9 Practices for Seasonal Detoxification

by: Sheila Patel, M.D.

Many traditional cultures give particular significance to the changing of the seasons by organizing celebrations and rituals around these times. The practice of honoring these times of transition is an opportunity for people to reflect on the prior months and look forward to what lies ahead.

According to the Ayurvedic tradition, just as the natural world transforms with each changing of the seasons, so, too, does our mind-body physiology. The environment is our extended body, and therefore changes that are occurring outside of our bodies are also occurring inside of them. During these periods, it’s common for certain energies within us to become aggravated and contribute to disease or illness. In addition, imbalances in our diet and lifestyle may manifest in more noticeable symptoms.

Return to Balance

As we transition into the autumn season in the Northern Hemisphere (and springtime in the southern half of the planet), it is an ideal time to sit back and reflect on what may be out of balance in our lives, then take steps to restore our equilibrium. Ayurveda recommends a seasonal cleansing, purification, and renewal process in which we eliminate whatever physical and emotional toxicities we have accumulated, allowing our mind-body to return to a natural state of balance and health. After we’ve released the stored toxins that prevent the free flow of energy and information throughout our entire physiology, we can engage in practices of rejuvenation that nurture our vitality and wellbeing.

A Detoxification Program You Can Do at Home
Recognizing the value of regular cleansing and rejuvenation, the Chopra Center offers the Perfect Health program, which includes a simplified natural diet, daily Ayurvedic massage treatments, herbal supplementation, a mind-body medical consultation, meditation, and yoga. Some guests return regularly for seasonal cleansing and renewal, and others come to restore their balance after a major life change. By participating in this process in a loving and supportive environment, guests find that they can reawaken their body’s inner healing abilities. After a week of immersion into self-awareness and nurturing, they feel more balanced, invigorated and prepared to re-engage in their daily lives.

If you’re unable to join us at the Chopra Center, you can benefit from an at-home cleansing and rejuvenation retreat for your own self-care. We suggest that you allocate a week or at least an extended weekend to disengage as much as possible from the outside world.

Many people prepare by stocking up on healthy food, getting caught up on bills and errands, and letting friends and families know they will be going on a personal retreat and not responding to email or phone calls. As best you can, create a sacred space for yourself where you won’t be bothered or distracted. Enlist the people directly around you to honor this time by alleviating you of as many duties as possible.

A thorough program of cleansing and rejuvenation includes:

1.) Practice Meditation and Deep Breathing
The practice of meditation and deep breathing restore our mind-body to a place of harmony and unity with our true nature. In many Eastern healing traditions, these important self-awareness practices are the foundation of connecting with our divinity or spiritual essence, which is the source of all healing.

A simple meditation practice used for thousands of years is the technique of observing the breath. You can try this meditation right now by finding a quiet place to sit comfortably. Now close your eyes and put your attention on the inhale and exhale of your breath. If your mind drifts away from your breath, gently return it to the object of your focus. Try this for a few minutes and observe how your body and mind feel both before and after the practice.  You can use this meditation practice during your cleansing and rejuvenation process.

You may also want to explore the Chopra Center’s 21-Day Meditation Challenge, which offers daily guided audio meditations. There are several series to choose from, which you can download and use during your cleanse and beyond. Find more information on guided meditations here.

The Healing Breath
Deep breathing is a yogic practice that is profoundly relaxing and cleansing.  There are many different techniques. For the purpose of the cleanse, I suggest that you practice the alternate nostril breathing technique each day known as nadi shodhana. This ancient yogic technique restores balance to the body and mind. Find instructions for alternate nostril breathing here.

2.)  Release with Mind-Body Exercise
Various forms of mind-body exercise mobilize and move stored toxins out of the physical and emotional body and towards our channels of elimination.  When performed deliberately and mindfully, yoga is a deeply cleansing and rejuvenating practice that also helps us experience the unity of our body, mind, and spirit.

Other mind-body exercises include tai-chi, Chi Walking, and qigong. I would recommend mindful walking or other gentle activities (nothing that demands too much energy like cycling or running – this is a week to renew). This movement can be practiced for 30−60 minutes a day, preferably in the morning and/or early evening.

3)  Indulge in Daily Sauna Therapy
Externally heating the body increases the circulation to our tissues, mobilizes toxins, and dilates our channels of circulation (known as srotas) to facilitate movement of toxicity away from the tissues so that they can more easily be eliminated.

Many gyms or health clubs have saunas; if you don’t already belong to one, you could find one in your area offering a free trial week – or try a day pass at the YMCA or other public recreation center. If none of these options are available to you, you can run a very hot bath or shower to create a sauna effect, or sit in a warm tub.

Listen to your body to guide you as far as the proper amount of time to heat the body. Because there are different mind-body types (or doshas), some may feel ready to step out of the sauna or shower after 5 to 10 minutes, while others can remain for 15 to 20 minutes. Placing a cool, moist cloth on your head reduces the chance of lightheadedness and allows the head to stay cool while the body heats up. In addition, some people may prefer a moist sauna, while others prefer dry heat. Experiment a little to see what serves you best.

Sit quietly and imagine the stored toxicity being mobilized and eliminated.   A quick rinse after breaking out in a sweat allows you to visualize the released toxicity flowing off of you. Drink plenty of water before and after the sauna.

