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Detoxification or cleansing is at the very heart of Ayurvedic Medicine. In fact, Ayurveda's in-depth understanding and process of cleansing and rejuvenation is quite unique. It gives Ayurveda the capacity to help manage many conditions that are considered incurable or untreatable from an allopathic perspective. To understand why, lets explore the concept of detoxification from an Ayurvedic perspective....
What are toxins?
Toxins are any compound that can harm the structure or function of cells and tissues in the body. Toxins can enter the body through the skin, lungs or through our food and drink or be produced by the body as part of our metabolic and digestive processes. Toxicity occurs when we take in more or make more toxins than the body can eliminate via the main organs of elimination, primarily the liver and kidneys.
Where do toxins come from?
Well, firstly there are toxins in our environment - in our food, water, soil, the air we breathe. There are toxins in our homes and cars - off-gassing from our paints, carpets, dashboards, furniture and yoga mats. There are toxins being absorbed through our skin everyday - from synthetic clothes, washing products, cleaning products, bug sprays, and more than anything, from cosmetics and skin-care products. There are toxins on and in our food - herbicides, pesticides, artificial colours, preservatives, flavours and so on. And there are toxins in our everyday prescription and recreational drugs - including painkillers, cigarettes, alcohol and coffee...
Humans today are exposed to more environmental toxins than ever before (the World Health Organization has implicated these toxins in as many as 60-80% of all cancers), but the toxins that are often over-looked are the ones that are produced by the body itself, those that are formed as a by-product of our digestion and metabolism.
The Ayurvedic view of digestion is consistent with the Western model but describes things a bit differently. Ayurveda looks at the digestion of our food as a digestive fire, called 'Agni' in sanskrit. Agni means 'that which transforms' or more simply, it describes our capacity for digestion and metabolism.
Ayurveda describes 13 main Agnis or sites of metabolism in the body. However, the most important to learn to care for well, is the central digestive fire or 'Jathara Agni'. This fire relates to the digestion of food in the stomach and small intestine, as described above.
So, how do we make toxins? Simple. When our Agni/digestive fire is not working well and we don't digest or metabolize our food properly we are left with 'undigested food waste', digestive impurities or toxins that can be harmful to our body. Ayurveda calls these toxins 'Ama'. It describes Ama as being a cold, heavy, thick, sticky, often mucous-like substance.
Some of this Ama is eliminated naturally, but due to its heavy and often sticky qualities (much like mucous) it accumulates over time in the intestines, liver, blood and skin, circulates through the entire body obstructing the channels and interfering with normal physiological function.
What is the Point of Cleansing or Detoxification?
From an Ayurvedic point of view, accumulation of Ama/toxins and it's circulation around the body along with imbalanced Doshas is at the root of all disease. Which Doshas are involved and which channels and tissues are effected will determine the exact nature of the disease, but it can be as varied as:
indigestion, gas, bloating, acidity, malabsorption, IBS, cough, cold, allergies, sinusitis, chronic joint pain, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar, hormonal imbalance, infertility, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, certain neurological conditions, skin conditions and heart problems. Autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto's or Graves disease, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis), SLE and rheumatoid arthritis.
This process of cleansing, unique to Ayurveda, loosens and mobilizes Ama/toxins (along with accumulated Doshas) not just from the gut, but from their location deep in the tissues and channels of the body. They are then gently brought back to the digestive tract so that they can be eliminated without causing discomfort or disruption.
As a result of this deep cleansing of Ama, you will feel very different. You'll have much more energy, better digestion, clearer thinking and a more stable mind. Your complexion will be more youthful and if you are overweight for your constitution, you will lose weight. If you're suffering from any of the more serious conditions listed above, you will experience a decrease in your symptoms - particularly pain and inflammation.
How Do We Do It?
There are many ways to go about a process of cleansing this Ama from the body, from gentle, regular fasting to a more concentrated and intensive approach that removes Ama from deeper in the tissues and channels over a shorter period.
