Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring Cleaning For The Soul

Lots of people usher in spring by engaging in various chores. Some ferry loads of outdated or poor-fitting clothing to goodwill. Others pamper their vehicles with a thorough bath after a winter spent constantly doused with sleet and snow and exfoliated by salt and sand. Homebodies tackle renovation projects, while less ambitious types might scour through their cell phone's address books, shedding entries of people with whom they no longer communicate, no longer like, or no longer have the liberty of calling in light of a change in relationship status. Face the music, people, there's little to no justifiable reason to be harboring the digits of your old flames.

Yogis and other active types have plenty of spring cleaning options on and off the mat. Here are some of my favorite ways to cleanse your body, mind, and spirit in conjunction with the turn of the season.

Hit the steam room: Native American "sweat lodge" rituals equate a good sweat with clearing the body's physical and spiritual debris, and I tend to agree. Nothing kickstarts a cleansing period like a steam bath. Follow yours with LOTS of water and a healthy, clean, and uncomplicated meal.

Incorporate some twists: Twisting poses are known to rinse and relax the internal organs. They should be done on an empty stomach and only with the support of a long, straight spine. Try a few, each, of the supine, seated, and standing varieties. See which you like best.

Time for tea: Certain herbal and/or medicinal teas make effective detoxifying tonics. Drinking a cup, such as Yogi brand's peach detox, a couple hours before bed typically works best.

Detox your diet: There's a lot of hype in the yoga community about "cleanses." I do not recommend them. Too often, they are extreme diets dressed up in holistic garb. If you want to lose weight, cultivate a glow beneath your skin, and increase your energy level- you need a deliberate and healthful lifestyle, not a few days or weeks of deprivation and malnutrition.

Instead, I recommend eating nothing but (or, mostly) whole foods for 1-2 weeks (or longer, like the rest of your life, if you feel inclined). Stock up on veggies and fruit, and enjoy as much as you want. Eat carbs too- just make sure they contain whole grains. Think about any processes that your food underwent before arriving on your plate. If there's more than one perceivable pit stop (e.g. it was picked from a tree or laid by a chicken), then opt for something else with less of a sordid past. Steer clear of alcohol and refined sugars for a significant amount of time (or forever, if you're inclined). Ditch soda. Do not eat anything out of vending machine, served from a street cart, or originating from a package with an expiration date ending in a year that sounds like it could be the title of a science fiction thriller (ironically, that includes 2010, if you ask me).

Hydrate: I'll cop to the occasional diet soda, post-workout fruit smoothie, or glass of wine when the mood strikes, but, in general, water and tea are my beverages of choice. Take this approach to thirst-quenching for 2 weeks or more. Your body and brain will thank you.

Karma yoga: This term refers to the yoga of serving others. Most of us could do more of it. In your own neighborhood and far beyond, there are plenty of children who need tutors, food pantries that need donations, and senior centers that need an infusion of energy and good cheer. Pick one. Volunteer. Feel the healing all around.

Meditate: I cannot stress this one enough. Sit down on a pillow or yoga block. Straighten your spine. Close your eyes. Breath steadily. Can't focus? Count your breaths, one by one. Still can't focus? Try again. This skill is unmatched in its ability to improve your life from the inside out. Be sure to set an alarm clock or egg timer in advance; nothing undermines a meditation session like peeking at the clock every 4 seconds. Start with 5 minutes. Do this morning and night, every day, for 2 weeks weeks.

Boycott frienemies & phonies: Ideally, you would only interact with positive influences who create joy and laughter in your life. In reality, you have relatives, in-laws, roommates, coworkers, etc. The point, here, is that you need to methodically carve out time to spend with people who recharge your energy stores, and steer clear of those who sap you. Abide by this rule for a suitable amount of time (a week or weekend, perhaps)- no obligatory coffee dates with Debbie Downer; skip brunch with your friend who talks shit about everyone, all the time, and definitely pass on drinks with your on-again-off-again romance.

Feed your mind: Pick up a book. Read it. Until the end. Repeat this step until you feel as though you've built up enough intellectual antibodies to face celebrity magazines and reality TV again.

Get outside: Thoreau famously said, "I went to the woods to live deliberately." I'm not suggesting you need to move into a log cabin, but you do need to deliberately connect to the Earth. Go for a hike. Sit on a jetty. Run along a river, through a park, or down a wooded trail. Even in cold temperatures and on rainy days, the brain and body thrive when disconnected from TV, the Internet, and a cell phone and connected to other living creatures, natural light, and fresh air.

Seek a sage: Spend time with someone who engages and excites you in a meaningful way- an elderly relative who soothes your weary soul, a friend who always makes you feel better after leaving his/her company, or, perhaps, a mentor who teaches you a skill such as chess or squash; talent, like playing the guitar; or way of life, like not gossiping or seeing the best in others. Self-improvement is something that serves us well in all seasons.

Happy spring!

1 comment:

Dish This! said...

thanks om gal!! I am very excited to do my "spring cleaning" now =)