Ah, the Cleanse!
A simple mind and body cleansing guide
The smell of spring is in the air, and the heavy dark days and moods of winter are slowly becoming a thing of the past. Spring is a natural time of new growth, fresh ideas and a renewed spirit. The seeds dormant in winter come to life with the warmer weather, rain and sunshine. In Chinese Medicine it is the seasonal time of the liver system, and energetically a more active time of the year, a time to put things in motion and make things you’ve been thinking about…happen. A cleanse is a wonderful way to set the stage for a change. It’s actually the ideal time to cleanse according to Chinese Medicine.
Just like we have the urge to throw open the windows, clean the cupboards and move some of that stuck winter energy in our homes, we also need to do that not only for our bodies and digestive systems, but also for our mind and spirits.
We can clear some of the old stuck energy perhaps showing up in some behaviours that aren’t serving us well or negative thinking patterns. It’s also a wonderful time to put new plans in motion. Do you want to exercise more, meditate, sleep more, take up dancing or yoga or just try to be calmer and kinder? New resolutions are actually much better suited for the active spring season than in the depths of winter on January 1st.
Cleansing in a physical sense, letting go of some of the heavier, warming foods of winter and opting for the lighter fresher and cleaner foods of the spring to help shed some winter weight and give your organs a well needed break clearing some built up toxins.
Emotionally we can look to shed some self-limiting behaviours (do you always show up late, beat yourself up with negative self talk, find yourself yelling at people in traffic or forgoing the gym for some comfort food and a movie?).
Giving yourself a bit of a mental cleanse and letting go of some negative thought patterns can be just as beneficial and necessary as a physical cleanse.
When doing a physical cleanse, there are some general guidelines that are good to follow but it’s important to check with your health care professional (TCM doctor, naturopath or allopathic doctor if needed) as each person is unique and it’s important to have a customized cleanse at times and to be monitored by a trained professional.
By identifying your internal ‘patterns’, your TCM practitioner can help to customize your cleanse offering you herbs to support your various organ systems, optimizing your cleansing effort and making sure it is safe for you. If you’re in good health and are looking for more of a general food based cleanse, these guidelines should be helpful.
• Eat as many vegetables as you like and organic whenever possible. Try to aim for 6 or more include at least 2-3 leafy greens daily. • Fruits like blueberries, raspberries, apples and pears are great choices, but avoid tropical fruits • Aim for nuts and seeds like almonds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and sesame seeds but avoid the oilier nuts like cashews and peanuts • Avoid all refined sugars, flours, dairy products and refined packaged foods • Exercise daily (try to sweat as often as possible as it helps to rid the body of toxins.) • Start your day with warm water and lemon (it kick starts your digestion and aids in the cleansing process) • Stimulate your lymph glands to aid in cleansing (saunas, alternating hot-cold water in the shower, dry skin brushing, EXERCISE!) • Eat organic when ever possible • Drink lots of clean filtered water at least 2 ltrs/day is ideal (herbal non-caffeinated teas count towards this) • Avoid alcohol and caffeine in all forms • Rest when needed. Cleansing can be tiring as your body works to rid itself of stored up toxins so it is important to listen to your body and rest and relax as you need it (try not to over plan when doing a cleanse, particularly if it is your first one – think of it as a prescription to relax). • Keep your blood sugar stable by trying to eat 3-5 meals or snacks daily (every three to five hours including some protein and good fats Protein foods take up to 5 hours to digest while carbohydrate foods digest within 30 minutes.) • Laugh and enjoy life as much as you can!
Fighting with an addiction?
Sometimes it's not until we take something away (that morning coffee, the afternoon treat etc.), that we really realize how much we've been dependant on it to get us though the day. Rituals are lovely and having certain foods daily can be totally healthy and safe, but if you’re dealing with sugar cravings or withdrawl from caffeine, alcohol or other refined foods during your cleanse, there are some tips that can help.
Drugs, alcohol and sweet foods can give a temporarily lift, but can make you feel worse in the long term. The reason we crave more and more of refined sugary white flour based products is that, although full of calories, they are stripped of nutrients that our body needs to thrive. When we eat refined foods, our body is searching for nutrients, when they aren’t to be found, we want more thinking that we’ll get them in the next ‘round’. When we eat whole foods and whole grains, we get the nutrients our body needs and our cravings are diminished.
Here are some simple tips that can help:
• Chew! – Yes, Chew. This simple thing helps to increases mindfulness, improves digestion and absorption of nutrients which will decreased cravings • Eat ample protein -it helps quell sugar rushes and helps to build new tissue in the body • Whole unrefined carbohydrates (they contain glyconutrients essential for well-being) o Brown rice great remedy for cravings, also try quinoa, oats or millet as an alternative • Vit B 12 – helps to get off refined sugars and increases energy (brewers yeast) • Go Green. Green foods contain chlorophyll, which helps to stabilize blood sugar helping with cravings (kale, spinach, broccoli, green beans, bok choy are great options. Coriander/cilantro is a great option and great at helping in riding the body of heavy metals) • Green foods like spirulina contain something called Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid that is found mostly in plant-based oils which helps calm while detoxing. It is nutrient dense and supplies the body with vitamins and minerals essential to well-being.
The Mental Cleanse
When looking to make some mental and emotional changes, mindfulness and awareness is always the first step. Try to catch your thought patterns around things, whether they be things you want to do, or don’t want. What is your self-talk like?
There’s a lovely saying that was passed onto me at a meditation retreat I did and it says “you can’t change your first thought, but you can your second”. Meaning, negative, self-deprecating or undesirable thoughts are going to happen, but as soon as you become aware, you have to opportunity and ability to change it. Be it letting the thought go (as you’d do in meditation), or change it to something beneficial and helpful. By slowly changing thought patterns, you have the ability to radically shift your reality.
If you have a habit you’re trying to let go of like smoking or some food craving, try to pay attention to what thoughts precede the craving. Often it’s based on some emotion or feeling (lonely, nervous, tired…), if you can identify the feeling and then find some other way to placate that feeling, you can slowly start to let go of the bad habit.
I was at a 10 day silent meditation retreat years ago and there was a girl that I met and was talking with after the retreat. She’d been a smoker for years but found that during the retreat when the silence was in-forced, she had zero desire for a cigarette. However, as soon as the silence was broken and she had to engage and talk with people again, the desire for a cigarette came back with a vengeance. For her it was a deep awakening and understanding that social situations made her nervous and uncomfortable and the cigarette calmed her. She wanted to quit but in doing so she had to address her anxiety and find some other coping technique that helped calm herself (luckily there are many!). Working with a mindfulness based practitioner can be helpful in getting started as can working with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, which has some wonderful tools to help support you in this process. Simple dietary changes listed above can help to calm the body and regulate your blood sugar as well, which is often a culprit in cravings and poor food choices.
By giving your body (and mind) a break in this beautiful spring season, you’re setting yourself up for a healthier, more vibrant, and potentially more joyful summer. Happy Cleansing!