Several times a year, more than 25 participants attend the weeklong Detox for Health and Healing workshop at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Mass. The center’s idyllic location, nestled in the Berkshire Mountains, provides a peaceful backdrop to a challenging process: eliminating common dietary irritants like dairy and gluten and replacing them with hypoallergenic, mostly vegetarian whole-food fare. Participants also engage in daily yoga sessions; learn about nutrition, digestion and elimination; and develop habits — such as regular sweat-inducing exercise and stress-reduction techniques — that help support the body’s natural detoxification process.
M. J. Mazur, 53, of Princeton, N.J., completed the program last September. The combination of a busy career as a marketing researcher plus a diet that, she admits, “left a lot to be desired,” had her feeling depleted, and arthritis had begun limiting her activity. She had heard that “detoxing,” as it’s commonly called, might help, but didn’t want to go the route of fasts or supplement programs, both of which she had tried and found lacking. The Kripalu retreat, with its focus on whole-food nutrition, struck a chord. “It sounded like a healthy way to approach it,” she says.
During the week, she learned about gut health and how to identify which foods in her diet supported her body and which might be working against it. She also learned to eat more mindfully. “I learned to chew food thoroughly,” she says. “If you take your time, your brain figures out that you don’t need more, and you stop eating. This was big for me.”
Massages and reflexology supported Mazur’s detoxification process. She scheduled a private session with a yoga therapist to learn how to modify poses that she struggled with because of her arthritis. A month later, she was still reveling in the aftereffects of the program. “My meals are a lot different now,” she says. She’s given up coffee and dairy, and continues to limit gluten, which she says gives her “brain fog.” She eats more vegetables and gluten-free whole grains, and steers clear of the processed-foods sections of her grocery store.
Mazur also reports less arthritis pain, a change she attributes directly to the retreat and the lifestyle adjustments that followed. “There’s a hopefulness that comes from doing something like this,” she says. “You realize that [your health challenges] are something that you can address.”
The full-spectrum benefits that Mazur experiences from her detox time-out aren’t unusual. Getting away from the daily grind and attending a retreat program gives participants the time, space and support they need to implement lasting change. “It feeds all the ways you learn — auditory, kinesthetic — and I need all of those things in one experience to make a difference,” she says. “I want someone to explain it, and I want to be able to talk to people who are sharing the same experience. I don’t think I could have done it on my own.”
Where To Go
Kripalu offers formal detox programs throughout the year. If you’re more experienced, you might prefer to create your own getaway program, utilizing the healthy fare, classes and workshops available at these and other leading retreat centers.
For example, Kripalu’s year-round Retreat and Renewal option is a self-directed program in which participants get full use of the facility, including all meals, yoga, and movement and meditation classes, plus lectures and supplemental options like massage, Ayurvedic spa treatments and nutritional consultations.
Canyon Ranch,a leading healthy-lifestyle retreat center with resorts in Lenox, Mass., and Tucson, Ariz., doesn’t offer formal detox programs, but their nutritional approach and activities are rooted in a clean-living philosophy. “It’s not a program here; it’s a continuum. How do you eat to support the body’s detoxing process?” says director of nutrition Lisa Powell, MS, RD. All ranch guests benefit from the center’s healthy cuisine, lifestyle classes and nutrition lectures. You can also schedule private sessions with a nutritionist or book bodywork and spa treatments.
Rancho La Puerta, in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico, is where many people come to jump-start a healthy lifestyle, says the ranch’s director of nutrition, Yvonne Nienstadt. “We used to offer a fasting day, but as the ranch became more of a fitness resort, it was not a good fit,” she says. “Now we just teach about the importance of cleansing and letting the body rest.” Guests can choose from up to 50 classes a day and dine on organic foods, many of which are grown on the premises. A wide range of spa services and healthy-cooking classes (utilizing organic foods grown on the premises) are also available.
No Place Like Home
If you don’t have the time or the money to get away, you can still learn how to support your body’s detoxification process through locally supported or online programs.
Last July, Linda Rae Holcomb, of Minnetonka, Minn., joined a detox week offered at her local yoga studio. Although the 44-year-old restaurateur, part-time yoga instructor and mother of two had pretty healthy eating and lifestyle habits, she felt overworked and rundown. When she heard about the program at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis, she signed on. The five-day regimen offered just what she wanted: daily yoga classes, a meal plan complete with shopping list and recipes, and in-person and email support.
The benefit of this kind of program is that it teaches you how to incorporate the changes you make into your everyday schedule, says studio owner Jennifer Gray. “We’re asking you to think about how this fits into your life — that when the program is done, how can you continue on.”
In addition to taking a one-day juice fast, participants eat a whole-foods diet. Giving up caffeine is optional, but most people choose to do so because it can tax the body’s adrenal system. “Basically, the food should be purposeful,” says Gray. The yoga classes change during the week to support the detox process, ending in a long restorative session on the last day. Participants can also receive acupuncture to help them with cravings or to help increase energy.
Holcomb was concerned that she might experience a lack of energy as she reduced her food intake and gave up caffeine, but she didn’t. “I experienced just the opposite,” she says. “I had this sustained energy throughout the week that wasn’t caffeine- or sugar-driven.”
She admits there were some challenging times during the detox, like having to forgo a cold beer at a Twins game and skipping the cake at a family birthday party. But there were highlights, too, like the morning her husband looked at her from across the kitchen and told her she looked better than she had in five years. “You really do feel good about yourself while you’re doing it,” she says. “It just inspires you to want to keep going.”
Detox Basics: What to Expect
To begin reducing your toxic load, you’ll be asked to cease eating foods and beverages known to cause sensitivities or inflammation. The most common culprits include white flour, white sugar, caffeine, alcohol, processed foods, eggs, artificial sweeteners and sometimes foods in the nightshade family (e.g., potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant). In their place, you’ll eat a mostly plant-based diet of whole foods (to help support the detoxification process) and you’ll drink plenty of clean water.
You’ll also engage in activities that help facilitate the processes of digestion and elimination, such as yoga or other movement, and take steps to reduce stress, which can contribute to toxicity in the body. Some programs include herbal supplementation to aid digestion and elimination. Other features, like skin brushing, saunas, castor oil packs and meditation may be included. In addition, most detox programs will explain the pro-inflammatory factors associated with stress and help educate attendees about environmental toxins (like common household-cleaning and personal-care products) that can derail even the healthiest eating plans.
At some point in the detox process, you may experience fatigue or flulike symptoms — signals that toxins are being released from your tissues. “It’s part of the detoxification process. And it passes,” says Annie Kay, lead nutritionist at Kripalu. “But that’s when it’s important not to give up.”
While you might be tempted to go wild the week before a detox retreat, experts recommend building in a period of transition to improve the experience:
- Start increasing your vegetable intake. Nutritionist Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, outlines a seven-day “prequel” in her liver cleanse program (see below) that includes a variety of “liver-loving” foods like broccoli, radishes and artichokes. This helps prepare the body for toxin release, which helps you “avoid feeling unnecessarily lousy.”
- Start weaning yourself off of caffeine. If you drink three cups of coffee a day, try to get it down to one, or switch to green tea. It will lower the potential for brutal caffeine headaches.
- Cut down or eliminate sugar and processed foods. This will ease the intensity of food cravings and amplify your detox results.