The Cleansing Season: Ayurvedic Wisdom for Body, Mind and Soul

The practices and principles of Ayurveda are increasingly more visible in the fabric of today’s holistic health community. This is largely due to the rising popularity of yoga, Ayurveda’s enduring universal principles, and the sharing of information by leading Ayurvedic authorities such as Dr. Deepak Chopra, Dr. David Frawley, Dr. Vasant Ladd, Nimai Nitai Das and others. Still, many people remain unclear about basic Ayurvedic wisdom, particularly its emphasis on seasonal cleansing for the body, mind and soul, with spring and early summer marked as peak cleansing times.

What is Cleansing?

We clean our homes, our cars, our skin. We have a tendency, however, to neglect our internal body and our minds. Never before, in recorded history, have we been so consistently exposed to biological, chemical, heavy metal, electrical, emotional, psychological, and even spiritual stressors. In addition, the nutritional quality of our produce has significantly diminished in just the past 40 years. The synergistic effect of stress, toxicity, and nutritional depletion can be devastating. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that synergy works even better in a positive direction. Cleansing is an opportunity to relieve the burden imposed on the body and mind due to externally and internally derived toxins. By making simple dietary and lifestyle changes, reducing stress, eliminating toxins, and improving our nutritional intake, wonderful shifts take place. It is remarkable how positively the body responds when we give it a chance. After a balanced cleanse, people often experience less aches and pains, improved digestion, a deeper connection with themselves and a sense of empowerment that comes from taking their health in their own hands.

Cleansing was originally taught as part of India’s ancient system of medicine known as Ayurveda. Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word which means “knowledge of the totality of life.” It is the sister of the yoga system. While there are many health benefits from practicing the various forms of yoga, the goal of yoga is to experientially realize who we are in truth. Ayurveda is said to be a gift from the devas (“divine beings”) to assist us in maintaining health while living our lives to the fullest and growing to our greatest potential. Specifically, Ayurveda addresses improving our quality of life, strengthening our resistance to disease, eliminating disease, and increasing our awareness. The basic, simple principles of Ayurveda serve as a foundation for safe, healthy, balanced cleansing and rejuvenation programs.

The First Cause of All Health and All Disease

The many spiritual paths from India and religions throughout the world all express the awesome and inconceivable intelligence that so perfectly maintains this living universe. This intelligence in Sanskrit is called buddhi, or universal life intelligence. Every thing is working in perfect order. All the planets are floating in space in perfect harmony. For example, if the Earth paused for just a moment in its rotation, we would likely freeze or burn in an instant. The laws of nature, the seasons, natural cycles, the interconnectedness and dependency of all living beings, and even natural disasters, while beyond our comprehension, are all guided by buddhi, or divine intelligence. This same buddhi is what organizes and manages the functioning of our bodies.

If this vastly intelligent buddhi controls the workings of our body, then what is the cause of premature illness, distress or disease? If buddhi is so intelligent, why does it stop working so well? The Ayurvedic answer to this is contained in a very interesting Sanskrit word: prajnaparadha. Prajna means wisdom and aparadha means to offend. Prajnaparadha means, “to offend our own inner wisdom,” intelligence and experience by ignoring (not listening to) the wisdom that lies within each and every one of us. For example, as babies and as children we know when we have had enough to eat. When regularly forced to eat more than we want, slowly we begin to lose connection with our body’s wisdom.

Children start out being naturally connected to their inner wisdom and guidance systems. When parents, teachers, friends, religions and society condition them to behave in a way that is unnatural for them, they will eventually lose contact with the simple and innocent inner voice of wisdom. This inner voice comes from our center, our soul, our atma. Ayurveda affirms that we all have this source of wisdom within. As we begin to lose touch with it, day after day, making choices that are not from our center of wisdom, gut knowing and intuition, but rather from outside sources, we are offending or ignoring our own wisdom. The more we do this, the more we block out the same natural intelligence that guides the planets in space and the meridians and cells of our bodies. Fortunately, when we become aware that our deepest suffering is caused by “offending our own wisdom,” we can become blessed with the desire to free ourselves from suffering. Yoga teachings say this is part of the divine plan.

The Four Principles

When most people think of Ayurveda they think of the doshas or body-mind types. While this is largely part of the foundation of Ayurveda, there are four other fundamental Ayurvedic principles, often overlooked, that relate to the importance of seasonal cleansing. These simple, yet profound principles can change the way we look at our health forever.

The first principle is Prana. It is often translated as life energy and chi. Prana is the life force which buddhi (divine intelligence) directs through specific channels and directions of our body. Prana carries life force through the body energizing every cell of the body.

The next principle is called Agni. Agni means fire. In this context it refers to the fire of digestion or the power to transform food into the cells of our body. When we eat some broccoli our agni must transform it into all the various organs and tissues of the body. This whole process takes approximately 32 days. Weak agni means poor digestion and transformation, which translates into weak or compromised tissues. Agni is not, however, limited to digestion of food alone. Just as the body must digest food, we must also digest and transform emotions, feelings, sensory impressions, thoughts, ideas, concepts — all that we experience through our mind and senses. Consider all that we are exposed to in the unlimited forms of media on a daily basis. The agni of the mind is call tejas, which is associated with the fire-like perceptive and intelligent powers of the mind. When tejas is weak we will tend to experience mental apathy, depression, rumination and unprocessed thoughts and feelings. Strong tejas grants us mental clarity, boldness, creativity, strong intelligence and the capacity to penetrate deeply into any subject or problem.

