Bodies In Balance COLUMNS HEALTH

Spring Cleansing

Spring is here!?! So I thought it time to revisit the idea of cleansing, a must for me this time of year, hope you will consider it for your health too.  Spring is a time of change and transition.  The ground is warming, new green growth is emerging and the winds are gently turning over wintered waters – so it is in the body as well.  The forces of nature are at work in us too, and the body needs our help to clean the waterways of the blood.  So let’s talk about cleansing, as it is a fundamental of health and naturopathy.

There are many words to describe what I am talking about – detoxification, purification, cleansing, and there is also fasting so let’s clarify.  Cleansing, detoxification and purification are all focusing on clearing certain organ systems of toxins in order to help them function better – kind of like changing the oil, cleaning out the junk drawer or sweeping the chimney. Ideally the major organs of detoxification are supported:  liver, kidneys, lungs, colon, and skin.  Cleansing commonly involves herbal or nutritional products to promote the pathways of detoxification along with dietary restrictions.  Fasting has some of the same ideas in mind but is most commonly focused on food restriction.  Water or juice fasts can give the body a needed rest from digestion, therefore lowering the demand for those functions for a finite period of time. Either system can tune up your body but some methods are likely a better fit than others depending on the individual – so seek guidance from a knowledgeable health care practitioner before launching into your program.

Tracy ErflingWho might need to cleanse? Well frankly we all do.  If you live in a city, eat packaged food, drink alcohol, coffee or tap water, smoke, are around chemicals, car exhaust, the list is sadly endless; then you are a candidate.  Some of the signs from the body that the detox pathways are overworked and undernourished are fatigue, poor sleep, digestive problems, foggy thinking – sounding familiar? Even if you live as pure as you possibly can, I would guess that your body would still reap some benefits from a cleanse.

So what are some elements to a cleanse? Let’s start with the food component. While cleansing it is ideal to break from packaged/processed foods – this would include most grains, dairy, soy, corn, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and processed, highly preserved meats.

What does that leave?  The basics, vegetables and fruits, a single serving of a whole grain daily, legumes (that’s beans), clean (organic, free-range, grass-fed whatever this may mean to you) lean (fish, poultry and eggs) meats if you desire more protein, otherwise vegetables and fruits only are fine. Watch condiments, sauces and dressings as they commonly contain some unwanted additions.

I would also recommend a meal replacement mix, as whole food based as possible, and without any of the aforementioned no-nos. Fiber is a must; bowels should be regular if not increased during a cleanse…this means going daily or more than once a day.  Antioxidants are also a must, as the body needs that extra help to neutralize toxins as they are cleared. Filtered or purified water, at least half your body weight in ounces. Lastly be gentle with yourself, don’t plan a cleanse during a high stress event, vacation, or important holiday.

Make sure your exercise is gentle and supportive, spark up the sauna for a low temperature sweat or fill the tub for some Epsom salt and baking soda baths.  I also encourage cleansers to set up some regular massage or acupuncture to promote good lymphatic flow throughout the body.

The lungs are yet another organ of elimination and deserve some attention here as well.  Breathing is a mindless act we perform 24/7 but the irony is that despite the fact that we don’t have to think about breathing – we still don’t do it right.  We tend to be shallow breathers only using the upper lobes of the lungs. So here’s a deep breathing exercise that I encourage you to introduce into your daily routine, especially during this cleansing time. While lying, place your hands over your lower abdomen (around the belly button). Take a deep complete inhalation into your belly so that you feel your hands rise, exhale and feel your hands descend. Count as you inhale (1,2,3,4) and exhale (1,2,3,4) and work towards having the same number for each. After you can achieve that work towards increasing that number, and then begin to focus on the transition between in and out breaths. I recommend trying this when lying in bed; do at least 5-10 repetitions and let your thoughts focus entirely on the breath.

This exercise will not only cleanse the lungs but the mind; setting aside time to be introspective is a key element to involve mind and spirit!

These are the basics of the program I recommend (although there are many others out there), even though it may sound complex; it’s all about simplifying.  Each time I cleanse I learn about my world, and myself so I encourage you all to do the same.  I can think of no better way to celebrate spring, the natural world, and your health.

By Tracy Erfling

Dr. Tracy Erfling is a naturopath physician in the Lower Columbia Region. Questions?