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  • Writer's pictureHeather Johnson

5 Cleansing Habits to Clear Ama

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

Your body is continually building up toxins (ama) and the actions you take every day will help to reduce and remove or increase this toxicity.

This is Heather Johnson and you're listening to the Ayurveda Life School Podcast, episode number 94, 5 cleansing habits to clear Ama.

Hello, my friends. How are you this beautiful day? We have been enjoying snow and I just am constantly reminded about the glorious change of seasons and how it is such a beautiful integral part of life and that cycle of life. I love it. Love it so much.

This past weekend, I got to go spend some time with my sisters and my mom for a little girl retreat. And we had a lot of fun. We did some Ayurvedic face masks, did some fun yoga and got to spend some time in the snow. And I just felt like it was such a good rejuvenating experience for me.

Messy Home, Messy Mind 1:00

However, when I got home, my husband had been alone at home with the three kids who still live at home. And needless to say, there was a little bit of buildup of cleaning that needed to happen. Typically in our house, just as a side note, we clean the house on Sundays. We feel like that's a good time. Everybody's home. And everyone kind of participates. I think it's really important that kids learn how to work and clean and take care of their environment. And from an Ayurveda standpoint, it helps to decrease Vata energy when things are in order. It's really great if you can have a schedule on when you do this.

So normally this happens on Sunday but because I was gone, they were doing other things. Everybody was tired. That didn't happen. So I got home Sunday night and I walked in and immediately my eyes are flitting from mess to mess. I've got an eight year old who loves to do crafts and there was crafts all over and there had been fun cooking going on and things were just kind of out of order and in disarray. In that moment I could feel that Vata energy rise.

Disorder increases Vata 02:04

And I thought, Oh my goodness, we’ve got to clean and purge and get this stuff all tidy and organized. So I spent some time today getting the house back in order. And I was thinking about this because we're still in the winter season, but we're starting to move more towards spring. And even where I live in Utah, I'm in the United States, you tend to see this fluctuation between these cold spells and then we'll have a little bit of warmth and then it'll snow and want to go cold again, but we're starting to shift slightly into that spring time.

So my mind started thinking, as I was cleaning this morning, about the concept of cleansing within Ayurveda. I've done a few podcast episodes in the past about cleansing specifically. I did an episode about Agni-or digestive fire, and Ama - episode 90. And I did another episode, number 70 about clearing emotional and physical Ama.

The Need to Cleanse 02:53

But when we start to look at actual cleansing within Iraheta, what that means, what that looks like, how it affects our bodies, there's some really healthy and also unhealthy ways to go about it. And so if you're starting to feel this need to kind of slough off the excess and you're feeling this buildup of toxicity, we'll talk about what that looks like for you. It could be a good idea to just start implementing some habits. So in this episode, I wanted to share five habits for each dosha that they can start to implement, that you can start to implement based upon your dosha or your imbalances, so that when springtime comes, you are ready for a full cleanse because it's not really the proper time of year for a cleanse, but sometimes we just need a little bit of cleanup, a little bit of rejuvenation.

What is Cleansing 03:36

So when we talk about cleansing, we're really speaking about purifying or cleaning out the dhatus, the tissues, which we talked about in some prior episodes. And it's really important that we do this on a regular basis. Just like cleaning out my house. If it doesn't happen weekly, it starts to build up. There's an accumulation that occurs and it's better if you deal with it daily, if you're dealing with it, moment by moment, you're tidying up, you're picking up, you're cleaning up.

And so I want you to just keep thinking of that analogy between keeping the house clean and keeping the dhatus and the tissues of your body clean, because they're really fundamentally the same thing and the same actions. Now, next time you go to clean your house you’ll be thinking about cleansing your body. So that's kind of good.

Ama and where it comes from 4:22

So the reason that cleansing on a regular basis is so important is that Ama, which is toxicity- is in your body. It’s accumulated just from daily actions that you take, food that's not digested, it can come in through things that you take in through the senses that are not fully processed.

For example, you might have had an interaction with someone and it was negative, right? They were upset. They were mad. Maybe you got upset, you got mad. And then that emotion, if you held onto and stored it, that emotion has to be stored somewhere. And it gets stored in the cells and the dhatus or tissues of your body.

