Cleansing the Body, Cleansing the Mind
I’m currently on a rejuvenating health cleanse with a group of Golden Bay women, led by nutritionist and wholefoods chef Linda Ross of Eartheart Nourishment.
The transitional seasons of autumn and spring are the two most conducive times of year for detoxing our bodies, so Linda’s been guiding group cleanses in those two seasons.
I’ll be documenting my 17-day journey here, exploring the process of shedding the old in order to move into more vibrant health.
In this world, our detox organs – such as the liver, kidneys and gut – have a lot to cope with, from parasites to more modern threats like pesticides and air pollution. In the natural health realm, there are myriad different ways to clear out our detoxification pathways through cleansing, and in turn give our health a boost, often in unexpected ways.
Many people equate dietary cleansing with gnawing hungrily on carrot sticks, or endless juice-a-thons. Having participated in various “extreme cleansing sports” myself in the past, I’ve now joined this group cleanse to learn a gentler way to do it, so that I can keep the motivation to clean out and nurture my insides every year. Following Linda’s guidance, we will begin in a light cleansing phase, deepen it til we are nearly fasting, and then slowly come back out the other side.
I’ve been on a big personal health journey over the last several years. My full-body chronic pain has mystified dozens of doctors (to the point where it’s become a badge of pride), and I’ve gone through all sorts of wholistic health investigations and practices to try to get better.
In the course of my health experiments, though, I can now see that I became masochistic at times. I was frustrated with my weak, painful, sensitive body; angry at it, sad at it… and when I cleansed, whether it was an intensive program of colonic irrigations, or a series of liver flushes to release gallstones, I did it with a stubborn grimace and a Type A overachiever mentality: hating and fearing what might be in me, and resolving to blast it out of me with some pretty extreme dietary practices. I got health benefits, for sure; but it wasn’t always a gentle ride, physically or emotionally. And let’s not even talk about my years as a fat-deprived vegan…
As I’ve continued on my health journey, I’ve realised how important self-love is in the healing process. I’m not knocking any other cleanse programs, as all have their place for different people in different life stages. But for me, these days, self-love means finding a nurturing way, a middle path – something that was foreign to me for much of my adult life. This time, I intend to cleanse from a different mindset: not “I’m going to blast the @&*$)! toxins out of me,” but “I’m going to lovingly nourish myself and gently help my organs release what it would help me to let go of.”
I’m curious what this mindset, coupled with a carefully crafted gradual cleansing program, will bring me. Here we go!
Today was a day of collecting. Meandering across Golden Bay picking up recommended food items to get me through the cleanse, I was reminded how blessed we are to have a thriving local food system. I stopped in at Rock’s World roadside stall to pick up freshly harvested kumara and a big butternut pumpkin for soothing soups. Next I popped in at my friend Helen’s house. She sold me big bags of apples and beetroot from her farm, to go into my fresh juices. Then it was off to Village Milk to fill my bottle with raw cow milk for my kefir. (Conventional dairy is a no-no while cleansing, but cultured raw milk such as kefir, teeming with beneficial microorganisms, is okay at the beginning and ending stages.)
Next, just up the road, I stopped at the Motupipi Butcher’s to pick up some bones from a local homekilled cow for my broths. The woman behind the counter immediately wanted to know, goodnaturedly: “So, are you starving yet?!” I laughed. Apparently cleansing in this culture is equated with self-torture.
Cleanse class at night was lovely. When I arrived at the earth house at the Community Gardens, most of my sisters-in-cleansing were already sitting outside for our solo “tea sit,” sipping their herbal teas and watching the autumn sun sink low in peaceful silence. After yoga, while sharing a dinner of kumara soup and grated beetroot salad, we shared our intentions for the cleanse.
I felt compassion and recognition as I listened to others’ stories. Most of us in this culture were raised without a connection to the traditional nutritional rhythms that kept our ancestors healthy. And in a world full of new toxins, we’re having to relearn not only how to nourish ourselves but also how to nudge our bodies to get rid of all the extra stuff that doesn’t serve us. Couple that with unhealthy societal concepts about body image and what we should eat/look like/aspire to, which every woman in our culture is marinating in from the time she realises she’s a girl, and you have a perfect storm for a fractured relationship to what nourishes us.
But we do have the ability to transform our culture’s relationship to food, starting in our own lives. It was great to be in a room full of women keen to do just that.
