Once per month, for the past 5 months, I have made myself a huge pot of 'Kitchari' and consumed nothing but the soupy food for 3 days straight (sometimes longer, depending on when I run out).
I've struggled with intermittent indigestion for many years (I am sensitive to gluten, and I didn't even realize that it was abnormal to feel uncomfortable and lethargic after a meal until I was 17!). I've spent many hours searching the internet, reading books, listening to podcasts, etc. attempting to find new ways to live an overall healthier lifestyle. I'm so happy to share that I've finally found something that works for me.
When I heard the word "cleanse" I used to picture green juice, hunger, insatiable junk-food daydreams, scattered thoughts and shaky hands.
As I've deepened my studies of Ayurveda in the past year, I 'learned' what I always knew deep down about juice cleanses... they often leave your body in even more of a desperate state than it was in before. And juice cleanses very rarely result in long-term weight loss, and actually commonly lead to weight gain, once all is said and done.
I'll explain the claims about juice cleansing more in a moment, but first, I want to tell you what has happened in my life since I began integrating a regular 'Kitchari Cleanse' into my life.
Here's a little glimpse of what monthly Kitchari cleansing has done for me...
✧ Today, I live my life feeling light as a feather.
✧ My yoga practice has flourished as my body feels stronger and more flexible than ever before. My motivation to practice is at an all-time high.
✧ I rarely ever feel 'tired' or 'lazy' during the day, and I naturally wake up earlier, with more excitement about the day, than I have in my entire life.
✧ I almost never "get sick" (i.e. common colds, the flu)!
✧ When I come off a cleanse, my appetite is in-sync with my natural rhythms. Cravings for unhealthy foods have naturally diminished. I now gravitate towards dietary choices based on how good I know I will feel for the rest of the day/week that follows, instead of how good something will taste.
✧ In fact, I've begun to organically gravitate towards lifestyle choices that benefit my body, mind, and soul, as well as my spiritual practice and career goals over "instant gratification" habits (which are enjoyable in the moment but ultimately leave me feeling worse in the end).
Recently, I've been sharing photos and videos of my monthly 'Kitchari Cleanse' on my Instagram story with little tidbits about how stoked I am to have found this new (but very, very old) way to use food as medicine.
I've consistently received the same questions...
What is 'Kitchari'?
How effective is it for detoxification?
Is it really better than juicing?
(And, of course...) Is juicing really bad for you?
The full scoop on 'Kitchari'...
Ayurvedic roots, health benefits, my favorite recipe, how often to cleanse and how much you'll need to prepare, and an Ayurvedic (but mostly just my personal) perspective and beliefs about juicing.
What is 'Kitchari'?
'Kitchari' is the ancient Ayurvedic dietary approach to cleansing + detoxifying the body.
Ayurveda, often called the "Sister science of Yoga",
is an ancient medicinal system based on the 5 elements that make up the Universe (Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether, A.K.A. "space"). These elements are simplified as three 'Doshas', which represent the three types of energy that shape our human experience.
Ayurveda takes a preventative approach to healthcare and is built on the belief that we can find inner harmony and bliss by healing ourselves from the inside-out.
In addition to specific dietary recommendations, medicinal creations from herbs + spices, and even a system for organizing your schedule in order to most-effectively utilize and amplify the ever-present Universal energies, Ayurveda has a specific (and very detailed) system of various detoxification mechanisms, called 'Panchakarma'. Ayurvedic philosophy says that our body is naturally exposed to pollutants in our daily lives and that we must consciously work to rid our system of these toxins (called 'Ama' in Sanskrit) before they manifest as more serious, potentially even chronic, illnesses.
Kitchari is one of the golden gifts of Panchakarma (Ayurvedic detoxification practices), and is a practice which has been passed down with love through generations for many milennia.
Kitchari, which roughly translates as "a mixture of grains",
is comprised of one or two grains (Basmati rice, lentils, and split mung dal are all potential options) which are cooked on low heat for an extended period of time in a homemade broth of Ayurvedic herbs and spices, like Turmeric, and seasonal veggies.
How effective is it for detoxification?
Kitchari is considered to be a 'Sattvic' (pure) food, and is the only Ayurvedic food which is almost universally believed to balance all three Doshas (i.e., bring all the Universal elements into harmony).
The combination of the grains as a carrier (and to keep your body from going into "starvation mode") and the immense healing powers of the Ayurvedic herbs are meant to flush out your system and "grab onto" any bacteria or Ama build-up in your digestive tract. Essentially, Kitchari is like a 'reset' button for your digestion.
According to Ayurveda, digestion is the cornerstone of health.
Ayurvedic wisdom claims that we digest not only all of the food and liquid we put into our bodies, but also our experiences, relationships, the energy we bring in from the world around us, etc.
Therefore, in order to have prime physical health (which is the foundation from which we build our relationships, thoughts, habits, actions, and spiritual awareness and connection).
The ancient philosophy says,
"Improve your digestion to improve your life."
...And that is exactly what a Kitchari cleanse is designed to do!
Is it really better than juicing?
This is a tricky subject to talk about because there is simply so much conflicting information out there today about the health benefits and risks of juice cleanses.
From an Ayurvedic approach, raw fruit and/or vegetable juice is considered to be a good tool for correcting an existing imbalance, but it's believed that the qualities found in raw juices will imbalance the Vata Dosha over time. Instead of as a cure-all detox for everyone to do, juicing would most likely only be recommended by an Ayurvedic practitioner to correct a very specific imbalance, and only after careful consideration of the individual's overall mind-body makeup. For someone who already has high levels of Vata Dosha present, juicing would likely push them into a place of imbalance. An imbalanced Dosha means that one of the three qualities (we all possess all three, just in different aspects and concentrations) has become overstimulated and begun to pull you away from overall balance and harmony within the body.
