A Gentler, Kinder Spring Detox

by Valerie Reiss

Spring has sprung! Kind of, sort of—well, just enough to get me in the mood to clear out the old, stale, winter energy and usher in some fresh air. This means combing through closets, the pantry, and recirculating stuff that no longer serves. It also means cleaning out me. Winter is an inherently stiller time—that focuses on hibernating and eating warm foods and cozying inside, than, say, fresh salads and lots of sweat and getting fresh oxygen from blooming trees. It can also leave us feeling heavy and sluggish in the face of the vibrant spring,

But every detox article that comes out around now seems to read the same, right? The alternative health side says we need to GET THE GOOK OUT—NOW! And the mainstream medical side says, "The body knows how to detox itself. No cleanses are needed." To which I say…the answer is in the middle. As someone who has done many cleanses (and much research on said detoxes), I feel that a) A good inner rinse once in a while creates a healthier baseline—but chugging lemony spicy maple syrup juice is not my body's idea of a good time. And b) Do those doctors live in a land with no extra toxins? A utopia without what my favorite holistic doc, Dr. Frank Lipman, calls "toxic load."

I am all for treating the body gently: way too often I sense that warped body image issues propel the need for cleanses—mine included. I see obsessive, addiction-prone minds get really, really into detoxing—one former drug dealer I knew became a raw foods chef and joked that fruit was his new product to push. He'd whisper: "I've got some great cherimoya in the back. Wanna taste?"

That said, here are some gentler, kinder ways to detox. Everyone's body is different, so check with your health-care provider before trying any of these, and always listen to your body—I come from a school that says feeling awful while detoxing means you're doing something too fast, too much.

1. Body brushing. YouTube has many videos demonstrating proper body-brushing technique, but the gist is, you want a soft-bristled brush with a long handle, one you don't use in the shower. Start brushing from your feet upward, in nice, medium-length strokes, always brushing toward the heart. Get your whole body. And after, notice how you feel—I feel revitalized.

2. Drink more water. Many nutritionists I've interviewed over the years say, "Drink half your body weight in ounces." So, if you weigh 120 pounds, that's 60 ounces, or about two liters of water a day. I fill up my one-liter water bottle and pour it into a glass, then refill the bottle once, and repeat, and I've got my daily fill, pretty much. When I commit to this, I notice that my skin feels softer, my head feels better, and I have more energy.

3. Yogic twists. Many yoga teachers tout the relatively unresearched wisdom that twists are detoxifying. Honestly, I don't know if it's valid science or not, but it feels true. When I'm in a seated spinal twist, for example, I sense that I'm squeezing my liver and pancreas and stomach and then releasing and allowing new blood to flow to them. Make closed twists (meaning twists moving toward the knee) part of your regular routine—as long as you don't have any spinal problems and aren't pregnant. Be sure to twist from the ribs and upper back, and keep the neck long while rotating the trunk to avoid strain.

4. Sauna. It's good work if you can get it! In many countries (such as Sweden and Korea), sweating it out in a hot, humid room is not a luxury, but part of basic health. Bottom line: You sweat out a whole lot of gunk. It's important to stay remain hydrated, not stay in too long (listen to your body—and read the sign on the door), and take breaks if you get lightheaded. And again, check with your doc. The old Kripalu lore was that 30 minutes in the sauna release the amount of toxins you would normally sweat over 24 hours. This seems possibly apocryphal and impossible to measure, but I do know that I feel fantastic emerging from that sweaty room.

5. Eat whole grains, fruits, nuts, and veggies. It kind of cracks me up when people who mainly eat fried chicken and milkshakes decide they must do the Master Cleanse for 10 days to get a detox benefit. But truly, if your diet includes anything other than whole grains, fruits, nuts, and veggies—that is a nice "fast" for you. Cut the sauces and sugars and wheats and anything that comes in a wrapper, and you may notice a powerful shift—sans the detox headache. The most informative and delicious cleanse I ever did was a week of juices and salads piled high with avocado, tomato, and seaweed and doused with lemon and a touch of olive oil—yum! And when I eventually came back to "normal" eating, things like pizza seemed more entertainment than food—fun for my tongue, but not nourishing to my body. Apples, on the other hand, were suddenly a juicy miracle from above.

Valerie Reiss is a writer, editor, speaker, consultant, and Kripalu Yoga instructor whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, Women's Health, Natural Health, Yoga Journal, Beliefnet, Vegetarian Times, and more.

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