Pure bliss

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 July, 2009, 12:00am

Faced with recurrent illnesses, a lack of energy or fear of having overindulged, many have contemplated a detoxification to get back on track.

But many more are deterred by reports of death and illness from extreme detox treatments (for example, a British woman was last year awarded more than HK$10.2 million for brain damage sustained during an extreme hydration diet), or medical advice that detoxing is a waste of time and money, resulting in a negative view of what detoxing really means, according to wellness professionals.

It is not meant to be extreme, and experts agree that spending large amounts of money and time on an extreme detox is pointless. However, there is a way to assist your body's natural detoxification processes, many in the wellness industry say, and you should not only feel great afterwards but also enjoy the experience.

Ideally, it should be treated as a regular 'break' in which to care totally for yourself and allow your body to recharge its engines. This does not, and should not, mean you starve yourself or only drink liquids for days on end.

'Regular detoxing gives our organs a period of rest so their function can be enhanced and restored,' says Tina Horrell, a nutritionist at TRIA Integrated Wellness Centre in Bangkok.

'By increasing the removal of accumulated toxic wastes and improving cell-oxygenation, much of the burden is lifted from the body and immune system.

'You may feel mildly hungry at the start of a purification process as your body adjusts to eating light clean meals or just consuming fluids. However, you should be consuming some form of food every few hours and lots of water so you shouldn't feel like you're starving.'

For Lai Tak, a religious studies scholar and author on philosophy including the Chinese e-book Two Happy People: Jesus and the Buddha Teach You How to Enjoy Life, detox is a total body and mind process assisted by meditation. It stems from ancient beliefs and is not a form of quick weight loss or a way to get a brief respite from caffeine and alcohol.

'Normally, when people talk about detox, they are using the word in the narrower sense - removal of harmful substances from the body. However, we are now looking at the concept from a broader perspective,' says Lai.

'By detox, we mean the removal of harmful substances from both the mind and the body.'

As Lai reminds us, the two are closely connected. 'Since ancient times, Chinese medics have been emphasising such a connection by saying, 'anger harms the liver; excessive joy harms the heart; worry harms the spleen; sorrow harms the lungs; fear harms the kidneys',' he says.

According to Buddhism, he says, we have these habitual reaction patterns because of 'toxins' - such as desire and hatred - in our minds. To free ourselves from deep-rooted emotional habits, Lai says, we have to purify or 'detox' our minds.

'Notice that the mind is composed of the 'conscious' and the 'subconscious', and a large part of the toxins are deeply embedded in the latter. A good way to detox our subconscious is meditation.'

He says that during meditation, when we relax every part of the body, the 'door' between the conscious and the subconscious is more likely to open.

'We can then detox our subconscious,' Lai says. 'It is not essential to sit cross-legged in a quiet room during meditation, although such posture and environment are normally preferred.

'The essence of meditation is to be a 'pure observer' of yourself. For example, when you have a negative emotion, take 10 deep breaths. When taking your breaths ... don't focus on the person or thing that triggers your emotion. Instead, focus on the 'inside'.

'Observe how air goes into and out of your nose. Observe the emotion itself by observing every part of your body. Ask yourself: what is an emotion physiologically? Shortness of breath? Dry mouth? A lump in the throat? Rapid heart rate? Stomach ache? Muscle weakness?

'Keep observing and counting your breaths from one to 10 at the same time, and by the time you count to 10, your negative emotion will have already gone away. And you'll feel that it's no big deal - emotions don't last forever.'

Where and when to start a treatment based on this broader view of detox can be confusing.

At Bangkok's TRIA, Horrell suggests a five- to seven-day session every spring, saying some people accumulate more toxins and weight over winter when they are less active and eating heavier food to warm up.

'A cleanse can help us lose the additional weight and increase our metabolic rate, and a regular two-day fast at the change of each season is also highly beneficial.'

Closer to home, Pure Yoga has a regular option for those seeking a more organised format because they need a push.

The 20-day detox programme involves meditation, diet and breathing exercises, ensuring an holistic approach.

For Michelle Ann Ricaille, supervising the 20-day programmes for Pure in Singapore and Hong Kong - and doing them herself - has given her an insight into how wonderful she and others feel afterwards.

'I had 120 students who did this [in Singapore] and almost all of them felt amazing afterwards,' says Ricaille, who led the most recent programme in Hong Kong.

