Did you miss the first few posts on fasting and detox? Read about the good, the bad and the excellent on fasts and detoxes on Part 1, details on specific programs in Part 2, and a rundown of herbs, supplements and other natural therapies that could accompany a nutritional cleansing regime in Part 3.
I sit cross-legged on the floor, back leaning against the worn sofa, my journal open beside me. A burning flickers candle before me, smoke rising into the air. The unfamiliar but friendly black cat pads across my lap again, and I absently stroke her soft fur.
It’s the night before I am to begin a three-day juice fast and I’m on a solo retreat in a rustic cabin in the Trinity Alps of Northern California. The smoke lingering in the air comes not from the candle or a smudge stick, but from the mini conflagration I’ve created. I’ve just written a list of everything I’m ready to let go of and held it to the candle flame.
As I watch the paper spark, curl and turn to ash, I affirm that I am done! Finished with these inner obstacles. The fears and habits that hold me back.
It’s a little ritual to cleanse myself on the inside, before embarking on this physical cleanse.
This all happened almost a decade ago. I’d somehow managed to the time and space to go away on retreat for that particular fast (the only time, by the way that I allowed myself that luxury – high time I did it again!)
While and removing yourself from the hustle bustle of daily existence is absolutely awesome while fasting and detoxing, I get it that it may not be possible. If you waited around until you had the time, freedom and money to go away for a couple of days you might never get to that detox.
However – even if you are immersed in the obligations of day-to-day life, you will get far more out of your fast or cleanse if you make some time to nourish your spirit and emotions.
Even when you’ve found the ideal detox plan for your particular physical constitution – and you follow it to the letter, the benefits can only reach so far.
When your energy is not consumed in the choosing and digestion of food, your innate spirituality naturally begins to awaken. It becomes easier to focus on ritual, meditation, journaling and self-exploration.
Such activities can work to enhance the healing action of the detox. Not only will you be cleansed and healed physically, but on the emotional and spiritual level too.
This is probably the most important thing to do while you are cleansing or fasting. The reasons are myriad – the most basic being that it’s just plain useful to keep a record of what you did (or didn’t) eat each particular day and to track how you are feeling both physically and emotionally.
You can gain important information by doing this – especially if you are experimenting with a detox or fasting regime you haven’t tried before. How does your body like this plan? When you write it down each day, you’ll get a good sense of this after a few days.
But there really are no rules to journaling. Sure it’s great to track your food, mood and physical well being, but if you don’t want to, don’t let that keep you from writing while you cleanse. You don’t need to be a writer either.
Write about how hungry you are, what you can’t wait to eat when you finish the cleanse. Write a list, draw a picture. You can write at the beginning or end of your day, or you can carry it around and write whenever you feel like. And your journal can just be a plain spiral notebook, or even a document on your computer. Don’t get hung up thinking you need some special, fancy book.
Just make a point to give yourself those moments to write in it. If you allow enough time you will find that you reach a little deeper – perhaps into the underlying emotions that trigger different food cravings. This can be so valuable.
I just found my journal from that cleanse I did in the Trinity Alps. I saw another exercise I had done the night before I started the fast. I made a list in my journal of everything I love. I love to cuddle with my daughters. I love to walk in nature and look at flowers and herbs. I love to sing along with my favorite records.
What a fun list to look back on when I can’t remember anything I like about my life!
Even more important than documenting your physical reactions during the cleanse, is to track what you eat when you begin to eat normally again.
If you are dutiful about recording what you are eating, and make a note at least twice a day of your physical well being (or lack thereof) you can easily spot which foods might cause problems for you.
Of course, that only works if you are a good little detox student, and add foods back in slowly. If you sit down the day after a cleanse and scarf a couple of slices of pepperoni pizza – well, you may feel a little crappy. But you’ll have no idea if it was the wheat, the cheese, the oil, the pepperoni , or what.
So, yeah. Try to introduce different food groups at different times so you can get a sense of which foods might cause the unpleasant symptoms you were trying to get rid of by cleansing in the first place.
Exercise (But Not Too Hard)
When you’re detoxing, it’s even more important than usual to get that body moving. However – heavy cardio and weight lifting could actually sabotage your detox process. Strenuous exercise has been shown to increase damaging free radicals in the body – something you definitely don’t want happening when you are cleansing. You need your antioxidants during this process
It sounds counter-intuitive, but if your goal is lasting weight loss, you will be more successful if you choose a more moderate exercise routine while cleansing. Plus, you simply won’t have as much energy for high intensity exercise while you are detoxing.
So, if you’re a regular at the gym, usually putting in an hour or two of cardio and weights, your detox time is the perfect opportunity to explore some different routines.
