The last strict cleanse I did was almost a decade ago. I remember my kids being little enough for me to sit with them while they took a bath. It was Night Six of a seven-day cleanse, when my insides were so squeaky clean that I decided to break the cleanse by eating a hot dog and Oreos. I felt euphoric; drunk off sugar and junk food to the point where maybe I wasn’t fit to supervise young children submerged in water.
I’ve made a few half-hearted attempts at cleansing since, but never committed to the intense protocol I followed before; falling off the wagon usually by lunchtime and capping off the short-lived adventure with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.
Now I “cleanse” with a simple and gentle routine I call “ABC,” or always be cleansing. The ABCs are part of a larger self-care routine called dinacharya. Dina means day, and charya means following. Together it means “to follow the knowledge of the day.” Dinacharya is a daily routine meant to keep your body in balance by maintaining the connection to circadian rhythms in nature, setting not only the tone for the day ahead, but also through all four seasons and the transition times between. As the saying goes, what you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.
Dinacharya is a basic tenet of Ayurveda, a sister science of yoga. Ayurveda began in India about 6,000 years ago as a system for achieving and maintaining health as a necessary component for spiritual growth. It’s a simple and graceful form of “medicine” that trusts every living being has an inherent pull to move in the direction of healing and balance.
Ancient Ayurvedic texts say to rise early, about two hours before sunrise, when the earth’s atmosphere is most sattvic, or pure. Upon waking, one of the simplest ABCs is tongue scraping.
If I had to choose what to bring with me on a desert island, it might be my Dr. Tung’s.
When you sleep, bacteria, food debris, dead cells and undigested matter build up on your tongue. I love Dr. Tung’s stainless steel tongue scraper with its cushy rubber grips. The gunk you’ll see on the tongue scraper is ama, an Ayurvedic version of toxic sludge. Use your tongue scraper before flossing or brushing your teeth in the morning. It’s a super easy component of your ABCs. Try it instead of brushing your tongue with your toothbrush, which can press bacteria deeper into the tongue. Even if you brush your teeth right before bed, you’ll still have plenty of ama to scrape off in the morning.
Spring is also a perfect time to dry body brush.
My rule of thumb for springtime is, if it’s still too chilly in the morning to take off my pjs, I hold off on dry body brushing until the weather warms up enough to do so comfortably.
Find a brush with nice, soft, natural bristles. Avoid ones that are hard and scratchy, which can be irritating to your skin. Dry body brush when your skin is dry, either before you shower or dress. It can literally take less than one minute if you need it to, and
the benefits are plentiful. It helps get rid of dead skin cells, and promotes increased cell turnover. It also helps your body take out the trash by stimulating lymphatic drainage.
Use long strokes on the long bones of the body, and circular movements around the joints. I like brushes with long handles so you can easily get your back. Start with the soles of your feet; then move upward from the legs toward the heart, and downward or inward from the
neck, chest and arms toward the heart. Dry body brushing first thing in the morning is invigorating and a gives you a little kickstart. Another bonus is, it’s touted to reduce the appearance of cellulite.
Tongue scraping and dry body brushing combined can take less than two or three minutes total. If you have a little more time, self massage, or abhyanga, is a deeply loving way to connect with your body and carries significant benefits for your overall health and wellbeing. Use the same strokes you would dry body brushing. In the colder winter months, sesame oil is recommended, but in the spring and summer you can use sweet almond oil or coconut oil. Massaging your scalp feels incredible, and is a staple of abhyanga, but I usually stay away from my hair so I don’t feel like a giant greaseball. Performing abhyanga daily is another great way to help detox the body. Massaging with warm oil helps loosen toxins from the soft tissues, allowing them to be removed by the body’s elimination systems.
Ayurveda loves its oils. I go through phases with oil pulling, but when I’m in a routine, it makes my mouth feel as clean as if I just had a cleaning at the dentist. In the spring and summer I use extra-virgin unrefined coconut oil. Swish it around, and pull it between your teeth. Ultimately, try to go for 20 minutes. This is hard. Really hard.
I sometimes oil pull when I walk the dog in the morning to keep my mind occupied while I swish. A couple of times though I saw my neighbor and I couldn’t open my mouth to say hello, so I haven’t done it for a while.
Even if you get just a few minutes in, it’s a great way to pull the same types of toxins from your body that tongue scraping does. The idea is to capture the bacteria in your mouth, transfer it to the oil, and then spit the oil out. Just don’t spit it in your sink or toilet. Walking the dog is actually the perfect time to oil pull because then you can spit it outside. Just don't let anyone see you. But whatever you do, don’t swallow it. If you do, you’re just ingesting all the bacteria you pulled from your mouth, so try your best not to let that happen.
Drinking 8-ounces of warm water with lemon is a great way to ABC. Warm water with a squeeze of lemon helps remove impurities from the intestinal tract, speeds elimination, stimulates the liver for enhanced enzyme production, is highly compatible with the digestive system, and helps create an alkaline condition in the body.
And while not part of a daily routine, kitchari is a kind way to help cleanse the body by giving the digestive system a break. Kitchari is Ayurveda’s equivalent to chicken noodle soup, and is a common staple in Ayurvedic cleanses. Kitchari is usually made with rice and split mung beans or lentils, and sometimes seasonal vegetables cooked down and made into a soupy porridge. It’s a hearty meal, nourishing, and extremely easy to digest, which gives the body a break so it can go about its job eliminating toxins from the body. On average, about 80% of the body’s energy is spent on digestion, so freeing up even a little bit of that allows the body to focus on other important jobs.
A focused period of detoxing can reset the physical body, but as I learned with hot dogs and Oreos, extreme cleansing can be a finite act.
But ABCs can be part of a sustainable, everyday routine. Spring is a time when our bodies begin to sense the shift of seasons on a cellular level, and gravitate toward natural detoxing. Following even the simplest steps outlined by Ayurvedic wisdom can help keep the body stay healthy, strong, balanced and poised to gracefully transition from winter to spring, and spring to summer.