Ayurveda is an incomparable leader in detoxification. This age-old science not only holds a strong focus on effective cleansing therapies, but provides the proper knowledge and instruction for performing these powerful procedures in a safe, balanced and healthy manner. Most cleansing programs can be very depleting and a bit of a shock to the system. Therefore it is 100% essential to come into the cleanse with ease as well as provide a smooth transition out of the cleanse. According to Ayurveda, these vital pre-cleanse and post-cleanse stages are equally as important as the cleanse itself.
So often I have heard individuals state that they are about to endure a cleanse and therefore decide to eat in excess and include as much junk food as possible to “get it out of their system”. After all they are about to flush out the toxins so what’s the harm in having a bit of fun first, right? Well this theory cannot be farther from the truth. Everything that goes into a cleansing program can be fairly invasive and the more we can prep our bodies before the festivities begin, the smoother and more effective the detoxification process will be.
So before we go into details on how the pre-cleanse is performed, let us first talk about why it is so important. Here are the main reasons for including the pre-cleanse into your detoxification program.
Main Benefits of an Ayurvedic Pre-Cleanse
- Gently flushes the system to allow a smooth transition into the cleanse.
- Revs up the digestive fire to allow a more effective treatment (the first step in removing toxins is to increase the digestive fire!).
- Encourages healthy and regular bowel movements which is essential during any cleanse.
- Reduces the likelihood of shock and/or sickness that potentially can manifest in the system during a cleanse.
- Loosens toxins from the deep tissues and brings them into the circulation and GI tract to allow for more effective flushing from the system (most cleanses only touch on the superficial toxins that are already located in these areas instead of removing the deep-rooted toxins that are lodged in our tissues).
Whether you are planning a “simple” mono-diet cleanse (i.e. Kitchari cleanse) or a full out home Panchakarma, one should allow at least a week prior to begin to prepare the system for the detoxification to come. This will set the stage for a healthier transition and a much more effective cleanse altogether.
Main Focuses of the Ayurvedic Pre-Cleanse
- Internal Oiliation and External Oiliation (aka snehana): These unique therapies are necessary to loosen deep-rooted toxins from our tissues due to the softening and lubricating effect they have. After performing these practices for several consistent days, these toxins will begin to make their way into the blood stream and eventually the GI tract where they can be flushed more readily.
- Sweat therapy (aka svedana): Sweat therapy is commonly performed to loosen and gently remove the toxins from the system through the act of the sweating itself.
- Gentle flushing of the system: Gently flushing the system of toxins before the cleanse begins is simply a means to reduce any shock or sickness that can come with potential detox overload. This allows a smoother transition, more effective treatment and a healthier cleanse altogether.
- Increase the digestive fire: Healthy digestion is essential for properly and effectively removing toxins from the system. Focusing on simple ways to increase the Agni or digestive fire prior to the cleanse will allow for more effective results.
- Promote healthy elimination: The main route in removing toxins from our system is through the colon. Therefore we must make sure we provide an open, free-flowing passage for healthy elimination throughout the cleanse and beyond.
Now that you are more familiar with the what and why of an Ayurvedic cleanse, let’s move on to the how. In my experience, these have been the best methods for the preparatory phase of any Ayurvedic home cleanse.
7 Essential Steps to an Ayurvedic Pre-cleanse
1. Take a large amount of Tikta Ghrita (aka bitter ghee) each morning for 7 days before the cleanse.
Tikta Ghrita is the traditional medicine for internal oiliation or snehana and should be taken in large dosages both before and during the cleanse itself. Although plain ghee can be used, the Tikta Ghrita is much more powerful and will bring you better results.
General Directions: Take 1 Tbsp of the Tikta Ghrita melted in 1/2-1 cup of warm water each morning on an empty stomach. This should begin seven days before the first day of your cleanse and continue until the last day of the cleanse.
NOTE: After the cleanse is complete a more rejuvenative ghee should be taken daily such as the Rasayana Ghrita.
2. Perform a daily oil massage (Abhyanga) for 7 days before the cleanse.
Abhyanga, or the Ayurvedic oil massage, is performed as a means of releasing the toxins that are stored deep in the tissues. Once they are released, they will travel through the blood stream making their way to the GI track where they can be flushed out more readily.
The medicated oil used for the massage penetrates through the skin to act on the muscles and facia where we store our mental, emotion and physical toxins. As an added bonus, Abhyanga is one of the best ways to treat the nervous system, making the cleanse even more powerful and well rounded. The oil should be infused with the proper herbs for your dosha type and current imbalances. Plain oil can be used, but will not as effective.
Abhyanga should be performed for seven days prior to the cleanse and each day of the cleanse itself. The best times to perform the oil massage are either in the morning (at least 30 minutes before you shower and eat food) or before bed (I prefer the latter myself). During a cleanse, it is best to start with the outer areas of the body and massage toward your core center. This will encourage the toxins to make their way to the GI tract where they can be eliminated during the cleansing program. After the cleanse is complete, it is recommended to continue this practice 1-3 times weekly for at least four weeks post-cleanse.
