Just as many of us enjoy opening the windows, washing the floors, and shaking out the winter dirt that has gathered into our homes over the winter, now is a great time to consider doing a personal Spring Cleanse, to clean up our bodily “temple.” The universal desire to “Spring Clean” is an intuitive feeling arising from the need for rejuvenation and renewal of our stagnant “winter” bodies.
Even if you exercise daily and “eat healthy” during the winter, most of us feel an ebbing of energy and vitality during the dark winter months. Our bodies tend to accumulate and store fat during the winter, and with that, we store toxins as well. We are part of this planet, microcosms of it, and as the recent Vernal Equinox - which constitutes the movement of the Sun towards its Northern transit within our hemisphere - transpires, we begin to sense that the daylight hours are becoming longer, the sun is shining more brightly, and the weather is becoming more seasonable and warm. With this environmental freshening comes an urgency to also feel a breath of fresh air within our own bodily forms.
So, if you’ve been feeling bloated, tired, are having trouble sleeping, have low energy, or have been irritable, those are all good indications that you should consider a cleanse! A Spring Cleanse is not meant to create feelings of deprivation or extreme austerity, but rather, to increase the feelings of lightness and ease within our bodies, improve digestion and to eliminate the wastes that have gathered in our bodies over the long winter. The results will be improved digestion, better sleep, mental clarity, a healthier liver and gall bladder, relief from dependency on detrimental foods/beverages, and improved/changed eating habits, too.
Now, if you’ve been practicing Ashtanga yoga for some time, you may have heard of the yogic precepts, the yamas and the niyamas - the first two “limbs” of Patanjali’s Eight Limbed (Ashta-Anga) path. If so, consider approaching your cleanse via the first two limbs. For the first limb, yama:
ahimsa - practicing compassion towards animals by eating no meats or animal products; and compassion to yourself if you feel unable to continue or negative feelings arise as you cleanse!
satya - be truthful about what you are eating, that is, if you feel compelled to eat something outside your cleanse diet, consider this as breaking the intention of the cleanse.
asteya - try not to “steal a bite” of a food outside your cleanse diet!
brahmacharya - this may be a hard one, as most Western yoga practitioners are householders and/or sexually active. The modern householder’s definition tends to be “wise use of sexual energy” when it comes to brahmacharya. This is entirely optional, but one could also consider abstaining from sexual intimacy during their cleanse, too.
aparigraha - nongreediness or don’t overeat during your cleanse! Eat what fills you, and from an ayurvedic perspective, this means limiting portion size to approximately 2/3's the size of your stomach. Ideally, 1/3 food & 1/3 liquid, leaving some empty space so that you have room for digestion. Large meals leave you sleepy, while a healthy portion improves your vitality and energy. Eat slowly, too, savoring and taking your time to chew, which will improve digestion, and satisfaction.
And for the second limb, niyama:
saucha - cleanliness, both with what we eat, and what we ingest mentally, too. This means sattvic foods - or cleansing foods! Easting cleansing foods that are light, pure, unadulterated and unprocessed, that are both fresh and seasonal. And, for mental cleansing, we abstain from media (either passive or social) that may also clutter our minds with stagnancy and mental toxins, too.
santosha - contentment with the cleanse diet, cultivating acceptance for the short time of practicing forbearance and tolerance for the limitations of the diet. Realizing that “this too shall pass.” Enjoying and savoring the simple, clean foods and the clarity that arises from eating well and lightly.
tapas - austerity, that is, non indulgence, limiting ourselves and our desires for pleasure for a few days, with the intent to purify mind and body, and also increase our digestive fire, and our mental fire, too, so that we are more physically and emotionally healthy and better able to exist within our world.
svadhyaya - self study, or study of scripture. Using the moments during our cleanse when we are most “triggered” to react negatively or defensively as an opportunity to reflect. For example, when I am feeling frustrated during a cleanse, I consider how privileged I am to have easy access to bountiful food choices; that realization it leaves me feeling grateful - and also, increases my empathy for the many on our planet who are not so fortunate.
Ishvarapranidhana - surrender to a higher power. When all else fails, if it helps, consider that what you are doing, what you are is really just a manifestation in form of the conscious universe, and by simply consuming mindlessly to survive in this universe, you are forgetting your real connection to it. By stepping back for a short time and really using the above precepts around your eating habits, along with all the other limbs, too (for example, cultivating dharana - concentration, focus, the 6th limb of Ashtanga, and doing asana, pranayama and meditation regularly as well) you will find that mindfulness and discernment will increase around not only your relationship to food, but also your relationship to your world.
Using these precepts as a basis for cleansing brings what we are doing beyond simply eating clean and healthy for a few days, into a true sadhana or practice. Do consider joining us in April. Cleansing will coincide with our Annual Practice Challenge, which happens all month - it’s a good time to instill in yourself new habits of both daily sadhana and better self care. If you’re intrigued and want to join in, read on below.
I’ve found that cleansing is more easily done when you are cleansing with someone else - so I can recommend two Options to Cleanse this Spring within the AYN community.
Option 1, for those who are unsure about how to cleanse, and need guidance and help with recipes, you may join fellow AYN student and owner of Valley Ayurveda, Brooksley Williams, as she guides clients through a traditional Ayurvedic Spring Cleanse. You can learn more via Brooksley’s Info Session at Valley Ayurveda on April 5th. I can personally attest that the Valley Ayurveda Spring Cleanse is a very thorough way to Spring Cleanse, and easy, too because Brooksley provides everything you need for your Spring Cleanse in a beautiful Cleanse Kit that makes it easy. Participants follow a monodiet of kitchari for several days, plus practice internal and external “oleation” followed by a purge - and along with that, recommended daily yoga - all of which really helps remove the months of winter gunk from your body!
