Disease is caused by environmental, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual imbalance. Today we have an abundance of environmental pollution, soil pollution, water pollution, genetically modified food, processed foods, toxic household cleaners, and toxins in our health and beauty products (just to name a few). We are constantly inundated with inorganic and potentially harmful compounds on a daily basis. We accumulate these particles in the body and they wreak havoc on our homeostasis. It's not just what we consume in our diets, we also have to digest what we watch and what we listen to.
As a result, the majority of American's are unhealthy because of what we have done to our food, our planet, and our ecosystem. We are so far removed from nature, that many of us survive on processed foods alone and rely heavily on medication in order to function. Our immune systems start in the gut. Our gut is also called "the second brain" because of how our microbiome effects our mental health. According to Ayurveda, you quite literally are what you eat. The food we ingest becomes our physical anatomy in a process of 35 days. So if you are only eating unhealthy foods, your body will also become unhealthy.
The key to health starts in the digestive system. If you cannot properly break down, assimilate, and absorb the food you are consuming, then your body isn't getting the nutrients it needs. In Ayurveda, we call the digestive process of metabolic fire Agni. Agni controls all physiological transformation in the body and psychological transformation in the mind. If your agni is low, you aren't digesting anything properly. Not just your food, but also your thoughts and emotions. Another huge component of Ayurvedic theory is Ama. Ama is the toxins and undigested food that results from low agni. These toxins accumulate in the tissues, and that is where cleansing and other ayurvedic practices are needed to remove it from the body.
When you have an overaccumulation of ama in the body, you may feel sluggish, lethargic, and suffer from brain fog. If ama is allowed to continue to accumulate and the imbalance in the body worsens, it starts to go deeper in the tissues and causes even more problems. The deeper and more prevalent the ama, the harder it is to reverse the problems. Therefore, we want to prioritize the rekindling of agni to help burn off and eliminate ama from the body.
The Benefits of an Ayurvedic Cleanse extend well beyond improved digestion and better overall health. When done properly, those benefits also include mental and emotional wellbeing as well. When you eat right for your dosha, you are also balancing the mind and spirit (or energetic anatomy). Cleansing in this way also nourishes the nervous system because it is intimately connected to our energetic anatomy (i.e. Chakras). This type of cleanse doesn't leave you depleted or deprived, and encourages other supportive lifestyle and spiritual practices to cleanse the entire being and improve your overall life. It supports the Prana in the body, or vital lifeforce energy, and results in an improved sense of energy, vitality, and enthusiasm for life in general. In summary, it helps restore a natural state of balance, cultivates self-love through self-care, improves our vitality, and increases longevity.
Due to toady's modern lifestyle and the overabundance of toxins in our daily lives, it is imperative to cleanse regularly if you are healthy enough to do so. If you are already weak from fighting disease, it is important to build up the body before cleansing. You should also avoid cleansing if you are menstruating, pregnant, or breastfeeding. Cleansing at inappropriate times or when the body is already taxed will result in the creation of a healing crisis.
A note on fasting:
Fasting is not appropriate for everyone. As Ayurveda teaches us, everyone is different and we all have unique constitutions. Certain constitutions should avoid fasting altogether, but you also want to avoid intermittent fasting if you are predominately Vata or Pitta. I highly encourage you to speak with a qualified practitioner to determine if fasting is right for you.
What to Expect
Kitchari is an ancient Ayurvedic recipe of legumes, warming spices, and traditionally made with basmati rice. This mixture is eaten on an average of 3-5 days as a monodiet, but can be implemented for just one day a week or up to 21 days for severe toxicity. If done properly, an Ayurvedic cleanse strengthens agni throughout the system and eliminates toxins from the whole body. This monodiet is easily digestible so as not to overtax the body, while also supporting the body with necessary nutrients. The warming spices help improve agni, and the qualities of the legumes and rice gently clear the digestive channels. An effective cleanse will draw ama and excess doshas out of the tissues of the body and into the digestive system to be eliminated.
There are 4 phases to Cleansing.
It is important to prepare your body for a cleanse. Jumping right into it can shock the body and result in an unpleasant experience. Healing crises occur when the body isn't prepared to detox. These can manifest as excessive sweating, headaches, digestive upset, or worse in more severe cases. As I mentioned before, if you are already weak or recovering from a disease, you want to give your body time to heal before asking it to purge anything. If you are expecting your cycle to start, plan your cleanse around it.
Once you have everything prepared, you want to slowly introduce the monodiet. I recommend eating cleaner but more importantly, eating appropriately for your dosha leading up to the Cleanse. It is also encouraged to clean up your living space and lifestyle in conjunction with your cleanse for a full body-mind-spirit experience. The length of the preparation phase depends on the length of your Cleanse. If you are only cleansing for a day, this step is not as necessary. If you choose to cleanse for 3-5 days, your preparation may take 1-3 days. I do not recommend cleansing longer than 5 days without the support of a qualified practitioner.
It's recommended to cleanse between seasons to prepare your body for the upcoming changes, but this cleanse can be done anytime of year. The more time you can clear for the length of your cleanse, the better. You want to be able to rest as needed, and should avoid stressing your body out more than necessary. This means no physical, mental, or emotional over-excursion. You will also want to choose more supportive lifestyle practices during your cleanse, such as dry brushing and self-massage, meditation, and breathing exercises. If you are in generally good health, the recommended duration is typically 3 days. This can be done over the weekend, but if you choose to cleanse longer than you may want to adjust and adapt your work schedule.
