Having just come off my annual 7-day detox I’m feeling inspired to share some thoughts on the vast and often confusing topic of detoxing or cleansing. I’m not going to pretend I know everything there is to know and how it all works but I do feel that my experience to-date gives me some level of expertise. I have personally done in the region of 8-10 detoxes in the last 6 years. I’ve also worked at a detox center supporting guests through their experience, designed detox programs for health coaching clients, friends, colleagues and yoga students, and supported them through the experience, observing their results.
Samahita Retreat is where my detox journey began back in January 2010 as a student, when I embarked on 3 days of what felt like deprivation, hardship and suffering with a touch of nausea on top! It was only 3 days! I remember it so well but what stuck with me more was how I felt after those 3 measly days: lighter in my body and yoga practice, full of energy, brighter and feeling like I’d won a contest with myself. That was it - I was sold. The hardship was more than worth it and the challenge was never as tough as the first time.
Since then no two detoxes have looked the same or felt the same but the results have always been great. I have tried a number of different methods ranging from home detoxes with food, to juice fasting, to a low sugar detox, to staying at an Ayurvedic panchakarma center in India. Most were 7 days with the occasional 3-day refresher mid-year. Practically all have included forms of colon cleansing: colon hydrotherapy, colemas, and / or enemas, plus a blend of natural herbs and drinks to support the process, including psyllium husk and bentonite clay, herbs to help kill bad bacteria, and probiotics to replace the good bacteria. Holistic treatments are generally also a part of a typical detox program at a center. What I have not done are the extreme detoxes such as water fasting or any program without some form of nutrition, whether through juices, food or supplements.
The reason I continue to detox is simple: from my experience, it works. But I can only speak for myself and from what I see when working with others. Here’s a compilation of the things I’ve learned along the way:
Tailoring is Smart
At Samahita Retreat our detoxes are based on the Ayurvedic principle that we’re all unique, have different dietary requirements, and therefore it’s important to tailor a cleanse to a person’s needs and body type. As a student and coach of Ayurveda this makes total sense to me. Not all body types can handle fasting e.g. those who are underweight or struggle gaining weight will likely need more nourishment during a cleanse. I can handle a fast and have done on several times but this time I chose to add some food as I was working and needed more energy. Each time my goals and needs have been different.
Length is Relative
3 days was enough for my first time but I now do 7 days once a year, with an occasional 3-day refresher in between. 7 days feels effective as I’ve observed a pattern: feel bad, start to feel better, feel rough again and want to give up, stick it out and fly high! In addition, I try to add on some pre and post cleanse days, reducing certain foods and drinks to help ease in and come off without shocking the system. I have known people who have detoxed for 10-14 days, specifically for a more intense clean out or weight loss, and they’ve experienced great benefits.
Planning is Key
Rest becomes really important during a detox so taking time off work is ideal, but of course not always possible. I have worked through most of mine and survived but it can become difficult to focus and I always need to sleep more than usual. So I try to clear the diary as much as possible, inform colleagues, friends, and family in advance so that I can get as much space and rest time as possible. As there are days when I simply want to be on my own and not have to engage with the world, while other days feel normal.
Keep it Simple
I’ve learned that keeping the plan simple with the same foods or juices every day, i.e. a mono diet, is a good idea as it’s much easier on the digestive system. The aim is to give the system a break from having to work so hard, removing certain foods such as meat, dairy, wheat and sugar plus alcohol and caffeine, replacing them with easy to digest fruit and vegetables whether in soups or juices.
Clean that Colon
From what I’ve read, been taught and experienced it’s super important to clean the colon as well as simply changing the diet, in particular if the body is likely overloaded or quite toxic from an unhealthy lifestyle. If healthy already, a simple cleanse removing certain foods, can of course still be beneficial. But for maximum benefit some form of colon cleansing is wise as, apparently, any toxic overload in the intestines will start to seep back into the blood stream unless cleared out simultaneously. I have always, always, without fail, had excess build up come out during colon cleansing and felt so much lighter and clearer afterwards, in particular with colon hydrotherapy. I’ve had digestive issues most of my life but as I continue to heal my system through the right diet, detoxes and yoga the build up seems less each time.
