On a rainy, freezing afternoon in mid-March, I walked up to the SoHo building that houses Pratima Skincare in New York with a silent prayer that when I walked out a while later, I would have some answers. I was on the tail end of a bout with bronchitis, just the latest in what seemed like a winter of perpetual illness: Strep throat, a few bad colds, seasonal affective disorder, and bronchitis had left me drained, bummed out, and beyond ready for spring—or really, anything that might indicate there was an end in sight to it all. Which is what brought me to Pratima in the first place—I sought the help of its founder and chief practitioner, Pratima Raichur, who I thought could possibly cure me of that dreadful winter by holistically overhauling my life.
Raichur specializes in Ayurveda, the ancient Hindu school of medicine that operates on the belief that wellness is achieved when a person is fully balanced in the mind and body. This is accomplished with the proper diet, herbs, and alternative therapies, and is totally personalized based on both one’s own innate, ideal state, as well as the imbalances that person might be currently experiencing based on outside factors—imbalances that usually manifest through poor well-being and nonstop illness. Basically, I was the perfect candidate for a full-on Ayurvedic detox.
But in spite of the sniffling and exhaustion, I only had to meet Raichur to be put at ease—her serene, calming presence was that infectious, and I knew I was in good hands. For the next two weeks, my diet and lifestyle would be under her jurisdiction.
Keep reading to see what the detox entailed and how it worked for me.
The Initial Consultation
Before sitting down with Raichur, I had to fill out paperwork—and not the typical rundown of my insurance and emergency contact info. Instead, I was asked to list my symptoms, as well as answer some questions about my personality, mood tendencies, and body type. This would help determine my dosha, or mind-body type. There are three main Ayurvedic doshas—vata, kapha, and pitta—and the goal is to identify your personal constitution (which usually emphasizes one of these types over the other two) and try to sustain that through proper diet and lifestyle since certain foods or environmental factors can aggravate one dosha over the others, causing an imbalance. (There are quizzes online to help determine your constitution, though an in-person consultation with an expert is ideal.)
After filling out the survey and speaking with Raichur, she determined that I was predominantly vata-kapha. However, my symptoms (sluggishness, exhaustion, and congestion, to name a few) were all heavily indicative of excess kapha—an imbalance that she was confident could be corrected with some prescribed lifestyle changes. “It’s also perfect timing,” she noted. “Ayurvedic detoxes are most effective during a seasonal change.” Spring was on the horizon—as was, hopefully, my physical and mental health.
In Ayurveda, both seasonality and personal balance factor into an ideal diet. For the first week of my detox, I was prescribed a list of foods to eat and another list to strictly avoid. For the second week, I would be following a mono-diet—that is, eating only a healing Ayurvedic stew for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (More on that later.)
Because my kapha energy was so out of whack, it was important that I not eat foods that would aggravate it more. This meant I needed to avoid heavy, dense things like wheat, pasta, oil, cheese, and meats, and instead opt for light foods that would enhance the vata energy I needed to restore balance—lots of veggies and beans. “Not a problem,” I told Raichur. “I’m vegan.”
There were some outlying fruits and vegetables I couldn’t eat—melons, zucchini, and cucumbers are very water-heavy, for example, and since moistness is associated with kapha, those things could aggravate that energy more. Meanwhile, alcohol and caffeine are generally out of the question in an Ayurvedic diet for all doshas. (Sigh.) I was, however, given a detox tea that I was to drink before bed every evening and was told that it would give my digestive system a kick in the proverbial rear and completely flush out my system. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that it, um, worked—though it certainly wasn’t the most pleasant part of the experience.
Still, those small tweaks to my diet made a world of difference. My digestion, which had been sluggish and screwy for weeks, suddenly normalized, and I felt light and more energized in a matter of days.
