The main idea of cleansing, both psychologically and physically, is to eliminate the old and make space for the new. Instead of merely considering what we wish to lose, it is helpful to consider what it is we wish to gain from the experience.
A cleanse can be anything from spending a few days or a week drinking a lot of water and eating ultra-healthy, to spending a week or two juice or water fasting.
When I wish to cleanse, it is essential that I drink a lot of water. The worst thing would be to take cleansing herbs without a method of elimination! Talk about stirring up trouble. I find it helpful to drink at least one or two quartz of water on a normal day. For cleansing purposes, it is very helpful to drink a gallon or more of water and clear liquids. I find it helpful to cleanse over the weekends, holidays or light work days so I feel comfortable running to the bathroom often.
Movement and Sweat
Another way to release toxins is to work up a sweat. Exercise is a great avenue to make this happen, but a more passive route would be to drink a freshly pressed juice or smoothie with a bit of cayenne or other hot peppers. Although many believe hot peppers are warming, they are actually cooling as they cause the body to sweat and release heat.
I think that it is important to replace electrolytes after sweating a lot. Instead of reaching for the Gatorade, coconut water is an excellent source of electrolytes and does not have any unnatural sugars. (Some studies suggest that coconut water is more hydrating than water due to the electrolyte content)
In addition to sweat-inducing cardio, I have found it very helpful to do gentle exercise such as yoga or Tai Chi as well. As toxins and waste products, such as lactic acid, are released from muscles- gentle stretching and breathing can help the body sort it out and not allow it to resettle in the tissues.
There are controversial methods of working up a sweat, such as attending a sweat lodge or using wraps on the body. Unless if one is working with a skilled practitioner/ physician, I wouldn't mess around with these powerful, but sometimes hazardous, methods of detoxification.
Green juice can be an excellent detoxifying agent, especially when it contains dandelion, (in small amounts) cilantro, celery or broccoli sprouts. Broccoli sprouts were recently featured on NPR due to their recently discovered ability to cleanse the body of pollutants. Aside from detoxifying qualities, green juice is wonderful for cleansing due to the fact that it is hydrating and filled with healthy calories.
If you would like to know how to make green juice, look no further than my juicing guide on this blog!
A lot of toxins and waste products, such as lactic acid, build up in the muscle tissues. A good massage can release the toxins and leave you feeling calm and relaxed. There are a lot of different types of massage, from deep Thai massage to the gentle Swedish variety. Many massage therapists specialize in more than one type. Be choosy with the massage therapist, (You've gotta like their energy and be comfortable around them to be relaxed) and be sure to drink a lot of water afterward.
Fasting is a great way to eliminate toxins and hit the reset button on the immune system. It is correlated with extended longevity and increased immunity. According to an article in The Telegraph, fasting can completely reset the immune system with just three days of cleansing! (I agree, it is hard to believe, but the studies seem pretty conclusive.) Fasting is a powerful tool, but it has to be used wisely or it could do more harm than good.
I think that fasting is not a long term lifestyle and there are a lot of right and wrong ways to do it. In order to fast correctly, it would be wise to seek the counsel of a skilled holistic physician, naturopath or herbalist. (Additionally, it is important to be screened for eating disorders, diabetes and other health problems that would make fasting a poor fit.)
The Emotional Side
The emotional side of cleansing is often something that people experience by accident. We forget that we are emotional creatures, and the cells in our bodies store memories of past traumas, hurts and grudges. Old memories are bound to come out of nowhere during a cleanse. Instead of letting it ninja-attack you the way it does most people, be prepared to let things go. (keep a close friend or counselor on speed dial if need be.) Meditation and prayer are very useful tools during a cleanse. In fact, people throughout history have fasted simply for the experience of deeper or enlightened prayer and meditation, although that is a bit of a different topic.
Taking the idea of cleansing to a whole new level, one could instill an emotional side to this before even beginning the cleanse. One could cleanse from complaining, arguing, etc. I haven't done this intentionally yet, but it's on my to-do list!
Preventing Toxin Build Up in the First Place
A good way to reduce the need for cleansing in the future is to avoid toxin build up in the first place. There are a certain amount of toxins that are inevitable due to pollution, life saving pharmaceuticals, pesticide exposure and all of the baggage that comes with this really cool modern world that we live in. However, there are toxins that are simple to avoid such as direct cigarette smoke, alcohol, processed foods and unnecessary medications or drugs.
The difficult part of breaking away from these things is that they tend to be addictive and habit-forming, so moving away from toxins can sometimes be easier said than done. Seeking the support that one needs is a really important part of building new habits. Seeking a therapist, support group or simply reaching out to family and friends is a great first step toward a fresh start.
Also, putting things in to a different perspective sometimes helps. Instead of thinking, "I am NOT EVER going to eat processed food again..." the thought, "I am going to eat a salad and a baked potato for lunch today..." is a much more manageable decision and easier to stick with. Taking things one day at a time makes things more doable. To quote Aristotle, "We are what we repeatedly do." I think that making repeated, positive micro-decisions with the goal in mind is an easier way of thinking about things than trying to aggressively change everything about one's life in a single swoop. Also, thinking about what I AM going to do, rather than what I plan on not doing is very helpful.
Like I said before, this is all my opinion based on what has worked for me in the past. I hope that you find this helpful and inspiring as you pursue a healthy and positive life.