There Are Bad Bits
Never have I detoxed without experiencing most of these symptoms: low energy, fatigue, weakness, headaches, body aches, stiffness and nausea. I know for me that the headaches are from lack of coffee. I only drink one or two a day and am pretty attached to them but every time I give it up I definitely feel it at the start.
The nausea always accompanies the liver flush if I choose to do one towards the end of the detox. This involves drinking Epsom salts then an olive oil / lemon mix to stimulate the liver and release any build up of stones of various sizes and colours which apparently can turn into gallstones. I have released hundreds of green chalky stones (the first time) and small black ones (last year), which are apparently older. This last time hardly anything came out. Hopefully this means my liver is getting cleaner! I’ve heard of people releasing seriously big ones – eek. Some things help these symptoms such as lots of water, moving and sweating daily.
There Are Good Bits
During a detox I already start to feel the benefits, even if the process is a bit up and down. My skin and eyes get clearer, I feel lighter, and cravings are reduced. I even kind of enjoy the process now, it’s familiar, not so daunting, and I understand that the lows don’t last and that the temporary symptoms are more than worth it when they will be proceeded by bundles of energy and a feeling of clarity after the brain fog lifts. It also feels good to be taking control of my health by not indulging and giving my system a break for a bit.
Post Detox is Hard
You’re excited to get back on food and coffee and all the yum things you’ve missed, you’re feeling energetic and strong, but it’s a really, really bad idea to rush back to your normal diet. Slowly does it. I’ve made the mistake before of adding in too much too soon and it felt like my digestion practially stopped working. The key is to get the digestive system working well on it’s own after it’s had the assistance of colonics / enemas by continuing with simple foods and only eating when hungry and stopping when full. This is what I’ve found to work. It can take a day or two or up to a week to get back to my normal eating routine. I always take high strength probiotics for a month after detoxing and I find they help my digestion. Plus triphala, an Ayurvedic herb in tablet form, if things feel a little stuck.
What I Don’t Know:
Like I said, I don’t know it all, nor do I feel I need to.
I really don’t know the exact ins and outs of what’s going on during a detox. I learn by doing, by experimenting and by observing others. Each time I go through the process I feel more connected to what’s going on in my body but that doesn’t mean I have all the right terminology or understand what each of my cells are actually doing.
I don’t know what toxins actually look like or where they are hiding. Some say in the blood, some say in fat cells, some say in the digestive system, or all of the above. During my detox I always feel aches in the parts of my body where I store the most fat, and also in my lower back and abdomen where my small intestine is. So it makes sense to me that something is happening there.
Some say it’s a scam and that medically speaking toxins simply don’t exist in the body. I have no doubt there are scams out there - the detox industry is huge. And I don’t trust fads. But I challenge doubters to undertake a respected, well-planned and tailored detox program and to report back what they find. I believe the human body is perfectly designed to expel waste but I also believe that we all have our weaknesses and that most people dabble in excess from time to time, which can overload the body. Since I started detoxing I hardly ever get sick and when I do I recover fast, so much faster than I used to.
I also don’t know whether detoxing is for everyone. I’ve seen people become a little too fond of the high they get from fasting and questioned the need and healthiness of them doing too many. And I know people who are extremely healthy and lead a very clean life who don’t believe they need to detox. Fantastic. But I probably know a lot more people who I reckon could do with a little cleaning out, given my own past lifestyle and how it has benefited me.
I couldn’t possibly know all there is to know about detoxing and I don’t have the time or inkling to try every different kind out there, especially not the extreme ones. My aim is simple to apply intelligence to my own approach, gaining more insights so I can support others in their cleansing journeys.
Please get in touch if you have questions.
Not all fats are created equally, as we know. There are the good guys and the bad guys. Bad fats can indeed make you fat, not to mention bring on a host of other health problems - high cholesterol, risk of heart disease and inflammatory diseases, to name but a few. Good fats on the other hand are not only good, they should be positively embraced for their amazing ability to prevent or slow down certain health issues, in particular those associated with ageing. Consuming good fats in moderation can actually slow down cell degeneration and prevent loss of memory. Now that, I feel, is information worth knowing! As, let’s face it, we’re all ageing and loss of memory is a scary prospect.
Since the low fat craze obesity numbers have actually doubled and many other serious diseases have dramatically increased. So clearly avoiding fat completely doesn’t necessarily work. Why? Because fat, both good and bad, is often replaced by sugar in low fat diet foods. Which is even worse. Fat cells that produce cancer are fuelled by insulin and high sugar diets.
