Ayurveda Day 68: Tonification vs Purification

When it comes to our thought process when met with a client with their own unique set of conditions, the Ayurvedic Practitioner as always has to look at three things:

– The nature of the patient
– The nature of the condition
– The nature of the treatment

When a person comes to us with a certain doshic constitution, and certain current doshic imbalances, that is what we refer to as “the nature of the patient/condition”. The nature of the treatment then is taken into account. Now that we know who and what we are dealing with, we can decide what the best course of action is from a multitude of angles.

Regardless of the treatment, it will have one of two effects on the body:

Tonification – builds tissue
Purification – reduces tissue

In sanskrit the term for tonification and purification are respectively gladdening therapy (brimhana chikitsa) and lightening therapy (langhana chikitsa). From purification we have two choices: strong (panchakarma) or mild (palliation) purification.

Today I’d like to talk about the differences between tonification and purification and how to know which one is right for you.


When do we use it?

We use tonification therapies on clients who have low ojas, weakness, exhaustion, or weight loss. We are literally helping them to build up their strength, their tissues. Those with mental instability, who are very old or very young, and who are pregnant/postpartum also benefit most from these types of treatments. It is best used for Vata or long term Pitta types of imbalances. They also work best during the late fall, early winter, when we tend to become the most depleted.

What does it do?

Tonification helps build tissues, increase weight, strength, and endurance.

Who shouldn’t use it?

It is not to be used on those with kapha imbalances, people who have ama, or if you have a fever.

How do I tonify?

Diet: Anything that has a sweet (not sugar!) taste: meats, grains, dairy, root vegetables, nuts, oils. Heavy, dense, moist foods with spices to help digest them well.

Herbs: ashwagandha, shatavari, amalaki. 1 tbsp of Chavanprash, a jam, can be taken once a day to build ojas.

Oil Therapies: Abyhanga (oil massage), Shirodhara (oil treatment applied directly to forehead in a steady stream)

Lifestyle: Take plenty of rest, daytime sleep, reduce your workload, meditate, and/or do gentle yoga/tai chi.

What’s best for Vata?

Self abyhanga with sesame/almond oil, hot baths or mild to moderate sunbathing following oils, herbs listed above taken in a mlik decoction (1 cup milk, 1 cup water, 1tsp-1tbsp herb, boiled until water is gone) on an empty stomach or as a meal. Foods listed above should be taken with moderate spicing.

What’s best for Pitta?

Self abyhanga with olive, coconut, sunflower, or almond oil, warm baths or mild sunbathing following oil, cooler herbs (shatavari, slippery elm, licorice), taken in a milk decoction or in ghee.


When do we use it?

When a person has strong ojas but there is a presence of ama, or when there is excess weight. Typically used for Kapha type disturbances. Best done in the spring, summer, and early fall when it is warmer.

What does it do?

I lightens the body, decreases ama, and reduces doshas.

Who shouldn’t use it?

Those with low ojas, weakness, exhaustion, weight loss, mental instability, the very young or very old, and those who are pregnant/postpartum should not use it. It is essentially the opposite of tonifying.

How do I purify?

Diet: pungent spices, bitter and astringent foods (greens). A lighter diet and reduced oils.

Herbs: ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, garlic, turmeric

Lifestyle: Be active, engaged, do aerobic/strong yoga practices, sunbathe, spend time in the wind and in saunas.

Panchakarma: A topic unto itself.

Okay great, I know all about tonifying vs purifying now! How should I use these?

If you want a more quick approach/immediate effect, the best is to incorporate the diet/spice suggestions into teas or cook them directly into your food. If you want a more long term tonifying effect, you’ll want solid forms of these herbs in capsules, powders, medicated oils/ghees, or milk decoctions.

But the best thing to do? Consult a CAS. It can be complicated if you don’t have a roadmap. The practitioner you see can help point you in the proper direction with the proper tools to get there. But at least now you will have a clue about what they are talking about when you head in!

Until next time!

With gratitude,



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