3. Take a Ginger-Baking Soda Bath for 7 days pre-cleanse.
The ginger-baking soda bath is often used in Ayurvedic home cleanses to induce the sweating therapy, as ginger is a natural diaphoretic. If a bathtub is not available for any reason, one can substitute this with either a hot sauna or a hot steam room. Whichever the preferred method, the sweating will allow the opening of the pores, gently removing toxins from the circulation. Among this health benefit, these therapies help to trigger the Parasympathetic nervous system (aka our “rest and digest” system) invoking a state of relaxation, stress relief and improved digestion. Further they are very effective in reducing muscle soreness, pain and inflammation in the body.
General Directions: Each night before bed, take a warm-hot bath using the ginger-baking soda blend (find detailed instructions in the link below). Allow at least 15 minutes to soak or until you break a sweat, whichever comes last. This should be performed each day of the pre-cleanse for seven days, and each day of the cleanse itself. After the cleanse is complete, it is recommended to continue this practice 1-3 times weekly for at least four weeks post-cleanse.
**If you are using a sauna or steam room instead of the ginger bath, one should take the same measures in regards to performing this daily seven days prior to the cleanse and each day of the cleanse itself, allowing at least 15 minutes to soak or until you break a sweat, whichever comes last.
4. Simplify your diet the week before the cleanse.
Rather than going all out and increasing unhealthy eating habits as many do before a cleanse, it is actually important to do the opposite and simplify the diet, beginning to incorporate lighter, healthier food choices. This will allow much greater ease into the cleanse and will allow the other pre-cleanse and cleanse therapies to work even deeper.
General Directions: Seven days prior to your cleanse begin to gradually shift the diet, reducing processed foods, junk food, heavy foods, caffeine and alcohol. This includes reducing your meat, wheat, gluten and dairy consumption, avoiding sugar (especially refined), reducing coffee consumption and avoiding processed junk food. Simultaneously, one should begin to incorporate more whole foods, home-cooked meals, veggies, and lighter meals such as kitchari, stir fry, soups and dals. If you plan on doing a kitchari cleanse, I would further recommend eating kitchari for one meal each day throughout the week. However, since this is all you will be eating for seven days, don’t over-do it just yet. You don’t want to get sick of it before the cleanse even starts!
5. Sip on cleansing, digestive teas the week before the cleanse.
One easy way to begin to gently flush out the system during the pre-cleanse phase is to sip on some cleansing herbal teas during this time. This is recommended as a means to prepare the body for the more intense flushing to come, reducing the potential for sickness or shock from the upcoming cleansing procedures.
General Directions: Seven days before the cleanse is to begin, begin to incorporate some cleansing herbal teas into your daily routine. Some great options are:
Each day of the pre-cleanse it is recommend to drink 1 to 3 cups of your herbal tea(s) of choice between meals. This should continue throughout the cleanse, ideally taking in one cup between each meal at this time.
6. Take a blood cleansing herbal formula up to 30 days pre-cleanse.
This is an important step of the pre-cleanse and can be started up to 30 days before the cleanse begins. Taking some preparatory cleansing herbs during this phase will remove some of the superficial toxins from the blood stream and strengthen the liver, gearing the system up for the main event. These herbs tend to be a bit stronger than the herbal teas mentioned above and therefore will be more efficient in preparing the body for the detoxification to come.
General Directions: Take a blood cleansing formula such as the Daily Detox Formula or Mahasudarshana up to 30 days before the cleanse begins, with a minimum of seven days. This should be taken as 1/2 tsp steeped in 1/2 cup of warm water three times daily, before meals. This same dosage should be continued throughout the cleanse as well. Remember, consistency is essential!
7. Take Triphala Churna each night before bed 7 days before the cleanse.
Triphala Churna is a traditional Ayurvedic formula that is often prescribed to promote healthy elimination, strengthen the liver, boost the digestive fire and flush out the GI tract. It is a mild laxative and a powerful antioxidant. Taking this formula before (and during) the cleanse will undoubtably provide a strong foundation for your cleanse, both in preparing the body and strengthening the system. It can also be taken in slightly larger dosages than normal during this time to increase the purgative (meaning laxative) effect and the efficiency of your cleanse.
General Directions: Steep 1/2 teaspoon of the Triphala Churna in one cup of warm water for five minutes. Stir well before drinking and take this dosage each night before bed, at least seven days prior to the cleanse. This should be continued during the cleanse itself and can be taken indefinitely (ideally at 1/2 tsp longterm) after the cleanse is complete.
Home cleanses can be quite intense on our bodies (and minds!) and should never be taken lightly. Coming into your detox program with ease and making a smooth transition out are vital steps in a healthy and successful cleanse. The more intense the cleanse, the more important these Ayurvedic measures become. If there is any confusion or concern, one can often find the answers and personalized instruction by seeing a knowledgeable Ayurvedic practitioner for a personalized cleansing consultation. This will take you through all of these steps mentioned above, but instead of giving general information, you will receive personalized guidance for your current needs.