If, however, the idea of a monodiet and internal oleation causes trepidation, I can offer something that I do usually a few times a year. Let's call it Option 2, “The Light Spring Cleanse.”
What is nice about this Light Spring Cleanse is that it can be done for 3, 5 or 7 days (or ever after) depending upon your own preference, and there is a greater variety of food to choose from vs. the Ayurvedic Cleanse diet. The Light Spring Cleanse is basically a vegan diet that also eliminates processed foods, caffeine, alcohol and sugar. This means eliminating the following foods/beverages from your meals:
-all processed foods
-sugar (no substitutes, either!)
-meat and fish
-nightshades i.e. tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes (optional)
If this sounds rather austere and restrictive, just know that the results of backing away from all of the above for even just 72 hours is akin to bringing your car to the shop and switching out the air filters and getting the oil changed. It hits a reset button within your body. Focusing on fresh plant food is the key - those high in chlorophyll for enzymes and vitamins, fruits and veggies for fiber, and some kind of probiotic (I prefer kombucha.) And of course, water, without ice. Hot water before bedtime is a wonderful thing, soothing and calming. Hot water in the morning with lemon is better than coffee to “get things started” and water throughout the day, too, especially between meals. Consider a gentle herbal laxative, too, to help keep things moving.
If you’ve never cleansed before, than try just three days at first, to give a sense of the nature of cleansing and limiting your access to foods that you may crave and enjoy generally, but that in the long run are detrimental to your overall health. It’s easiest to do this over a long weekend, starting Friday night with a precleanse salad for dinner, and then going vegan for the rest of the weekend and continuing into Monday morning, too.
However, if you have cleansed previously, than consider doing the Light Spring Cleanse for longer than three days.
If you consume a lot of caffeine, I will warn you that the third day may be difficult because of caffeine withdrawal, but if you can, stick it out after the third day, and you will begin to feel better - rejuvenated, refreshed and lighter. As an alternative to caffeine, I highly recommend dandelion root, rooibus, or herbal tea like tulsi or pepperment. In fact, drinking herbal tea, especially peppermint, is really helpful throughout this cleanse whenever you get “cravings” or feel the desire to “cheat.”
You will feel compelled to “cheat” at times - and it’s then that it’s most difficult to continue and finish your cleanse - but don’t give up! Consider the yama/niyama - i.e. satya, truthfulness, and santosha, cultivating contentment/acceptance for what is. If you do cheat, have ahimsa for yourself, and yet consider svadhyaya/self study to determine where the need to “cheat” arises from in you. Then, with tapas/fire of austerity, return to the Cleanse diet for the remainder of your intended cleanse, and burn out both the mental and the physical toxins that may plague you.
Finally, some recipes. I generally use a few tried and true vegan recipes and put them into rotation for a day or two, then switch them out with another few tried and true vegan recipes for another few days. This approach works for me because I don’t become “bored” with the same meal every day. Plus, it gives me an opportunity to explore vegan meals that I have been curious to try. If I go out to dinner with friends, I am usually better able to follow my vegan Cleanse diet without having to feel deprived or experiencing what my kids tell me is "FOMO" - fear of missing out!
I offer a few ideas and recipes below that I enjoy during my cleanses. They are all satisfying and ample.
Breakfast: I don’t eat a true breakfast generally; as an Ashtanga teacher and practitioner, I leave the house early every day after a cup of tea and a tablespoon of unsweetened almond butter on a piece of toast. I don’t eat again until after I am done teaching, then practicing (at around 12:30) so I can’t offer any breakfast recipes - but if you do eat breakfast, consider unsweetened nut butter with a banana, or oatmeal with nut butter and coconut flakes. (Remember: no sugars of any kind!)
Lunch: I usually start with a base of brown rice and add vegetables and some kind of legume or nut for protein. For example, massaged kale, avocado, sprouts, and chopped almonds with lemon and olive oil as a dressing. Or, brown rice, roasted tofu, radishes, scallions, chopped savoy cabbage, cucumber, peanuts, and a soy-ginger dressing. Just consider the rice the blank canvas, then add a variety of vegetables and top with a non-sweetened dressing of your choice.
Dinner: I’ll roast a sweet potato and have that as my “main” with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper, and maybe a handful of chopped toasted almonds or pepitas, alongside a green salad which I’ll top with a tahini dressing.
One of my favorite soups is this Red lentil Split Pea Dahl. It’s so hearty, I usually don’t accompany it with Brown Rice, but if you feel the need, certainly do so! I personally omit the raisins - and I recommend halving this recipe, as it makes a lot!
I also have fallen in love with this Sweet Potato, Chick pea and Kale “Roasted” Salad. It is excellent for either dinner or lunch. Just omit the cheese!
Miso soup with silken tofu and chopped dulse or wakame seaweed over the top is an excellent and light dinner (or breakfast) too. If you need to, feel free to add rice to the soup to make it more hearty.
This beautiful Golden Pad Thai with rice noodles (omit the egg) is an excellent dinner, too.
Another thing I try is to use, instead of the rice base, lentils as a base. For a basic and very reliable lentil recipe, try this one. And then from there, you can top your lentils with a variety of roasted or fresh vegetables and dressings. I love putting avocados on top - try this recipe.
Georgiann offers one of her favorite vegan dahl recipes here, and says, "This Easy Dal from Jae Steele really is easy and delicious and I make it often. The tomatoes are optional if you're recommending no nightshades."
So join us in a Spring Cleanse, and don’t be afraid! (For myself, I'll be cleansing starting April 5th through the following week, but feel free to choose any time during the month of April.)
Happy, mindful eating, and healthy, happy Spring!