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Cleansing the (Mental) Doshas in Ayurveda

Cleansing is an important tradition in ayurveda. It is the process of removing excess doshas, which are usually the culprits when it comes to disease. One thing to note is that cleanses aren’t for cleaning out “toxins”. That is a Western concept.

Dosha literally translates to affliction and there are three of them in ayurveda. Doshas are functional energies that can easily go out of whack, so if you find that you are vata dosha, that means your functional energy of movement has a high potential of aggravating and possibly deranging. That means it could move the wrong direction, get into the wrong location, or stop moving altogether. Things aren’t going where they are supposed to. Like blood, breath, poop, gas and plenty of other things that get chauffeured around the body by vata dosha. Constipation is an example of vata not moving correctly and is a very normal occurance for vata imbalance.

If you are pitta dosha, that functional energy of transformation could cook too hot, work too fast or not transform at all. That would affect digestion and the ability to process the four intakes: food, water, air and perceptions. There could be some flaring tempers, some breakouts on the skin, some sour pitta smell and if you keep at it, your hair might even fall out!

Kapha dosha is the functional energy of cohesiveness and protection. When this gets wrecked, things get gunky and sticky. They get stuck. Think clingy. The drive to do anything gets stuck too. Willpower goes down the crapper. Eventually you feel like a big sad lump on the couch.

So doshas can be bad news bears. Thus, we cleanse them out. They are the culprit of disease and a cleanse is the only way to make sure you get a fresh start from whatever you’re healing.

Now let’s look at the mind. In Sanskrit we call it manas, which is the part of the mind that thinks and perceives the five senses. If the body has doshas, so shouldn’t the mind?

The mind does have three states, one being sattva, the natural state. Sattva is peaceful and stable. It is healthy and vibrant. But there are other two states which are doshas, because they too can go out of whack, especially when abused and overused. One state is rajas, the movement in the mind. We need this state to work, to get things done. It is the passion and desire. The opposite state is tamas, which is inertia and darkness. We use this state for stability, sleep and rest. You can use the latter two states to balance each other since they are opposites. If you feel lethargic, just ramp up the rajas. If you’re too busy to fall asleep, turn down the lights and dull your mind.

What happens when we stray from the natural state of sattva and get stuck in rajas or tamas? That is where mental imbalances occur. And this is why those two states are considered doshas. Things like anxiety and depression start to show up. The protocol for healing mental imbalances relies on bringing the mind back to a sattvic state, and that requires practices and changes in behaviors. But what if we could cleanse the mental doshas before they get stuck?

First is my disclaimer, that I have never been taught to “cleanse mental doshas” in ayurveda. This is just a fun concept that I’m using to write this article for you. But all of the suggesstions provided are true and accurate, they are just packaged in a Maria-fun sort of way!

So, when looking at the three functional doshas, we cleanse them when they aggravate…that means they have accumulated and there is too much. So we gather them all up, bring them back to the digestive track, and then out they go…either up or down! We complete the process with rejuvenation so we aren’t stuck feeling depleted or fragile. Let’s try this with our mental cleanse! First let’s acknowlege and assess that state of mind and the inputs coming in. Then we can purge by reducing the daily inputs. And finally we fill in the empty space with healthy stuff (which might actually be no stuff at all).

I would like to propose the reason why mental illness is running rampant right now is due to excess inputs. All day we pound our minds with overstimulation. It’s too much. Our minds weren’t built for this. We try to accomplish too many things. We read too much news. We work too hard. We go to too many places. We have contact with too many people. We buy too many things. Our mind and body weaken from this excess, called atiyoga in ayurveda.

Cleansing our mind means prioritizing what is most important to us so we can reduce the accumulation and overload, and then proceed to increase sattva. Let’s start by evaluating priorities. If you knew that working so much would cause you anxiety and discomfort, would it be worth it? If you knew reading the news and social media an hour a day would cost you an angry edge towards everything you encounter, worth it? What if doing something that took time away from your true desires cost you a deep sense of joy and satisfaction in your life? Worth it?

Pre cleanse: get clear

The first step in this mental cleanse is to gather everything up and assess. What is it that you really really want from life? Is it money? A new car? A beautiful home? Popularity? A lucrative career in law? Honestly, it’s ok to want these things. If any of these things drive you, you have to chase them. But if you’d rather be gardening, painting or playing music, then you need to change something. Getting a high-paying computer job isn’t going to satisfy the urge to teach. Being popular on social media isn’t going to fill that void you feel from not having time for yoga. Sit in stillness and ask yourself what is important. What is it that you really want. And are you doing anything to achieve that?

