“Healing may not be so much about getting better as about letting go of everything that isn’t you—all of the expectations, all of the beliefs—and becoming who you are. Not a better you, but a realer you.”
—Rachael Naomi Remen, M.D., The Human Patient (Anchor Books, 1980)
Natural healing practitioners from cultures all over the world have recommended and used detoxification as a healing technique for centuries. Detoxification is a natural way to rid the body of unwanted substances that get trapped internally due to the wear and tear of modern life. Traditional cultures have taught us that various methods of detoxification can allow the body to heal itself, thus bringing it to a purer, healthier and more vibrant place.
Because of the high volume of modern environmental contaminants, it is crucial to cleanse our bodies periodically to restore the immune system and improve metabolism. By ridding our bodies of these contaminants, we also reduce stress, keep elimination regular and cleanse the blood. A “spring cleaning” once a year can help promote and maintain good health in amazing ways. I like to do a three- to seven-day cleanse at the start of each season—check with your health-care provider to see what’s right for you.
When we clean the physical body in a slow, meditative fashion, we simultaneously wash away negative thoughts and emotions. While engaging in the following detoxification techniques, think about the significance of a clean body, mind and soul as a way to better understand our true selves and achieve greater success in our physical, emotional and spiritual lives.
Detoxification refers to the elimination of poisons or toxins. Due to the huge quantity of today’s environmental contaminants, regular cleansing is vital to maximize the body’s energy and to prevent chronic illness. Detoxification both maintains good health and promotes healing from illnesses.
A handful of common methods of detoxification influenced by cultures around the world are described here. Some are physical approaches that speed toxin removal from tissues so they can be excreted. Others are plant- or food-based, which provide the body with beneficial immune-boosting substances that deactivate toxins and enhance their elimination.
The Miracle of Massage
Massage is one of the oldest forms of medical treatment. First recorded in China in the second century b.c., massage is an excellent method to improve lymph movement and blood flow. This, in turn, aids in getting cellular waste products and accumulated toxins out of tissues, into the bloodstream and to the kidneys where they are eliminated in urine.
Melinda Pizzano, a licensed massage therapist in Hudson, New York, matches specific massage techniques to a client’s constitution. One of her favorites is a salt massage, also known as a salt glow. “I use this method to stimulate the large lymph glands and exfoliate the skin, as the skin is the largest organ of elimination,” she says. Pizzano uses a blend of salt, oil and an assortment of herbs and sugars during the massage, then rubs it off with hot towels. “A Swedish massage, which is a more vigorous rubbing technique that really stimulates the lymph and circulatory systems, might be better for one person, while the lymphatic drainage technique might suit another individual,” Pizzano says.
Aromatic essential oils, such as lemon and grapefruit, enhance the detoxification process, as does regularity of treatments. Pizzano suggests massage be enjoyed on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis to ensure the treatments reach the body’s deepest layers, where unwanted substances can build up over time.
Take the Heat
Diverse cultures around the world have developed techniques that use heat to increase circulation and induce sweating, such as in the ornate Roman bath complexes, Native American sweat lodges, and Scandinavian steam baths. These techniques are still very popular today. Steam baths, hot tubs and saunas, in particular, are favorite ways to get your heart beating and your blood circulating, which improves toxin transfer from tissues to the bloodstream then finally to the liver, which chemically alters many harmful substances into harmless ones.
According to authors Patricia J. Benjamin and Francis M. Tappan in Tappan’s Handbook of Healing Massage Techniques (Prentice Hall, 2004), “steam rooms help clear the sinuses and relieve respiratory congestion. Steam also raises the body temperature and causes sweating.” A cold shower following a steam bath washes off toxins released in sweat and brings body temperature down to normal.
Be sure to drink adequate amounts of water before, during and after heat treatments. A steam bath works quicker than a sauna, cleansing the body in about 10 to 15 minutes compared with 30 to 40 minutes in a sauna. The powerful detoxification process takes place when the body reaches 101 to 103 degrees. Note that one’s pulse rate should not exceed 130 or 140. Check with your physician to see if this technique is right for you.
Brush Away Toxins
Dry skin brushing is a favored technique Europeans have used for centuries. Not only does it remove toxins accumulated in dead skin cells, but it also enhances circulation. “Your daily regime should begin with skin brushing for a period of three to five minutes. I believe skin brushing is one of the finest of all ‘baths,’” says Bernard Jensen, M.D., author of Dr. Jensen’s Guide to Better Bowel Care (Avery, 1998). “No soap can wash the skin as clean as the new skin that you have under the old. You make a new top layer of skin every 24 hours. Skin brushing removes the old layer and lets this clean new layer come to the surface.” He recommends brushing the whole body (except the face) 30 minutes after rising and prior to the morning bath or shower. “You may wish to skin brush again before retiring for the night,” he says.
Use an all-natural vegetable fiber brush with a long handle to reach out-of-the-way places. Brush from the outermost points—the feet and hands—toward the center of your body; brush bottoms of the feet, as nerve endings here effect the entire body. Brush across your upper back and down the front and back of your torso. Use lighter strokes over breasts and do not brush the nipples. Wash your brush every few weeks in water and let it dry. Feel the sensation of newly invigorated skin!
