SUCCESSFUL CLEANSING: NOURISHING BODY, MIND AND SPIRIT
Dietary cleansing or fasting is a fantastic way to reset and renew your body, mind and spirit. Ideally dietary cleansing should be a learning experience to help you evolve your diet and lifestyle, rather than to create temporary feelings or effects. Committing to a cleanse or fast is easier during seasonal change and especially in the summer months when the weather is warmer, and the days brighter and longer which helps regulate wakefulness and sleep.
The practice of modifying or restricting food choice is deeply rooted in the yogic tradition.
Cleanses and fasts emphasize changing negative habits and behaviors, and transcending the immediate demands of the body and serving the spirit. Cleansing and fasting can be very restful to the mind and body as energy directed towards making food choices and digesting food is funneled into deeper healing, contemplation and awareness. In your asana practice you may notice an increase in flexibility, greater balance and stability, and less chitta vrtti or mind-chatter.
In my life thus far I have experimented with many different diet styles, cleanse and fast variations and have some horror stories and many success stories. Some cleanses made me spacey, floaty, erratic and totally addicted to sugar, while other whole food cleanses were more supportive and grounding and could be prolonged rather than just used for a short intense period. There are many different cleansing and fasting plans out there and it can be very confusing to know what is right for you.
Here are a few tried and true guidelines:
- Set a clear intent to heal or address a specific issue. Just like you would set intent at the beginning of your yoga practice, bring focus to what you would like to work on and you will will see better results and gain greater insight. Are you wanting to release habits of anxiety, agitation and sleeplessness and ditch a nasty sugar and caffeine habit? Are you curious about a particular diet style and want to explore what it has to offer? Is your digestion feeling off and you want to address your guts with probiotics and cleansing herbs? If this is your first cleanse perhaps you just want to see what a week without processed food and 3pm trips to Starbucks would feel like?
- Come into and out of your cleanse or fast in a gradual, moderate and healthy way. This might be the most important piece of advice I can possibly share with you about successful cleansing. Take at least 2-3 days on each side of the cleanse to begin to let go of habitual foods and then add foods back in. When you slowly reintroduce foods to your clean digestive system it may become clear to you which foods work well for you and which don’t (think bloating, cramping, rashes, constipation/diarrhea, blood sugar crashes, etc.) In a yoga practice you wouldn’t start in full urdhva dhanurasana or wheel pose, you would take time to warm up to it, and also take time to warm down from it after. Stay mindful of what is happening as you rev up and wind down your cleanse and it will give you great information to integrate into your daily lifestyle.
- Get excited about your cleansing adventure! If you are peeved by the levels of restriction during your cleanse or the tedium of finding the select foods or ingredients for recipes, you will most likely break your cleanse, feel like a failure and decide you hate cleansing. Also undertaking a cleanse when you are in exams, have big looming work deadlines, are moving your home, or are in other stressful or ungrounded situations is not a great idea. Commit to something that feels achievable and that you feel curious and excited about, and then once you are steady choose to go deeper.
- Cleanse with the support of a counselor, a friend, or in a group. Support from health-minded comrades will help you stay on course. Whether they are doing the specific cleanse protocol with you or not, allies that help support you during your cleanse will keep you from giving up or faltering.
- Expect to need more rest, time alone, and to feel some isolation from your regular social life and schedule. Use this time to go inward and explore levels of body, mind, heart and spirit you might not normally have access to within your regular routine. Quiet and slow down at nighttime, get more sleep, and if you normally have a hot and sweaty vinyasa practice, switch it up and head towards a yin class or a restorative class. Your senses and intuition may be heightened so it is a great time for journaling, prayer and meditation.
- Aid your body and skin in releasing toxins. Increase deep respiration through exercise and yoga and use dry brushing, massage and sweaty sauna/steam/hot baths to cleanse the skin. If you are not pooping that is a problem and you may need to take measures to get your digestion moving and running smoothly.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Water will also help your body rid itself of toxins. Carry a water bottle with you at all times. If you grow tired of plain water dilute fruit juices in a ratio of 1:3, sip on aromatic herbal teas, or add other sugar-free and chemical-free flavorings to your water.
- Extreme cleansing or fasting may have a strong effect on the mind and spirit, but a depleting effect on the body. If you are in a weakened state from an illness or other condition or have a history of eating disorder, take a more moderate approach to cleansing. Also consider your body type as a way to guide your cleanse choices. If you are thin, tend to run cold and are an airy vata type, a week of juice fasting may not be the right thing for you. On the other hand if you are overweight and a solid kapha type, raw foods and juices might help you to lighten up in a healthy way and rid some of your heavier energy. If you have a history with an eating disorder watch for negative pound-dropping mentality creeping in as you alter your diet.
Pledge to feeding your highest and most divine self and use your cleanse to heal, purify and increase your vitality.
- Beware of cleanses that rely on excess sugar in the form of fruit juices or smoothies. Sugar is not a healing food and too much sugar, even if masquerading as a delicious fresh organic fruit smoothie, can lead you to crazy cravings and post-cleanse relapse and binges. Your body will want to balance against the sugar so having intense salt, protein, & fat cravings may overwhelm you. If you are attracted to fruit keep it whole, which gives you the benefits of fiber and pectin to slow down the sugar absorption rate.
- Eat all the colors of the rainbow. Yes it sounds terribly corny and new age, but no matter what type of cleanse you adopt the more colorful your food is the more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients you will be consuming. Explore many different types of bright fruits, vegetables and spices. Insuring food diversity is key to improving your diet and combining multiple sources of phytochemicals increases their overall effects.
I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer and may your cleansing journey lead you to greater physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Marisha Doan has been fascinated by using food as medicine her entire life. She is enchanted by the vibrancy of fresh whole foods and is especially obsessed with leafy greens and California avocados. In 2012 she completed a course of study in nutrition through The Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Marisha teaches group classes at Yoga Tree Potrero and offers one-on-one yoga and nutrition sessions. When not teaching and helping people achieve their health goals she can be found riding her bicycle, taking long picturesque walks with her husband and pit bull terrier, creating elaborate meals and deepening her training in Forrest Yoga and the Tamalpa Institute Life/Art Process. She is thrilled to meld all of her talents and interests into her work as a yoga instructor and holistic health counselor. Learn more at www.marishadoan.com.