This is a hard one for those of us that crave our exercise endorphins. But if you honor your body’s message to you during this time, you are likely to feel more tuned in and connected to yourself.
Some simple yoga postures and stretches will keep you feeling limber and energized during the cleansing process. Add this to a 20-30 minute walk outside each day, and you’ve got a pleasurable movement routine that also gives you a chance for the quiet introspection that is so valuable while you are cleansing.
Be Nourished By Nature
Another benefit of daily walking is that it gets you outside. Look up at the sky, examine the bark of a tree, search the ground for rocks and other natural items that speak to you.
Time spent outdoors will feed your soul and put you in touch with the greater whole that you are connected to. You can even take your journal outside when the weather is warm and let the sun’s rays nourish you while you write. Sometimes when I’m on a cleanse I treat myself to an afternoon nap out in the fresh air.
Meditation / Prayer
Since fasting has its roots in religious devotion, prayer and meditation fit naturally. But – wait! Don’t skip this part simply because you’re not religious or particularly spiritual! It’s about so much more than that!
The evidence is mounting that a regular meditation practice provides health benefits as well as helping you to feel less stressed and more centered and relaxed. If you don’t already have a regular practice, this is a good time to try it out.
Lots of people imagine that meditation involves being able to sit still and empty their mind for extended periods of time. Well, guess what? That’s not the way it works for the millions of folks who are reaping the rewards of this regular practice.
I love this irreverent look at the benefits of meditation. Give it a read if you’re feeling skeptical.
Although it’s taken me five decades to get serious about a regular meditation practice, I’ve always made time for it while I am clearing my system with a detox. It’s easier to find the discipline to take 10 minutes to sit and breathe during cleansing periods. And even though my mind was far from empty, the insights that came during those moments were often profound.
You can do this on the fly, or use one of the jillions of guided meditations that are available on DVD or via download from the Internet.
Ah, here’s another one that is so difficult to embrace in this modern world! There’s just so damn much to do! Who has time for eight hours a night? And the irony is that you often get a flush of energy while cleansing which an make you want to stay up late and keep going while you’re so motivated. I’ve fallen for this – and it’s been to my detriment!
Your body needs its replenishing rest even more while it is flushing toxins. Do what you can to give yourself enough. A full eight hours of sleep a night is ideal, and you might need even more during your cleanse. Make like a toddler if you can and give yourself a little lie down in the afternoon.
It turns out that we get the most benefit from our nightly sleep when we synchronize it with our natural cortisol levels. That’s this energizing hormone that we produce in our bodies. Cortisol peaks in the early morning and diminishes to its lowest levels around three hours after sunset – and that’s why so many health experts advise turning in around 10 p.m. If you follow this directive you may find you have less trouble falling and staying asleep.
If you have trouble dialing it all down by 10, try turning off the electronic stimulation an hour or so before. Say good night to the TV and computer and use that time to read, write in your journal or treat yourself to a hot, relaxing bubble bath. It’s all about loving and caring for yourself. Such nurturing encourages your body to efficiently detox.
You are doing yourself and your body such a huge favor by embarking on a fast or cleanse. But sometimes it can feel miserable, like deprivation. Treat yourself when you can with healthful activities and luxuries that you love.
I like to head for the sauna at last once a week while I’m cleansing. But that’s me – I love the experience of sweating it out in the sauna, and of course that assists in the detox process. Hot tubs are another way to reward and thank yourself for making the effort to become healthier.
A professional massage not only feels divine, but it will stimulate your body to release further toxins through the lymph system. It’s an ideal reward to yourself if you can afford it and know of a skilled massage practitioner. If either of those is a sticking point, check to see if there is a massage school in your local area.
Often these training programs offer low cost student massages – a little riskier as far as the quality of the massage. But I’ve actually had fantastic experiences with student masseuses. They are excited and motivated and are always careful to ask questions to ensure that the experience meets your needs.
These are just a few ideas for nurturing your spirit while you cleanse your body. You can probably think of lots more – it’s all about what works for you.
How about trying out some breathing exercises? Or doing a walking meditation? If you’re finding that you crave introspective time and are inspired to work on your personal growth while cleansing, take a look at the inspiring suggestions found at A Year With Myself. The full adventure kit offers guided meditations and all sorts of self-exploration exercises.
When I retreated to the mountains for my fast those many years ago, I was following a plan outlined in the book 3-Day Energy Fast. If you’d like to learn more about creating your own personal rituals, I highly recommend this book. It’s about much more than how to make good juices!
To me, one of the biggest benefits of going on a detox is the extra time and energy I discover for nourishing my spirit. I hope it is the same for you.