I recently completed a 7-day Ayurvedic Fall Detox. The experience was fantastic, and I encourage you, with all the zeal of a convert, to give it a try if you have the opportunity. (Yes, this was my first one.)
This detox, based on Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine and health care, calls for dietary changes along with other cleansing practices. The dietary changes limited my nutritional intake to kitchari (a stew of mung beans, basmati rice, spices and vegetables), tea, some steamed vegetables, and potassium broth (made from potato and carrot peels, celery and kale). Over the seven days, I experienced changes on many levels – physical, mental and emotional.
The first two days were the toughest, and pretty much a blur, spent in a fog of caffeine withdrawal, and in need of naps in the afternoon. I had to give up my beloved morning cup of coffee. On the plus side, I was surprised that I did not get a splitting caffeine withdrawal headache. By day three my energy levels started to pick up and I felt more alert. I was feeling well hydrated, even though I wasn’t drinking more water. I attribute that to eliminating dehydrating substances like caffeine and alcohol, and eating foods higher in water content, such as leafy greens. On day 4 I felt soreness in my right hip, but couldn’t recall doing anything that might have caused it. Could it have been some toxin getting unstuck and leaving my body? Not sure, but I’d like to think so. By day 5 I was starting to feel easily chilled. I had to bundle up to sleep the night before. They warned of the being susceptible to a chill during the detox, and to keep the head and neck well protected. During the final days, the process felt very gentle on my body. After the first two days, there were no huge fluctuations in my energy levels, or any physical discomfort. My energy level was overall quite high. I should also note that I was able to get a good eight hours of sleep almost every night, which, I am sure made all the difference in the world. I put on a pair of jeans at the end of the detox and noticed that they were a little loose, so I’m sure I lost a few pounds. (I don’t own a scale) Not to worry, I’m sure I’ll find them in the next few days.
After the fog of the first two days cleared, my mind felt quite sharp and alert. Mentally, the week became an awareness practice on so many levels. When I get a hunger pang, or even walk by a snack, my initial habitual pattern is to reach for the chips, pretzels, nuts, whatever. During the detox, I had to stop myself and acknowledge the knee-jerk reaction. It was hard to say no to those things, but easier because “I’m doing a detox and it’s of a finite duration.” I comforted myself by thinking, “I’ll be able to have as many of those as I want on Sunday.” The night of Day 5 I had a dream that I forgot about the detox and ate an Italian Beef sandwich. I guess I had my first vegetarian anxiety dream. By day 6 I was like an old horse who sees the barn and starts to walk faster to get to the hay. I’m in the home stretch and can’t wait for this to be over. If I have another bowl of kitchari I’m going to scream! Of course, Mom cooked a ribeye for herself and ate it right in front of me. Child abuse!!
For the first two days, I’d say cranky is the best word to describe my emotional state. Cranky and impatient. By day three that pretty much subsided and things stabilized. By the latter days of the detox I was spending much of my time sitting in gratitude for all the glorious food I have available to me every day. Obviously when we remove those things we take for granted we realize how much they mean to us. That has certainly been the case this week. Funny though, the gratitude has spilled over into other aspects of my life – people who are important to me, experiences, places, and other blessings. Interestingly, the completion of the cleanse gave me a feeling of confidence that I did not expect. Disciplined practice has that effect.
The Last Day
On day seven, as I reflected on the past week, I notice that some of my cravings were not what I expected. And they were not constant. They ebbed and flowed throughout the course of the day, even hour by hour. I thought that by day 7 I would want a cup of coffee in the worst way. Turns out that after day 2 my craving for coffee (I assume most of it has to do with caffeine, though I’m not sure)diminished steadily for the next 5 days. I’d say my craving for wine probably stayed the same, there but not strong. Not surprisingly a craving for any food but kitchari rose sharply in the last few days. I’m not sure if it was mental or physical. I did start to crave meat, but that may have been from the ribeye incident. When I spend time at Kripalu my sweet tooth grows quite large after a few days. I attribute it to dietary changes (no meat or caffeine), but my craving for sweets didn’t grow this week. That surprised me. City planners love to represent information graphically, so, in plannerly fashion, below is a chart of my cravings over the seven days. Fascinating, eh?
Day 8– The Morning After
I awoke on day eight excited to be moving on from the cleanse, but also a bit wistful about letting it go. The excitement came from the idea of defining what comes next. What gets brought into daily practice? What gets left behind? I didn’t go crazy and eat everything is sight, but I did head straight for the coffee pot. What is that strong desire for coffee all about? It seems to be a combination of a “want” and a “need”. I need coffee to jump-start my brain in the morning, but I also want coffee, because I really enjoy it. I love the smell, the taste, the warmth. Since the cleanse, I am feeling like I don’t have that need anymore. I woke up on Day 8 feeling quite alert and energetic. Maybe now coffee can have a little bit different place in my life. Can I let go of the “need” part? Time will tell……
I eased myself gently off the kitchari with things like cereal, almond milk and tofurkey during the day. Dinner was soup made from beef broth with noodles. Had a small portion of meat and some veggies on the side. A glass of wine and some dark chocolate. Deeelicious. And so much appreciated.
Beyond Day 8
The cleanse felt like hitting the reset button, and coming back to my default settings. Those settings are health and clarity, brought about primarily by the prescribed dietary changes. This week was about stepping away from my established patterns and shaking things up. Ayurveda talks about Swasthavritta – a code for healthy conduct; establishing oneself in good habits. The past week has allowed me to begin to let go of judgments that are associated with eating habits. I am letting go of labels “good” and “bad” as they are loaded with judgments that sometimes have a lot to do with ideology: political, social, religious. From this less judgmental place the question isn’t “is this a good or bad habit?” but rather “does this habit serve me? Does it support me in growing in the direction I want to be growing? Does it feed my soul?” It feels like a much healthier place from which to base decisions, and it puts me in charge of the process. It has had a cascade effect into other aspects of my life. What about my yoga practice? What about my sleeping habits? Etc. It was a powerful week that I’m grateful I had the opportunity to experience.
In case you’ve been wondering what practices the detox entailed, here is a short summary:
– Rubbing body with oil before shower
– Olive or sunflower (for pitta dosha)
– Sesame (for vatta and kapha doshas)
– Follow with hot shower and cold rinse without washing off all the oil
– Pat dry
– Kitchari: basmati rice, mung beans, spices, zucchini, green beans
– Potassium broth: potato and carrot peals, celery, kale
– Steamed vegetables
- Neti Pot and Nasya Oil
– Nasal rinse with mild saline solution
– After the neti pot, a few drops of Nasya oil (sesame oil and other spices) in each nostril
- Daily yoga practice