Why Do Yogis Cleanse?

If you do yoga long enough you will notice that you start to make different choices. You may start to gradually lose your desire for foods that make you feel heavy and dull, you may lose interest in relationships that don’t uplift you, and you may find yourself craving simplicity over excess. That has certainly been my own personal experience, and I have seen it happen again and again with my students in my ten years of teaching yoga.  The physical practices of yoga along with the subtle body awareness that build in time makes us more aware of the way we are inhabiting our body, along with the quality of our thoughts and our nervous responses to stimulus and experience. We begin to crave foods that nourish our bodies, we begin to need less artificial stimulation in the form of caffeine and sugar, and we begin to source our energy from a deeper place. So if this is a natural process, and yogis in general are living healthier lifestyles than most, than why do yogis cleanse? Why do your yoga teachers talk about “being on a cleanse” every spring and fall? What are they cleansing and what is the purpose of this seasonal practice?
If we look at the roots of our modern day Hatha yoga practices we see that cleansing the body was considered a foundational practice to asana (physical postures) and that the sages and practitioners that created the Hatha yoga system knew that if the body was bogged down with undigested foods, or experiences, than vital energy could not flow through it easily and the more subtle practices such as meditation would be difficult if not impossible. While the rigorous, and somewhat extreme cleansing practices of traditional Hatha yoga (known as the Shat Kriyas) may not be ideal for everyone, we can see that this idea of Saucha, or personal cleanliness and purity, was given great importance on this path.
Ayurveda, which is the sister science of Yoga, also places great importance on seasonal cleansing during the transitional seasons of Spring and Fall as a way of maintaining good health and powerful immunity throughout the year. Ayurvedic clinics in India, and all over the world, offer what is known as Pancha Karma which is a deep cleansing retreat that you can do with the support of a practitioner and will include a special diet, daily massage and bodywork, herbal supplements specific to your unique constitution and needs, yoga, and meditation. I myself have never yet done a Pancha Karma retreat but many people I know make it part of their yearly health care program as it has helped them to let go of chronic health conditions and enjoy greater strength and vitality.
I myself have done many different types of simple, at home cleanses over the years and it is a practice I find extremely helpful in balancing any tendency towards excess or deficiency that may have arisen during the summer or winter months. The type of cleanse I recommend is one that is nourishing and supportive, while also offering opportunity for a deep release of accumulated toxins at the level of the physical, mental, and emotional bodies. This type of cleansing allows the subtle bodies to become more accessible, intuitive intelligence to rise, and radiant health to be revealed once again.
The type of cleansing I don’t recommend is one that is extreme, meaning that it requires you to stop eating entirely, includes harsh laxatives or purgative herbs, or is done for a short period of time as a type of penance in between periods of indulgence. This type of cleansing does not support deep immunity or stable health and can even create more imbalance. The seduction of these type of cleanses is that they seem to promise quick results. And while very deep cleansing may be what is needed in certain cases of disease and imbalance, this type of cleansing should be done under the care of a professional, and would ideally be customized for your individual needs. I have found that sticking with a more moderate dietary cleanse, along with simple lifestyle shifts, will actually precipitate a much more powerful and lasting release of toxic buildup in both body and mind, and initiates changes that tend to stick beyond the formal period of cleansing.
If you are interested in doing a simple at home cleanse that is safe and accessible to anyone you can download my Simple Ayurvedic Cleansing PDF’s here. These handouts will outline a basic cleanse that is very affordable and can be done on your own.  I recommend cleansing for at least a week and up to three weeks if possible. While this approach to cleansing is deceptively simple, it is incredibly deep, and can be challenging if your nervous system has been overtaxed, so if you can it’s best to find a buddy or housemate to do it with you.
Enjoy the handouts and feel free to contact me if you would like extra support or have questions. I will also be offering a Yoga Lifestyle Coaching Program in 2013 that will go deeper into the foundational daily practices that support the seasonal cleansing routine as well as much more. I am in the process of putting this program together for a January launch and if you are interested please contact me so I can add you to the mailing list.  Happy Cleansing!