AUTUMN DETOX with AYURVEDA: my lymphatic cleanse & Kapha-balancing
If you’re familiar with the doshas in Ayurvedic medicine - Kapha, Pitta and Vata - you might know that autumn is usually considered a Vata season: dry, rough, windy, erratic, cool, subtle and clear. All qualities shared by the Vata dosha.
Especially in the northern parts of Europe the trees are quietly undressing in preparation for the winter. There is a subtle browning of the earth. Temperatures are dropping and the air gets dry.
Well, not so in Ibiza!
Over here, this is the season when the landscape turns unbelievably lush and green. The mornings and evenings are beautifully misty - and very very moist.
Everything flourishes, except my health.
When the seasons change from dry summer heat to autumn it gets rather damp on the island. Unfortunately humidity and I have never gotten on too well.
Over the past few weeks I haven’t been feeling my greatest - puffy, lethargic, tired. And soooo slow… Both in body and in mind, I couldn’t make the simplest decisions.
Every day my nose was blocked, I had mild headaches and a rough voice. Not great when teaching yoga, I sounded like I’ve been partying all night.
Add to the mix really annoying itchy skin, terrible sleep and one very bad episode of nausea (which landed me into ER), and I got to the point where I felt I couldn’t function anymore.
Consulting my Ayurveda books, as well as a thorough research with Dr. Google, made me realize that these are all signs and symptoms of Kapha imbalance - and a CONGESTED LYMPHATIC SYSTEM. When you research the two you will be surprised how much they actually have in common.
The lymphatic system
One of the most overlooked yet significant systems in the body. This expansive system travels throughout the body to remove waste from every cell while helping to regulate the immune system. It includes a complex network of vessels, ducts, lymph nodes, the spleen, the thymus, the adenoids and the tonsils.
Lymph fluid is propelled by breathing and other muscle movement as it is transported through many filtration points known as lymph nodes (which is why yoga, the combination of movement and breath, is considered crucial for a healthy lymphatic system). The lymph must flow freely to ensure that waste products and fluids do not build up in the tissues.
Systemic inflammation creates congestion and swelling in the tissues, which impairs lymphatic flow. Oxidative stress damages the lymph vessels and breaks down their ability to effectively transport lymph fluid and wastes.
Every part of the body can be affected by poor waste removal in the lymphatic system, and as it turns out, a KAPHA BALANCING DIET & LIFESTYLE might be the best you can do to get your lymphatic system moving. The more I researched the more I came to realise that the two go hand in hand.
Symptoms of Kapha imbalance and a congested lymphatic system are almost identical. They include:
Sinus congestion, colds, coughs and sore throats
Stiffness in the joints
Itchy and dry skin
Loss of strength
Excess mucus in the body is the root cause for pretty much all of these symptoms.
If you are experiencing any of these, it may be time to decongest your lymphatic system and bring your body back in harmony.
As with any cleansing or detoxification program, be sure to check with your physician or nutritionist before making changes that are appropriate for you. What I love most about Ayurvedic medicine is the awareness that each and every person is unique. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY’S WISDOM.
Nutrition and lifestyle go hand in hand. But before we address lifestyle, the easiest and quickest for most of us is to start with dietary adjustments.
Here are some essential guidelines:
According to Ayurveda, it’s important to eat freshly cooked, SEASONAL foods that have a balancing effect on the dosha that has become aggravated (in my case, Kapha).
The qualities of Kapha are HEAVY, COOL, OILY and SMOOTH, which are precisely the foods that I used to eat all the time, regardless of the season (mmh creamy cucumber avocado smoothies). But eating foods that neutralize these qualities, foods that are LIGHT, WARM, DRY and ROUGH, help to bring your body back in harmony.
Use warming spices to fire up a sluggish metabolism and support detoxification. GINGER, TURMERIC, BLACK PEPPER, CINNAMON, CUMIN, FENNEL, CARDAMOM, CLOVES - they all add wonderful flavour and feel heavenly nourishing.