Try These Cleansing Foods and Beverages
Certain foods and beverages aid in deactivating toxins or in removing them. These include fruits and fruit juices, vegetables and vegetable juices, chlorophyll-rich foods, herbal teas and sea plants. For optimal results, consume fresh, organic foods.
Blend or juice your favorite fruits in the morning for a detoxifying breakfast. Fruit juices speed up metabolism to release waste quickly and have an alkalizing (acid-neutralizing) effect on the blood, which helps reduce sugar cravings; citrus fruits and their juices in particular are rich in alkaline salts, mainly potassium. High-fiber fruits, such as apples and pears, aid digestive regularity and stabilize insulin levels. Together, these properties of fruits reduce fat storage, speed metabolism and minimize sugar cravings. Fruits should be eaten by themselves, without protein or complex carbohydrates, and before noon for best energy conversion and cleansing benefits.
Fresh vegetable juices provide the body with necessary vitamins, minerals and enzymes to power the natural detoxifying activities of cells. For example, a combination of three carrots, three celery stalks, one-half bunch spinach and one-half bunch parsley is high in potassium and is one of the most effective juices for cleansing blood and tissues, neutralizing acids and rebuilding cells.
Leafy green vegetables have chlorophyll, a detoxifying agent that helps clear the skin, cleanse the kidneys and cleanse and build the blood. Eating any chlorophyll-rich food will help boost immunity, treat illness and rid the body of unwanted substances. Spirulina (blue-green algae) and chlorella (green algae) have become popular supplements due to their extremely high chlorophyll content. You can purchase powdered concentrates of these green “superfoods” at your local health-food store and add them to fruit and vegetable juices.
Sea plants (also known as sea vegetables or seaweeds) aid detoxification by transforming toxic metals into salts that the body can eliminate. They also are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates and proteins. Seaweed, dulse, kelp, nori and wakame are examples. Two tablespoons of minced sea vegetables added daily to a bowl of miso soup is a wonderfully therapeutic dose.
China introduced us to the miraculous green tea (Camellia sinensis), which is high in antioxidant content and combats free radical damage to protect against degenerative diseases. It also boosts enzyme production in the body. Green tea has antibiotic, antiviral and antibacterial properties and is highly valued as a cancer preventive.
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is one of the best liver-cleansing tonic herbs. The Romans mixed the herb with honey as a remedy for excess bile. Milk thistle is rich in nutrients and antioxidants to prevent free radical damage. Burdock (Arctium lappa), known as the plant of longevity, is one of the best blood purifiers of the herbal world, and its use dates back to ancient Greece. The leaves make a delightful medicinal addition to soups and salads, or chop the root in vinegar to drizzle over green salads.
When taking these herbs in tea form, drink over a long time period, not all at once. This allows the tissues to absorb as much of the medicinal value as possible. Drink two to three cups daily for optimal medicinal effects.
Regular exercise is one of the most important detoxification methods. Exercise accelerates the removal of toxins through our largest organ of elimination, the skin, when we sweat. It also stimulates lymph flow, which depends solely on muscular movement (or massage). Lymph function is critical to the body’s ability to cleanse itself. Exercise also enhances metabolism and circulation. Almost any kind of exercise, from riding a bicycle to planting flowers in the garden, increases the circulatory system’s transportation of oxygen and nutrients to our cells, while carrying toxins and wastes from tissues to the organs of elimination.
Yoga is a wonderful form of exercise because it sends blood flowing to particular places in a tactical way. A shoulder stand, for example, gets blood flowing the opposite way from its usual course. Yoga poses, or asanas, help soothe the muscles and soften blocks of stress that have accumulated over time. Yoga also incorporates conscious breathing and meditation; just 20 minutes each day can do wonders—not just for the body, but also for the spirit.
Remember to Breathe
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India’s Ayurvedic system of health utilizes breathing techniques, or pranayama, to settle, balance and detoxify the body. In the Ayurvedic tradition, prana refers to the vital life force, and pranayama is the process by which this vital force is increased.
Certain breathing techniques enhance the body’s ability to eliminate toxins, because detoxification is directly related to the delivery of oxygen to cells and removal of carbon dioxide.
Try a technique called Calm Belly Breathing (breathing into the gravitational center of the body to ease stress and anxiety). Start by lying down in a relaxation pose: on your back with arms relaxed to the side and palms up, feet naturally splayed open and eyes closed. (If you need to modify this pose due to pain in the lower back, simply bend the knees, leaning them against one another, or if the legs are extended place a towel underneath the head and/or knees.) Now exhale without force while observing the navel fall. Breathe in and out through the nose for five minutes; meditate (mentally focus on) the navel rising and falling during this period.
Thomas Edison once said, “The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.” May you take these words to heart, and let the detoxifying health techniques mentioned above enrich your own life, foster prevention and inspire a future of less stress, less disease and longer days! •
Aimee Christine Hughes, N.D., writes for a variety of magazines on topics of natural health. She lives in Kansas City, Kansas.