So replacing bad fats and low fat, high sugar, processed foods with good fats is one of the best things you can do to benefit your long-term health and support disease prevention.
Bad fats are the saturated and trans fats. Think sticky, solid fat that stays solid at room temperature – meat fat, butter, cheese, processed baked foods, pastries, cakes, muffins, packaged snack foods and fried foods.
Good fats are essentially monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which include omega 3 fatty acids. In terms of foods that means: olive oil, sesame oil, avocados, olives, nuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and for non-vegetarians, fatty fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel).
The best fats to add in for that extra goodness are the omega 3’s. Known to reduce depression, protect against memory loss, reduce risk of disease, ease arthritis and support healthy pregnancy. If taking a supplement, which could be fish oils or algae based, ideally aim for at least 1000 milligrams of omega 3 fatty acids per day.
So don’t forget it peeps - get your good fats on!
This is not an anti-raw food rant, just to clarify! I simply want to look at the bigger picture when it comes to raw vs. cooked food. The way I see it is that many of us grew up eating mostly cooked food and I know I will probably continue to eat cooked for the rest of my life, not because raw is ‘just a craze’ but because it feels natural for me. The raw food movement has been and still is wonderfully creative and inspiring, providing so much choice in terms of cleansing and healing the body through whole, natural foods. I love experimenting with juices and smoothies loaded with superfoods and goodness. Yoga and raw food also seem to go hand in hand with retreats popping up all over the place. Eating raw food can definitely be extremely beneficial for cleansing certain body types and many people feel fantastic after a raw cleanse, but as a daily way of eating probably not sustainable for most people. It seems even some of the biggest raw food advocates are promoting eating some cooked food now and that a broader perspective is coming to play within raw food circles.
From an Ayurvedic and Macrobiotic perspective it would never make sense to eat only raw food. Both highlight the need to eat right for the seasons. It’s completely natural to want to eat more raw salads and fruits during hot summers, but in cold, wet winters, eating cold uncooked food is simply not healthy for the body. It needs nourishment and warmth from food during these months. Even for me living in tropical Thailand where there is no traditional winter I just do better with some cooked food in my diet. Yes, I eat loads of salads but there’s a reason curries and delicious cooked cuisine forms a key part of traditional Asian diets. Raw is actually harder for our systems to digest. The idea that raw contains more nutrients that are otherwise lost in cooking may be somewhat true but cooking food can also ensure better nutrient absorption as it increases your internal fire or ‘agni’. Raw can of course be very healthy and energising but it can also be very unhealthy if, for example, someone needs more grounding and warmth for their body. In the same way cooked food can be unhealthy if deep-fried, microwaved, barbequed or healthy if cooked well in good quality oil or steamed, for example. Raw is perfect for hotter climates or during the summer, for those with more heat in their body, to support weight loss, during a detox, for cleaning up your diet in general, and for healing certain diseases – as a temporary diet. But in my mind it simply does not make sense to eat raw 100% of the time nor is it sustainable especially in colder climates or seasons, for anyone who has low body fat, those with colder constitutions, anyone who is ungrounded or very active.
So personally I say flirt with raw, yes, and enjoy occasional ‘flings’ when it feels right, definitely add in more raw to your diet to cleanse the body, but long term, consider committing to some healthy cooked food as well. Extremes are never the answer anyway! It doesn’t have to be raw vs. cooked - you CAN have your (raw key lime cheesecake OR baked chocolate) cake and eat it!
Where in the world are you? What’s the weather like outside? What’s going on in YOUR world i.e. your body? What’s the weather like inside?
In Ayurveda it’s all about eating and living according to the season (outer climate) and your body type (inner climate). It’s fairly easy to check weather patterns but what about your own body’s tendencies? How well do you know yourself?
Do you tend towards being hot or cold? Is your skin dry or moist? Do you gain weight easily or find it hard to retain? Are you sensitive to heat, cold or damp? How is your digestion? How is your appetite? Are you a fast mover, talker and walker or slow, patient and calm? Do you sleep deep or wake up frequently? Do you sweat a lot in practice?
