"The human body is an inherently self cleansing organism. Without our elaborate and multi-organ system of detoxification, our bodies would be unable to survive more than just a few days."
- Dave Winston, Herbalist, AHG
Have you ever done a cleanse before? Many of us nowadays have heard of this fashionable word, but might have some questions, concerns, or even genuine fears about cleansing. What is it, exactly? What am I supposed to eat? Am I going to be hungry? I don't want to sit on a toilet all day! Rest-assured, dear friend, a cleanse is a very natural thing. In fact, our bodies cleanse daily.
I don't remember my first cleanse because I had barely finished breast-feeding at the time. At about 8 months of age, my body was violently allergic to milk and my body went into overdrive cleanse mode. It was a dangerously violent cleanse: vomiting, diarrhea, a lot of weight loss - you name it. I can't recall if I had headaches but if I was able to communicate at the time, I'm willing to bet that I would have. Once my mother discovered the reason for this reaction and eliminated milk from my diet, I went to back to homeostasis and growing into a healthy, rosy-cheeked baby.
You see, the body knows what is good for it and what is not, and when a poison or toxin is introduced to our systems, a healthy body will have no problem eliminating it. As we age, our bodies tend to accumulate these toxins, storing them for "later", a time when it can be safely released from our tissues because it can actually be dangerous to detoxify too quickly (as in the example of the 8-month old baby). Unfortunately, for many of us, "later" never comes.
Because of our hectic North American lifestyles, our bodies never get the chance to rest and reset - we are constantly introducing some new toxin, chemical, or allergen into our system. Thus, the need for a cleanse. When the coast is clear, figuratively speaking, the tissues in your body can finally release those poisonous toxins from deep within your fat tissues, muscles, and organs, and you can finally go back to healthy regeneration. In fact, a lot of the reason for our stored fat is to protect our organs from damage from free radicals (i.e. toxins). Adipose tissue (fat) acts as a barrier, blocking toxins from reeking havoc on your vital body systems. So, your fat is actually helping you! Love it! Until, that is, you can manage a cleanse.
HARNESSING THE POWER OF SPRING EQUINOX
Our ancient ancestors knew, as do farmers still, that there is a time and season for everything under the sun. Harvest has a season, as does sowing. With the arrival of Spring Equinox on March 20th, so approaches a time of rebirth and revival; full of new possibilities, and thus, a powerful time of purification, healing and rejuvenation. It is a time to cleanse ourselves of winter’s residue and open ourselves to exciting new possibilities. It is the most harmonious time of the year for fasting and cleansing the body and mind.
It is a particularly important time for our health and wellbeing since all living things are influenced by nature’s rhythms and cycles, such as the pull of the moon or the change of the seasons. Many of these influences have been observed and integrated into human culture and healing philosophies for thousands of years due to their effect on our health.
In terms of detox, one of the most powerful times of year is right now. During the Spring Equinox we can harness the powerful equinox energies to boost our health. Every living thing on earth will respond to the energies of the equinox by releasing toxicity from the cells, including us. Why this is so important in relation to detoxification is because if you get this excess toxicity out of your body fully and effectively now, in the spring time, then you are far more likely to remain healthy for the rest of the year – making a spring detox the perfect time to cleanse. A short period of cleansing and fasting helps to release stored toxins and paves the way for a healthy year ahead.
In a world where contact with additives, preservatives, and toxic chemicals are a daily occurrence, seasonal cleansing can assist in the removal of the burdensome toxic chemicals from our lifestyle, environment, and diet. With the proper support, we can assist our organs of elimination throughout the year.
Benefits of Cleansing
Cleansing, when done properly, provides gentle enhancement of all eliminatory pathways and provides a safe yet effective way of excreting metabolic wastes. Some benefits of cleansing include:
- Inhibit pathogenic bacteria which can upset our regular and essential bowel flora
- A source of trace minerals for healthy hair, skin, and nails
- Enhance digestion, support gut health and optimize absorption of nutrients
- Enhance systemic circulation
- Improve cellular regeneration
- Help to maintain a healthy weight
- Reduce tissue inflammation
- Liver detoxification support
- Assist with stubborn skin conditions
- Energy improvement
- Enhanced immunity
- Minimize the effects of external and internal stress
Types of Cleanses
JUICE or SMOOTHie CLEANSE
Detox smoothies are an easy and delicious way to flush your body of toxins and help lose weight fast. They usually contain fresh vegetables and fruit, and can be made with an ordinary kitchen blender or Vitamix machine. As far as detoxification, cleansing requires fibre, which even the greenest of juices lack. However, a juice cleanse over a short period of time, perhaps 3-5 days, reduces the demands on your body of digestion to focus on cleansing and elimination.
You can do a smoothie or a juice cleanse on its own, or replace the first one or two meals of the day with a smoothie, opting for a light, vegan meal for lunch and/or dinner. This latter option is my personally preferred. If you lower your calories too dramatically, your body will go into starvation mode and slow down the metabolism, causing you to regain weight once the cleanse is over. (More on this in the FAQs below.)
