Maharishi Ayurveda In Depth — Do I Have Ama?

Ayurveda recommends internal cleansing at every change of seasons. Detox is considered especially beneficial in the spring, because that is the time all of nature is rejuvenating itself. In this special newsletter, an expert from The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians discusses ayurvedic cleansing and how to detoxify safely.

Safety is a major consideration in all Maharishi Ayurveda detox programs. Whatever treatment is recommended in Maharishi Ayurveda, whether it's for purification or for treating an imbalance, always follow the rule of balance first. This is a principle that is made clear by Charaka, one of the great ayurvedic healers of ancient times. The principle is that the physician should never create a new imbalance in order to repair or fix an imbalance. Whatever herbs are used, whatever purification methods employed, we should never risk disturbing the doshas further. Nor do we create an imbalance in the quality and quantity of the dhatus (body tissues) or the quality, quantity and flow of the malas (body wastes). It's also essential that any detox program support the health of the shrotas, the large and small channels that provide the path for toxins to leave the body, so that embedded impurities, once loosened by the purification program, can be flushed out of the body completely and quickly.

The perfect treatment doesn't balance one part of the body at the risk of unbalancing another part. This is the perfection of Maharishi Ayurveda. In following this principle, the detoxification methods of Maharishi Ayurveda flush out the toxins gently without disturbing the body's own natural functioning.

Maharishi Ayurveda recommends two kinds of detoxification programs: 1) self-detox (including diet, herbal preparations, and daily routine) and 2) a detoxification program supervised by an expert trained in Maharishi Ayurveda. While everyone can benefit from a supervised program such as Maharishi Panchakarma, not everyone should embark on a self-detox program. Which program you choose depends on the nature of your imbalances and the type of toxins lodged in your body.

There are three different types of toxins that can impact the physiology: ama, amavisha and garvisha.

Ama is the most common type of toxin, and is the waste product of incomplete digestion. Sticky, white and foul-smelling, it forms in the digestive tract when the food you eat is not digested properly. Ama is usually caused by eating foods unsuitable for your body type or the season, by eating too much or too little, by eating before the previous meal is digested, by going to sleep on a full stomach, or by eating foods that are left over, processed, old or fermented. If ama continues to be produced over a long period of time, it can leave the digestive tract, travel to a weak area elsewhere in the body and settle there. Usually it blocks the shrotas (microcirculatory channels) and disrupts the flow of nutrients to the area as well as the body's natural waste removal systems.

Usually ama develops when agni, the digestive fire, is either weak or irregular. By enhancing agni through dietary changes or by taking ayurvedic herbal supplements, the digestive system itself can burn off simple ama and clear it from the body.

Amavisha is a more reactive form of ama that forms when ama settles in one part of the body for a long time and mixes with the subdoshas. The dhatusama is more dangerous than the simple ama and must be dealt with differently during detoxification.

Garvisha is the third type of toxin, and unlike the other two, garvisha comes from outside the body. Included are environmental toxins such as chemicals, preservatives, poisons, air and water pollution, genetically engineered foods, synthetics and chemicals in clothing, synthetic drugs, chemicals in household cleansers, and heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and asbestos. Garvisha also includes toxins from spoiled foods.

In detoxification the shrotas — microcirculatory channels — play a major role, because the toxins have to leave the body through the large and small channels of the body. So it's very important to maintain the proper health of the shrotas during all the stages of detox — while preparing for detox, during the purification process and afterwards.

To understand how the shrotas need to be protected during detoxification, it's important to note that there are three kinds of abnormalities or damage that can happen to the shrotas. The first is blockage of the shrotas with simple ama. This type of toxin is easy to remove through simple purification and detoxification processes. For this person, self-detoxification works quite well, because simple ama can be dissolved through diet, herbal formulas and at-home procedures.

The second type of abnormality involves the more toxic and reactive amavisha. In this situation, the shrotas or channels themselves become hardened and dried with toxins. If your shrotas were pipes, the amavisha would be rust, not only blocking the pipes but actually corroding them as well.

