Regular cleansing is something that really helps us stay healthy for the long haul, and seasonal cleanses, especially during the spring and autumn, are something I highly recommend. An autumn cleanse is an opportunity for our bodies to reset after the movement and excesses of summer, and prepare us for the quieter months of winter.
Why do it? Our bodies are increasingly exposed to toxins: from our food, our water, the environment and stress, the later being largely a creation of our western lifestyle. Many of these toxins build up in the body until we experience symptoms: sleep disturbances, body aches, sinus congestion, headaches, brain fog, bloating, halitosis and digestive disturbances can all be indicators that we need to give our bodies a break. Cleansing allows the kidneys, lymphatic system, liver, skin, digestion and elimination organs to rest from their hard labors; it's something of a holiday for our bodies.
Autumn cleansing is energetically different than spring cleansing; instead of the rising, upwards impetus of spring, with its new beginnings, autumn carries life force back into the earth, in a descending energy of endings and the life cycle coming to completion.
We move back towards the dormant energy of cold, stillness and darkness, so I always recommend a more gentle approach to caring for our bodies this time of year. The obvious culprits to avoid are all processed foods; sugar; caffeine; alcohol; animal food (including dairy products) with the optional exception of small white fish or wild salmon.
For someone who typically eats a meat heavy diet, simply following a plant based diet for a couple of weeks can make a huge difference. For some of us who question whether we have grain sensitivities, paring the protocol down further to either eliminate all grains, or eliminate grains with the exception of the pseudo grains quinoa (a seed) and/or wild rice (a grass), can be quite revealing. Often we will feel brighter, clearer and more energized with the elimination of grains for a time.
Start your day with a glass of warm or room temperature lemon water for a whole host of benefits. Lemon water is good for our immune system, digestion, skin, liver and bile secretion. It has anti-inflammatory properties because it actually decreases acidity in the body and helps remove uric acid from our joints.
I'm big on vegan soups during autumn cleanses, especially ones with warming spices and herbs. I often eat them for breakfast (as well as for other meals), because traditional American breakfast foods are not part of the protocol. Kitchari, an Ayurvedic stew of rice and mung beans or lentils cooked with spices, is a simple and fragrant dish used in Ayurvedic panchakarma cleansing, and is a great option for you if you are eating grains. The rest of the day should include gently cooked vegetables of all kinds except the nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes), with plenty of leafy greens. A green juice or green smoothie can be a great addition, but if you live in a northern climate, I don't recommend much raw food beyond that. Too much raw food, especially when the weather is chilly, can increase what Traditional Chinese Medicine refers to as cold and dampness.
An apple or pear each day provides more cleansing nutrients and fiber; if you have difficulty digesting raw fruit, try gently stewing it with a cinnamon stick and a dry prune or two.
One thing to be prepared for is the possibility that you may feel great followed by a period of feeling less than stellar as toxins move out of your system. If the toxic burden on the body is high, you may experience irritability, mucus drainage, emotional upheaval, or discomfort of some other kind, even with gentle cleansing, The upside is that you should feel much better on the other side of the discomfort, with improved energy, better sleep, clearer eyes and skin. You may lose a few pounds, but more importantly, you should feel better inside your own body. Working with an experienced and qualified professional, especially if it's your first time, is highly recommended. If you have any significant health issues, always consult with your healthcare practitioner before embarking on a cleanse. Pregnant and nursing women should generally avoid any protocol that can trigger a heavy detox reaction.
In addition to changes in our food, self care can help eliminate built up emotional toxins: journaling, drawing, chanting, singing, and movement are all great ways to move energy through and out of the body. Salt baths followed by a rinse with clean water are another way to pull excess out of our tissues. This is a beautiful time to check in more deeply with the inner wisdom of our bodies and our beings.