a wee bit 'o spring cleaning.

Spring Cleaning (a little bit early…)

For those of you in the Northern climes at the moment, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going about a spring cleanse right now. As much as you’d probably like to think that the vibrant green world is right around the corner, its a bit early still. Sorry. Give yourselves a month or so more yet.  

But for us down here in the south, there is a definitive change in the air that makes our bodies (specifically our livers) want to get things moving.

ingredients for magic. 

ingredients for magic. 

The sensation in my body for the last couple weeks (and what I’ve noticed in clients) has been absolutely ‘woody’ and spring-like, as opposed to the coolness of winter’s water: gone are the knee pains and lower back sensitivity, the cool hands and feet and ringing in the ears, and here for a while are the strong body signals that its time to throw off some stagnation and weight and get ready for the high energy to come.

It’s a really lovely change. I love spring.

It’s amazing to me how much easier it is to understand my body (and life) when I have appreciation for the cycles we’re all subject to. Nothing can be permanent, whether you’re speaking about the length of a life or the appropriateness of a particular dietary choice, and there’s immense ease in just trusting the influence of the seasons and the world around us to show the best choice possible. What works for us in winter almost certainly will not in spring, and to assume that we have found the ‘perfect’ way to eat, live, exercise or function in general and that this will not change is an exercise in futility and arrogance. Listening to our bodies and the food that is available to us rather than forcing ourselves to follow a particular way of living because we read about it in a book somewhere makes so much sense. This is the natural outcome when we appreciate that there is intelligence in the world around us, not just in mankind’s musings.

In springtime, the world supplies us with exactly what we need in order to move out of winter stagnation. Bitter greens and herbs, fresh vegetables and fruits, brightly colored surroundings—all of these have a strong affinity for the liver—that massive organ responsible for so much of our detoxification and processing—helping it process stored fats and toxins, and clear the energy associated with our creative impulse and sense of personal power. Spring is a poignant (I can spell that word, but can’t say it properly at all) time.

Now, the thing about ‘cleansing’, however, is that it often sets up a very strong dichotomy in most people, where they think of their ‘before’ state as dirty, wrong, bad, sickly, etc…, and have this very linear-based vision of what the ‘after’ experience is going to be: pristine, perfectly clean, perfectly health and balanced. Any health choice or measure taken with this kind of bad/good polarity just never works, because A) you were not dirty before, and B) you’re never going to be perfectly ‘clean’ (whatever that means) after.

Our bodies are always detoxifying, and while these processes can get a little bit ‘gummed up’ in the winter, they’re still going on just fine. Its just that in the springtime, as we follow the intelligence of nature, there is an impulse to support these processes a little bit more consciously, and to change out energy from that which is directed more inwards (during the Yin-influenced winter) to external creation and expression. Liver energy.

So when instructing clients on the process of cleansing, the mental and spiritual element of it becomes the most important. Having personally done years of fasts and cleanses that were not focused on supporting the intelligence of my body within nature, but rather on forcefully and aggressively abusing my body by subjecting it to restrictive regimens for its own good, I know firsthand how important it is to be able to do this with respect and care. One can do a lot of damage trying to cleanse without self love.

And so, out of self love (and because I tend to run cold and have slightly more liver stagnation than is ideal right now) I’ve decided to do a week of Kicharee, an ayurvedic dish that is well-suited to all doshas (body/personality/spiritual types), easy to digest, warming yet detoxifying, and overall just a very nourishing and supportive body tonic. For this, I eat nothing but Kicharee and some ground flax (for extra detox and a l’il intestinal scrubbing) for a week, possibly two, and drink a combination of herbal teas that I’ll give you the recipe for, and a ton of water. I also cut out alcohol and caffeine (that last part is the hardest), and try to do slightly less vigorous exercise than normal.  

Sound boring? Oddly, its not. This is quite possible one of the most filling and satisfying meals I can think of, and I eat it quite often even when I’m not actively supporting detoxification. I tend to be one of those people that can eat the same thing for days (months) at a time, so it doesn’t bother me one bit to do a ‘mono-cleanse’ like this.

[Other ones I’ve tried, with slightly less success in the past, include brown rice (always felt hungry), apples (only good when its really warm out for me), and grapefruit (that was just stupid. never again.)]

