The words detoxification, cleansing, and purification have similar meanings. Merriam-Webster defines them as the removal or extraction of contaminants or impurities, ridding dependencies or addiction, purifying morally or spiritually, ethnic or social purification, and promoting health.
In today's fast-paced world, we are surrounded by many unhealthful physical, mental, and emotional toxins, impurities, and energies. Toxins are any substance that can be poisonous or cause adverse health effects. Toxins can be to food, drugs, alcohol, metals, chemicals, pollutants, artificial food ingredients, and pesticides, as well as emotional trauma.
Toxicity may depend on the dosage, frequency, or potency of a substance and can have an immediate onset of symptoms such as weight gain, constipation, sluggishness, sneezing, swelling, or itchy eyes, and can contribute to and cause long-term illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, cancer, and arthritis. There is no practical way to protect yourself from all the toxins in the environment, but you can counteract many with self-education, awareness, and presence, along with positive lifestyle choices.
The body naturally detoxifies itself physically through the excretory system (skin, liver, lungs, large intestine, and kidneys). It removes mental, emotional, and spiritual toxins with mental and spiritual practices.
According to Ayurveda (the Indian holistic medical system), toxins are stored in the body's fatty tissues. Any effective detoxification aims to convince the body and cells to burn stored fat and release impurities naturally. It is not uncommon to experience withdrawal symptoms—especially from alcohol, drugs, caffeine, or sugar—so it is recommended to plan accordingly and work with a professional.
When you start looking around at the many cleanses available, it can seem overwhelming and confusing. We are influenced by our friends and family, the media, celebrity endorsements, and the idea of quick and easy avenues to achieve our goals. It is also important to understand and consider our nature and characteristics and how this process will affect our short- and long-term health.
Many short-term detoxification modalities deplete the body, mind, and spirit—with starvation, laxatives, enemas, colonics, diuretics, and over-exercising—which can over-purify the body, reducing essential nutrients and spiking blood sugar levels, making you lightheaded, tired, anxious, short-tempered, angry, and possibly depressed. This is why choosing the correct purification method is imperative because, without a realistic long-term plan in place, you might fall back into old habits and tendencies.
Ayurveda believes that the ultimate goal in life is to have balance and harmony of the body, mind, and spirit. Ayurveda is based on the five elements (ether, air, fire, water, and earth) found in the universe. We all have a unique, inherent combination of these elements, defined in the three doshas—Vata, Pitta, and Kapha—which are found in our bodies and make up our constitutions (Prakruti). Many factors can cause imbalance, including changing seasons and weather, our specific locations, what we ingest, and mental, emotional, and spiritual input.
From an Ayurvedic point of view, the ingestion of food and positive information creates Ojas (life-sap). But as we encounter and accumulate toxins, the body produces Ama (toxins, metabolic wastes, and emotional heaviness), which stores in our cells and ultimately can create disease.
To keep our bodily processes healthy, we need to have proper Agni (digestive fires). This includes the digestive processes in the small intestine, liver, and gallbladder and how we perceive and digest mental, emotional, and spiritual information. Ayurveda believes that healthy Agni is one of the most important aspects of keeping a balanced existence.
Ayurveda uses Panchakarma (meaning five actions) as the Ayurvedic detoxification and rejuvenation process. It has been practiced for thousands of years and incorporates purification (reducing) therapies and tonification (adding) practices, which safely detoxifies the body, strengthens the immune system, removes toxins, and restores balance and well-being with rejuvenation. This practice is a cornerstone of the Ayurvedic lifestyle. It is recommended on a seasonal basis and when an individual feels out of balance or is experiencing illness.
The Panchakarma process begins with a pre-diet, which reduces the ingestion of heavy and toxic substances. This is followed by internal oileation with ghee or flaxseed oil, which directs the body into the fat metabolism mode, pulling toxins from deep within the tissues. During this stage, you eat a mono-diet based around Kitchari (like Indian risotto). This complete protein balances blood sugar levels and ensures proper digestion as the body goes through its purification. Each day you receive body treatments specially designed for your specific concerns and constitution. These include oil-based massages, medicated muds, dry rubs and powders, warm rice and milk poultices, Shirodhara (warm oil streamed over the Ajna chakra, quieting the mind), nasal treatment, and steam therapy, all of which assist in drawing toxins from the body and moving them toward the colon and the elimination process. Finally, you receive basti (medicated oil enemas), which rehydrate, rejuvenate, and nourish the body's tissues.
My cleansing experiences before finding Ayurveda were varied, inconsistent, and not very successful because of imbalances from drastic measures that I could not sustain. The first time I did Panchakarma was in 2005 at the Ayurvedic Institute in New Mexico, and it was a life-changing experience. Since that time, I have added this Panchakarma to my yearly practices. Each time, I have experienced a deeper body, mind, and spirit connection.