The Ayurvedic approach to cleansing is unique. The process is carefully structured to remove deeper toxins from the tissues and channels of the body as well as just the digestive tract and is done in such a way as to avoid harmful side effects or depletion that can result from improper cleansing or fasting.
A traditional ayurvedic detoxification program includes three essential components or stages. These stages are done to ensure that Ama and wastes that have accumulated deep in the tissues can be released and expelled thoroughly from the body and without force. The clean foundation that has been established can then be built upon and strengthened without creating more Ama or imbalance.
Step 1: Preparatory Stage
During this time a simple vegetarian diet is followed and herbal medicines are used in order to strengthen Agni and begin the removal of Ama from the gut. This is essential for the following stages to work deeply and effectively.
After following this diet for a prescribed period, a program of therapeutic treatments begins that may include herbal paste massage, pindaswed, ayurvedic oil massage and steam treatments. These treatments are individually prescribed and may be done in conjunction with taking warm medicated ghee internally in order to loosen the Ama from the tissues and channels and move it back to the gut.
Step 2: Toxin Removal Stage
Once the Ama and Doshas have flowed back to the digestive tract (determined by pulse diagnosis and other symptoms) they can easily be removed. This is done through purgation (known as Virechan), medicated enemas (Basti) or nasal medications (Nasya). Again, these primary procedures are prescribed according to individual needs, but Virechan and Basti therapy are commonly used.
Virechan eliminates Ama along with excess Doshas from the liver, small intestine and large intestine and is therefore one of the most invigorating and energising treatments. It is especially beneficial for all Pitta and heat related problems - skin diseases, acne, psoriasis, allergies, itching, urinary disorders, piles, worms, parasites, digestive problems, metabolic disorders, goitre, hormonal imbalances, tumours, fibroids, toxicosis, migraine and chronic headaches, burning in the eyes, stomatitis, enlargement of the spleen, jaundice, liver disease, asthma, epilepsy, gynaecological disorders, swelling, cellulitis, vomiting, seminal disorders, gout, constipation, chronic ulcers and burning sensations.
Basti eliminates toxins from the large intestine and from the deeper tissues. It is the most versatile of the second stage therapies and can be used to treat a wide range of conditions, especially neurological and arthritic in nature.
Step 3: Rejuvenation Stage
The final stage of the Program is necessary to rebuild and strengthen the tissues and organs once the toxins are eliminated. This stage is essential and should not be skipped over as it provides strength and stability to the whole body/mind and helps prevent any recurrence of disease.
Herbal medicines and home treatments may be prescribed and it is essential to continue following any dietary guidelines so that the digestive fire remains strong and Ama is not formed.
The Role of the Mind
It is a fundamental principle in this ancient science of Ayurveda that when your mind agitated or busy, the intelligence of the body that controls all of our internal communications (Prana) ceases to work in its most co-ordinated fashion. This can be seen on a more immediate scale with digestion and elimination being directly affected when we are emotional or distracted.
When we are agitated the confusion in the body works to spread out and drive the Ama and Doshas deeper into the tissues and organs, rather than allowing them to flow into the gastrointestinal tract where they are prepared for expulsion. Basically, a nervous system response is created that works against our efforts! When the mind is calmed, toxins more naturally flow in the directions they should and become centralised in the gastrointestinal tract. So, when undertaking a Cleansing and Rejuvenation Program it is absolutely essential to learn how to calm down in quite a profound way.
Agitation, and its energies of greed, rejection and excessive story telling, are so often unnoticed and unexamined as we hurry through life, albeit with the good intention of wanting to become happier, healthier, or wiser. If we neglect this first and essential step of calming down the mind we will only ever be engaged in an approach to cleansing that is more superficial.
This Program is not just a clean out for the body, it is a Cleansing and Rejuvenation for the Mind. Therefore, as part of these Programs at Mudita we will give you daily mindfulness practices and introduce you to a way of relating to your mind that develops calmness and stability, allowing any difficult emotions or habitual mental behaviours that 'come up' to be more easily released and 'digested'.