The third principle, ojas is the essence of our physical being and tissues. Related to the immune system, it is the most distilled substance in our body. Ojas is said to be located in the heart and the ovaries or testes. When our ojas is strong, we have good immunity, resistance to both the onset of disease and to the severity of disease. Good ojas also gives strong mental and emotional resilience and offers potential for good character and spiritual depth.

The fourth principle is called Ama, or toxin. Ama is considered to be the secondary cause of all disease. Ama is caused by incompletely digested food and ingesting low quality foods and toxins such as high sugar junk foods, hormone and pesticide-laden meats, and refined and processed foods. Exposure to external toxins in the environment such as pesticides, plastics, chlorine and fluoride in water, heavy metals, cleaning detergents, air pollution, EMF’s, also contribute to excess ama.

When we ignore our inner wisdom and guidance system, we tend to allow five things to happen:

  • our toxicity (ama) increases in body and mind
  • our fire of digestion and power of transformation (agni) decreases
  • our intelligent life energy weakens and becomes blocked (prana)
  • our immunity and inner strength decreases (ojas)
  • our natural universal life intelligence within (buddhi) becomes blocked by the excess of ama, poor agni, weak prana and low ojas

The Second Cause of All Disease

Ayurveda says the other “original cause of all disease” begins in the digestive tract. Our digestive system turns out to be similar to the roots of a tree. Imagine a tree with a damaged or toxic root system. Most likely its branches, leaves and fruits will be compromised. This occurs in the body also. All of digestion focuses on breaking our food down enough so that the little roots located in the small intestine can absorb nutrients. Once absorbed, all the various tissues of the body can be fed and developed. When the roots of the body become clogged and dysfunctional due to excess ama (toxicity), poor diet, stress or inherited weakness, the early stages of disease begin.

Cleansing gives the body (and the roots of our body), mind and senses a break from constant challenges and the chance to eliminate excess ama. This gives the roots of our inner tree the opportunity to heal and regenerate. So often we unknowingly cause ourselves distress in body, mind and soul. When we regularly challenge our body and mind with toxic substances and foods, our immune system perceives these toxins as little emergencies that have to be handled as priorities before it can create inner balance and handle potentially more serious immune challenges. In other words, toxicity can become a chronic distraction to the immune system. When we remove the burden on the digestive tract, nervous system, and mind and senses, our system has the chance to heal and restore itself. As ama decreases, our prana, agni and ojas increase. We begin to feel more like ourselves — connected to our buddhi inner wisdom.

The Ayurvedic Cleansing Approach

Ayurveda promotes a very balanced approach to cleansing that does not recommend severe cleanses unless one is very ill. Generally, a gradual, steady approach over a number of days, weeks or even months is most appropriate. Trying to “hurry up and cleanse” so you can be immediately healthy and balanced is similar to trying to “hurry up and meditate.” Ayurvedic cleansing should be gradual and incremental to avoid severe detox reactions that can cause too much stress on the body. Sometimes in overly aggressive cleansing, benefits gained physically or mentally are quickly lost.

While the goal of cleansing can be eliminating symptoms of illness or disease, it is also about improving the long-term quality and vitality of our lives. During a cleanse it is of paramount importance to lightly exercise, meditate, and look within. Strengthening and balancing the nervous system is essential to successful cleansing. Pranayama, or full breathing exercises, help to increase prana and decrease ama, which helps to clear energy blocks to buddhi and gives us the energy to make important changes in our lives. Wonderful deep realizations, healings and understandings often occur during a cleanse. It is also vitally important to avoid any shock to the body by coming off the cleanse gradually.

According to Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, spring, early summer and fall are the best times to cleanse. To do a deep cleanse on your own often requires the support of a health practitioner or group, however, anything done to relieve the burden on our body, mind, senses and soul will often bring immediate relief, substantial results, and is always a great preparation for a deeper cleanse. So this spring and summer you can begin your cleansing process by decreasing or eliminating high ama or toxic foods and substances such as refined sugar, refined grains, heavy meats such as beef or pork, and of course, going organic as much as possible. Drink plenty of filtered or spring water. Since spring and early summer is the season most related to the liver, it is a great time to focus on cleansing and rejuvenating this very important organ. Eat lots (70% or more) of leafy green veggies with each meal. It is a great time to add a green phytonutrient drink a couple times a day in water or as a smoothie.

Adding extra vitamin C and sipping dandelion and milk thistle tea benefits the liver and blood. For your mind and senses, try a media fast for a few days or even a week or two! This gives your nervous system and mind a chance to process, digest and eliminate so much of what we have taken into our consciousness over past months. For your body, mind and soul, get massage, do pranayama (yoga breathing), dance, pray, chant, meditate, do yoga and go for walks while consciously breathing. A little cleansing goes a long way in assisting us to align with our wisdom and with the positive, uplifting energies of spring and summer. Remember, when we heal, the world heals.

Jonathan Glass, M.Ac. is a master acupuncturist, Ayurvedic practitioner, herbalist, massage therapist and hypnotherapist. He is the founder of the Healing Essence Center in West Concord, MA, where he leads the Total Life Cleanse, a 12-day, 21-day and 9-week Ayurvedically-oriented cleanse and rejuvenation program. He can be contacted at 978-369-9228. E-mail or visit