Spring is traditionally a time for cleaning out your dressers and attics and in Ayurveda, one of the oldest medical systems in the world literally meaning the science of life, it’s also a time to clean out your body.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of extreme cleanses because I do believe in the body’s natural ability to heal and cleanse itself...in the right environment of course. Meaning that you can’t be filling your body with chemicals and crappy food and then expect it to cleanse and restore itself.
The first step in cleansing your body is to to clean up your diet and, with as much as 90-95% of cancer diagnosis attributable to lifestyle and environmental causes, this is a great place to start. A classic Ayurveda dish for cleansing the body is kitchari (kit-cha-ree). This dish is often recommended when going through a deep systematic cleanse called Panchakarma. It’s easy to digest and packed with spices that support the digestive system. It’s also very customizable based on different digestive needs or issues.
A simple cleanse would be to follow a mono diet of kitchari for a couple of days, then begin adding vegetables to the dish and slowly introduce other foods.
Take up to two days with each new food that you add into your diet to give yourself time to notice your body’s reaction to the food and allow any sensitivities to surface.
Cleansing your body is viewed as a weakening of the system because calorie intake is lowered in order to spend less energy on digestion. Foods, herbs, spices and other internal practices are used to purge toxins and cleanse the digestive tract.
When the cleanse is complete or at any other time when the body has been depleted as in illness or aging, Ayurveda recommends restoring balance by rebuilding and restoring the body through the Rasayana.
Rasayana is one of the eight branches of Ayurveda and it encompasses anti-aging and longevity practices. Rasayana includes lifestyle practices, meditation, digestive health, and incorporating foods and herbs that are known to strengthen the tissues of the body, promote a stronger immune system, and restore health while slowing the aging process.
Rasa, in Ayurveda, is the plasma or the primordial tissue of the body and whatever improves the rasa is considered to be a rasayana. The word rasayana literally means, the path that rasa takes.
Plants that are considered to be rasayans are said to have the following properties according to Ayurveda:
I was inspired to write about rasayana today by a conversation I had with a woman my age, her early 50s, who is having some significant issues with moving her body.
She has noticed that she is quickly losing muscle tone, and feeling weaker. She reminded me of how often I meet people who think they are too old to improve their physical health, to increase their strength, or who believe that many of the physical limitations they live with now are just a part of aging or their “new normal” and there's nothing they can do about it.
Well, I am here to assure you that from both an eastern and a western approach to health, you are never too old to strengthen your body and improve your health. Rasayana, is not only a practice for those who are ill and trying to recover, but it’s also a practice for those who are healthy and want to remain strong and live a vibrant life. So it’s really for everyone.
It's important to prepare your body for restorative treatments by cleansing the body first. Nourishing your body with wholesome foods, mostly fruits and vegetables, helps to strengthen your body’s ability to heal itself.
A simple cleanse can consist of a week of eliminating sugar, alcohol and any processed foods from your diet while focusing on eating as many fruits and vegetables and you can. If you know a little bit more about cleansing or you want to go a little deeper that’s fine too, but starting simple is all you need.
While you’re eating this cleansing diet, it’s also important to stimulate the lymphatic system by practicing daily, vigorous, self massage (known as abhyanga). Apply a warm, non-perfumed oil like sesame, coconut, or olive oil to your body each morning before showering. Then use a good amount of pressure and friction, rubbing yourself as if you were cold and trying to warm up. Use lengthwise strokes on your limbs and circular strokes on your torso.
In Ayurveda, an additional step in preparation for rasayana is the cleansing of the internal organs. There are many places you can go to receive panchakarma which is an intense and often expensive traditional Ayurvedic cleanse.
However, you can also do a simplified version of some panchakarma treatments at home. This is a suggested part of the ritual for rasayana but if you’re not comfortable with any of these practices than don’t do them yourself.
Some things you can do at home are to cleanse the large intestine by using an enema or by using products you can purchase over the counter at your local drugstore, just as you would in preparation for a colonoscopy or other similar procedure.
You can cleanse the respiratory passages with a practice called nasya which is lying down with your head tilted back, and then dropping one to two drops of medicated oil into your nostril. Close off the other nostril with your finger and then deeply inhale the oil into the sinuses. Repeat in both nostrils. Many ayurvedic companies make nasya oils, or you can just use a good quality olive or sesame oil. This is also a great practice if you suffer from allergies or chronic sinus infections.
There are a couple of other traditional ayurvedic practices but they’re pretty intense and involve things that could cause harm if you don’t know what you're doing so please leave those for a trained professional.
Also, during this preparatory stage it’s good to incorporate daily meditation even if it's just for 5 minutes. At the very least, try to reduce stress and overexertion so you can feel calm and connected with yourself. Going through this preparatory stage is important to get your body ready for the rebuilding process.
Of course that doesn’t mean its mandatory or that restorative herbs won't be beneficial for you if you just start using them. So don’t let the idea of cleansing for a week stop you from incorporating restorative herbs into your life.
Although there are many rasayana herbs we’re going to look at 3 easy to find rasayanas.
