Vail health: Spring cleaning for mind, body and soul with yoga, seasonal food
May 2, 2017
Spring cleaning — a time-honored tradition in our homes — can have wonderful health and wellness benefits for the body and mind as well.
Cleansing has become a bit of a buzzword in modern times, but it is a practice that dates back centuries and spans many ancient cultures. It is rooted in living seasonally and being in tune with the cycles of nature, as well as enhancing our body's innate detoxification processes.
We are exposed to toxins daily in the foods we eat, our environment and the air we breathe, along with everyday stress and the chemicals that exist in our cleaning products, toiletries and cosmetics. These toxins accumulate year-round, overloading our body's natural purification systems and creating inflammation in the body.
The goal of a gentle cleanse is to release these toxins, improve digestion, de-stress and help the body function at its highest capacity — in other words, to reset and revitalize.
"The transitional seasons of spring and fall present a unique opportunity to detox in such a way that we send a ripple effect of health, vibrancy and immunity benefits into the summer and the year ahead," said Dr. John Douillard, author of "The Three Season Diet." He explains how spring marks nature's "new year," and how plants and herbs that grow this time of year are naturally detoxifying.
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To help anyone shed the heaviness of winter, here are simple tips to energize and rejuvenate.
The spring harvest includes naturally light and antioxidant-rich foods like dark leafy greens, sprouts, asparagus, spinach, peas, tart cherries and berries.
"When we adjust our diet and lifestyle to match the season, health-promoting digestive microbes dramatically change," Douillard said. "Spring microbes support balanced immunity, digestion, mood, energy, blood sugar, weight, sleep and much more."
For a simple spring cleanse, nourish your body with seasonal, fresh, organic whole foods. Avoid processed foods, along with sugar, caffeine, alcohol and simple carbohydrates, such as enriched cereal and baked goods (whole grains are better). Drink lots of water, and use herbs and spices like ginger and turmeric to fire up your digestion, boost metabolism and reduce internal inflammation.
Stimulate your respiratory system with 1 minute to 5 minutes of mindful breathing a few times each day. This simple exercise can enhance overall lung function, support your nervous system, and increase mental clarity and focus.
Once you have established a deep-breath pattern, add an ocean wave or "Darth Vader" sound to each breath. In yoga, this technique is called Ujjayi, or Victorious Breath. When practiced properly, it builds internal heat, oxygenates the blood and aids in the release of unnecessary thoughts, tension and toxins.
Exercise has wonderful benefits, from improved metabolism to better sleep and toxin release through the skin and lungs.
The skin is our largest organ and does a lot of the heavy lifting for detoxification through sweat glands. Recent research published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health found trace amounts of arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury in sweat, further validating the power of a good workout.
The healthy movement and energizing qualities of daily exercise also support circulation, stimulate the lymphatic system, and help clear the mind while relieving stress.
Yoga for detox
Need more? You can cleanse from the inside out with a detoxifying yoga sequence. Yoga shares the inherent benefits of exercise, but it doubles down with therapeutic qualities, inspiration and ancient wisdom to purify the body, mind and soul. The practice's connection of breath, movement and mindfulness tones the body and strengthens the mind, while also promoting focus, healthy digestion, detoxification, healing and restoration.
• Sun salutes: Connect breath and movement, warm up and find your flow. Practice your favorite variation.
• Core sequence: Build heat in the body and ignite your digestive fire with focused core work. Use poses that strengthen the core and create stability, such as boat pose, forearm plank and knee to nose pose.
• Child's pose variation: Practice Child's Pose with your fists pressing against the low belly, resting your forehead on a block or the mat. Allow your low belly to soften and breathe deeply for a gentle belly "massage" with each breath. Adding compression to this pose aids digestion and healthy elimination.
• Bow pose: Stimulate circulation and energize the body while opening through the shoulders, chest and quads in Bow Pose. Utilize deep breaths to expand through the belly, ribs and chest.
• Seated forward fold: Forward folds gently compress the low belly in a therapeutic way, but they also help still the fluctuations of the mind by tapping into our parasympathetic nervous system. In today's fast-paced world, we spend so much time on high alert that our bodies and minds often need a reminder to "rest and digest" in order to restore balance.
• Twists: Twists help fortify the inner organs, calm the mind and balance the body. It is valuable to practice twists in standing poses, such as low lunge or chair pose, as well as in seated and reclined postures. Twists are wonderful tools to support and stimulate healthy digestion, and increase circulation and vitality.
• Legs up the wall: Gentle inversions reverse the flow of gravity by elevating the legs over the head. This simple action helps flush accumulated toxins and assist in lymph-boosting immunity. The deeply relaxing and restorative nature of this posture literally gives the heart a break: gravity helps the heart pump fresh blood to the brain and recirculate from extremities like hands and feet.