You can do variations on this recipe as you like, adding vegetables or raw fats (flax, avocado, hemp oil), especially if you feel like it’s not satisfying enough. The key though is to not eat so much of it that you’re overwhelming your liver, keeping the portions down so that your body can devote a bit of energy and enzymatic activity to breaking down stored fats/toxins and excreting them. The beauty of mono-cleanses is their simplicity though, so I tend to suggest that people keep it simple. 

And so, the recipe.

I make this amount for three meals, and usually try to stick to just those three during the day. If I am hungry in the afternoon I’ll have a couple bites, but generally find that snacking only makes me hungrier overall (we’ll talk more about the principles of Leptin, the satiation hormone, in another post, but just for the purposes here your brain actually gets the ‘full’ signal a lot better when you’re not snacking all the time. This also gives your liver time to release stored sugars and associated stagnation).

Spring Kitchari

1 cup dried (preferably soaked for 8 hours and well-washed) red or yellow split mung (daal)

¾ cup quinoa (I prefer this) or brown basmati rice

1 cup peeled and thinly sliced burdock root

2 tsp cumin (this is my favorite spice, so I add a lot, but you can reduce the amount if that’s too overwhelming)

1 cup shiitake mushrooms

½- 1 tsp turmeric

Other spice options: ginger (if the back of your tongue has some yellow coating, skip this), curry spices (ditto for these), coriander or fenugreek.

Mixed fibrous veggies, if you like.

Classic Kitchari recipes call for ghee- clarified butter- to be included, as it is extremely nourishing without any of the potential irritations that come along with dairy for most people. I personally function pretty well without extra animal fats (being a lifelong vegetarian, maybe? Not sure), but I do believe they can be very good for many people, and use them personally during ‘building’ rather than cleansing times. IE: fall.

burdock and shiitakes. weird looking things, no? 

burdock and shiitakes. weird looking things, no? 

The original recipe also doesn’t have the burdock root or shiitake, but for immune support and blood cleansing these two are phenomenal, and when cooked well provide just a little bit of additional cleansing support. This addition comes from Michael Tierra, and I really like the way it makes me feel.

For ease, I add all the ingredients to a large stock pot with roughly 6 cups of water. You might have to add a bit more if you like a soupy consistency, but I prefer mine more like porridge. If you want to get fancy with it (which I do sometimes, but sometimes am quite pleased with the absolute ease of this creation as a one-step meal) you can sauté the mushrooms, burdock and spices in some ghee or olive oil until they’re soft, and then add all the rest of the stuff to that.

Turn the heat to high until the mixture comes to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes. If you’re using quinoa it will cook slightly faster, so just keep an eye on it.

lovely little burdock slices. 

lovely little burdock slices. 

If I’m adding vegetables they’ll be put in for the last 5 ( if you’re using broccoli, zucchini, or other soft ones) to 10 (for sweet potatoes and squash) minutes. I’m not a fan of smooshy vegetables, but if you like a more pureed sort of consistency (which certainly makes it more pleasant for your stomach if it’s sensitive) feel free to add these in at the beginning.

And…voila. That’s it.

I eat mine slowly after letting it cool down to just a warm temperature, and don’t drink any liquids during the meal. As I mentioned sometimes I’ll add a tablespoon or two of fresh ground flaxmeal to the top, with a bit of salt, and while I know it doesn’t look entirely appetizing to most, I find it quite delicious.

The whole ‘eating slowly’ thing is pretty difficult for most of us, but it is very important here. Kitchari is surprisingly filling—tons of protein and fiber in there—so if you eat it quickly you’ll not get the appropriate full response in time and may overeat, resulting in a bloated sensation as well as an extra burden on your liver, which we don’t want. Anytime that we’re deliberately focusing on healing and supporting our body, its essential to get our mind and spirit involved in the process too. You can do this by giving thanks before you eat (for all those lovely little mung plants that made those wee beans for you, and for the all the people involved in getting them into your pantry), focusing only on your food and the flavors/sensations happening while you’re eating, and by chewing your food well so that the rest of your digestive system doesn’t have to work so hard to break it all down. Eating is an act of self care, and it’s not often that we approach it as such.

Tomorrow I’ll outline the rest of what this week is all about, cleansing wise, with a herbal tea recipe that is kinda blowing my mind.

Lots of love to you all.