Saturday, March 19, 2011

To Cleanse or Not to Cleanse

In yoga we talk a lot about detoxing. I guess the theory is that we collect harmful things in our bodies, and we want to move them out as soon as possible. We often think of these toxins as physical things we've either put into our bodies (pesticides lingering on conventionally-grown produce, hormones from meat or dairy, caffeine, processed foods) and from the environment we live in (pollution, radiation, etc.). Of course, we also tend to hold negative emotions--stress, fear, anxiety--in our bodies. So to rid ourselves of these toxins we build heat hoping to sweat them out. We twist and churn our bellies, trying to kick our digestive systems into gear so toxins exit through, well, our digestive track.

Image: Yoga-Abode.com
If you think that sounds gross, just wait until you hear some of the things ancient yogis did to cleanse themselves! They'd drink saline water to get things "moving" if you know what I mean. They'd put a string up their noses and pull it out their mouths to "floss" their sinuses (if you use a neti pot--it's the same idea!). My favorite one is a kind of dhauti, where the practitioner swallows a long strip of cloth (all except the end), then pulls it back out taking impurities from the stomach out with it. All I can say is that I hope they threw that cloth away when they were done. Yuck-O!

When you hear about that type of cleansing, today's popular dietary cleanses seem kind of mild. Today, when you hear a yoga student say he's cleansing, it probably means he's restricting the foods he takes into his body and takes in only cleansing foods and beverages instead. There are kinds of cleanses--juice cleanses, fruit cleanses, and the Master Cleanse (nothing but lemon water, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup).

I'm telling you all of this because I'm contemplating a cleanse of my own. I did a cleanse a couple of years ago where I gradually worked my way to eating only fruits and veggies for a few days. I had heard that cleansing would make me feel energetic, clear up my skin, and help me get on the right track to healthy eating. When it was all said and done, I'm not sure if I felt "cleaner" or not.. I almost want to do it again because knowing what to expect, I might be able to understand it all a little better.

I like the idea of getting rid of toxins, but at the same time... a cleanse sounds a lot like a crash diet. And the whole idea that there's something wrong with our bodies--that they're unclean--is kind of contradictory to the philosophy that we're all perfect just as we are. And that's my favorite yogic philosophy! Plus, it seems pretty silly to go all out with a cleanse for a couple of weeks if I have no intention of giving up cupcakes in this lifetime...

So, I need some feedback.. Should I try it again? Have you ever done a cleanse?