In addition to my diet, Raichur prescribed me a variety of herbal pills to tackle the issues at hand—one to clear up my remaining congestion, another for sustained immunity, yet another for better sleep, and one more just called “detox.” I took these at specified times throughout the day, and since my usual diet requires a holistic pharmacy worth of pills and vitamins on a daily basis, it wasn’t exactly outside my norm. And, alongside the diet, they certainly helped! My bronchitis and all of its residual symptoms were gone within the first two days, and I slept better during that first week than I had in months.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Ayurveda and yoga often go hand in hand, so I wasn’t surprised that making time for daily meditation was part of my regimen. Raichur asked that for the first few days, I take 30 minutes to simply sit quietly and reflect on the present moment before doing so for an hour for the following few days, eventually working up to two hours per day, ideally. I never made it quite that long—with my busy work hours, the prospect of cordoning off that much time just seemed impossible—but I did begin using my 40-minute commute as an opportunity to tune into myself and reflect on things. I saw the benefits immediately, especially when I realized that my daily hustle—and never taking the time to mentally check in—probably played a huge role in my physical and mental well-being or, rather, lack thereof. Once I began using this dedicated quiet time, I found myself feeling calmer about decisions and tasks throughout the day, and my focus at the office became razor-sharp.
Though I never received specific instruction to do so, I also decided that this detox was the perfect time to kick my habit of falling asleep to Netflix and began turning off my devices an hour before bed. Seriously—it’s magical what unplugging before bedtime does for your sleep quality.
This was without a doubt the element of the detox I dreaded most. I eat healthfully on a regular basis, but I’m able to do so because of the variety of things I cook—eating the same exact thing for an entire week is my idea of torture.
But I was assured that khichdi, the dish that I would be eating for every meal, was the ultimate healing food—and that it was delicious. Khichdi, or kitchari, is a mung bean stew made with warming spices, brown rice, and vegetables. Sound gross? Oh, it’s not—I followed this recipe and would have probably been content to eat this all day every day for the following week too. Okay, maybe not, but it was really delicious. Imagine the most nourishing, satisfying chicken noodle soup you’ve ever eaten, and multiply that feeling by a thousand. That’s how good it was. I still make it every so often when I feel under the weather, and it really hits the spot.
The Healing Massage
As part of my detox, I was treated to a Marma Abhyanga massage—a healing spa treatment that uses a pressure-point method to relax the body and target imbalances. Unlike the mono-diet, this was something I was actually pretty psyched about, and I was not disappointed. When I was asked beforehand to wear loose clothing and to please note that I would leave my appointment with very oily hair, I knew I was about to experience a massage unlike any I had experienced before.
Before getting on the table, I consulted with the practitioner about my skin ailments as well as my detox progress so that she would have an idea of how to personalize the treatment and which aromatherapy and oils to use. Then the treatment began, and for the next 90 minutes, I was slathered with what felt like several gallons’ worth of citrus-scented oil, from the roots of my hair to my toes. I usually favor the almost-painful kind of deep-tissue massage, but I found the therapist’s gentle prodding to be so relaxing that I quickly drifted off to sleep. I awoke in a daze, asked what that lovely oil was and whether I could take it home (the answers to which were Pratima’s Vata Rejuvenating Body Oil, $30, and yes), and my perpetually dry skin was silky-soft from that treatment alone for the next several days.
After the detox came to a close, I walked up to that same building in SoHo for my final check-in with Raichur, feeling like a completely different person than the sad, sick individual who had been there just two weeks before. Raichur noted the difference as soon as I sat down in front of her again. “You seem better,” she said. “Lighter.”
It was true—in the physical sense, sure (weight loss hadn’t been my aim, but I was down seven pounds, for what it’s worth), but more importantly, in my all-encompassing being. I felt more energized, more focused, and happier; my body felt strong and well again. My last conversation with Raichur lasted all of five minutes, simply because I had nothing much to say other than, “You cured me!”
Raichur sent me home with some more supplements, as well as some additional knowledge on how to tailor my lifestyle the Ayurvedic way for the upcoming seasons. But my grand takeaway was the wisdom of what a detox can—and really, should—be. I’ve tried plenty of cleanses—I’ve even liked some of them—but all have felt like a fight, and I think it’s because my body knows that I’m not pushing it toward equilibrium but toward an unsustainable goal. The very essence of an Ayurvedic cleanse is finding the balance you’re innately supposed to have, and I felt that core difference in every aspect.
As spring approaches yet again, I think I’m ready for another reboot. And even if that doesn’t mean overhauling my life for a full two weeks again, I know that even just going back to some of the habits I adopted during my first go will serve me well enough. Most importantly, in a world of crash diets and fad cleanses, I do take comfort in knowing that this go-to method has history to back it up—and I’m not referring just to my own personal experience but thousands of years of ancient wisdom.
This post was originally published on September 8, 2015.
Next up, check out 12 small ways you can take better care of yourself this year.