Symptoms of a Vata-Imbalance...
✧ Overactivity, inability to focus (often diagnosed as ADHD)
✧ Dry hair + skin
✧ Cold skin
✧ Thin/frail build
✧ Forgetfulness / "flakiness"
✧ Feeling scattered or "all over the place"
If any of that sounds familiar to you, it's likely that you've experienced a Vata-imbalance before. I have a high presence of Vata Dosha and have experienced these symptoms many times throughout my life. I never realized how directly my dietary choices impacted my overall health, and that raw, cold foods were actually pulling me out of balance (no matter how "local" or "organic" they may be).
Cold foods have been proven to slow down digestion and kill the "digestive fire" that allows us to properly metabolize foods and extract essential nutrients from everything we eat. Eating raw, uncooked foods also significantly increases the amount of energy we need to exert in order to digest them, essentially burning up all of our energy reserves just to process the raw fruits and veggies. This is why juice cleansing often leaves us feeling exhausted and low-energy.
Kitchari, on the other hand,
Is created with the intention of bringing our body into balance, flushing out the bad and nourishing ourselves with herbs and spices that will positively affect our well-being in the long run. Because the grains and veggies are already cooked thoroughly and Kitchari is served warm, the difficulty of digestion is greatly reduced. Instead of bloating and discomfort, Kitchari kindles our digestive fire ("Agni") and brings in the most healing properties of all three Doshas to thus create harmony between all the Universal elements within our mind, body, and spirit. It's about centering the Self and finding that beautiful space of equilibrium where physical ailments and discomfort are out of the way and we can see, with more clarity, the beauitful, balanced, connected entity that we are.
My Kitchari Recipe
Below is my favorite way to prepare Kitchari. There is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to make it, however, and the most important factor in any Ayurvedic self-care habit is that it works for you.
I invite you to try out the recipe that I've created through personal trial-and-error, and adjust the amount of (or remove) the herbs/spices that I've listed based on what you feel will be serve you. There's also no need to go out and buy a ton of spices if you don't have all of the ones I've listed below! Ayurveda says that the best way to raise our vibration is to use (and love) what already exists in the world directly surrounding us - use what you have and add one or two more next time, if you feel inclined.
2 cups Lentils (or Basmati rice)*
2 cups (or 1 head) Cauliflower Rice
2 cups Kale (or baby spinach)
Any other root veggies you currently have (like carrots)
1/4 cup Coconut Oil
8 cups Water
4 tbsp Curry Powder
1 tbsp Turmeric
1/4 tsp Black Pepper
1/4 tsp Himalayan pink salt (or celery salt)
1/2 tsp Ginger
1/4 cup Coconut Aminos (or white vinegar)
2 tsp Cardamom (seeds or ground)
2 tsp Coriander
1 tbsp Cumin
1/2 tbsp Chili Powder
2 tbsp Mustard Seed
1 tbsp Fennel Seed
1 tbsp Allspice (or Star Anise)
*I personally prefer to make my Kitchari with lentils, because I find that lentils are more compatible with my digestive system. If you choose to use lentils, I highly recommend using red lentils (over green or black) because they become much softer when cooked and are more easily digested.
In a large pot, bring water to a boil. (To speed up the process, throw in a dash of Himalayan pink salt)
Once water is boiling, add lentils (or rice) and reduce to medium-low heat. Add in coconut oil, curry powder, and root vegetables (if you're using some).
Let lentils cook slowly on medium-low heat for 20 minutes. If you're like me and you like to hang out in the kitchen while your food cooks, slowly start adding in all other herbs/spices as time progresses.
After 20 minutes, add in cauliflower rice and any other remaining ingredients you may have chosen to work with. Let your Kitchari cook for 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring regularly.
When you've finished, you more than likely have a lot of food sitting in front of you! Start your cleanse off right and enjoy a nice big bowl of your Kitchari while it is hot. Transport the remaining Kitchari into storage containers and refrigerate for up to 3 days. When you are ready for your next meal, simply take your Kitchari out and heat it up on the stove. Garnish with cilantro or fresh greens for a fresh pop of flavor!
Kitchari has positively impacted my life enormously, and I feel so inclined to share this with you in hopes that it may have a positive impact on you, too. True wellness goes much deeper than physical health; well-being is finding and maintaining a beautiful, natural balance within,
and harmonizing your body, mind, and spirit.
It is important to note that the most important part of your cleanse is not what you're eating, it's how you feel.
Every person in the world is built completely unique, and each person's body and mind changes from one day to the next.
What works for me may or may not work for you. It's important to share that I am a 'petite' person (4'11"), and my fat, carbohydrate, and caloric needs are likely very different than someone with a different build and different daily habits and activities. If you feel famished, for example, after one day of cleansing, then eat something fulfilling! I recommend beginning with a 1-day cleanse and increasing in length once you know how this cleanse effects you, personally. You can also adjust the amount of Kitchari you make, or even add in extra coconut oil to nourish your body with essential lipids!
All of us are both teacher and student. My personal philosophy is that you can only truly teach what you know (seems obvious but hear me out), and you only truly "know" what you've personally experienced physically, mentally, emotionally, or even spiritually. What I know to be true is that this cleanse is the only cleanse I've ever tried that actually leaves me feeling clean!
Enjoy your cleanse. May you feel energetic, joyful, resonant, inspired, creative, and connected, always.
Owner of Flows with T