'Their skin cleared up, they lost weight and if you do everything you are advised to do, you will feel unbelievable.'

The first few days are difficult (day one begins with a master cleanse where the group drinks warm salty water to clear the bowels), based on how dependent you are on the substances you have to give up, but once you get over that hurdle, people tell her how quickly the days go, she says.

It's also not about going hungry. Requirements are a vegetarian and organic meal plan, no alcohol or caffeine and choosing non-processed foods, as well as three yoga classes a week which involve breathing exercises and meditation.

'It's an overall detox,' she says. 'People think that if you drink juices for five days, then that's detoxing, but you have to do the whole cleanse' which she recommends doing every six months.

Lai echoes the sentiment that a vegetarian diet is ideal, adding this is also more environmentally conscious. 'It's not a new concept either. It was the practice of many ancient religions long ago,' he says. 'Contrary to common belief, vegetarian diets actually provide us with sufficient nutrition and make us more energetic, because our bodies no longer have to waste so much energy removing toxins from animal foods.'

For Horrell, detoxing means increasing fluid intake using mineral or filtered water, herbal teas and freshly extracted fruit and vegetable juices, and cutting out all sugar, meat, dairy products, alcohol, caffeine, food additives and fried food for a few days before detoxing.

'Organise some herbal or nutritional supplements, a massage and/or colonic irrigation appointments for when you are detoxing, to enhance the eliminatory process,' she says. Not all detoxes, however, recommend the colonic irrigation.

How long a programme should last, says Horrell, depends on your health and whether you can take time off work.

'I would also recommend being under the care of a health-care practitioner and having an assessment done to see if it is appropriate to fast. This will include questions on your medical history and questions regarding the function of each organ, especially the eliminative organs. There are certain health disorders where a detox is contraindicated and particular conditions where raw food is not recommended.'

Of course, what many forget is that purifying your system should be a time to spoil yourself and actually enjoy it.

This is where massage therapy can assist the detoxification process by relaxing your body and mind at the same time.

Rebecca Ting is the managing director of Xi Shi's, a mobile massage service for Hong Kong Island. One of her treatments is a lymphatic drainage-style of massage performed by qualified therapists. 'Our lymphatic system is an important part of our physical system responsible for carrying out the toxins, excess fluids and bacteria. With toxins better transported out of our bodies and necessary fluids flowing better around the body, it improves our immune system,' says Ting.

'Furthermore, this decreases water retention, which often causes us to think we are fat. When applying the right pressure targeted at lymph nodes and other focus points, the motion of the therapist pushes the toxins causing the blockages around the lymph nodes to improve the natural flow of the lymphatic system and get rid of any blockages.'

Ting believes we are 'highly exposed' to many factors which contribute to developing blockages - from toxins in the lymphatic system to a poor diet, drugs, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and pollutants in the air.

However, 'the detox therapy is not a cure. A healthy lifestyle should be balanced with regular lymphatic drainage to ensure a healthy body,' Ting says.

At the Four Seasons Spa, director Helen Greene says sensible steps to help maintain health and well-being include:

*Drinking enough water to keep toxins from building up and following a healthy and regular exercise regimen.

*Following a balanced, healthy diet of fresh produce including plenty of fruits and vegetables, eating when you're actually hungry as opposed to when you're bored or feel you should be eating, eating slowly, chewing properly, and stopping eating when you're full.

The following tips from Greene can also help enhance the body's appearance so you get multiple benefits from a detox:

*Skin brushing - every day if you can, if not, at least 3-4 times a week, with good flowing movement upwards towards the lymph nodes found at the back of the knee, groin, inner elbow crease and underarms.

*Home-care products - your favourite full-body exfoliation once or twice a week to keep skin fresh and smooth.

*Think healthy. Find a practice you enjoy. It could be a yoga or Pilates class, physical workout, or simply reading a book, going for a walk or meditation.

*Lymphatic drainage massage in particular, or any spa treatment that stimulates circulation and drainage can be effective for detox.

The Four Seasons Spa, for example, has a new package called the Awakening Detox which includes the Awakening Detox Energising and Detoxifying Himalayan Salt Scrub, Deep Detox Contour Wrap and Lymphatic Drainage. It takes three hours 15 minutes.