At the end of the night, after going over our instructions for the coming week, it was time to get our goods. Linda passed out dried herbs for our daily teas and bottles of herbal tinctures, all formulated especially to help us release toxins from the gut and liver, and help our systems through the cleanse. There were green powders and other superfoods to nourish us in our daily smoothies; aloe vera juice to soothe the bowel; psyllium husks to keep anything that we release moving through us and coming out the other end; probiotics to repopulate our cleansed guts with good bacteria each night… and more… a serious-sounding list, but as we got all our little bags handed out, I felt a bit like a kid getting a bag of treats at a birthday party again. A very healthy birthday party!
A mouse nibbled its way into my new bag of psyllium last night. So apparently we are all going to be cleansing in this household… though from the looks of what the mouse and her family had already deposited in the form of black pellets in my cupboard, I don’t think they need much help excreting. Oh dear, I’m already making bowel jokes on Day 1 – but this is the cleansing mind, getting back in touch with the rhythms of the bodily functions that we’ve been told are disgusting and shouldn’t talk and think about…
I felt surprisingly busy today just attending to the cleanse. Starting the day in particular takes a long time with all these potions to mix and drink, following Linda’s printed instructions. I was also surprised how un-hungry I was on a light but nourishing diet of morning smoothie, salad and pumpkin from my garden (and loads of herbal tea and water). Perhaps as the detoxing herbs get to work, my body is just grateful not to have too much food to deal with.
Feeling very low energy and spacy today. Reminding myself that this is a good sign – it means I’m detoxing. That thought made it easier to just be. I didn’t feel at all up to working in my home office, so for a few hours, I just lay on the couch on my porch in the sun. Rough life…
Made it out into the world for the day! I felt proud of my level of self-care as I toted my carefully prepared box of jars to the car to keep me going for the afternoon: herbal tincture; liver cleansing tea to sip cool from a jar; my kombucha for a hit of beneficial microorganisms; and my massive blended superfood smoothie, which came out a dreadful gray colour from combining berries and garden greens, but still so tasty. So apparently cleansing out in the world is possible. My energy levels were great, even bouncy.
A friend put a little homemade raw chocolate treat in front of me today and I couldn’t resist. Whoops. At least it was raw. I decided not to beat myself up about it because Linda says stress creates more toxins! I aspire to remember that whenever I catch my mind winding up. Can I make this a detox not just for my body, but for my thoughts? If I really want to cleanse, I suppose, I need to cleanse both, because mind and emotions influence the body in so many ways (and vice versa).
Deeper into the labyrinth. We started on a super-healthful but diverse diet. Now it’s time to get more pure and simple. Fewer spices. More raw. Less fat. This way our bodies can focus on processing toxins, rather than on breaking down food.
We won’t have any animal products now, except for nourishing broth. I started making the mother of all bone broths on my woodstove last night, following Linda’s instructions from class. A magical, thick brown elixir full of minerals from all those bones, veges, seaweed, mushrooms.
I’m feeling nervous, as we are now going to start tapering down our food intake until we are fasting in a few days. But my luscious-tasting broth shows me how to keep a happy attitude around cleansing: make sure that what I do eat feels really nourishing, both physically and emotionally, and then I don’t need to eat so much.
In that spirit of ultra-nourishment, tonight I’m planning on making some parsley pesto from my garden – super cleansing for the body, and super tasty.
But to be honest, right now I just want some chocolate! So glad I ate all the chocolate in the house before the cleanse, to reduce temptation!
I’m loving my garden in new ways on this cleanse. Some of the most valuable plants are turning out to be the “weeds”! Chickweed goes in my daily smoothies, along with a bit of dandelion greens. All summer I wished I had some dandelion for my salads; then as soon as it’s time to cleanse, brilliant liver cleanser that she is, Ms. Dandi appears all over the land where I’m living. Mother Nature is very crafty indeed, supplying everything at the perfect season.
In the last few days, multiple people have spontaneously commented on how great I look.
Desire for chocolate is diminishing – what’s wrong with me?
Today I burst into tears after such a tiny provocation. That hasn’t happened to me in I can’t remember how long – months? years? Fortunately, the first two people I saw were totally able to receive it. Hugs in the sunshine, standing in the carpark. This is Golden Bay after all.
The provoking situation echoed a past pattern of emotional trauma that I’d thought I was mostly done with. As I cried, I felt for a moment like a little child. Afterward I felt drained, vulnerable, open. Perhaps this was just some last trace of stagnant emotions getting stirred out of the body by the cleanse, so they could be released? We do carry old emotions in our guts, I’m told. Awesome. I love when some part of me is crying and some wise part of me just watches, knows it’s all perfect – cleansing the heart, out through my eyes.
This is getting weird. Delightfully so.
To be continued…
Redwood Reider is a writer, professional advocate for all things organic, and health adventurer living in Golden Bay.