There are times when we may feel sluggish in our lives, like toxicity has built up. We realize we aren’t as comfortable as we should be, like it’s difficult to take full, deep breaths. We feel as though we should have more space, more room to breathe, not only in our bodies but in all areas of life. Detoxing allows us to let go of what no longer serves us, freeing us from the past and allowing us to be fully present and ready to welcome the future.
This is the first of a three-part series that covers detoxing the body, living/work space, and relationships. We begin with the body, as it’s the easiest to detox. That’s partly because the body naturally cleanses itself all the time. While we’re asleep our liver does its best cleansing work between 12 and 2am, so the best place to start to feel better in your body is to make sure you’re going to sleep before midnight.
Another nighttime practice to adopt is to stop eating by 8pm. According to Ayurveda (yoga’s sister science), our digestion is strongest at the middle of the day between 12 and 2pm, when the sun is at its highest place in the sky. After that, our Agni, or “digestive fire” gets gradually weaker as the sun sets. Ideally, our biggest meal of the day would be lunch since that is the time that our digestion is strongest, and our lightest meal would be dinner, since that is when digestion is the weakest. From another perspective, we slow down at the end of the day, typically burning less calories. Our metabolisms also slow down when we sleep, so we need less energy (calories) before sleep. Even further, it is difficult to get a restful sleep if our bellies are full of food to digest. Instead of working on cleansing at that point, the body has to focus on digesting the food in the stomach, when the Agni is at its weakest and the metabolism is at its slowest.
Ayurveda and yoga also indicate that we should start our day with detoxifying practices. First, we should brush our teeth and scrape the tongue. Before eating anything, we should also eliminate waste (in less polite terms, we should poop before breakfast). Hot water with lemon first thing in the morning is a great cleansing and energizing way to start the day. Even if you don’t give up coffee, having hot water with lemon first is a good practice to adopt. Drinking it throughout the day is an easy way to promote the removal of toxins from the system, alkalize the blood, and hydrate the cells. To make an extra-cleansing tea, combine hot water with fresh lemon and either cilantro or parsley. An alternative that boosts digestion is to combine lemon with ginger.
There are cleansing foods that encourage the body to remove toxins as well. Beets and carrots are not only full of vitamins and nutrients, but they also cleanse the liver. You can consume them raw, roast them with your other favorite veggies, or drink them in a juice. There are many cleansing herbs, like cilantro, coriander, parsley, and turmeric, and adding them to your meals is an easy and tasty way to promote detoxification naturally.
Many fruits and vegetable are cleansing also, and adding more of them into your diet can keep your system balanced. Top cleansing vegetables beyond beets and carrots include celery, lettuce, kale, and spinach, and some extra cleansing fruits are apples, pineapple, cranberry, and grapefruit. Merely eating more pure fruits and vegetables is cleansing. To keep your system feeling good and reduce toxic buildup, limit and avoid sources of toxins, like processed sugars starches. Reduce processed foods or remove them from your diet entirely, replacing them with whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains like quinoa and brown rice. If any product has high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, or ingredients you can’t pronounce in it, it does not belong in your body.
Alcohol is toxic. I’m sorry to be the deliverer of bad news, but it is. Repeat this sentence out loud: “Alcohol is a toxin.” It affects your brain and your body negatively, and if you’re considering a detox, alcohol is likely the reason. Do not consume any alcohol during your time of detox, and following it commit to consuming less, if any.
Fasting is another option to consider. In Ayurveda we learn that balance never comes from extremes, and fasting can seem extreme. However, if done for the proper amount of time and under the right conditions, fasting is very healthy. Think about fasting like setting a “reset” button on your digestive system. It gives your body the chance to clean itself and remove toxic buildup. Before deciding to fast for days on end though, consider starting gently. If you’ve never fasted before, try not eating dinner on a day you decide in advance. Let your last meal be lunch, and then don’t eat again until breakfast the following morning. Dedicate your time of fasting to something other than food, replacing your mealtime ritual with spending time in meditation and prayer, reading a good book, or even going on a walk. Be gentle with yourself during your fast, and know that it’s okay to drink coconut water or vegetable broth if you need to. It is very important to drink plenty of water during your time of fasting to keep your body hydrating and cleansing.
Fasting for one meal is a great place to start, and if you’re ready to fast for a longer period of time, try fasting for 24 hours. The next time you fast, if you feel like you should do so for longer than that, try fasting for 36 or 48 hours. Your body receives the maximum benefit of fasting after 42-48 hours, so longer than that is excessive. It is recommended to plan your fast before your fast - failure to plan is planning to fail, after all. Decide how long you will fast and what your fast will include, whether you will only drink water, or whether you will consume a liquid-only diet, including juice and broth. Also, if you’ve struggled with anorexia or other eating disorders, fasting may be triggering for you. In that case, it may be healthiest for you to fast something other than food, like caffeine or social media, and continue reinforcing your healthy eating habits.
Finally, another simple way to encourage the body to let go of toxins is to exercise! Working up a sweat, whether it be from a vigorous walk, bike ride, or yoga class, is a great and natural way to detoxify the body. Sweat is one of the ways our bodies eliminate waste – it cleans us from the inside out, and is even good for the skin’s pores. In yoga specifically, there are poses that further encourage detoxification, such as twisted postures, which “wring out” the internal organs. Daily exercise is a great way to keep your system cleansed and balanced, and designating specified times of adding extra exercise, like a walk each morning, to your existing exercise regimen for a week or two while practicing other detoxifying techniques, is sure to make you feel lighter, cleaner, and healthier.
The trend of taking a mini vacation to detox is becoming popular as well, making cleansing the body a little more accessible – often even making it a fun experience! For example, I am leading a “Spring Cleansing” yoga retreat next month nestled in Florida’s nature, away from toxic city noise. The purpose is to spend a couple of days giving the body and mind a break from the demands of our busy lives. We will be cleansing the body from the inside out gently, practicing Ayurvedic cleansing techniques, doing lots of yoga, taking nature walks, encouraging rest as the body resets itself, and eating whole and cleansing foods. Participants will leave feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, having let go of anything no longer serving their body, mind, and spirit.
Letting go of what no longer serves us is really what detoxing is all about. For the body, we encourage it to purge toxins. As we become healthier, we encourage the body to function optimally as we move forward toward new beginnings, whether that be at the start of each day or the welcoming of a new season.
Please note that I am not a medical doctor, and the opinions stated above are based on my own experience and personal studies. I am happy to answer any questions you may have about detoxing, one-on-one help, and retreats.
Coming up next week: Take detoxing a step further: how to fix toxic spaces, such as living and work environments.
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