If you can, c
arry out your cleanse in a calm and distraction-free environment.

The Benefits of an Ayurvedic Cleanse

  • it removes toxins from your entire body
  • it activates the lymphatic system
  • it stimulates your metabolic fire and digestive system
  • it regulates elimination (aka helps you poop if you aren't going daily)
  • it improves immunity and thus resistance to many diseases
  • it improves your circulatory system
  • it provides mental clarity and reduces a foggy head
  • it sheds excess weight
  • it cleanses the skin
  • it strengthens the muscles
  • it improves sleep quality 
  • it boosts energy levels & improves mood
As healing as panchakarma is, it can be intense. While the treatment itself is a physical process, it affects the body, mind and spirit. This rejuvenating Ayurvedic cleanse will not only purify your body, but also free your mind and your heart from any built-up baggage, and can be pretty demanding both physically and mentally. This practice may release old, unresolved emotions stored in our deep connective tissue. Avoid the urge to re-suppress them, and practice regular meditation, breathwork and journaling to cope with your stirred-up feelings.

Emotions like sadness, anxiety, grief, fear, anger, elation or others may come up, which is a good sigh as these negative emotions are set free to to be resolved and released.
It goes without saying that it is advisable to follow panchakarma only after discussing with your doctor to ensure your eligibility.

How To Do An Ayurvedic Cleanse At Home

1. Determine your Ayurvedic constitution. There are loads of online tests out there (the term you'll be looking for is "dosha test") for you to take. I actually took several quizzes to find out my constitution, but my favourite would probably have to be the one from Banyan Botanicals. Other great quizzes I took are from The Ayurveda Experience and Yoga International

What I love about the Banyan Botanicals quiz is that you don't only find out your overall constitution, but also which of your three doshas are off balance at the moment. For instance, my constitution is Pitta-Vata, so basically Fire+Water and Air+Aether, but my current imbalance is in Kapha (Earth+Water) which means that my Kapha is extremely high. In the graph above you can see that not only my Kapha is high, but also my Vata, and my Pitta is elevated. So a lot is out of whack in my body right now.
This first phase is characterized by a change in diet and internal oiling (oleation).
2. Introduce tongue scraping into your morning routine.

3. Drink 4 tbsp of warm ghee (should be avoided by people who suffer from triglycerides, cholesterol and by those who have high diabetic sugar levels, or vegans) or flaxseed oil in the early morning, 15 minutes before breakfast. This is called internal oleation which is used to loosen toxins from within your deep tissues as well as lubricate and anoint the internal organs.

Vata-dominant people should add a pinch of rock salt to their ghee, while kapha-dominant people should add a pinch of trikatu.

NOTE: If you feel a little nauseous after intaking the ghee or oil at first, sip on some hot water with ginger (for kapha) or fennel tea (for pitta and vata) afterwards. This should help!
4. Follow your dosha-pacifying diet (to reduce your imbalance). You can find articles on vata-pacifying, pitta-pacifying and kapha-pacifying diets on the internet. Eat kitchari / kitchadi, a porridge-like dish made from rice and mung beans (recipe) for one meal of the day, e. g. lunch. According to Ayurveda, it's best to have breakfast between 7 and 8 am, lunch between 12 and 2 pm, and dinner between 5 and 7 pm.
5. Every night, put 1 teaspoon of triphala powder into a cup and add 1/2 cup of boiling water, steep for 10 minutes, then drink. Drink this liquid an hour after having dinner during the tenure of detoxification process. This is a mild, but nourishing herbal laxative as well as a powerful antioxidant that is especially great for digestive support and deep internal cleansing.

The main cleanse is characterized by additional external oiling (oleation) as well as monomealing on kitchari and other techniques to eliminate toxins and waste such as dry-brushing, nasal rinsing, and doing herbal enemas.
6. Do oil pulling for about 15 minutes to "pull" toxins from your mouth and strengthen your teeth, gums, jaw, and voice, while improving the sense of taste (you may have to build up your "stamina" over time!). You can use sesame oil or coconut oil, or a mix of both, or even sunflower oil.
NOTE: Spit the oil into the trash – not into the drain, or else it will clog the sink over time! Do not swallow the oil either, as it contains all the toxins you want to get rid of.
7. Scrape your tongue.
8. Eat only kitchari without any vegetables for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (Yes, you are going to get tired of it!) You may cook your kitchari with 1 tbsp of ghee/coconut oil/sesame oil, 1 thin slice of ginger, 1/4 tsp cumin, and a pinch of turmeric and salt.

Before each meal take in 2 tbsp of warm ghee or flaxseed.