Anything that you're exposed to environmentally that creates toxicity creates ama. So all the pollutants in the air or things in the water or the food or pesticides or hormones, all of that has to be stored in the body somewhere if it can't be processed through.

Ama creates blockages 5:10

So we want to work on processing it out because when Ama is present in your body, your body is incapable of taking in healthy food. It's like, there's a blockage there. So you might eat the most amazing diet and do all the right things, but your body can't absorb it. It has to remove the Ama first in order to get the benefits of these foods.

We really focus on strengthening digestion because when your digestion is strong, it can burn up the excess Ama. And then we focus on removing the Ama and we do that through cleansing.

3 Goals of an Ayurveda Cleanse 5:30

Okay. So the goal of an Ayurvedic cleanse is threefold.

First, to reduce Ama or toxicity that is stored in the cells and within the tissues of the body.

Second, is to expel or remove the excess dosha. The word dosha actually means fault because it causes a fault or a disorder in the body, when it's in too high of an amount, when it's higher than your Prakruti should be, then that dosha is causing a fault or a problem. It is the fault of the dosha that you're experiencing these negative symptoms or illness.

The third reason that we focus on cleansing in Ayurveda is to lighten the body or the dhatus Typically we're talking about medas or fat tissue because lma and toxicity is stored in the fat tissue. When we have excess fat tissue, Ama has more spaces to be hanging out. So we want to clear that excess Dhatu, which often can lead to weight loss, which is a really nice side benefit of cleansing if it's something that you're needing to do, or that you're interested in.

How to know if you have Ama 6:30

The big question is how do you know if you have Ama? The answer is, typically that we all have Ama in varying amounts. It's very difficult to be completely free of it all the time, but there are very specific symptoms that we can look for that show if our Ama levels have risen. If we need to really focus on maybe more of a strong cleanse.

So when we see things like body odor that is excessive and foul, kind of a sour smell, sometimes really pungent and odorous.

If your breath has a really strong odor. I have noticed over time as I tongue scrape every morning and as my diet has become much more in alignment with my dosha, that my breath isn't as bad in the morning. And I don't think it's ever going to get to where you don't smell it at all. But if you'll notice during the day, if you're having really bad breath during the day, that is a sign of Ama as well. Because we're all wearing face masks all the time right now, I feel like we're more in tune with what our breath smells like. So maybe that's one positive thing of wearing facial masks.

If your bowels are really heavy and really stinky. So when you have a bowel movement, is it stronger smelling than usual? I think that we often believe that it should always be stinky, that you're always going to have a stinky bowel movement, but that's not the case. It typically should have more of a neutral odor. You'll definitely smell it, but it shouldn't be repulsive or really strong. You can also look at if it sinks to the bottom of the toilet, if it's really heavy, or if it has mucus on it, that's a really good sign that you have Ama built up, especially in the digestive tract.

We look for tongue coating. So anything that's on the tongue, a film, it's usually a color might be a white or gray, kind of a yellowish might be greenish. But that's something you would check in the morning when you first wake up.

And then foggy thinking because Ama clogs the pathways in the body, including the mental pathways, the mental channels. If your brain is foggy and you feel like it's hard to focus and you kind of get a little bit lost in your thoughts where you can't remember where you were going. Or someone asks you a question and it's hard to recall that information. That's a sign of Ama.

And just generally feeling poor, feeling unwell, feeling very unenergetic, having a lot of exhaustion or fatigue. Those are all signs that you have lma in the body.

Blocked energy movement caused by Ama 9:00

The channels in your body get clogged. And you really can't function at full capacity if there's not energy moving. That's why we'll often focus on energy flow. Make sure we have a downward moving energy. That's equal to the upward moving energy.

Just this weekend my sister was really struggling with some severe headaches while we were together. So of course I pulled out my Ayurveda bag of tricks, and we were giving her some tea with some feverfew in it, and some gaduchi. And we were working on getting some of those stress things down, using a little bit of lavender. I had her using some Calamus that you can actually inhale in order to open some of the channels in the mind.

Connection between constipation, headache and ama 09:36

So we were doing all these different things and I started asking her questions and it was interesting to see that she actually was constipated as well. And when you don't have a downward flow of energy and it's creating constipation, that energy often will move up into the head and can create headaches. And she has chronic headaches and chronic constipation problems. So it's interesting to see that in action. To see that we've got to have an equal movement of energy going on in the body.

