Gandhi did it. Hippocrates did it too. So did Socrates and Plato. To cleanse was considered a form of worship. These wise men routinely fasted and employed other detoxification methods to enhance both their spiritual and physical well-being. Are these methods right for you?
As autumn approaches and the air begins to cool, a greater burden is placed on the body to adjust to the temperature drop. A cleanse may be just the remedy to help you cope with this annual transition. Such rituals as fasting, sweating, and cleansing oneself during the spring and fall are found in diverse healing customs around the globe from Traditional Chinese Medicine to Ayurveda to Native American healing methods. Today, ancient wisdom is combined with modern methods as more holistic doctors and spas offer programs to help you rejuvenate your system.
A typical detox plan lasts anywhere from three days to three weeks and can range from eliminating allergenic foods like wheat to minimizing your intake of chemicals, sugars, or drugs, to full-blown regimens that encompass fasting, colonics, and other techniques. In addition to boosting your immunity in preparation for winter, experts say these methods can rid you of toxins that accumulate over time, which can diminish normal functions, and increase your risk for a disease. While these programs are generally safe, it’s always best to contact a qualified medical professional before you begin a detoxification program. (Note: Detoxification is not suitable for everyone. If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a long-standing medical condition, consult a doctor.)
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According to holistic practitioners, toxins from polluted air, food additives, pesticides, and other sources are absorbed by the body and accumulate in our fat cells. However, our bodies are designed to naturally expel harmful substances. The liver and kidneys are front-line waste filters, and our lungs, intestines, and skin are constantly excreting toxins. So why do we need extra help? Some experts say it has to do with both our environment and our lifestyles.
“The body does naturally detox but it may not be enough,” says Alejandro Junger, M.D., FACC consultant at the We Care Holistic Health Spa & Resort in Desert Hot Springs, California. We Care specializes in detox programs. “Over the last 100 years, changes in the environment have been so profound and intense that the body has not been able to adapt as fast. For example, we produce massive amounts of agricultural products that use massive amounts of chemicals that overtax the body constantly.”
But it’s the way that we pollute ourselves by over-eating, smoking, and drinking that causes the most damage. “Let’s suppose we had a magic wand and could eliminate all of the toxins and hormones and pollutants. We’d still be left with our bad habits,” Dr. Junger explained.
Dr. Elson M. Haas, M.D., director of the Preventative Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael, California, has been conducting detox groups for more than thirty years and has led over 5,000 people down this purification path. He contends that while there aren’t many clinical studies citing that these practices work, the proof is in how people feel after they’ve completed a program. “People transform their health. They feel light, energized, and clear,” he says, noting that the key to doing an effective detox is landing on the other side with new and improved habits and choices.
The first step in a cleansing program is to stop bombarding your body with junk food, caffeine, and other unhealthy substances. “There’s a big toxicity concern with things that you do every day. Fifty percent of people are hooked on caffeine and sugar. The first thing to do is get off of substances like that,” says Dr. Haas.
In order to overcome a sweet tooth, Dr. Haas recommends eating a balanced diet and increasing your protein intake to help combat cravings. He also suggests avoiding hidden sources of sugar such as corn syrup, sucrose, and dextrose, and he advises that we support our bodies with such helpful nutrients as the B vitamins, vitamin C, chromium, calcium, magnesium, and the amino acid L-glutamine. Finally, if you give in to your yearnings, reach for some fruit. Natural sugar is less harmful than the refined types.
Next, you should focus on what you’re putting into your body. A diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables is a great start. Eat lots of dark and leafy green vegetables such as watercress and mustard greens. These greens contain chlorophyll, a natural detoxifier and cell protector. Fiber is another important part of a cleansing program because it provides the bulk needed to clean the intestines. Dr. Haas recommends taking 2 – 4 teaspoons or 8 – 12 caps of psyllium seed per day to ensure that you’re excreting waste efficiently. (Note: Do not use psyllium without talking to a doctor. Contact your doctor immediately if you have stomach or abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, rectal bleeding, or difficulty swallowing.) Foods rich in vitamin C, carotenes, and glutathione (an antioxidant and detoxifier) are also helpful when embarking on a detox plan.
A multi-day, organic juice fast is another popular approach in cleansing programs. “Fasting is the missing link in the Western diet,” says Dr. Haas, noting that in Chinese medicine, it’s a regular part of preventive healthcare. “Fasting is the single greatest natural healing therapy that I know.” This method has been practiced by all major religions for centuries and anecdotal evidence supports the physical, mental, and spiritual healing benefits of fasting.
Now that you’ve learned how to properly nourish your body, it’s time to focus on elimination. Various forms of sweating – saunas, steam rooms, and Native American sweat lodges – can aid you in this process. Sweating gets rid of impurities like uric acid, aiding detox. However, if you feel light-headed or have blood pressure problems, do not use these techniques.
The traditional sauna is electric, wood or gas fired. Far-infrared saunas are also gaining popularity. According to proponents, far-infrared saunas offer more of a cleanse than standard saunas. They claim that the infrared coils create a heat deep within the muscular tissues and organs without increasing the air temperature. In fact, far-infrared saunas typically are at least thirty degrees cooler than their traditional counterparts. Muscles and tissues are penetrated quickly and deeply allowing toxins to release via sweat.
At Stewart Mineral Springs Retreat in Weed, California, participants can take part in a sweat lodge ceremony in the two lodges featured on site. Walking Eagle, Gentle Springs, Badger Woman, and Spirit of Wind are the staff waiting to welcome you to take part in a sacred Sweat Lodge Purification Ceremony. Participants disrobe, covering themselves with towels before entering the lodge, a structure in the woods made with saplings, branches, and tarps. A bonfire burns brightly outside and the scents of sage and sweetgrass fill the air. There is the option to enjoy the drumming and chanting circle surrounding the bonfire or to get settled inside the lodge, preparing for the experience. Stones are taken from the fire and brought inside. The water is poured over the participants, enveloping them in a wet heat.
The lodge was traditionally used as a place of worship, so it is not uncommon for people to have more than just a physical reaction when doing a sweat. This cleanse may also help participants to experience renewed energy and more connection to the earth.
Asian cultures use sweating as a healing technique too. At Juvenex Spa in New York City, you can enjoy a variety of time-tested Korean and Japanese thermal treatments including a jade sauna. “Jade is soothing to the whole being and it’s great for circulation,” says Spa Director Veronica. Prater. After sitting in this gemstone sweat bath, you can try the steam room, where wet steam rises through baskets that are brimming with healing herbs. It’s a great way to clean out your sinuses, a secondary pathway of elimination.
The final step in this cleanse is the clay detoxification room. As you lay on the warm floor surrounded by baked clay, this low temperature sauna drains the impurities from your body, and leaves you stress-free and rejuvenated.
If you don’t have the time or money to go to a spa or holistic doctor for a detox program, don’t be deterred from trying some of these techniques. You can cleanse by following a simple plan at home to help lighten your toxic load. Focusing on the basics is the best way to go. Cut out unhealthy habits and junk food and replace them with nutritious meals and juices. Exercise to stimulate perspiration, and eat more fiber to cleanse your intestines. You’ll likely feel lighter, clearer, and ready for whatever winter has to offer.