HERBAL SUPPLEMENTATION Cleanse
Herbal supplements that are based on the traditional approach of using alternative, "blood cleansing" herbs are transformative to enhancing the function of skin, kidneys, lymph, lungs, and bowel, thus stimulating the body's self regulating capacity to improve long term function, while strengthening and toning the organ systems. One of my favourite brands is the Botanica Restorative Cleanse Kit. Unlike many of the purgative laxative cleansing kits on the market, which can create a dramatic physical response, the Botanica cleanse works to nourish and build the body. Their formulae improve long term function while utilizing gentle, effective herbs to support the body's normal function, entrusting the body's innate wisdom and ability to do its own work. Using unique combinations of synergistic potent herbs, it tonifies the organs of elimination in a 2 phase, twice daily herbal "cleansing" that works safely and gently to eliminate metabolic waste, improve digestion, and support a healthy weight.
When should I cleanse, and how frequently?
Most people like to cleanse around the time of the change of seasons. The most powerful of which is Springtime. However, cleansing can also be done to start a weight loss program, at the onset of a new health regime, to change routine, break bad habits, or address specific ailments or health issues.
Who should not cleanse?
If you are pregnant it is best to preserve your body's vital energy for nourishing a healthy baby, thus I recommend not cleansing during pregnancy or breast-feeding. However, cleansing prior to conception is an excellent way to facilitate reproductive health.
Can you take supplements or prescription drugs while cleansing?
It is best to set aside other vitamins or supplements while cleansing, so the body can focus on the cleansing process. If you are using prescription medication or are dealing with chronic health issues, check with your health care provider prior to cleansing. Herbs are effective for supporting the whole body health and can be used in conjunction with allopathic medications. Although, of course, if it can be safely done, it is always best to eliminate as many chemicals from the body as possible during a cleanse. Key word here being, safely. Ask your (naturopathic) doctor, first.
This is my first cleanse - what can I expect?
The more issues you have with nutrition, lifestyle, and stress management, the more benefits you will garner from a cleanse. However, you'll also have a greater detox "hump" to get over. Take time to modify your nutrition and lighten your schedule to provide your body the time for rest and regeneration. Remember, you are a living organism, NOT a machine! Some people notice decreased energy during cleansing, especially at the beginning of a program, and then report feeling more energized, clear-headed, and alert towards the end.
Occasionally, people may notice headaches, body pains, or chills. For some, increased bowel movements or frequent urination is noted. This is known as the "Herxheimer reaction" and denotes detox symptoms similar to a cold or flu that can accompany a cleanse. These issues are most commonly reported if one is transitioning from a poor nutritional habits or a toxic lifestyle with unchecked gusto. Moderation is the key, here, so if the symptoms are too intense, drink more water and decrease the cleansing herbs and supplements by a quarter, third, or even half.
Occasionally, people may report a flare up of a symptom before symptoms gradually improve. Other individuals happily report that they feel perfectly well during cleansing, with no reports of adverse symptoms.
Can I still exercise while cleansing?
Yes. Cleansing is a time best used to support your body, so take time to slow down so the body can redirect energy reserves towards detoxification. Vigorous exercise may take away energy from reserves the body has available for cleansing, but consistent, gentle exercise programs are beneficial. We recommend cleansing first, and then moving into a more rigorous exercise program.
Will I lose weight?
As cleansing is a personal experience, the specific benefits or body changes noted during cleansing will be unique to each person. Many people do report feeling lighter during a cleanse and may lose a few pounds. For those who are underweight, it is important to ensure that one continues to eat when hungry and has an assortment of nutritional foods during a cleanse.
Can I fast while on a cleanse?
Many cleanses are unsustainable, and can include fasting, maintaining a very restrictive diet, or consuming only liquid meals. This approach is not ideal, as it can disrupt blood sugar levels, lowerinng energy and leading to a lack of nutrients for normal body function. The goal is to introduce daily, sustainable habits every day of the year which ultimately lead to a healthy and vibrant life. Furthermore, studies indicate that Phase 2 liver detoxification can shut down during fasting, liberating fat soluble compounds back into the bloodstream. Ideally, the goal of cleansing is to support the body in removing these compounds from the body.
Desiring great skin, freedom from headaches, optimal digestion, protection and peace of mind of our toxic world? Build your body's endurance from the inside out! Reach for Mother Nature's tools for a cleaner body and mind.
Seasonal cleansing is an ideal support for those wanting to address the effects of a sedentary lifestyle, ingesting heaving processed foods, and contact with toxic chemicals from our environment which are a burden on our bodies.
Combine the energizing freshness of a restorative cleanse with a healthy lifestyle and adequate sleep and you'll have a recipe for feeling great year round!
Stay tuned for next week's delicious smoothie and juice recipes, green-light foods to eat during a cleanse, and how to use Bowen Therapy to assist your body's natural detoxification systems!
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