It's like when you get onto the freeway or the highway with all the cars and there's a traffic jam. And so you're trying to put more and more vehicles into this already crowded channel and they can't get on and nothing can move. Everything is stuck. So anytime that you're feeling these symptoms of Ama, you can picture this traffic jam and everything's kind of stuck and you can't go anywhere.

You got to start clearing off the excess. You have to have more people getting off the freeway so that the cars that are coming on have space. So we can think of it in that principle.

Types of Ayurveda Cleansing 10:28

Now there's types of Ayurvedic cleansing that are a little bit different from one another. And so we tend to kind of lump them all together when we don't understand the differences. So I wanted to just explain those and then we're going to get into principles and things you can do for each dosha.

  1. The first type of Ayurveda cleansing is not going to seem like a cleanse to you. It's actually a tonification therapy. It's a strengthening therapy. We call it a Brimhana Chikitsa. We're really trying to build strength. This is in very specific situations, which we'll share here in just a minute. So it's not trying to remove from the body is actually trying to add in what is needed for help.

  2. The second type of Ayurvedic cleansing is a reduction therapy. We call this Langhana, which means lightened, or Shodhana Chikitsa. So these are the strongest types of reduction therapy. It's more the Panchakarma When you think of going to an Ayurvedic center, having a Panchakarma therapy, where they're doing the five actions of removing Ama and the dosha that's in excess. So these are going to be more of a purification. Anytime you see purify, it means it's going to lighten the tissues. It's going to decrease Ama. And the goal is to get rid of the excess dosha, but it's a little stronger.

  3. Now, there is a type that's kind of in the middle. It's called Palliation therapy or Shamana Chikitsa and palliation therapy is where most people land simply because it's milder than the stronger Panchakarma.

About Palliation Therapy 12:30

And it's also going to help tonify, but not as much as a Brimhana Chikitsa. We don't want to have too much tonification if we have things that we're trying to remove, but we also don't want to remove too much if our body's not strong enough for it.

When to tonify or purify the body 12:45

So I'll explain kind of when you would want to do those different things, because doing an extreme version of cleansing is not always the best thing, especially if your body is not prepared for it. It's always important to do a pre-cleansing phase.

So when would you not purify or do reduction therapy? When would you tonify instead, and try to strengthen?

When NOT to Purify or Cleanse 12:52:

  • If you have low Otis. So that would mean your immune system's compromised. It would mean that you have low energy, very low energy and fatigue. It's an excessive low Ojas.

  • So the strength is just not there to do a strong cleanse. If you have a lot of weakness in the body.

  • If you are exhausted

  • If you've experienced a lot of weight loss, so you're underweight.

  • Mental instability. You just aren't able to maintain an emotional balance.

  • If you are over the age of 70, probably not a good idea.

  • If you're very young under the age of five, not a great idea.

  • If you are currently pregnant or postpartum, you do not want to try to reduce at that point, right? You're trying to build a baby. You got to have excess in there.

  • And then if you're recovering from a surgery or illness.

I know after my third baby, I felt so eager to get back into normal activities that I kind of ignored these principles.

I didn't really understand this at the time I wasn't living Ayurvedically. And when I had this baby, I was so interested in getting right back to that pre-baby weight. And so I started doing, you know, really reductive therapy, diets, and exercising, and it was way too much. It took me a lot longer to recover from that baby because I just didn't take the time to strengthen and tonify. That would have been a good time for me to do a notification therapy.

When TO purify or cleanse 14:15

Now, when would you purify or cleanse? As long as you don't have any of those things that I listed already.

  • Look and see how's the Ojas. If you have a strong Otis, your immune system is strong. You have a strong physical structure. You're not struggling with illness. Everything is pretty good with the body.

  • If you have Ama. When we cleanse, we're trying to take out the Am. So you just look for those signs of Ama. Are you experiencing any of those things? They don't have to be excessive. Even you could just have a light coating on the tongue, and then you know that you've got Ama present.

  • If you have an excess of a Dhatu or tissue, usually that means medas or fat tissue. Typically that's what grows in excess in our bodies.

