The festivities are over for another year and lots of us will have overindulged in rich foods, alcohol and sweets as the season dictates. Many will have made the New Year’s resolution to cut back and an ever increasing number of companies, never missing the chance to make a quick buck during their dry spell, have capitalised on this to produce a wide range of detox products.
However in traditional medicine, which is bound to the cycles of the Earth, Spring was seen as the time to embark on any cleansing routine and certainly this is when we find an abundance of fresh green herbs which will help our bodies to slough off the sluggishness of winter. January is still cold and dark and our bodies need deep nourishing to support them through the second part of the winter rather than being stressed by excessive cleansing and detox routines.
Having said that, I do believe that it’s beneficial to give our bodies some support in clearing out the indulgences of Christmas and the New Year but, as with all things, it’s about having a balanced and sensible approach to what is healthy and seeking always to support the body rather than force it to cleanse which can result in over-burdening the organs of elimination and creating stress.
People have different understandings of the term ‘detox’ and because of this, like all overused words, it can actually be a hindrance rather than a help when describing what I think of as a period of clearing and renewal. Perhaps instead of a January ‘detox’ which can imply actively forcing the body to release toxins in a potentially unbalanced way, what I propose is a January ‘no-tox’. By this I mean removing toxins from our diet and focusing instead on natural, whole and unprocessed foods. Whilst January is not an ideal time for juice fasting, restrictive diets or active cleansing programmes, it’s a perfect time to nourish ourselves with better nutrition and whole foods.
A January no-tox might also involve analysing and recognising what a toxin is and how it gradually poisons us. A toxin can be a T.V. program that leaves us agitated, unhappy or with violent mental images. It can be reading incessant negative comments about the lives of others in popular magazines. It can be a food, a thought pattern, a conversation – absolutely anything. Everything we come into contact with affects us and, as a result, becomes part of who we are. We can’t avoid all the possible toxins in our world but we can make intelligent choices about what we fill our bodies and minds with and as a result, make much more lasting changes than taking strong eliminative herbs for a month then going back to our old ways.
Like the Earth, our bodies can purify themselves… but only when we stop filling them with poisons. We view illness in this society as the body ‘going wrong’ but apply so little thought to why this might be. Cause and effect is a natural law, nothing happens without it.
There is a lovely Buddhist teaching story which underlines the importance of balance beautifully. Before his enlightenment the Buddha sought realisations through excessive fasting as was common practice in Indian spiritual traditions of the day. Finally, weak and emaciated, he was approached by a young milk maid by the name of Sujata who offered him a bowl of sweetened milk and rice.
Accepting the offering gratefully he found the strength to continue his practice and reach enlightenment. Though his companions rejected him as weak for breaking his fast and beginning to eat normally again, they eventually returned to benefit from his teachings and became his first disciples. Later Buddha is said to have remarked that we must be like the strings of a lute, neither to tight or too loose, else we will be unable to fulfil our true potential, just as the lute will be unable to make beautiful music.
There are two traditional sayings that I like to share with people when discussing cleansing and I think each person’s road to health lies somewhere in the balance between both sentiments. The first, Mosquitos are only attracted to a swamp, refers to terrain theory, the idea that disease can only flourish in an impure environment. The second, No fish can live in pure water, is a saying from Traditional Chinese Medicine and is teaching us that seeking to cleanse the body in an obsessive way can actually be detrimental to sustaining life itself.
So, in the spirit of balance, I like to try and support my body after the Christmas excesses with some of the following techniques.
* Body Brushing – My skin spends the whole of winter swaddled in numerous layers of clothing so taking time to do 5 minutes of body brushing before a bath or shower is a lovely way to encourage elimination from the skin by sloughing off dead skin cells, boosting the circulation and lymph flow and encouraging vital processes and renewal.
* Juniper Body Rub - After my bath I like to use a body oil which again helps boost the lymph and aids gentle cleansing of my whole body. To 100ml of jojoba oil I add 20 drops organic juniper essential oil, 20 drops organic grapefruit, 5 drops organic cypress and 5 drops organic black pepper.
* Gentle Exercise – Getting out for a walk in nature is really one of the most lovely cleansing, revitalising and renewing activities as it not only boosts circulation to all the body organs but also stimulates peristalsis in the bowel and encourages deep breathing which expels toxins or build up in the lungs.
* Seaweeds and Green Foods – Seaweeds and all fresh green foods are naturally cleansing and nourishing and I love adding them to my meals. I also use spirulina or blue green algae in powder form as they are so dense in vital nutrients.
* Hot Lemon Water – Drinking a cup of hot water with a squeeze of lemon first thing in the morning is a good way of waking up the liver and stimulating gentle detoxification. I also have been enjoying this simple lemony smoothie which is great for the immune system as well as being cleansing and clearing. The garlic may seem like a strange addition but it actually tastes fairly pleasant!
Juice of one lemon
1 Garlic clove
Chunk of ginger to taste
Filtered water to cover
And on the topic of good intentions, do have a look at Danielle’s lovely post on sticking to New Year’s resolutions!
Photo of The Buddha and Sujata courtesy of Root Institute.