Summary: Practical Ayurvedic tips for detoxification and the role it plays in supporting a strong immune system
Ayurveda suggests that toxins in our system prevent it from working at optimum efficiency and ultimately this gives rise to disease.
Get rid of toxins and our immunity improves.
Ayurveda states that toxins arise due to ‘poor digestion’. The term ‘digestion’ does not only apply to food! According to Ayurveda, both food and all sensory inputs and experiences have to be ‘properly digested’. Otherwise they give rise to toxins. Emotional upsets, trauma, stressful experiences, watching violent scenes, frightening movies, even the news on TV, etc. all have to be ‘processed’ and ‘digested’ by the fire of Agni. Agni is the internal digestive fire (in some ways it is similar to pitta dosha).
As Ayurveda places great emphasis on prevention, it is far better to avoid the toxic by-products of a poor digestive system in the first place by following Ayurvedic guidance on mealtimes, diet, lifestyle and strengthening our digestive fire.
Ayurveda has a range of purification and detoxification strategies. Some of these are very simple and can be done at home. Other, more complicated procedures are often Ayurveda clinic based.
Home Based Detox Tips
A very simple step to help the digestive fire or ‘Agni’ burn off toxins is to sip warm water at regular intervals throughout the day. This is fine for most people, but would not be recommended in the height of summer or for individuals with a predominantly Pitta constitution. There is strong anecdotal evidence that this simple step can even remove the toxins associated with arthritis. From an Ayurvedic perspective, the hot water stimulates the digestive fire (Agni) which then ‘burns off’ the toxins (Ama).
Another very simple detox step is to ensure we have regular elimination and bowel movements. Ayurveda suggests many toxins are lodged in our colon as a result of poor digestion. Drinking a full glass of warm water first thing upon rising in the morning also stimualtes elimination.
Triphala – an Important Detox Herbal Formula
An Ayurvedic mixture of herbs (Rasayana) called ‘Triphala’ promotes great digestive health and is an excellent cleanser of toxins in the colon. Triphala is readily available from herbal suppliers on the internet. Triphala contains three powerful Ayurvedic herbs: Amalaki, Bibhitaki and Haritaki. Tablets are nicer to take than the powdered form. It can be taken for several months at a time (before having a short break of a few weeks, then continuing to take it for a couple of months, then repeating this cycle). Taking the recommended dose with a glass of warm water before bedtime really helps cleanse the colon of toxins and helps with elimination the following morning. Maharishi Ayurveda provide a useful leaflet on Triphala (download via link). I have heard an enlightened Vedic Master say: ‘If we are only going to take one Ayurvedic supplement, it should be Triphala – it gives so many benefits’
Fasting for Detox
Fasting can help with the removal of toxins. During a period of fasting the internal fire or Agni gets kinlded and, as there is no food to digest starts to burn away toxins. The maximum length of fast is different for different mind-body types. Therefore a pure vata type should fast for no more than three days – longer than this and the vata element will go out of balance and create weakness, anxiety etc. For pitta types four days is the maximum (longer than this and the out of balance pitta element causes anger, excessive heat etc.) Kapha types can benefit from longer fasting periods without problems. A warm water fast one day a week is fine for everyone and gives our digestive system a rest.
Pranayama for Detox
Yogic breathing or pranayama exercises can help in increasing the digestive fire and also in removing toxins associated with negative or stressful experiences. Bhastrika Pranayama is particularly effective at increasing the strength of the digestive fire – which then burns off the toxins. So pranayama helps detox our system. There are some contraindications with certain pranayama exercises – see precautions in article on ‘Strengthening Our Digestive Fire to Prevent Disease’ before starting a particular pranayama exercise.
Clinic Based Detox – Panchakarma
Ayurveda offers complete detoxification programmes called ‘Panchakarma’ (or the five cleansing actions). Although some of these procedures can be done at home, most are clinic based under the guidance of a trained Ayurvedic Physician (look for someone with a Batchelor of Ayurvedic Medicine degree and clinical experience.) The aim is to first detoxify the system and then rebalance the doshas (vata, pitta and kapha).
What exactly are the five cleansing actions? This really depends very much on the individual and an Ayurvedic professional will recommend appropriate actions. One detox route might involve strategies to loosen the toxins from the underlying tissues (e.g. via ‘oil based’ therapies and warm oil massage), then to enable them to move (e.g. via steam ‘baths’) to the colon, and then to finally eliminate them (e.g. by medicated enemas) from the system.
Panchakarma purification therapy offers many benefits as a result of getting rid of toxins. It slows down the ageing process, helps remove the long term effects of stress, brings more energy to the body and clarity to the mind, promotes a sense of well-being and, most importantly, strenthens our immune system.
These purification procedures can have dramatic results on health and can eliminate many long term diseases – often without the need for Western style surgery!
Other Key Ayurvedic Strategies to Build a Strong Immune System
Or, return to Boosting Immunity with Ayurveda – Overview article