Go for LOW FAT and easy to digest. This for me has made a huge difference as I came to realise that for years (centuries) I ate way too much raw and cold, generously drowning everything in olive oil. Yes, healthy fats are good, but if your lymphatic system is congested even healthy oils can have a damaging effect.
When cooking, I’m now using as little coconut oil or ghee as possible. You can even play with substituting water for oil.
Nuts and seeds can be a little heavy too if your Kapha dosha is out of balance. Sometimes I’m ok with them, sometimes my body reacts. Of course they are super nutritious, but only if your body can digest and assimilate them.
Limit dairy products which are mucus forming. Organic goats kefir (fat-free) is my only exception as I prefer probiotics in real food rather than popping a pill. And as much as I love rich & creamy coconut milk, I’m afraid at the moment it’s a no no.
Favour LIGHT & AIRY over DENSE & HEAVY. Foods that embody the light quality are the antithesis to Kapha’s heaviness. Think VEGGIES VEGGIES VEGGIES. If you can tolerate raw fruit and the sugar content doesn’t aggravate candida issues then go for a small amount and limit super sweet fruits like banana or melon.
Minimise SWEET, SOUR and SALTY. Instead go for PUNGENT, BITTER and ASTRINGENT. These are the foods that are super beneficial for pacifying Kapha. Rucola, asparagus, broccoli, kale, radishes, artichokes - the list goes on.
The only vegetables for Kapha to reduce are those that are particularly heavy, dense, oily, watery and sweet, like avocado (unfortunately), cucumber, olives and very sweet root vegetables.
But of course it would be impossible eat a nutritious diet and avoid the sweet taste altogether. Beets are particularly valuable as they help thin the bile for healthy fat digestion, scrub the intestinal villi where the lymphatic vessels originate, and keep the lymph flowing.
When it comes to sweet root vegetables portion size is key, as well as cooking method. If I simmer beets and sweet potatoes on a low heat instead of roasting them until they become caramelised I don’t experience weird digestive issues. Delicious spices like cinnamon certainly help if you get crazy sweet cravings.
Choose WARM over COLD. I’m talking soups, stews, roasted vegetables... Lovely comforting autumn foods. Ideally generously spiced to wake up your metabolism.
Of course if you fancy a salad for lunch that’s perfectly fine, it’s all about BALANCE. The naturally occurring enzymes and bioflavonoids in raw fruits and vegetables help to break down toxic buildup and free radicals while fiber promotes regular elimination and cleansing to keep the intestinal lymphatic system healthy.
I love some bitter rucola but instead of making a cold, green salad I add roasted potatoes, vegetables, some quinoa or organic lean chicken. Spice it up and your Kapha dosha is happy.
Personally I find that raw foods are best enjoyed in moderation and during the day when digestive fire is at its peak. In the evenings my body seems to prefer comforting, warm foods. Listen to your own body, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
KEEP IT SIMPLE. Sometimes it’s a good idea to stick to a mono-diet with just a few simple (but super nourishing) ingredients. Kitchari is a traditional Ayurvedic recipe that can be really supportive if you feel your body needs a reset.
You see, the Ayurvedic approach to cleansing contrasts the cold, raw foods and juices that we generally associate with a detox. It’s kind of a paradigm shift for those of us who are used to raw protocols for cleansing. Yes, raw food is cleansing, there is no doubt about that, but it is also hard to digest.
Ayurveda looks at the whole detox thing from another angle. The theory behind a kitchari cleanse has a lot to do with the concept of food combining and the use of cleansing spices. A mono-nutrient fast gives your digestive system a much needed break from dealing with a mess of different foods with every meal.
For an extensive list of Kapha balancing foods click here.
How to Eat
HOW we eat is just as important as WHAT we eat. I have a tendency towards emotional eating which can easily lead to overindulgence and throw my body off balance. In order to harmonize Kapha I stick to three nutritious meals with no mindless snacking. Lunch is my biggest meal, dinner is light and early in the evening. Eating at consistent times every day is ideal but let’s face it, not always possible.
