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Just as we cleanse our homes and vehicles, so so are there many benefits to cleansing the body!
Things We Should All Know About Spring Cleansing
1. That we need it! Though we do not want to become neurotic about ideas of being clean versus impure - there is a very practical side to the timeless concept of cleansing our bodies. We clean our cars, our homes, and we all feel better after a good shower. In the same way there are simple and effective ways to cleanse the inner body. Cleansing is something that we used to do naturally as we used up all of our winter food supply by late winter. However, in the modern age we have full access to a bounty of food year round. The main thing to realize is that nature has cycles to it, and so does our body. When we eat less our body has a chance to catch up on other things and do some house cleaning so to speak - some maintenance and repair. In the winter we are meant to be resting more and eating less because in most cultures there was usually less food around.
Understanding the research on eating less and longevity inspires us to learn what the benefits are to eating less also. It does seem clear that for the majority of nature over eating is a recipe for disaster and eating less is a recipe for longevity and vitality. Digestion is at the foundation of natural healing and it is considered similar to the element of fire. So in order to explore the idea of cleansing we are going to use the analogy of fire and smoke.
We all know that when things compost they go through a form of enzymatic and bacterial breakdown just like a compost pile. When we stir a pile of leaves in the Fall we can see that they are in a breakdown process that includes heat. Just like fire transforms wood into energy and heat - so too does our “digestive fire” transform food into energy. However, it is easier to digest food in the Summer when the environment is warm - because we and our environment are totally connected. In the ancient science of Ayurveda they would say we should eat along with the Sun. When the Sun is high in the sky - so too is our ability to digest and assimilate well. Noon hour is also akin to Summer and the cool night akin to winter.
Further to our analogy . . . If we put too much wood on our fire (or food in the stomach) while the fire is running low (or even running well) then we get a lot of smoky residue. We all know this from when we put wet wood on a low burning fire. In our analogy the smoke is unhealthy gut flora and poorly digesting food creating toxins that spread through the body. The by-product of poor digestion is referred to in Ayurveda as Ama. Think of ama as creosote building up in your stove pipe after a long winter of burning wood in the wood stove. If we do not clean out the chimney then it is clogged and this could be considered analogous to the cause of many health concerns ranging from poor digestion and pain to sinus infections, brain fog, and all kinds of inflammation and irritation.
Those who have lived with wood stoves know that one of the best things to do to keep the chimney clean is to burn a hot fire - with wood that is not damp and cold. Damp and cold wood is analogous to sweet heavy foods, yeast, flour, and literally cold foods. Even a meal like a creamy pasta followed by ice cream or a smoothie would be considered thick, heavy, and damp. The next thing to understand is that in traditional herbalism every flavour belongs to an element. As mentioned above the heavier foods tend to be sweet and belong to the earth and water elements. They actually increase those elements in our body. After all we are all made up of the elements! The air element on the other hand is generally associated with the bitter flavour. So to think like an Herbalist you would consider that in the Spring we are coming out of a damp cold season and trying to ensure that our fire gets going well - just like it is in nature. So what we do to get a fire going is we blow on it with the bitter flavour which is related to the air element!
As the fire element heats up the body and the environment it is the time for us to help our body cleanse after a winter stagnancy. As an herbalist I notice that the first herbs that mother nature gives to us are generally bitter and cleansing herbs. The bitter flavour of herbs like dandelion, wormwood, and burdock are very helpful to get the digestion primed and they cleanse out the liver, kidneys, and blood. They also generally kill off parasites in the body that can underly various disease processes as well. Another very important herb that comes up early is nettle leaf - Nettle leaf is an amazing blood tonic and cleanser that has been used for centuries to cleanse the body. It’s amazing how the first herbs up in the Spring are actually the herbs we need to stay healthy. If we were living closer to the wilds we would definitely be eating these herbs first. I have included a link here to a great herbal formula called Clear Glow by the Canadian company St Francis Herb Farm. It is based on the understanding I shared above. It tends to be used for skin rashes, eczema, boils and so on that are caused by poor digestion and “toxic heat” in the blood.
