Wednesday, March 25, 2009

And so we begin. Today is the Master Cleanser Day - the first day of the rest of the new year. I have been adhering to a predominantly vegetarian diet for close to twenty years, and for the past five, I have added on a spring cleanse. I love raw foods, especially juices and smoothies; they really do make you feel, forgive my trite expression, vibrant. There has been even a winter or two where I ate raw or at least 85% raw. Not this one, though - the cold and snow all the way into late March here in New York have pretty much sapped all raw juices out of even the most hardy of us. Despite staying focused with outdoor runs and hikes, I found myself falling more and more into the inviting trap of comfort foods and letting some of my greens go past their freshest in the fridge. (How really fresh is the produce we buy in stores is the topic of another discussion).

And this is exactly where the spring cleanse comes in. Much has been written about the relation between the food we ingest and the general health, as well as the toxic build up certain processed foods create in our bodies. The beauty of spring is that no matter how many balls of cheese, glasses of wine, steak and egg breakfasts there have been, we can now start anew. Depending on how consistent we are in cleansing from year to year, sometimes taking a less dramatic cleanse at least once during another season, and on how motivated we are to make some changes in our regular diet to extend the positive effects of the cleanse, the overall outcomes may be quite dramatic. For me, five years of cleansing have been like five years of study, building year after year on what is achieved.

Oh, no, it does not make it easier every time. Just having run marathon once will not make the second one easier without a certain degree of preparation! From the previous years I have learned that jumping into a strict cleanse does not really work that well for me, so I've been choosing to do a really long one. My cleanse spans most of March and April and gradually builds up to a juice fast, green drink week, a Master Cleanser period, or some combination of the above. After finishing that part, I continue for another couple weeks on raw and lightly cooked vegetables, fruit and alkalizing grains. (These also form the bulk of my diet thoughout the year, with room for occasional treats.) That seems to work better and with more "carry over effect" that deciding to suddenly forgo your regular fare for three to five days and subsist on raw juices or water, only to be craving the day of the imminent return to your diet staples.

This year, I started right after my birthday and have gotten to my Master Cleanse day without much drama, except for some loss of endurance on occasional long runs - strenuous activity is really not part of any cleanse - and with a much welcome feeling of being able to unhook from the outside stress with less effort.

Much has been said about our fear of being without solid foods for any period of time. We may be sick, overweight, tired, depressed, we constantly invent new medications to fight conditions caused by excess of any form and fashion, we are avidly consuming new books on diet and dieting, but wait - isn't that the root? We are consuming! Even if the common sense tells us to ease off, even for a day, not to consume food, drink, material goods, the moment we stop consuming, we are outside of our zone of comfort. Why? I do not have an answer for this yet, but I have a strong feeling that the cessation of craving may lead to a cessation of suffering, at least in some degree.

This leads me to another important point, and I know I am not the original writer of this either. Your fast is more than just cessation of food consumption, it is a cessation of distraction and a day of mental-emotional health primarily. Your mind will lead, and your body will follow, starting with the very decision to make the cleanse happen. When I first did a Master Cleanser fast of 3 days, I had so much energy that I was able to work the whole time I was on it. Next year I remember trying to work, not having as much energy, ending up with a bunch of blurry days filled with struggling along. No matter what, I feel like both of those times I missed out on an opportunity to give my soul a rest, at least for a day.

And this is exactly what I did today. As I am writing this, I am sipping my tenth glass of Master Cleanser, I have taken a bath and practiced yoga, knitted, read, snuggled with my pets; last but not least, I have sat on my meditation cushion at regular intervals, and I just feel content. I know that for most of us, life cannot be like that every day, and I don't expect it to be. I love my family, my friends and my patients. I love going for a run with other folks, visiting a museum, practicing yoga in studio filled with people, having a meal in a place full with the buzz of other lives around you. But today my contentment came from being not in any control, just being quiet, just staying still. I feel blessed to be able to afford this delicious day. See, food is not the only thing that can be delicious :)

Do you know what the hardest part of this has been? Not using the electronics. Wednesday is my usual day off. It is a good day to be off. If you have paperwork and errands to catch up on, everything is open, if you have a need to have some peace and quiet, then everyone else is at work, and you can have the whole park to yourself in the afternoon. I have no problem compartmentalizing my work from my day off. My dear patients whose emails I will return first thing tomorrow will hopefully forgive me (I won't ever ignore a real emergency, though), although I don't even consider it work, it is more like a labor of love. But completely turning off my phone, not snapping a couple cute pictures of my cats and dogs snoozing peacefully, happy that mommy is still in bed reading, that was not to happen. I stayed away from the Internet and the news and the chat and the general email until it was time to sit down and write this blog, but have I been completely sequestered from the world? Cannot say that... Maybe it is for the better, it makes the luxury of having a day of restoration more amazing against the backdrop of the rest of the world zooming by for another 24 hours.