Toxins in the body are somewhat inevitable when living a modern lifestyle.
But, do we really need to cleanse and detox to deal with them?
How powerful are our bodies when it comes to dealing with toxins?
In short, very powerful. Our bodies are incredible! When our systems are in balance our bodies can process toxins, not only from our food and the environment, but also from our thoughts and emotions as well.
A healthy mind, body and spirit has strong angi (digestive fire).
But, when our system is not in balance (when we don’t have strong angi), we begin to run into trouble.
In Ayurveda, when the body isn’t able to remove waste completely this unprocessed waste starts to build and is referred to by the Sanskrit term ama.
What is ama?
Ama is the buildup of undigested waste in the body.
It is the opposite of agni, the fire of digestion (for more on agni and healthy digestion read this post).
Ama is most quickly identified in Ayurveda through the tongue. If your tongue has a film or paste on it, it’s ama.
Living from the 10 habits I teach in my Journey to Thrive program allows us to reduce and eventually eliminate ama, while strengthening agni.
So, how bad is it?
If we come into contact with toxins on a daily basis and our bodies are designed to remove waste, are toxins in the body really that big of a deal?
While ama itself is not a specific toxin, when undigested waste begins to cling to our digestive tract we are making our bodies work harder when we do encounter external toxins such as pollution, pesticides and drugs.
Ama in the digestive tract can be eliminated fairly easily.
As long as ama has not moved into the body’s deep tissue and started to accumulate you can get a handle on it. Not so bad.
While mother nature is very powerful, we don’t always make the choices that support her to clear our bodies of toxins.
This can result in a build up of toxins and that build up usually leads to disease. Not good.
What are the side effects of chronic ama?
Chronic ama can result in yeast infections, constipation, skin congestion and acne, lethargy, and an inability to see and act from alignment with our unique dharma.
Essentially, a buildup of ama can lead to disease.
While the side effects mentioned may not sound like disease think of the long term implications.
Constipation for a couple of days won’t kill you, but dealing with chronic constipation is not only uncomfortable it is associated with urological disorders, poor endocrine health, increased risk of colorectal cancer and a slew of other health problems.
Sounds pretty crummy, right?
But how do you know if you even have ama?
Ama presents itself in different ways depending on where it is in the body.
The following are signs of ama beginning to accumulate:
- Buildup in your body’s channels – constipation in your digestive tract, head congestion in your in your sinuses, swelling in your lymphatic system
- Heaviness in weight or mood
- Stagnation in your body or choices
- Muted or abnormal taste, not being able to really detect the 6 tastes on your tongue
- A film on your tongue, bad breath
A simple first step to identify ama is to learn to read your tongue.
While you may want to elicit the guidance of an Ayurvedic practitioner in resolving imbalances, a great place to start taking ownership of your health is by observing your tongue.
Reading your tongue daily allows you to notice how habit and lifestyle changes are influencing your ability to build agni (digestive fire) and eliminate ama (undigested waste and toxins).
How to read your tongue
Each morning get in the habit of looking at your tongue before you brush your teeth.
Look for a white or yellow film. It will be sort of slimy and will come off your tongue when you use a tongue scraper or thoroughly clean and rinse your mouth.
Pay attention to any consistent cracks in the tongue, dryness, swelling or scalloping at the sides of the tongue.
You want to begin to take note of the daily condition of your tongue so that you can be aware of changes to the color, thickness and smell of any film (ama) on your tongue.
Noticing the daily condition of your tongue will help you recognize when changes you are making to your diet and syncing with your biological clock are releasing more amounts of ama from your system.
Simple ways you can reduce ama
Let’s look at what you can do right now to reduce the build up of ama in your body and eventually prime your system to eliminate toxins and optimize cell repair.
- Favor pungent, bitter and astringent tastes in your diet
- Limit sweet, salty and sour tastes
- Reduce iced or chilled beverages and lean toward room temperature or warm drinks
- Exercise daily and consider including practices that focus on infusing the body with prana (breathe + life force)
- Cultivate practice of love and respect for your mind, body and spirit
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep and go to bed before 10pm
- Shift your mindset toward ease and away from stress, as it weakens your body’s ability to process not only food, but thoughts and emotions as well
Finally, Ayurveda is about disease prevention.
When we align ourselves with the Ayurvedic Clock, which corresponds to our natural 24 hour circadian rhythm, we strengthen our immune system and support our body’s ability to eliminate waste, therefore eliminating toxins.
Now, what to do with those advertisements for juice detoxes and cleanses…
Should you detox?
From an Ayurvedic perspective you want to rest your system at least two times on year.
The recommended times to reset are during fall and spring. During these two periods we want to realign our bodies even more closely with nature.
While I’m not a fan of strick detoxes and cleanses, I have experienced the benefits of taking a structured approach to my eating habits, sleep schedule and screen time during these two times of year.
I’ve participated in several Ayurvedic detoxes that were much more about nurturing yourself than depriving yourself.
I recommend that you consider your experience with these types of practices and look for what feels best. I typically discourage an all or nothing mindset. Therefore, I see strick detoxes and cleanses as the “nothing” or deprivation approach and I don’t encourage them.
When it comes to clearing ama from your system and stoking your agni, there are plenty of ways to make gradual changes that will support your long term health.
Photo credit: Arran Smith