9. Drink warm boiled water throughout the day. Above that, you can drink ginger tea as well as a dosha-specific tea, steeping 1/2 to 1 teaspoon for 5 minutes.
Vata Tea: equal parts ground ginger, cumin, and coriander.
Pitta Tea: equal parts ground cumin, coriander, and fennel.
Kapha Tea: equal parts ground ginger and cinnamon, and a pinch of clove.
10. Spend your days resting and relaxing, walking in nature, reading light material, listening to soothing music, and practising gentle yoga and meditation. Breathing exercises such as alternate nostril breathing or breath retention (e. g. inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds, repeat) are also great. Escape your daily grind and hectic family as best as you can, and spend most of the time in silence. Avoid excess stimulation including sex, and go on a digital detox, away from electronic gadgets such as phones, computers and television.

11. In the evening (or in the morning on an empty stomach), vigorously massage your body for 15 to 20 minutes with about 1/4 cup of warm organic oil (sesame oil or jojoba oil for vata, sunflower or coconut oil for pitta, and almond oil or sunflower oil for kapha). This method is an external oleation called Abhyanga, and it is used to calm the nervous system, lubricate and rejuvenate the tissues, and promote healthy circulation throughout the body. Let the oil sit for about 15 minutes – maybe do some light stretching, meditating, journaling or visualising in the meantime. Then take a hot shower or bath with some gentle natural soap to get rid of the excess oil.

You will probably feel a little low on energy at first, but this should improve after the 3rd day.

Optional additions: 
- If you like, dry brush your body before doing your oil massage. 
- You could also rinse out your nose using a neti pot / nasal rinse cup to remove excess mucus, ease nasal dryness, and flush away any dirt or dust. 
- If you feel comfortable doing it, do an enema every day using 1 tbsp triphala powder in 2 cups of (boiled and cooled) water if you need some help with your bowel movements.
This third phase is characterized by nourishing yourself and transitioning back to your "regular" life.

12. Continue your regimen of oil-pulling, tongue-scraping, oil massage, and drinking herbal tea.
13. Switch out one or two of your kitchari meals for a dosha-pacifying meal (e. g. a warm smoothie, porridge or a soup). Add steamed vegetables to your remaining kitchari meals. 
14. Gradually transition to a "normal" dosha-specific diet.

How Often Should You Do An Ayurvedic Cleanse?

I myself am not qualified to answer this, but my research on the panchakarma cleanse has shown that the body can benefit from one treatment for up to two years! A person with severe skin conditions, however, is advised to do the Ayurvedic cleanse twice a year. A person with decent health may be able to handle one panchakarma per calendar year. (source) So in conclusion, I would generally recommend to do this no more often than once a year, unless your doctor says something different!

The best time to do an Ayurvedic detox like this is corresponding with the change of between seasons, especially when fall transitions to winter, or even better when winter transitions to spring (which is when we naturally shed any accumulated
kapha energy). During these "moving" times it is easier for our bodies to get rid of toxins and built-up junk.
A few last tips to maintain your health AFTER the cleanse:
- Keep drinking warm boiled water in the morning. Add some fresh ginger if you like.
- Aim to eat at least one freshly cooked meal a day, preferably dinner. 
- Incorporate meditation and journalling in your daily routine, or at least three times a week. Breathing work is also a wonderful tool to regenerate and ground yourself!
- Give yourself time to rest and reflect. Time alone, just for you.
- Eat according to your dosha on a day to day basis.
- Reduce or completely give up the consumption of meat, dairy and eggs. Instead, include more legumes and leafy green vegetables in your menu.
- Cut down on sugar and salt, or cut out (refined) sugar completely. 
- Take triphala powder daily on an empty stomach! A powerful antioxidant, it clears the skin, boosts the immune system, stimulates digestion, cleanses the colon, and improves overall health. To make it more "enjoyable", mix ½ teaspoon of triphala powder with ½ teaspoon of ghee (or flaxseed oil) and ½ teaspoon of raw honey. You can also substitute for 1 triphala tablet instead.
- Make it a habit to get up at 6 a.m. and go to sleep around 10 p.m.
- Perhaps dedicate one day per week to do an "Ayurveda day" where you treat yourself to a pampering Abhyanga massage, dry brush your body, meditate, journal, do yoga or go for a mindful walk, cook a yummy kitchari (with spices and veggies!), use a neti pot to rinse your nose, and maybe even do a "talk fast" for a couple of hours or the entire day. Whatever feels nourishing to you!
- Check in with yourself and listen to your heart's desire on a regular basis

Have you ever tried an Ayurvedic cleanse? At home or in a center? What were your experiences with it? 
Let me know in the comments!