The Four Phases of a Total Life Cleanse

As the winter wanes and the weather warms up, we tend to feel the need to purge our closets of clothes we no longer wear, and our drawers of papers and odds and ends we no longer need. Added daylight might prompt us to get the oil changed in our cars or at least to give them a good washing, as we rinse away built-up dirt and debris from last season.

Why should our bodies be any different? Just like our closets and our cars, wouldn’t we benefit from seasonal cleansing, as well? Author of The Total Life Cleanse and cocreator of the Total Life Cleanse (TLC) program, master acupuncturist, and Ayurvedic practitioner Jonathan Glass says yes, absolutely.

“Cleansing is a time to reset,” he notes, “and focus on eating clean, increasing nutrition, and depleting stress. It’s a safe, natural, and ancient process to support the body and mind to detox, heal, and rejuvenate.”

Because most Americans still subsist on the Standard American Diet (SAD)—high in red meat, dairy products, salt, and processed and artificially sweetened foods—the need for cleansing is great. “There’s a correlation between SAD and stress and toxicity,” Jonathan explains. “A poor diet means poor nutrition, and poor nutrition means poor cellular functioning and lower reserves of essential nutrients that support optimal brain chemistry and well-being. Stress also uses up lots of nutrients. When we become [nutritionally] deficient or imbalanced, we retain toxins and become more vulnerable to them.”

Based in Ayurvedic principles, with a healthy dose of Chinese medicine and modern nutritional science thrown in, the TLC encourages cleansing on the three levels of human existence—body, mind, and soul.

On the level of the body, food is key. Jonathan underscores that the Total Life Cleanse is neither a juice fast nor a calorie-restricting diet. For 28 days (the time it takes for the moon to go through one full cycle), TLC participants are carefully taken through four detox-promoting phases. “Cleansing too quickly,” he cautions, “can have acute and sometimes long-lasting detrimental effects.”

Removing sugar and processed foods happens in Phase One. Phase Two focuses on simple eating (kitchari—made of rice, mung beans, leafy greens, and spices like turmeric, cumin, and coriander—is a staple). Phase Three goes deeper into greens and other detox practices, and Phase Four stabilizes participants in clean and cleanse-friendly eating.

“The cleanse is meant to help the body, mind, and soul lighten up and reset,” Jonathan says. “Greens and veggies are recommended. Animal protein, on the other hand, is dense, so avoiding that for some time is a good thing. And most dairy generates phlegm in the body, so it’s not recommended during a cleanse.”

Breakfast during the TLC might consist of a smoothie containing greens, plant protein, seeds, ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon. Lunch might be kitchari, and dinner could be a soup made of veggies from the brassica family, like broccoli and arugula.

“After the TLC, many people either let go of meat altogether or find that their desire for it is far less,” Jonathan says. “They might only eat it a couple of times per week, which is good for the heart, the body, the planet, and, yes, the animals.”

Cleansing also affects the emotional body, according to Jonathan, because of the nature of cleansing food itself. Ayurveda describes food as having one of three qualities:

  • Tamasic: These are heavy or dense foods, like processed meat, junk food, and alcohol, that cause a feeling of dullness due to lack of nutritional content.
  • Rajasic: These stimulating foods include eggs, chocolate, and highly salted, oily, and/or spicy foods.
  • Sattvic: These are balanced and harmonizing foods, like vegetables, greens, fruits, legumes, and whole grains, which are all cleansing staples.

“When we eat sattvic, plant-based meals,” Jonathan explains, “the mind and emotions naturally become more balanced. In fact, people often find that once they’re past the liver detox phase and have settled into a plant-based diet, their minds become sharper, more agile, and more creative.”

Jonathan also recommends intention-setting as part of a TLC practice. “Before falling asleep, set an intention of how you want to feel when you wake up in the morning. Then, when you wake up, set a clear intention for the day, connect with your divinity, and step onto the earth.”

Cleansing in the modern era also involves detoxing from technology, which can be more rejuvenating than you might expect. “Ayurveda says that not only do we digest our food,” Jonathan explains, “but we also have to digest our experiences and sensory input. Taking a break from the influx of today’s technology gives the senses, the mind, the nervous system—and even our intelligence—a rest, which allows us to process and eliminate the abundance of information and sensory experiences we’re exposed to on a daily basis.”

Jonathan says TLC participants often experience better energy, digestion, skin, and immunity, along with greater mental calm and focus, and reduced irritability and stress. They also describe benefits like greater inspiration, more curiosity about a higher purpose in life, and an enhanced sense of connection to their inner wisdom.

“Recently,” he recalls, “one woman [in the program] had serious skin issues and excess weight, including edema. During the cleanse, we discovered she had heavy metal toxicity and allergies. Remarkably, during the cleanse, her edema cleared, as did her skin.”

When it comes to frequency, Jonathan suggests doing the Total Life Cleanse in the spring and again in the fall. “It’s natural to get out of balance and become overwhelmed by stress,” he says. “Intentionally resetting twice a year is an effective, practical, and wonderful way to cultivate personal and spiritual health.”

Find out about programs with Jonathan Glass at Kripalu.

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Portland Helmich has been investigating natural health and healing as a host, reporter, writer, and producer for more than 15 years.

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