  • An excess of Kapha dosha. Kapha dosha is made of the elements of earth and water. And so it's that heaviness in the body. They tend to go hand in hand with the Medas Dhatu. So if you have too much Kapha, it tends to lead to excess medas or fat tissue as well. But you can just look for even mental Kapha where you're feeling that heaviness, that lethargy in the mind, or in the emotions. Heaviness or lethargy after eating. Any of those digestive symptoms that come with Kapha, the heaviness in the bowels, mucus in the bowels, all of those would be signs of excess Kapha dosha.

Purification Principles 15:20

So when you're working to lighten your body, the focus is on reducing that earth and water and increasing air, ether, and fire. That's why we have to make sure your body is strong enough to handle this, right? We don't want to lighten it too much. It needs to maintain stability with it.

When you're working on purifying your body, the best taste to focus on is going to be pungent, bitter, and astringent things. So pungent means we add spices. We want heat in our foods. Eat bitter foods. We want to have some of the greens, some of the leafy greens like collard greens and dandelion greens. I still recommend that we cook them even when we're doing a palliative or a reduction therapy, because we want the body to be able to digest it. But you want to look for foods that are bitter and then astringent foods.

Astringent foods are going to pull out all the extra water that's in your body. If you ever get confused about what category a falls into, you can just Google what are pungent foods, and you will have so many resources come up the list for you. Just google pungent foods, bitter foods, astringent foods. So that's a really good way to know what foods will help to purify or cleanse.

Basic Cleansing Actions 16:30

You would like to keep your diet lighter, reducing the amount of oils you're adding into your foods and staying really active. Move your body stronger. Yoga practices. Aerobic movement. Spend some time in a sauna or a hot shower to help your body to release through the pores. So those are ways that we can just really simply start to cleanse the body in those ways.

Cleansing Herb Categories 16:55

Then we want to bring in some herbs. Pachanas are a Sanskrit term for an ama remover. So these are herbs that help to remove Ama from your body. They fall into two categories. They can be bitters or pungents.

The way that bitter herbs work to help to cleanse and detox the body is that it actually dries and then flakes off the Ama. So it creates that dryness to the Ama and so that the body can remove it. Some examples of that would be Gentian, Need, or Kutki. Neem is really easily available, and Gentian’s not hard to find either. Kutki is a little more on the endangered list. So we don't use that one quite so much Ayurvedically.

And then some pungent herbs that are good, that help to actually burn up the Ama because pungency is hot. Think of black pepper or garlic or ginger. It's got some of that heat to it. And so those would be things like Chitrak, black pepper and guggulu. So those are some of my favorites to add into foods and to add into your routine when you're trying to cleanse.

Why choose Palliation Therapy?18:20

Now, for a lot of people, palliative therapy is going to be the best way to go. As I mentioned before, because it's a little lighter, it's a less intense purification. It's very effective, but gives you a balance between tonifying and building and lightening and reducing. So you're still gonna see benefit from this, but unlike Panchakarma therapy that would be done in a supervised setting, either with a practitioner, who's guiding the experience while you're staying at home, or if you went to an actual clinic or a retreat to do Panchakarma. With palliation therapy, you can do this on your own.

You can be doing this from your home and still living your regular life, which I think is really important. It's very difficult for us to set aside a big block of time for cleansing, but we can often just implement things into our daily routines and clear some time within our schedules to do this cleansing while we're at home. So I think palliation therapy is fantastic. It does what it needs to do in order to clean the body out and to decrease some of that dosha. Even though it may not take out all the excess ama, all the excess dosha, it's getting us in that right strategy for reducing it and getting our pathways and our channels a lot more clear.

When should you choose Palliation therapy?19:15

So when would you do something that's kind of right in the middle? When would it be good to do that palliation therapy?

  • If you have ama like we talked about.

  • If you are moderately weak, so maybe you're just not feeling quite as strong as you'd like to you're feeling a little bit weak.

  • Your Ojas is low, so it doesn't have to be excessively low. It just means you don't have really strong strength and immunity right now. Maybe you're a little fatigued, a little exhausted.

  • And then you have a Vata nature or a Vata imbalance with Ama present.

So if you fit this category, then palliation therapy is going to be the very best. And this applies to so many of us because we're burning it at both ends. We're doing too much. We are weakening our ojas. We're creating Ama within the body where maybe not as strong as we'd like to be. And we are causing excess Vata. So many people have excess Vata going on in the mind and the body. So typically palliation therapy is going to be a good way to go for you.

