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A Cleansing Lifestyle
In order to effect lasting change, cleanse practitioners need to keep the momentum going. While some incorporate a few simple practices into their lives post-cleanse, others radically restructure their relationship to food and their bodies. "I see cleansing as a daily practice, not as a short-term regimen after which you turn back to a life of reclogging your system," says Thing. Her cleansing-as-a-lifestyle method consists of daily rituals and practices that allow practitioners to process, loosen, and remove waste, toxins, and other obstructions to the life force known in Chinese medicine as chi. "Alcohol, medications, the processed food we ate as children—our body holds onto and stores all of this, and it does so at a cost. Our life force energy can't flow as well anymore and we have a kind of blah experience in life. It looks a little different from person to person, but the trend is very much the same. Once I began to see this, the more I saw it everywhere. When I began to do this work with the people I treat and with myself, then I really saw the benefits." She also noticed that acupuncture and herbs worked better during cleansing, and patients who had reached a stubborn plateau in their healing journey were having breakthroughs. "It has really proven itself to me clinically."
A typical day of the cleansing lifestyle looks something like this. Upon rising, a glass of lemon water followed by two to four cups of fresh vegetable juice help the body do its natural job of elimination and self-cleansing in the morning, when it's meant to happen. Practitioners are encouraged to move from light, raw fare to more dense, cooked foods throughout the day and during any given meal. Foods that sustain the body's naturally alkaline state, including generous amounts of vegetables and fruits, take precedence over acidic foods like breads and meats. Certain principles of food combining also govern meals to enable more efficient, easier digestion (a big no-no is putting carbs and animal products together, like pizza, hamburgers, and almost every meal the average American eats). Regular exercise and other practices help the body along its detox path, from sweating to elimination. "You have to do this stuff gradually," says Thing. "If you're jumping in so fast that you feel like you're denying yourself, it's not going to last. Eating this way also has to become pleasurable because if it's not, that's not a sustainable lifestyle. A big part has to do with the learning curve of eating in a new way—learning how to make really delicious raw vegetable salads and side dishes so that it becomes an easy and desirable part of your everyday diet. The beneficial effects are very motivating to people because they start to feel better and have more energy almost immediately."
The Art of Letting Go
In an in-depth cleanse, practitioners eventually find that it's not just physical toxins they are clearing; it's emotional toxins too. "Sometimes during a cleanse you can let go of something that you were holding onto and that you were not aware of before," says Francescott. He's seen people release things like long-held grief or anger during a cleanse. Others have had life epiphanies, like one client who realized that she needed to leave her job. It's as if through cleansing we are hitting the reset button on our lives, which can catalyze change on many levels. One client of Thing's was inspired to do a massive decluttering and reorganization of her home. "The physical cleansing goes hand in hand with emotional and mental processes of letting go, of releasing patterns and beliefs that are no longer life-generating for you," says Thing.
Recognizing the mind-body-spirit connection, Francescott weaves mindfulness practices into his detox retreat program. With awareness-building exercises, journaling, meditation, and visualization, participants find new tools for dissolving stress—one of the most pervasive toxins in our culture today. And during a food cleanse is the perfect time to also take a media break, cutting out television, movies, the Internet, newspapers, magazines, and radio to limit our intake of emotionally disturbing information. "Cleansing is a way in to make our patterns shift," says Francescott. "It's as old as the ages. The Native Americans had sweat lodges; in Finland they have saunas. Shamans fast before special events and ceremonies to get clear. It can take many forms—there are endless ways to cleanse."