Evaluating these tendencies and many more over your entire life, not just in the present moment, can help determine your unique mind body constitution / prakriti. This gives you extremely valuable information about your own inner climate which, when evaluated along with the climate you’re living in, can be extremely useful in determining the best way to eat, live and even practice at any given time of year, to create vitality in your body and balance in your life.
In the ancient science of life and living there are 3 basic energies of life or doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha, which are a combination of the 5 elements in nature: Vata – air & space; Pitta – fire & water; Kapha – earth & water.
Most people’s constitutions are made predominantly of two – a primary and a secondary dosha. Plenty of online questionnaires are available to help you determine your prakriti but being objective with yourself can be hard and often there’s a tendency to answer based on your current state rather than looking at your whole life. So consulting an Ayurvedic doctor is highly recommended to truly discover your own nature. I would even go as far as saying it can be life changing if you take on the guidelines for living according to your constitution – it was for me! Your prakriti can never change but what can and will change is your vikruti / imbalance, depending your lifestyle. So anyone can have an imbalance in any of the doshas but once you know your constitution it’s so much easier to see your natural tendencies and to keep things in check.
The doshas in summary: Vata types are airy, cool and light and spend a lot of time in their heads, thinking. When balanced, they are creative, good communicators, artistic, adaptable, alert, enthusiastic, spontaneous, intuitive and charismatic. Imbalances will show up as mental & physical over activity, sensitivity to people and environments, sleep issues, a lack of confidence, being judgmental, disorganised, forgetful and fearful.
In our modern fast-paced world, anyone can be susceptible to a vata imbalance especially if life is stressful and you’re running around jacked up on caffeine and sugar. Even I, as a kapha-pitta, have experienced a vata imbalance from a work-hard, play-hard lifestyle for too many years. What fixed it? Complete change of lifestyle, career and climate, slowing down and practicing more yoga!
Vata types need warm, calming foods and activities. Sweet, sour and salty tastes calm the nervous system down. Raw food, being cold and dry, will only aggravate vata further (more on this topic at a later date!).
Pitta types are hot, fiery, and competitive, they are sensitive to hot weather, overheating easily, experience inflamed tissues if out of balance, yet they rarely get sick because their systems burn toxins quickly. When balanced, a pitta person has excellent digestion, clear eyes, radiant skin, good muscle tone, a healthy sex drive, they are passionate, determined, ambitious, funny, perceptive, confident, make excellent leaders and have a sharp intellect. A pitta imbalance will show up as intensity, stubbornness, jealousy, aggression, egotistical tendencies, agitation, impatience, control and attention seeking.
You might recognise some of these qualities in the business leaders of the world! Pitta is the fire needed for action. Thank goodness I have a healthy dose of it or I’d never get on the mat, certainly not to practice Ashtanga anyway!
To balance pitta, foods and activities should be cooling and soothing, avoiding too much spice, heat and intense activity.
Kapha types are calm, slow and earthy with more solid body types. In a balanced state a kapha person is patient, sweet, gentle, forgiving, emotionally stable, loyal, nurturing, community orientated, enjoys helping others and entertaining, a good listener and generally deeply satisfied with life. On the other hand an imbalance will show up as depression, lethargy, heaviness, greed, being attached to people and things, introversion, complacency, being easily taken advantage of and accumulating weight easily.Kapha time of year in the Northern Hemisphere is now– cold, wet and damp. Mucus and colds are signs of a kapha imbalance.
To balance kapha activities should be stimulating and exhilarating and foods should be bitter, pungent and astringent – lots of greens and spices, while reducing mucus-forming foods like dairy, soy and grains.
So Ayurveda is about bringing balance to life. Opposites balance while like increases like – this is the tricky bit. We’re often attracted to things similar in nature to us but what we need is often the opposite. E.g. if you have the winter chills you need soups, stews and hot drinks, and to leave those cold green smoothies and salads until summer time – they may have healthy ingredients but they ain’t gonna warm that body! Or, if you’re suddenly dealing with excess sweat or burn out, having gone from a cold climate to practice in the tropics or Mysore, you need to slow down, cool down, stay out of the sun, avoid spicy foods and best of all…enjoy lots of coconuts! So to eat, live and practice in a way to balance – check in with yourself. Each individual is unique. Check your outer world and know your inner world. One will often reflect the other. As Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie put it: “We are the world…”!!