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What is Ama?

The Importance of a gentle, detoxifying Spring Cleanse

Ah, it’s springtime. The air is warming, the plants are blooming, the birds are chirping, and the neighbors are in the midst of a deep household spring cleaning. But what about our bodies? As everything around us begins again, doesn’t it make sense to give our bodies the same opportunity? With Ayurveda, we have guidance on how to do so. By detoxifying the body and eliminating ama through a Spring cleanse, we too can feel alive and fresh in our bodies once again.

To understand ama, it’s helpful to first become familiar with its opposite, agni. Ayurveda describes agni as a primary pillar of one’s health. Agni, which translates as “fire,” might be best understood as the digestive system or the fire of digestion, but it represents far more than that. Though agni is certainly responsible for digestion, it’s also the intelligence that resides in the cells of the body. It’s this intelligence that enables the body to know which substances are nourishment for the body and which are waste. Thanks to agni, we have access to life and vitality. Without it the body is subject to disease and imbalance, all of which is the result of ama.

Ama 101

Ama is essentially the toxic buildup of undigested waste that has accumulated as a result of impaired agni, or impaired digestion. Improper dietary and lifestyle habits leads to accumulation of ama in the body. Ama weakens our digestive fire and diminishes our natural ability to cleanse the body of waste. Agni, on the other hand, is comparable to a forest fire which is a critical aspect of overall forest health. By clearing dead trees, leaves, and other excess vegetation from the forest floor, a fire prevents build up, keeps a forest in balance and allows new plants to grow and thrive. Agni in the body is similar to a forest fire in that it “burns up” what is no longer needed in the body so that the doshas stay in balance and in good health.

Though diet is strongly correlated with agni, our ability to digest can also be impacted by our emotional experiences, environment pollutants, and other substances we come in regular contact with. For example, lotion is a common product people regularly put on their skin. Lotion is pulled into the internal environment of the body and must be digested in a similar way as food. Unfortunately, unlike Ayurvedic body oils, lotion often comes with excess gunk that can impair agni in the body’s cells and lead to ama build up in the long run.

Emotions, environmental toxins, beauty products, and medication are all things that must be processed by the body. When there’s excess and the body is without the nourishing fuel (found in diet and lifestyle habits) it needs to do its best job, ama develops.

Signs and symptoms of ama

  • Sinus congestion

  • Indigestion

  • Constipation or sticky, dense stools

  • Mental confusion

  • Grogginess or fatigue

  • Excessive gas and bloating

  • Diarrhea

  • Coated tongue or swollen body

  • Depression or other mood disorders

What causes ama buildup?

  • A poor diet that includes processed foods, an excessive amount of food that doesn’t allow the body enough time to fully digest, or eating foods that are out of sync with the seasons or are unsupportive to one’s dosha

  • Inadequate sleep or excessive stress and busyness that inhibits the body’s ability to build a strong, digestive fire

  • Repressed or unresolved emotional trauma

  • Excessive sleeping and stagnation or lack of exercise

Detoxifying the body

It’s normal to have a certain amount of ama in the body, and like a filter, the body is designed to regularly eliminate ama. It’s fairly easy to clear ama from the digestive tract, but it’s important to give our bodies opportunities to clear it out. Otherwise, ama builds overtime and begins to seep into the deeper tissues of the body where it becomes more difficult to eliminate. Build up suppresses cellular communication and weakens the body’s immune response by clogging individual cell membranes.

When ama is buried deeply in the body, it becomes the root cause of all disease and illness. It’s especially critical to detoxify the body in this era because our bodies are inundated with an incessant stream of stressors and processed products, and the body just simply can’t keep up. Thankfully, there are many ways we can support the body in clearing ama. One of the best ways to do so is to participate in Ayurvedic cleanses, which usually happen at the onset of Spring and Fall.

Cleanses are a vital part of an Ayurvedic lifestyle. The primary goal of a cleanse is to rid the body of ama and increase the strength of agni, but a cleanse also provides a host of other benefits including a greater sense of energy, more clarity in one’s life, a greater sense of calm, regular stool elimination, and a greater ability to recover one’s overall natural state of balance.

Spring cleanse

The month of May is a perfect time for a “spring cleaning” of the body by providing a deep cleaning and clearing of our internal landscapes. An Ayurvedic cleanse gives the body an opportunity to move toxins and excess vata, pitta, and kapha from the body’s tissues and into the digestive tract where they can be properly removed. Cleanses typically range from 3 days to 21 days and are broken up into three main parts: preparation, active cleansing, and reintroduction. The cleanse is then usually followed by a longer period of rejuvenation.

The majority of the detoxification process occurs during the active cleansing phase and involves eating a monodiet of grains, kitchari, cooked vegetables, and plenty of water. This is also the time to reduce or eliminate processed foods, caffeine, alcohol, and other ama-producing foods and products. Some choose to also add in specific lifestyle habits like early rising, yoga, self-massage, meditation, and other Ayurvedic practices that support the body even more through the cleansing process.

The most important thing to remember when participating in an Ayurvedic cleanse is that the primary intention is to support the body by creating opportunity for it to thrive, rather than punish it by seemingly “taking away” pleasurable foods or experiences. Wherever you’re at in your journey of exploring Ayurveda, be gentle and understanding of your needs and know that you have plenty of time to work toward optimal health. Small steps ultimately lead to massive change.

If you’d like to read more about Ayurvedic spring cleanses, including specific guidance depending on your dosha, click here.

Spring into Health!

Spring invites us to open the windows, air out the house, observe the plants and animals as they emerge and stretch with vitality and vibrancy, and especially to love and care for our bodies. Our bodies are hardwired for optimal health, and we can support them in doing what they already know how to do by cultivating a supportive environment. Ayurvedic cleanses are a powerful way to strengthen the body, especially during this time of year. By nourishing ourselves with diet and lifestyle habits, we too can be present in this season with a sense of joy, lightness, and vitality.

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