The concept of detoxifying the body has become popular in the modern era. But if we take a closer look, we’ll find that Ayurvedic vaidyas have been touting the benefits detoxification for thousands of years. Unlike modern detoxification goals, however, when using Ayurveda for detox, you are not limited to the digestive system and body — to function smoothly, effectively, and without impairment, the body, mind, and spirit must all be in harmony.
Ama, Agni and Detoxification
If we look at digestion through an Ayurvedic lens, we would understand that finding balance through the right kinds of foods, a centered lifestyle, and de-stressing techniques would all contribute to good health. The Sanskrit word for this harmonious state is Agni, the first word written in the Vedas. Its antithesis is Ama, which points to a toxic buildup. Ama results not only from dietary issues, but also from emotional, mental, and spiritual imbalances. Fortunately, Ayurveda has a prescription that has stood the test of time.
Agni is the cosmic solar principle linked to light, fire, and transformation within the universe.
The American Institute of Vedic Studies explains that Agni is granted a position of utmost esteem because it has a number of important cosmic functions. Agni refers not only to the metabolism of the digestive system of the individual, but of the entire universe, echoing the concept of “As Above, So Below.” In this sense, it refers to all changes, and it stands as a beacon for smooth and unobstructed existence.
In Indian philosophy, in order to know whether the body is well or ill, Ayurvedic healers regard their entire system in accordance with its state of balance, rather than the actions of its individual parts, because nothing exists in isolation. Therefore, when using Ayurveda for detox, it is essential to release toxins not only from the body, but the mind and spirit as well.
Soma: Agni’s Sustaining Fuel
A discussion of Agni and Ama would be incomplete without an understanding of Soma. Ayurvedic therapist Joey Bujold explained that Agni is the cosmic solar principle linked to light, fire, and transformation within the universe. The application of heat leads to purification, cleansing, and transformation.
Conversely, an Agni deficiency leads to the accumulation of undigested substance (Ama). Soma is the cosmic lunar principle characterized by coolness, calmness, and rejuvenation in the universe. It is a restorative energy that builds, expands, and sustains. It is said that an insufficiency of Soma manifests in poor tissue growth, lack of calmness, and ungroundedness.
Importance of Digestion for Detox
The Upanishads teach that we are all food bodies. Digestion is at the center of life, health, and reproduction throughout the universe. Life feeds on life. From an Ayurvedic perspective, Dhaliwal noted, “You’re only as healthy as your Agni, the digestive fire, or the digestive capacity, within the body. Five thousand years ago they didn’t mention hydrochloric acid, but they were able to describe the qualities of Agni within the stomach and the digestive system.”
Agni vs. Ama-Promoting Foods
Ayurvedic practitioner Mike Dhaliwal notes that fire represents the qualities of hot, sharp, light, dry, and subtle. Eating food that has the basic nature of Agni promotes the optimal function of that fire. On the other hand, eating foods that oppose the qualities of Agni impairs the function of the digestive system. Ama is undigested food material with the qualities of sticky, heavy, wet, slimy, and cold. He notes, “Ama impairs the adequate absorption of food particles needed to feed the cells of the body. And, Ama itself becomes absorbed through the intestines and circulated into the body. This is a root cause of disease from the Ayurvedic perspective.”
Instructors at the Kerala Ayurveda school teach that “When we talk about detoxification in Ayurveda, we are referring to the loosening and elimination of these toxins…in the body. Removing the Ama is the first step of the healing process, though Ayurveda also recognizes the importance of rejuvenating the systems and bringing them back into balance.”
Ayurveda for Detox
There are various means of detoxifying the body and getting rid of Ama, or toxins. There are many different natural therapies, approaches and practices that have been used in Ayurveda for detox purposes for thousands of years.
One of these is Panchakarma, which comprises five therapeutic actions that can be taken without damaging or weakening the system. In Sanskrit, pancha means five and karma means action. The goal of Panchakarma is not just to remove physical toxins, but to also restore the mind-body system to a healthy state of balance on all levels – including the mind and emotions. Panchakarma can help flush out toxins from all three doshas: vata (lower body), pitta (middle body) and kapha (upper body); and relieve blockage and congestion throughout the body.
Purvakarma, translated from Sanskrit to English, means first or foremost action. These are a set of actions, or therapies in this case, taken by ayurvedic practitioners to help a patient release toxins and balance the doshas. These therapies are performed before the aforementioned panchakarma treatments.
Snehana for Detox
Another means of dealing with Ama is through Purvakarma, beginning with Snehana (oleation). This process, according to the Kerala Ayurveda school, consists of saturating the body with herbal or medicated oils, or ingesting ghee or medicated oil. One can also receive vigorous massage over the whole body with herbalized oils. These practices help loosen Ama and move it from deeper tissues into the GI tract, where Panchakarma therapies can eliminate it.
Swedana for Cleansing
After the massage, Swedana (sweating) is performed to dilate the channels and thus remove Ama. Sweating can be induced by localized application of steam, along with herbal decoctions and oils, or steam may be applied evenly to the whole body (except the head) in a sweat box. This method is often followed by herbal plasters and poultices, called upon to help draw toxins out of the pores of the skin.
Shirodhara for Relaxation
Purvakarma involves Shirodhara, a deep relaxation method to restore harmony of the doshas. Shirodhara consists of pouring warm oil in a slow, steady stream on the forehead. It pacifies Vata, calms and nourishes the central nervous system, promotes relaxation and tranquility, and improves mental clarity and comprehension.
Other Methods of Natural Detoxification
Other methods of natural detoxification that are not outlined in panchakarma or purvakarma but have applications in Ayurveda and beyond include simple lifestyle tips that can be practiced at home.
Lemon and Lime Water
Other Ayurvedic detox modalities include starting the day off with a glass of lukewarm water flavored with a fresh slice of lemon or lime. According to Catherine Guthrie, Yoga Journal, warm water stimulates the gastrointestinal tract and peristalsis — muscle contractions of the intestinal walls of the bowels. Second, lemons and limes are high in minerals and vitamins and help loosen Ama.
Using a tongue-scraper in the morning is also beneficial. Ayurveda interprets “tongue fuzz” as a sign of undigested Ama. Scraping the tongue not only rids it of accumulated Ama, but also unearths the taste buds, awakening the gastric fire for another day of eating and nourishment.
Lastly, there’s meditation, the timeless practice that settles the mind and clarifies thoughts. Meditation clears the Ama of the mind and spirit, from which the body springs forth. There are various ways to practice meditation, and all have their specific benefits, depending upon what you wish to achieve.
While Ama can present a challenge, and detoxification may be a helpful way to boost health, it’s best to do so under the instruction of a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner. With professional help, you’ll find what’s right for your dosha and particular symptoms, rather than rely on guesswork. Oils treatments, massage, diet, meditation and more all can be affective approaches when using Ayurveda for detox.