Minimizing toxins, or 'Ama', through Ayurveda
6th March 2018
As a practitioner of Ayurveda, India’s ancient health system, I am going to explain how the concept of ‘ama’ can impact on our health and how we can minimize its effect on us through the art of cleansing.
‘Ama’ has no direct equivalent in modern medicine but can be loosely thought of as ‘toxic material’. These toxins can be created from anything from the excesses of last night’s New Year’s Eve party through to the pollutants in the air. They include: industrial pollutants (dioxins, PCBs, phthalates, heavy metals such as mercury); pharmaceutical drugs; agricultural pesticides and insecticides; recreational drugs; tans fats and poor-quality oils; intensively farmed meats; and refined sugar.
Toxins have damp, sticky, heavy and stagnant qualities. They cause ‘stuckness’ and stagnation. They prevent change, growth and evolution. Toxins can mingle with heat causing inflammation and infection. They can accumulate with cold, leading to growths and blockages. They can irritate the nervous system, leading to clouded thinking. Just think of that ‘heavy’ feeling that persisted after you last had a cold. Remember the last time you were depressed and felt ‘stuck in the mud’. That is toxic ama.
Whichever way you look at it – from a traditional or modern medical view – there’s no doubt that toxins in our bodies are not a good thing. They make us feel tired and sluggish, and, at their worst can cause disease and illness.
We cleanse by helping our body–mind to metabolise wastes so that our whole system is kept in balance and we keep toxins to a minimum.
So how do we rid ourselves of toxins and keep ourselves in balance?
- Love your liver. The liver is the major organ of detoxification. Bitter foods such as green tea, lemons and turmeric can help the body do its job more effectively, as can herbs such as spirulina, chlorella and wheatgrass juice. Aloe vera juice is one of the best tonics for helping our body work at its best. Choose an organic juice which uses the inner leaf to ensure a less bitter taste.
- Drink more. Drinking plenty of water is essential for a detox. Hot water in particular strengthens our digestion and is a great cleanser. Think of washing up: if you have a greasy plate and you use cold water, the fat will simply congeal. However, if you use warm water, the grease will melt away. Drink this freely throughout the day, ideally with dunk of a soothing organic herbal teabag such as Pukka Detox.
- Drink less. You don’t need to completely deprive yourself of alcohol or coffee, but drinking less will help to restore your body and keep you hydrated. Sugary, non-organic dairy and multicoloured-flourescent drinks are out. Fragrant, colourful and delicious herbs are in.
- Keep regular. Eat plenty of fiber-rich foods such as wholemeal grains and colorful vegetables which will help dilute the unmetabolized wastes that have built up over the previous weeks. If you need some help to get you moving, try taking some Triphala, India’s most popular Ayurvedic herbal formulation of three fruits or take some psyillum husk, a natural form of fiber made from the husk of plantago ovata plant, a relative of our humble plantain.
- Cleanse your lungs. A powerful way to cleanse your lungs is to practice a special breathing exercise called ‘the brain-cleansing breath’ (kapala-bhatii). This also increases metabolism and oxygen supply to the brain, awakening the mind and revitalising your whole system.
- Don't deprive yourself. Eating healthily or cleansing doesn't mean depriving yourself. Try swapping main meals across two or three consecutive days with kicheree. The word “kicharee”, in Hindi, literally means “mixture” and sums up this perfect blend of nutritious finery perfectly. Kicheree is a fantastically balancing meal that is light, nourishing and easy-to-digest, harnessing the goodness of vegetables, herbs, spices and nutritious oils. It's perfect food to eat during a period of cleansing.
- Nourish your skin. The skin is a good indicator of how well your body is eliminating wastes. Skin blemishes, such as acne or boils, can be a sign that the bowels, liver and kidneys are not removing wastes properly, forcing the body to remove them via the skin. They could also indicate that your elimination system is overloaded with too many toxins. Herbs such as turmeric, chamomile, nettles and burdock root are known to alter the chemistry of your tissues, bringing them back to optimum function through helping the lymph, liver, kidneys and intercellular fluid rebalance. If you take the herbs with aloe vera it will have a stronger effect, as aloe vera is a ‘carrier’ to the skin and enhances absorption of nutrients by over 200%.
- Self-massage yourself. Another useful cleansing treatment for the skin is self-massage. Rub yourself from head to foot with 100ml of warm sesame oil. Leave on for ten minutes, then wash off in a hot bath or shower. This will dilate the pores, allowing toxins to be cleared through the skin and, by helping congested lymph to return to the heart, enables any residual toxins to be excreted via the liver and kidneys.
- Have a deep steam. Steaming helps keep the pores clear and the skin active, helping the body in its cleansing process. It also helps to increase blood circulation and, through exfoliating the skin’s outer layer, dry brushing also stimulates the sweat and oil glands providing more moisture for the skin.
- Scrape your tongue. Using a tongue scraper first thing in the morning, before you brush your teeth, will help ensure healthy teeth, sinuses as well as aiding digestion. Digestion begins in the mouth as saliva mixes with the food and breaks it down. An excessively thick coating indicates the presence of toxins in the digestive system.
- And Relax. Poor sleep can make us feel groggy, overeat and crave sugar and caffeine to get us through the day. Try grounding herbs like chamomile (try Pukka's Night Time tea) and focus on changing your lifestyle to ensure you get a good night’s rest.