Why do people cleanse?

There are many reasons why it is a good idea to do a cleanse at least once a year, let’s take a deeper look at some rationale behind cleansing. We’ll start through the lens of Yoga and then through the lens of Ayurveda.

Yoga is comprised of 8 limbs. They are:

  • Yama (things to restrain from)

  • Niyama (things to aspire to)

  • Asana (postures and poses)

  • Pranayama (breathwork)

  • Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal)

  • Dharana (meditation)

  • Dhyana (single-pointed focus)

  • Samadhi (Enlightenment)

Each of these limbs deserves their own book really but today we are looking at Pratyahara in particular. Pratyahara means to withdraw from the senses. When we withdraw from the senses there is a natural opportunity to turn inward and often find clarity. This is why Yoga retreats are so popular. They force us out of our normal routine and allow the senses to take a break from all the stimulation they are constantly receiving. Cleansing is an act of pratyahara for our taste buds and also for the nervous system. As modern humans, most of us consume an extremely wide range of foods throughout our week. This is a lovely privilege and something to enjoy. This wide variety of flavors, textures and culinary experience is a joyful, beautiful thing AND it also can be a little overwhelming to our systems. A cleanse is an opportunity to minimize thought and variety in order to rest the GI system and reset any food addictions that have crept in.  (the most common food addictions being: processed grains, sugar, caffeine and alcohol). But that’s not all folks - something pretty wonderful happens when you cleanse. Unburdened by the ups and downs of a varied diet, the brain and nervous system take a collective exhale. Mono-diet (eating one thing for several days in a row) has long been a tactic of monks and Yogis alike as a way to reach deeper meditation and a profound sense of calm. Cleansing can be monotonous and a little boring, but the upsides are many.

Ayurveda tells us there are 3 major causes (trividha karana) of imbalance and disease. The idea is that if one can keep the 3 causes in a happy state, good health will ensue.

The causes are:

  • Kala (seasonal affect, time of day/year etc.)

  • Artha (underuse or overuse of the sensory organs)

  • Karma (action)

All three of these causes give us good reason to cleanse and here’s why:

Kala

When the seasons change, there is a very high risk of falling under the weather. In Springtime we also see a lot of allergies. Practicing a mono-diet can assist the body in making the adjustment from spring to winter. In winter, there can be build-up of Winter sludge (accumulated heavy/dense/sticky qualities) not only in the GI tract but throughout the body. As the sun comes out and things get warmer, our sinuses, skin and small intestines are doing their best to melt excess weight and mucus outward. Cleansing can assist in the process.

Artha

The 5 sense organs; ears, eyes, skin, tongue and nose do an amazing amount of work for us. Sometimes they are underutilized but more often they are overutilized. The tongue becomes accustomed to foods with too much salt or sugar, the eyes are exhausted from time spent on screens, the nose is overexposed to fragrances and scents in our public environments, the skin is in and out of goosebumps from all the rain and we all can relate to the feeling that our poor ears just get too much noise! Cleansing is an intentional reset for our tongue in particular, but often when cleansing the other sense organs get a break as well.

Karma

Karma in this context includes all actions, good and bad. As we know, (thanks Sir Isaac!) every action results in a reaction - Ayurveda thinks so too. Ayurveda also recognizes the human tendency to often make the choice that harms over the choice that helps. This tendency is so human that there is even a word for it! Prajnaparadha means “crimes against wisdom”. Although this translation feels rather intense, we can probably all recognize that the reaction comes back pretty strong when we repeatedly do something we know is not good for us. On the flip side, when we make the choice that is good for us, we often see a positive reaction soon after. A cleanse can be a positive action for anybody and the results tend to include all kinds of positive reactions.

People who cleanse often experience:

  • Deep, high quality sleep

  • Minimal bloating and gas

  • Regular bowel movements

  • Increased, healthy appetite

  • Clear eyes

  • Calm mind

  • Reduced congestion

  • Depth in meditation

  • Improved complexion

It’s important to note that like all things, doing a cleanse is a temporary process. It is not recommended to continue the mono-diet beyond 7 days. It is also important to remember (especially mid-cleanse), that you will eat all things you love again in the near future. In fact, you might even enjoy them more!

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