2. The second thing we should know about cleanses is That we should be gentle. Many of us are leading pretty indulgent lives it is important not to push too hard with any cleansing programs. For example, when we fast too aggressively and take cleansing herbs without the intention of being gentle with our body then it is kind of like cleaning out every closet and under every piece of furniture and rug in the house all in one afternoon! Our main elimination organs (kidneys, skin, digestive system, and lungs) can become really stressed and overwhelmed. I have seen people stop eating entirely and only drink teas, and then go back to a crappy diet after 10 days which really only stressed and overwhelmed their whole system. Cleansing instead should be a chance to eat a little less, eat more at mid day and less in the later evening. It is a good time to gently take more herbs, rest more, get some gentle exercise and help the body rejuvenate itself for the active season ahead. Cleansing should not be business as usual. It is a good time to let the body catch up and heal. By eating less (but good food) we get a chance to let our inner fire burn a bit stronger which is very purifying and can raise our vibration and mood. It is usually also a time to process our emotions that we often cover up with food and this is why it’s good to have a meditation practice and maybe even journal. We have to process and digest what has not been digested well in the previous months. It’s also a great time to clarify what we wish to accomplish with our lives during the vibrant season of Summer ahead.
3. We should also know the signs of a healing crisis: One thing a lot of people do not know, that they should, is how to tell if the body is overwhelmed during a cleanse. We all have different capacities or challenges when it comes to cleansing depending on our previous lifestyle, genetics, and age. If the body is too overwhelmed by a cleanse you may feel like you are aching all over, constipated, and very weak. If you’re body is cleansing well it is almost the same as when the body is cleansing well from a flu. You will be able to sweat and eliminate toxins. Your bowels and kidneys will be moving well and you will not feel super tired, aching, and toxic. If you are experiencing heavy flu symptoms then you have to consider how well (or not well) you are supporting your body on the cleanse. For example, there are herbs to support the liver in the process of detoxification like the legendary Milk Thistle Seed. This herb appears to support the body in the production of an antioxidant called Glutathione which it uses to deal with all kinds of toxins that have built up in the system. These toxins can even be chemicals from our environment.
One of the best herbs that can help you sweat is good old peppermint leaf. It also really helps to ensure that you are producing enough stomach acid - a key ingredient to health. Lemon water will also support us in our cleansing and drinking enough water cannot be over-emphasized.
Nettle leaf, as mentioned above, is filled with B vitamins and iron and it’s great for supporting the kidneys. So too are the leaves of the dandelion and the herb parsley. If you feel really poorly on a cleanse it likely means that you need to support yourself better in the process of detox and maybe even see an Herbalist for guidance. It means you should be extra gentle and not do anything too extreme. The old adage cleanse a little - build a little comes to mind. No heroic cleansing please! Your body will appreciate you caring for it, and cleansing helps us dial in new healthy patterns of eating and living that we have been wanting to start. Going for more walks, having a sauna or epsom salt bath, and even getting a gentle massage can all be great additions to support us in our cleansing process.
Keep in mind also that although “spring cleansing” is a the most popular time to cleanse we can cleanse one day a week as well and simply make it more of a part of our lifestyle in general. It is a chance for us to get the upper hand on many of our unhealthy patterns of craving, and even issues related to deeper avoidance of more in depth healing we are needing to show up for. It may sound like work, and yes it takes discipline, but we do it to avoid unnecessary future suffering and to honour and respect our precious bodies for the sacred vehicles that they are. When we show up for ourselves in this way life tends to get more joyful and we have more energy and a greater sense of lightness of being. This is why we cleanse - because it feels good, and it often inspires those around us to take better care of themselves as well!
If you would like deeper guidance on cleansing diet guidelines, ways of processing emotion, as well as gaining mental clarity please email mail for a consultation. Have a great Spring season!