Cleansing habits by dosha 20:00

Now, when we start to look at each dosha, let's talk about five things you can to start cleansing that are easy to implement into your daily routine. They don't require a lot of preparation, but they do allow you to start cleansing and getting ready for maybe your springtime cleanse that you're going to do.

For Vata dosha or a Vata imbalance. 20:40

If you are vata dosha you have Vata Vikruti, these are five things you can do for Vata.

  1. First one is add in kitchari to your diet. I did a whole episode about kitchari episode 65, where I talk about that. Kitchari is basmati rice and mung beans with spices and sometimes vegetables added in cooked up as a porridge. So you can listen to episode 65, learn more about that, but you would want to eat your kitchari two to three times each week. I think it's good to add it into your lunchtime meal. You could also do a small portion at night. So adding that nourishment in helping the digestive tract.

  2. Daily abhyanga or self massage with Sesame oil, that's going to be really helpful for Vata.

  3. Go for a daily walk outside 20 to 30 minutes, allow the sun to shine on your face, get your body moving. Get connected with nature. Don't listen to things while you're doing this. Just be in tune with what you're feeling, experiencing, seeing, smelling, and having all around you. You want to really start connecting with the outside world.

  4. Eat cooked vegetables with your meals and avoid raw foods. Put that down on your list. I'm going to have some veggies with every meal. They're going to be cooked.

  5. Eat on a schedule.

Those are the five things for Vata that are going to help them to start to cut down the Ama and start to decrease that excess Vata dosha.

Now for a Pitta or a Pitta imbalance 21:40

  1. If you have too much Pitta dosha going on right now I want you to bring in that kitchari three to four times a week, and you can look for variations on how to cook that for pittas in that Kitchari episode, 65.

  2. Second thing is Metta meditations. It's also called loving kindness meditation. You can do some Google searches on that one, but we want you to start creating more compassion and a heart focus, opening your heart for self-compassion and compassion to others and doing a Metta meditation every day would be very helpful for that.

  3. Having green juice. Taking your green vegetables, blending them into the blender, into a smoothie and drinking those daily. And you want to choose just a variety of green vegetables for that green juice.

  4. The next recommendation for Pitta-add in a liquid dinner. One night a week choose something that you can eat that's going to be soup based or broth based and very simple to digest. Eat that meal early. We're trying to give one night a week that Pitta digestion can really work and that you're not overloading it with a heavy dinner meal.

We always encourage early and late dinners, but this one in particular, we want you to just choose a night, have a liquid-based very simple to digest meal, and this will really help to start to decrease the ama in the body.

  1. And then lastly, include a restorative yoga practice weekly. Choose one day that you're going to throw in a restorative practice. That's going to be really helpful.

So those are the Pitta recommendations.

For Kapha Dosha or imbalance: 23:00

  1. Kitchari four to five times a week. We really want to help Kapha to get that digestion going really well.

  2. Take one day during the week that you fast. Have a liquid fast, one day during the week. Drink plenty of fluids, have your tea, have your bone broth, but we want to do a liquid fast.

  3. Have cooked vegetables and focus on your bitter foods. So again, you can look up a list of those bitters, but it usually includes a lot of the bitter greens and the cooked greens.

  4. Strong exercise every single day. You need to sweat every day, preferably in the morning. So if you can do that first thing, that'd be very, very best for Kapha to help remove ama.

  5. And then add in dry brushing. Dry brushing isn't something we've talked about a lot, but dry brushing will be really helpful for Kapha dosha to start to get the lymphatic system moving and remove ama.

So those are five tips for each dosha that you can start adding in just to pre cleanse your body. To start getting yourself into a frame of mind and to a body state where your body's ready to let go. It's ready to release ama, ready to be more cleansed and free.

I hope this episode is helping you to see that cleansing can be a daily part of our life. Removing Ama should be something we are aware of and focusing on at all times.

Remember, we're trying to avoid those traffic jams.

We're trying to keep the house tidy and keep the body and mind tidy.

And every time that you implement these Ayurvedic principles, you're helping yourself get closer to balance.

Have a beautiful day. We'll talk to you next week.


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