The rust in this analogy is a toxic mixture of ama, amavisha and Shleshaka Kapha, which is the subdosha of Kapha concerned with maintaining proper fluid balance and lubrication of the body. When these three mix together, it causes an excess of moisture, an imbalance that in turn causes Vyana Vata

Removing this more reactive type of toxin is a more complex problem. Maharishi Ayurveda detoxification procedures take care to first smooth and lubricate the toxins before detoxification. If the detox program doesn't first loosen the toxins, the shrotas could actually rupture when toxins are forced out of the body. At this stage, self-detoxification may still be recommended, but only if there is only a small amount of amavisha.

The third type of damage to the shrotas is the most severe. This results when amavisha becomes even more reactive, or the combination of Shleshaka Kapha, Vyana Vata, amavisha and ama becomes more reactive, or when these toxins are also joined by garvisha, environmental toxins. In this situation the shrotas actually rupture and become seriously damaged. This is the stage in which, according to the ancient texts of ayurveda, serious diseases of the shrotas manifest, such as ulcerative colitis, MS, and other autoimmune diseases. At this stage, self-detoxification is never recommended. Instead, it's very important that an individual consult an expert trained in Maharishi Ayurveda, who will supervise a clinical purification treatment such as Maharishi Panchakarma.

Maharishi Ayurveda uses the body's own natural detoxification systems. This includes the bowel, kidneys, urine, skin, sweat glands and liver. The detoxification methods are never harsh or forceful, but simply support and enhance the body's own ability to release toxins.

Secondly, in Maharishi Ayurveda, each detox program cleanses all of the body's natural purification systems at once in a coordinated way. If the detox program were to focus on just one system, such as the colon and bowel, that would create an imbalance.

Third, because the Maharishi Ayurveda detoxification program is balanced, natural and effective, it creates a situation in which the body's detoxification system becomes stronger and stronger as time goes on, and thus the body can detoxify itself effectively after the detox treatment is over. For instance, the detox program may include drinking some herbal water steeped with detox herbs, such as Indian Sarsaparilla (Hemidesmus Indicus), Coriander seed, Manjistha (Indian Madder) or Fennel. These spices have the effect of lubricating and cleansing the channels and supporting the bowel, urinary system, liver and skin. By clearing away the toxins, these herbs increase the alertness, wakefulness and intelligence of the kidneys, liver and other organs and channels. If the person is also following a more intelligent diet and following the Maharishi Ayurvedic routine, all of these therapies together support all of the detoxification systems in the body so they become more and more powerful, more and more efficient and effective. This holistic approach results in the natural balance of the body's detoxification systems, so that all of the detoxification organs become more alert, intelligent and capable of detoxifying the body on a day-to-day basis.

This is in contrast to fragmented detox treatments, in which one single organ such as the liver is flushed of toxins. The liver may become more intelligent by the clearing away of the toxins, but the problem is that toxins and sludge have not been cleansed from the other channels and purification systems of the body in a coordinated manner. Thus toxins are going to accumulate quickly in the liver again, causing the person to feel the need to repeat the process soon afterwards. This type of fragmented treatment doesn't strengthen the body's natural overall ability to detoxify itself.

Of course, I don't want to give the impression that a person who uses a Maharishi Ayurveda detoxification program will never need to detoxify again! Everyone today is exposed to influences that create toxins beyond what the body can naturally handle, such as chemicals and preservatives in foods, synthetic drugs and emotional and mental stress. Seasonal changes also create ama. In winter the shrotas shrink, for instance, making it harder for the body to release toxins. During the transition between seasons, the agni (digestive fire) fluctuates, and that can cause some amount of ama to accumulate even if you are very careful about your diet and routine. For this reason, Maharishi Ayurveda recommends that you either self-detox or do Maharishi Panchakarma during each change of seasons, and particularly in the spring. In the spring the body is naturally detoxifying as the impurities flow out of the body, so it is the ideal time to support this detoxification with an herbal program.