Now let’s look at activities that are taking you in the wrong direction. Is lying in bed while reading the news on your phone for an hour every morning contributing to your life purpose? Is engaging in online conversations and debates fulfilling your greatest desires? Is excessively cleaning your house fulfilling? Is maintaining a toxic relationship furthering your well-being? Is shopping every weekend for more stuff to fill up your life making all of your dreams come true?

I recommend journaling for a couple of weeks so you can jot down the activities that you engage in, for how long, and then later review them and see how you feel about the amount of time you gave to each one. You might be surprised at how much time you spend on some of these things. And to reiterate, it’s not bad if some of these things do provide satisfaction. There are no wrong answers. I just want you to have honest ones.

Mental cleanse: the purge

Now that you have a clearer picture of the reality, let’s make some changes. We are going to either remove activities or create boundaries for the things that are not benefiting your true path. It’s ok to have some fun, but let’s get it under control. Some of these activities might be a symptom, like emotional eating. You have no energy left, so you slump into the chair and watch tv. Not because you really enjoy it, but because you don’t have the capacity to do anything else.

Take your list from the assessment above and start to review each activity. What can you easily eliminate or reduce? Always start with the low-hanging fruit. Then begin to chip away at the harder things.

As you work on your plan, jot down feelings and your state of mind. Notice your reactions, as well as the intensity of them. Notice how things transform. This will help you develop awareness so that you begin to notice the effects of your choices on the mind. From there, you will always be able to ask yourself before starting something, “Is this worth the peace of my mind?”. Then you are living consciously. And that is a really healthy place to be.

Mental clease: rejuvenation

Once you have reduced some of the activities that are either 1) over-indulgent or 2) not taking you in the right direction for ultimate satisfaction, you need to rejuvenate before you realize all of the new potential. We must sprinkle in some satvritti.

Satvritti is the highest form of rasayana, or mental rejuvenation. It is important to practice on both a personal and societal level, so that both the individual self and the community can enjoy peace and harmony. Satvritti requires discernment and discipline in our actions.

Choose three of these practices to focus on for your rejuvenation period:

  • Eat more sattvic foods – things that are whole and fresh. Go to the farmers’ market, the produce department, the bulk whole grains, or even the farm itself!
  • Gentle exercise – go for a walk, ride your bike, go for a summer swim, ride a horse, hike, climb.
  • Spend time in nature. Go to the mountains, the lake, the forest, the community garden.
  • Read spiritual books. Whatever inspires your soul, go grab a read. If you’re not sure what you’re really into, try Stephen Mitchell’s The Bhagavad Gita. It will blow your mind.
  • Make intentional choices. Try to always be in the moment making real-time choices instead of blindly living out habitual patterns. This could be exiting the house through a different door, or using your opposite hand to brush your hair, or eating something new for breakfast.
  • Serve. Try to live your life for others instead of yourself. Volunteer a little so you begin to lose the “me” and dive deeper into “us”. This is the gateway to true universal connection. Your paid job might even be a place to serve. How can you improve your workplace for your coworkers? It might be as simple as picking up a soda can out of the bushes or grabbing a runaway dog and finding its owner.
  • Establish a routine. Eat and sleep at the same times each day.
  • Start a practice of stillness. Just sit for 10 minutes each day. Either watch the breath as it flows inside and then back out the nose. Or try to hear all of the sounds around you…from inside the room, to outside the building, all the way out to the edges of the universe.
  • Begin a meditation practice. Sit twice a day. Please call a TM program. This is the fastest, grandest way to healing the mind. You have to trust me on this one.
  • Do yoga! Pull out your mat, and just let your mind settle on the movements and the breath as it moves around the body.
  • Spend 5 minutes doing alternate nostril breathing. Use your fingers to hold one nasal passage closed right below the hard spot. Breathe in the left nostril, exhale right. Then inhale right nostril, exhale left. If you like to count, do 7 rounds of this. Take a little break. Then do 7 more rounds. The breaths should be strong, smooth, long and steady. Add more as the weeks progress.

So that will complete the mental cleanse and you will be on your way to peace, contentment and a deeper sense of joy in your life. Modern living takes a toll on mental health, so by reconnecting to nature, slowing down, establishing practices, and by making intentional choices, balance can be restored and maintained.

If you feel like you could use a support person to help you regain a sense of joy in your life, please reach out. We can assess together and create a plan that works for you. Please note that I’m not trained as a licensed health care professional and this is in no way a replacement for medical care, therapy or any type of treatment. I would be so happy to assist you in finding those kinds of supports as well. So please reach out, regardless of what you may need and we can do this together.

Wishing you healthy, happy, peaceful journey!