4.)  Enjoy Nutrient-Rich, Fresh Foods

Ayurveda teaches us to use food as our medicine. Choose plant-based, organic foods of all colors and prepare them in a healthy way. The natural rejuvenative phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables neutralize toxicity and restore our tissues and energies to balance.

Ideally, the food you ingest during your cleanse should be light to strengthen your digestive fire, or agni. Try steamed vegetables, rice and dahl, and whole grains. Avoid processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and dairy and animal products. Eat slowly and mindfully, paying attention to and appreciating the nourishment the food is giving you.

To facilitate digestion and elimination, make this recipe for sesame bliss balls, containing ghee (clarified butter), sesame seeds, raisins, and herbs with detoxifying and cleansing properties.

Find the Sesame Bliss Ball recipe here. You can enjoy one bliss ball twice daily (morning and evening).

5.)  Treat Yourself to a Healing Massage
Your cleanse will ideally include Ayurvedic massage using large amounts of warm herbalized oils. Ayurvedic massage is designed to free up our channels of energy and circulation, and mobilize toxicity stored deep within our tissues. Massage and hands-on healing techniques energize and rejuvenate us, and have been shown to increase our mood and sense of wellbeing while decreasing stress. If you don’t have access to authentic Ayurvedic massage therapy, you will still benefit from relaxation or other types of massage – whatever feels right to you.

You may also treat yourself to a daily Ayurvedic self-massage known as the self-abhy. Find instructions for a self-abhy here.

6.) Try Detoxifying and Rejuvenating Herbs
Ayurveda recommends the use of specific herbs that can cleanse the organs and rejuvenate the tissues. Some of the recommended herbs include triphala, ashwagandha, guggulu, brahmi, ginger, turmeric and neem, among others. These herbs help by enhancing our bodies’ own detoxification pathways. They have also been shown to contain helpful natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, as well as several anti-cancer chemicals. At an energetic level, they help to balance our doshas as well.

The appropriate doses of certain herbs may vary, depending on a person’s balance and other medical issues. Check with your health care provider or practitioner  as recommendations will depend on your individual mind-body type, medical conditions, and other medications you may be taking.  However, most people can benefit without any side effects from the following regimen:

Triphala: 1,000mg, twice daily

Turmeric capsules: 500mg, 2−3 times daily

Ashwagandha: 500mg, twice daily

Fresh ginger tea: 5−6 servings each day

How to Make Ginger Tea
Ginger tea has a strong cleansing effect on the body, mobilizing toxins and restoring balance. It benefits the digestive system and helps reduce cravings for sweet and salty foods. Prepare ginger tea by adding one teaspoon of grated or sliced fresh gingerroot to a cup of hot water. We encourage you to get a thermos bottle so that you can sip ginger tea throughout the day.

7.)  Get Plenty of Rest
Our mind-body has an incredible system of detoxification and self-healing, and by removing ourselves from some of the daily stressors and distractions in life for a short while, we can enhance our innate healing powers. Each day, take some time for yourself to sit and rest in a peaceful environment.  Consider disconnecting from watching the news, or spending unnecessary time on the computer or phone.

Get plenty of sleep each night and take a nap if you feel the need. A lot of our body’s healing takes place when we sleep. Ideally, we should be in bed by 10−10:30 p.m. in order to maximize our natural detoxification process.  Melatonin, our natural sleep hormone, is an important anti-oxidant, and studies are showing that it has beneficial effects on other hormones in our bodies as well as on the immune system.

Bright lights in the evening suppress our natural melatonin levels and make it more difficult for us to sleep; in addition to interfering with the beneficial effects that melatonin has on our physiology at night. It is best to avoid bright lighting and stimulation in the evening. Take this week to develop a good nightly routine. Engage in relaxing activities in the evening to prepare yourself for sleep such as drinking chamomile or valerian tea, and light candles or incense scented with lavender or sandalwood.

8.)  Connect to Nature
Spending time in nature is deeply restorative. Take time during your week to nourish each of your senses with nature’s beauty and healing power. Gaze up into the space of the night sky, feel the wind on your face and the warmth of the sun; listen to ocean waves or a bubbling brook (if you don’t live near water, there are wonderful nature recordings that you can use). Walk barefoot on the earth.

9.)  Keep a Journal
Writing is an extremely useful tool for self-reflection and emotional detoxification. Take time each evening to write about what you have been feeling both physically and emotionally. Note what you are grateful for, and then try to identify things in your life that you would like to eliminate. Write about how it will feel when these things have been eliminated − and also identify what you would like to bring into this space that you will create in your life.

By engaging in regular programs of purification and rejuvenation, you will allow yourself to eliminate any stored toxicity and strengthen and revitalize your mind-body. In this process, you will connect to your wholeness and allow your true and beautiful nature to emerge.

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About the Author

Sheila Patel, M.D.

Sheila Patel, M.D. is a board-certified family physician who is passionate about bringing holistic healing practices into the Western medical system. Before coming to the Chopra Center, she practiced full-spectrum family medicine, from prenatal care and deliveries to ER coverage and primary care for all ages. As the Chopra Center’s Medical Director, she offers integrative medical consultations that combine the best in conventional medicine with the wisdom of Ayurveda. Her special interests include preventive medicine and mind-body medicine, with an emphasis on Ayurveda.

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