However, I avoid eating when stressed or distracted. No-body can digest food when stressed, so even when I’m on the go and inbetween appointments I choose a peaceful environment. If that means I have to pull the car over and get my take-away lunch out, so it may be. I’m doing my best not to check my instagram feed or reply to messages whilst eating. So many times I drifted off into mindlessness not actually noticing how lovely my food tasted, what a waste!
For a healthy lymphatic system:
With regards to lifestyle adjustments, there are a few things you might find extremely beneficial. Not just to balance your Kapha dosha and detox your lymphatic system, but for a balanced life in general.
Detox your environment
It’s important to reduce your exposure to chemicals not just in food, but also in personal care products. Yes I’m talking creams and lotions, shampoo, toothpaste, cleaning products, laundry detergents etc. Think about it, your skin is your body’s largest organ. Whatever you put on goes straight into your bloodstream, so make conscious choices. I recently heard on an Ayurvedic podcast: if you can’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin.
Drink plenty of clean water and warm herbal teas
Lymph fluid is about 95 percent water and becomes thicker and less fluid when you are dehydrated. In fact, one of the most common causes of lymph congestion is dehydration. So stay well-hydrated by sipping warm purified water and herbal teas throughout the day to help keep your lymph flowing.
Start your day with fresh ginger tea in the morning. For convenience I make a large thermos flask so I have plenty to sip during day. I LOVE ginger tea.
Avoid cold drinks and too much caffeine which dehydrates the body. Needless to say that soft drinks, processed juices, sport drinks and alcohol are a massive metabolic burden on the body. If social occasions call for a drink, opt for a glass of dry red wine. A glass that is, not a bottle :)
Move sweat Play
When Kapha gets out of balance we get very, very cozy. Too cozy meaning slow and heavy. So it’s mega important to get out, move and play. Any activities that are a little out of your comfort zone are particularly invigorating. Anything that makes you sweat and laugh.
The lymphatic system does not have a built-in pump like the heart, which propels blood through the circulatory system. Therefore, the lymphatic system relies on the contraction and relaxation of the muscles and joints to move the lymph. The rhythmic tensing and relaxing of the muscles during physical movement wring out the tissues and propel fluid through the lymphatic channels.
A daily yoga routine is probably the best you can do, incorporating deep breathing and a lot of inversions. Towards the end of my practice, before Savasana, I like to lie on my mat like a dead beetle - arms and legs in the air for at least five minutes. This is such a good lymphatic detox (and extremely calming for the nervous system). Do this at night and you’ll sleep like a baby.
Dry skin brushing
The coarse bristles of a dry body brush encourage movement of the lymph in the underlying tissues, which helps move out built-up toxins. Get a body brush with firm, natural bristles and brush your body gently in circular movements, working your way up from the feet towards the heart, and paying special attention around the knees, neck, feet, chest and abdomen, where lymph nodes are concentrated.
Use a neti pot
If like me you experience chronic sinusitis, then get a decent neti pot from an Ayurvedic store or even just the local pharmacy and clear your nose using clean, warm water with a pinch of Himalayan salt. Make this a morning and evening routine, it only takes a couple of minutes. Within a few days you will notice how much clearer your head feels.
Cope with stress through mindfulness
Oxidation and lymph congestion increase when you are physically and/or emotionally stressed, so having an effective routine for coping with daily stress is key. There are many mindfulness practices to help you deal with the inevitable stress of life and minimize its effects on your lymphatic system, digestion and overall health including yoga, meditation and spending time in nature.
Having the ability to slow down, pause and remain calm in the present moment can allow you to soothe an aroused nervous system. Yoga coordinates movement and breath which is especially effective at reducing the state of constant hyperarousal that is detrimental to digestion and lymphatic health.
My Kapha-balancing mission only started a few weeks ago but putting the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda into practice and changing my diet upside-down really helped me to approach my health from a different angle.
It feels more wholesome and my body seems to love it.
This is not the season for cold, green juices. I’ll save that for summer time. Now it’s nourishing, simple foods using warming herbs and spices.
I hope this article was useful for you. Leave a comment, share your thoughts and experiences. I would LOVE to hear from you.
Below you’ll find a list of resources and my Amazon book recommendations.
Love from Ibiza!