Every ayurvedic detoxification program has three steps: preparation, cleansing and post-cleansing therapies. Preparation is the most important part of the ayurvedic detox program. To prepare the body for detoxification, it's important to first balance the agni, or digestive fire. If someone has high or sharp agni, they need to take herbs or eat foods to reduce their agni. If the person has low agni, they need to take agni-enhancing herbs, or drink agni-enhancing herbal water. A third situation is irregular agni, meaning sometimes it's high and sometimes it's low, generally associated with a Vata imbalance. For this situation, we need to balance the agni first so it becomes more even.

Preparation also takes into account the imbalances of the person. If you have more Kapha and are overweight, you will need a Kapha-pacifying diet and herbal water with more warming herbs. If you have a Pitta imbalance, you will need a Pitta-pacifying diet and herbal water with some attention to clearing the channels. For a thin person with Vata aggravation, a lubricating and nurturing diet and herbal water is needed. Lubricating and nurturing foods and herbs help pacify Vata and normalize an irregular agni.

This careful preparation is unique to Maharishi Ayurveda. The general prevalent understanding is that before detox the only thing you need to do is increase the agni, and many detox programs advise one and all to heighten their agni, regardless of the differences in their constitutions and current imbalances. But you can see that given the different imbalances and levels of agni, that is not a healthy or even a safe idea.

For instance, if someone has a sharp digestive fire — tikshnagni — it's extremely important to pacify agni first, because otherwise the detoxification process could create further problems. If the agni is very high, amavisha, or the reactive type of toxic mixture that we called "rust" in the earlier analogy, may be present. If you inflame agni in this situation, then during detox the shrotas could be ruptured by amavisha, causing complications and further imbalances.

A person with Vata vitiation or a very thin person also needs special preparation for detox. Sometimes people who are very thin ask if they are free of toxins. I tell them that they do carry toxins, but their shrotas have become dry due to Vata aggravation, causing the toxins to dry and stick to the shrota walls. So they do need detoxification, but they must prepare properly. If this person starts on a straight detox program that forcefully squeezes out the toxins, that would be inviting danger.

The Charaka Samhita even contains a verse about this exact situation. It explains that for an underweight person, the malas (body wastes) provide a type of strength, a type of support. So for that person it's necessary to first lubricate, nourish and nurture the body, before embarking on any detox program. This will give the person more stamina and reserves of dhatus (body tissues) so they can tolerate the detoxification process without inviting risk of serious fatigue, mental irritation or skin eruptions.

During the cleansing treatment, the second step of detoxification, the person's imbalances at that particular time are also taken into account. The health of the person's shrotas, the level of agni (sharp, weak, imbalanced, or balanced), the type of toxins present in the physiology, the balance or imbalance of the doshas — all of these factors need to be considered in determining the type of detox program the person should do — whether self-detoxification is recommended or an administered program such as Maharishi Panchakarma would be better.

For all types of toxins, the first and foremost treatment is to improve elimination. Herbal Cleanse and Organic Digest Tone are gentle yet effective herbal supplements for cleansing the bowel. Herbal Cleanse contains rare forms of Senna Leaf and Turpeth Root (Indian Jalap) along with five other herbs to aid natural elimination, enhance cellular purification and improve assimilation of nutrients.

Certain herbs are famous in ayurveda for their detoxifying effect, such as Indian Sarsaparilla (Hemidesmus Indicus) and Manjistha (Indian Madder). These are contained in Elim-Tox and Elim-Tox-O, which are highly effective in flushing out toxins from the liver, blood, sweat glands and elimination system. Other herbs included in these formulas are Tinospora Cordifolia (Indian Tinospora), Rose Petals and King of Bitters (Andrographis) to help balance and purify the liver. Indian Sarsaparilla (Hemidesmus Indicus), Red Sandalwood and Neem Leaf strengthen purification of toxins through the sweat glands and the skin. Other herb groups support elimination through the urinary tract, and still others support elimination of toxins through the stool and urine by lubricating the digestive tract. You can see that just this one product (either Elim-Tox or Elim-Tox-O) purifies all of the major elimination organs and systems in the body.

Elim-Tox is faster acting, and is ideal if you have only simple ama. If you have a Pitta imbalance, or have some amount of amavisha, take Elim-Tox-O.

Finally, Organic Genitrac helps flush out ama from the genitourinary tract. It targets the genitourinary channels to help eliminate toxins through the urine.