Coming off the Cleanse should be as gentle as easing into it. This phase is ideally as long as the preparation phase and is equally important. After you complete the active cleansing phase, your body will still be processing the toxins it needs to eliminate. Therefore a slow transition back into a more diverse diet is necessary to support this process. Eat whole foods that are easier to digest, gradually introducing them one day at a time. Remember, the key to this phase is maintaining a stronger agni. Once you reintroduce a food or substance, give your body time to digest it and observe how your body reacts. Make adjustments as necessary. You may want to plan a menu of simple meals in advance for this phase. The longer your cleanse, the more time your body will need to adjust.
Now that you've cleared the body of ama and rekindled your agni, your body may need some time to recover. This is not the time to do anything drastic like taking up running or starting a new demanding job. Understand that it may take some time for you to see tangible results from your cleanse, and you may not see benefits from it for some time after. This is a great time to start enforcing healthier diet and lifestyle practices in order to maintain those benefits.
It is not uncommon to experience mild symptoms of detoxing, which can look like increased sweating or mild headaches; but if these symptoms persist or worsen, then you should stop cleansing immediately and consult a qualified professional.
Kitchari can be made from any legume such as lentils and peas, but is traditionally made with split yellow mung beans. It can also be made with any type of rice, but again traditionally basmati is used. More importantly, whatever you use make sure it is organic and free of any toxins. It is meant to be the consistency of a stew, thicker than a soup but often more like a mush. You can add appropriate veggies for texture, flavor, and diversity. I recommend eating seasonally and choosing toppings that are best for your dosha. I like to make a big batch in the pressure cooker and meal prep all of my veggies in advance. You can also top your kitchari with your favorite chutney or Chyavanprash, an Ayurvedic jam.
It is imperative that you do not deprive yourself on this cleanse. You can eat kitchari whenever you are hungry, but try to give yourself three hours between meals to allow enough time for your digestive system to do it's job. Try not to snack between meals, but if you can't resist then stick to whole, nutritious foods such as fruit and nuts. If you get sick of kitchari or do not want to eat it for breakfast, you can substitute it for something similar in texture and fiber such as oatmeal or warm chia pudding. The same goes for dinner, which should be your lightest meal of the day. If you need something different try making a broth and adding it to the kitchari to make it more of a soup or eat a soup that is also easily digestible. Don't eat anything three hours before bed to allow enough time for your digestive system to complete the process before laying down.
The following recipe is from Banyan Botanicals and is intended for a days worth of Kitchari, but you can make adjustments as you see fit.
1 cup white basmati rice
1/2 cup yellow mung dal
2 tablespoons ghee*
Spices (or 1 tablespoon kitchari spice mix)
1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon fennel powder
1 pinch hing (asafoetida)
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon natural mineral salt
6 cups water
2 cups easily digestible vegetables
Soak the split mung dal overnight (or for at least four hours). Strain the soaking water, combine with the rice and rinse the mixture at least twice, or until the water runs clear, and set aside.
In a medium saucepan or soup pot, warm the ghee over medium heat.
Add the black mustard seeds, cumin seeds and sauté for a couple of minutes, until the mustard seeds begin to pop.
Add the turmeric, coriander, fennel, hing, and fresh ginger.
Stir briefly, until aromatic. Stir the rice and dal mixture into the spices and sauté for a few moments, stirring constantly.
Add the 6 cups of water, turn heat to high, and bring to a boil.
When the soup comes to a boil, stir in the salt, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about forty minutes.
Meanwhile, cut your vegetables into small, bite-sized pieces.
About halfway through the kitchari’s cooking process, stir in the vegetables and allow the stew to return to a boil. Continue to simmer until the rice, dal, and vegetables are fully cooked.
Remove from heat, cool, and serve.
Note: some vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, might require more cooking time and may be added earlier, if necessary.
Aim to have very little water remaining when finished. The consistency should be that of a vegetable stew as opposed to a broth. While you want the beans, rice, and vegetables to be thoroughly cooked, excess water and over-stirring can cause the ingredients to become thick and gummy.
Garnish the kitchari with your choice of fresh cilantro, coriander chutney, and sesame chutney. Enjoy!
*If you are Vegan, you can substitute the ghee for organic, unrefined coconut oil.
You can get everything you need here from Banyan Botanicals, and they even sell Cleansing kits and bundles! I got my organic mung beans from Amazon, and my organic rice from Costco, but the spices may be harder to come by. Instead of buying all of them separately, Banyan makes a kitchari spice mix that is super convenient. Everything they sell is certified organic, fully sustainable, and fairly traded, so you can trust their quality.
It is critical to stay hydrated when cleansing. Make sure you are drinking an adequate amount of room temperature water, ideally between meals. Avoid drinking cold beverages as that will negatively impact your agni, and consuming too much liquid with meals also impairs digestion. Ayurveda recommends drinking CCF tea to help promote optimal digestion. CCF stands for Cumin, Coriander, and Fennel, and now Banyan makes other combinations of this tea using this ancient formula. Another powerful formula to improve digestion and help eliminate ama is Triphala. Traditionally this formula is taken in powder form either as a tea or in food, but it also comes in tablets.
Other foods you may want to avoid during your cleanse include dairy, meat, and other "heavy" foods that are more difficult to digest. Eating these or other processed foods defeats the purpose of the cleanse. If you are a serious yogi on a spiritual path, you may want to also avoid garlic and onions for your meditation purposes. For more rejuvenating foods after your cleanse, consider dates for something sweet, substituting almond milk for dairy, and/or using veggies like avocados, sweet potatoes, or zucchini instead of other ingredients like wheat.
Above all, be patient with yourself. Keep in mind that it took time for your body to get into the condition that it is in, it will also take time to reverse it. Healing takes a LOT of time, and when we heal one layer, we often discover that there is still more there left to heal. Healing is a continuous process, not a one time deal.
If you have any questions or concerns about the Kitchari Cleanse, please do not hesitate to reach out!