One of the most well known and most effective rasayanas is chyawanprash. Chyawanprash is literally the stuff of legends in Ayurveda. The story goes that an old sage named Chyawan was meditating in the forest when a young girl was dancing by him and accidentally touched his head which then obligated her to marry him. In order to please his new young wife, Chyawan sought out a combination of herbs to restore his youth and vitality. This combination of herbs over the centuries came to be known as chyawanprash.
You can find chyawanprash made by many different companies with each recipe varying the 20 to 40 herbs that comprise this rasayana.
Traditionally Chyawanprash includes amalaki, pipali, ashwagandha, and cardamom, among others are mixed into honey or jaggery to create a type of jam.
You can mix a teaspoon of this jam into warm water and make a tea of it or eat it by the spoonful or even put it on toast or crackers. Chyawanprash can be taken daily, its packed with vitamin C and its considered one of the most powerful rasayanas in Ayurveda.
It is said to strengthen the immune system, rejuvenate the body and mind, stimulate the metabolism and to support the respiratory system. It's actually quite tasty and easy to incorporate as a daily supplement.
Amalaki, one of the main ingredients in Chyawanprash is a powerful rejuvenative and detoxifying herb in it’s own right. It is good for all doshas, but it is especially helpful for people who have a of of heat or what's known as Pitta in their bodies. This can present as inflammation, diarrhea, heartburn, or rashes to name just a few symptoms.
Amalaki powder is made from the fruit of the amla or amalaki tree and it is one of the three ingredients in Triphala which is a renowned bowel tonifier in Ayurveda.
Amalki strengthens tissues especially, bones, teeth and hair, it also relieves inflammation of the stomach and the colon according to Ayurveda. It is a natural antioxidant and the main source of all of the vitamin C found in chyawanprash. In Ayurveda it is used to support the functioning of the liver, spleen, heart, pancreas and lungs and to support the regulation of blood sugar. It is used as an expectorant, to reduce frequency of headaches and to improve memory.
In scientific studies, amalaki has been shown to be antioxidant, antimicrobial, to improve hyperacidity, improve cholesterol levels, and to have antitumor effects by increasing natural killer cell activity in tumor bearing rats.
Amalaki is a cooling herb with a sweet post digestive effect or vipaka. In Ayurveda it is this sweet taste in food and herbs that has a restorative effect on an energetic level. This is not applicable to sugary foods, but foods with a natural sweetness like fruit or grains. Sweetness can be likened to love in Ayurveda and we all know that love is healing and restorative.
Finally we’ll look at a rasayana for the mind.
Brahmi is also known as Gotu Kola or Bacopa. Bacopa and gotu kola are actually different varieties of the plant but have similar actions as Brahmi and can be used if they are more accessible than brahmi.
The literal meaning of Brahmi is “which expands consciousness” or “what gives knowledge”. Throughout history brahmi has been known by different names in Hindu texts that have meanings ranging from “liked by the gods” and “good for mental work” to “arrests old age”.
Brahmi is a brain tonic. It has sedative actions on the brain. It’s used in Ayurveda to relieve anxiety and insomnia and to improve memory. Chemo brain or not, most of us could use that. In scientific studies, brahmi has been shown to have anticancer, anti inflammatory, and antioxidant properties as well as to improve learning ability.
In The Yoga of Herbs written by a world renowned Ayurvedic physician Vasant Lad, he writes, “Brahmin teas taken with honey before meditation is a great aid in the practice.” and that “Brahmi ghee is an important medicine for the mind and the heart and should be kept in every home.”
Ghee is clarified butter and thanks to the paleo movement, ghee has become tremendously popularized in the west and can be found at almost any whole foods store or purchased on Amazon. Ghee is often used as a delivery system for herbs in Ayurveda because you can cook the herbs in ghee to extract the fat soluble components and infuse the butter which is called a medicated ghee. You can easily find medicated ghees with a Google search.
Because ghee is a clarified butter and has the milk solids removed from it, both Ayurveda and scientific studies have shown that up to 10% of daily calories taken from ghee does not seem to have a negative impact on serum cholesterol levels. In fact taking medicated ghees may even help to improve cholesterol profiles. That being said, especially if you have high cholesterol, always check with your doctor before you incorporate something new into your diet that may adversely affect your health.
This should set you up with a nice, gentle spring cleanse and rejuvenation routine that you can start today. Ayurveda is such a beautiful science and herbs are nature's powerful medicines, so when you hear about the effects these herbs have you may think they’re too good to be true. The fact is that these plant medicines healed and supported people for many thousands of years before pharmaceutical companies decided to try to duplicate, magnify, standardize and patent many drugs based on what plant medicines could do.
Even the chemotherapy drugs taxol and taxotere were initially derived from the bark of an evergreen tree named the Pacific Yew. Never underestimate the power of natural medicine, and be sure to check with your physician before you take a new herb especially if you are already taking other medications.
For more information on spring renewal, check out this guide from my favorite Ayurvedic herb company
Until next time,
Let Your Lifestyle be Your Medicine,
Subscribe to The Breast Cancer Recovery Coach Podcast for more insights on creating a healthy life after breast cancer.
Get instant access to my best tips and strategies to thrive during and after your breast cancer treatment.
Enter your name and email below so I know where to personally send your download link...