So you can see that by using these three products together — Herbal Cleanse (or Organic Digest Tone), Elim-Tox (or Elim-Tox-O) and Organic Genitrac — you will be cleansing all of the body's detoxification organs and the shrotas simultaneously to provide a holistic and balanced effect.

The third step, or post-detoxification, is important because this is the optimum time to take Rasayanas, the ayurvedic elixirs that rejuvenate the body and promote youthfulness, such as Maharishi Amrit Kalash. With the toxins cleared out of the organs and channels of the body, the body is more awake and alert and can utilize the benefits of the Rasayana more than ever before.

To determine which type of detox program is best suited for you we've prepared a questionnaire. By taking the questionnaire, you can get an idea where your toxins are located, and whether you can purify them easily with the Self-Detox Program offered later in this newsletter, or whether you should consult an expert trained in Maharishi Ayurveda first.

One simple rule is that a person who has a Kapha imbalance or body type with simple ama, with no symptoms of stiffness, no irritation, no symptoms of amavisha and garvisha, is the ideal candidate to do self-detoxification. People who have ama and only small amounts of amavisha can also do self-detox safely.

Do I Have Ama?

Circle your response (1 = least; 5 = most)

  1. I tend to feel blocked in my body (constipated, congested in the head, general lack of clarity, or other).
    1 2 3 4 5
  2. In the morning when I wake up, I'm groggy; it takes me quite a while to feel really awake.
    1 2 3 4 5
  3. I tend to feel weak, physically, for no reason that I can see.
    1 2 3 4 5
  4. I get colds (or similar conditions) several times each year.
    1 2 3 4 5
  5. My body tends to have a feeling of heaviness.
    1 2 3 4 5
  6. I just tend to feel that "something isn't working right" in the body (digestion, breathing, bowel movements, or something else).
    1 2 3 4 5
  7. I tend to feel lazy. (My capacity to work seems all right, but I have no inclination.)
    1 2 3 4 5
  8. I commonly have indigestion.
    1 2 3 4 5
  9. I often have to spit.
    1 2 3 4 5
  10. Often, I just don't have a taste for food. I have no appetite.
    1 2 3 4 5
  11. I just tend to feel tired, even exhausted in mind or body.
    1 2 3 4 5

Add up your scores to arrive at a rating of your level of ama.

45-55 Severe

35-45 Moderate

25-35 Mild

11-25 Minimal

If this questionnaire indicates that you have minimal, mild, or moderate amounts of ama, then you can do a self-detox program as described below. If you have severe amounts of ama, then it is best to seek the advice of an expert trained in Maharishi Ayurveda before embarking on any detox program.

Do I Have Amavisha or Garvisha?

Circle your response (1 = least; 5 = most)

  1. I often feel nauseous for no particular reason.
    1 2 3 4 5
  2. I often have hyperacidity or a burning sensation in my stomach.
    1 2 3 4 5
  3. My skin often suffers from breakouts.
    1 2 3 4 5
  4. I often feel dryness in the mouth.
    1 2 3 4 5
  5. I sometimes feel pain or weakness in my legs or calves.
    1 2 3 4 5
  6. I have acquired sensitivity and intolerance to new foods, new flowers, new pets or other new things in my environment.
    1 2 3 4 5
  7. I often lack mental and emotional energy.
    1 2 3 4 5
  8. I sometimes feel feverish or whole-body fatigue in the evening.
    1 2 3 4 5

Add up your scores to arrive at a rating of your level of amavisha or garvisha.

32-40 Severe

23-31 Moderate

17-22 Mild

8-16 Minimal

If you have minimal amounts of amavisha or garvisha, then it is still safe for you to do the self-detox program recommended in this newsletter. If you have mild, moderate or serious amounts of amavisha or garvisha, then it is very important that you consult with an expert trained in Maharishi Ayurveda to receive individualized recommendations for your detox program.

To detoxify at home, the first thing to do is to prepare for detoxification by following these recommendations for diet, spices, and daily routine. Spring is the best time to detoxify, so you can start right away.

The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.