Cleansing, Fasting, Purifying, Oh My!

I’m at it again. Today is the third day of a new 10-day brown rice only fast, otherwise known as the Ohsawa Diet # 7. This is the extreme form of the Macrobiotic Movement, a diet based in the principles of balancing our Yin (receptive/lunar/feminine) and Yang(emissive/solar/masculine) energies, aligning what we eat more closely with what our body actually needs. I talked more specifically about Oshawa and Macrobiotics in my Austerity Measures post.

The morning of Day 1, I performed a Shanka Prakshalana:

In Sanskrit shanka means ‘conch’, and refers here to the intestines, which are as tortuous as a conch. Prakshalana means ‘cleansing’ or ‘purification’; therefore this technique could be called ‘the purification of the conch’. In other Yogic treatises it is also called värisära dhauté (‘the purification through the essence of Water’).

In other words, I drank 6 liters of salt water, then alternated between doing Yoga exercises and going to the toilet. A slightly different version is described here. I performed a Shanka about a year and half ago in Rishikesh with a couple of friends who were taking the Agama First Month Intensive with me. My memory was that it was a lot more difficult the first time! All together I think it took me about 2.5 hours to complete the process, and I wasn’t as affected by the horrible taste of the salt water this time. I added a couple ounces of lemon juice to each liter to make the water taste better, but the reality is you cannot do much to improve the flavor of salt water…

More background on the shanka prakshalana:

According to the Yogic outlook, one of the keys to health lies in the intestines. The physical body becomes ceaselessly and systematically intoxicated throughout the entire duration of life. One of the main causes for premature ageing and senility is the accumulation of poisons in the body through self-poisoning. Every living cell produces toxins. However there is an even more dangerous source of self-pollution, consisting of the poisons which filter through the intestinal walls and which intoxicate the entire body. Even those who believe they are not constipated still have a permanent source of self-pollution in the large intestine. Daily evacuation of the intestine does not exclude the possibility that the mucous membrane of the intestine may gradually be covered by a shell of sediments (generally known as “mucoid plaque”) which become encrusted there and are never removed. There they ferment and rot, and these toxins spread into the entire body. The origin of several forms of cancer is due to the permanent irritation of this intestinal mucous membrane. Cancer of the intestine is one of the most common cancer. However this illness is not the only evil to be fearful if the large intestine is covered with a crust of un-expelled feces. The illnesses which may be directly due to self-pollution are cirrhosis, rheumatism,dysentery, rhinitis, arthritis, neuroses, psychoses, heart disease, skin disease and rashes, foul breath, insomnia, sciatica, anemia, genital infections, piles, gall stones, hysteria, depression, enlargements of liver and spleen, etc. The sedentary life also promotes this self-pollution.

Therefore, the ideal method is shanka prakshalana. Water is simply absorbed through the mouth and reaches the stomach. Aided by certain movements it then travels through the entire length of intestine until exiting from the anus. This procedure is continued until the water expelled is as clean and limpid as when it first entered the body. Depending on various personal factors, it involves an amount of 3 to 5 liters of water.

After completing the shanka, I began my brown rice regiment in the evening. This time around I’m adding a little variety to my 10-day Oshawa. Fortunately in Boulder its very easy to find organic whole grains, so I’m including Quinoa, Buckwheat and a few different types of brown rice. The purists wouldn’t approve, but I think I’ll need the variety in order to get through this on my own.

Like last time, I’m focusing on chewing my food as much as possible, to aid the digestion and retrain my eating habits. I’m meditating and doing yoga daily, going for walks, absorbing sunshine whenever possible. I feel pretty crappy today (headache, bloodshot eyes), but I think this is what happened to me last time. My body is detoxifying and getting used to the smaller quantities. Wish me luck for the remainder of it!

I also wanted to take this opportunity to update you on several fasts I attempted over the past months. I described my initial experience back in June. In late July I participated in a second 10-day Hridaya Meditation retreat. The retreat runs from a Friday to the following Sunday so I decided to attempt two 36-hour fasts from Thursday evening until Saturday morning focusing my fast on Friday when universal love energy is most resonate. I drank only water, spending most of the day in meditation, using my lunch breaks for long walks rather than food preparation. I found both days to be relatively easy – the daytime heat of Thailand helps as you don’t really feel like eating when its so warm. The hardest aspect was late morning, when my body was accustomed to getting its first meal, although this was primarily psychological suffering and once passed I was able to get through the rest of the day without issue. Fasting during retreat was a fantastic experience and I will likely do it again in the future- my body was more settled in meditation, not distracted with digestion or wondering what I was going to make for lunch. I felt a soft clarity that inspired me even past the initial fasting day into the remainder of the retreat.

Now after these two fasts you can imagine I got a little confident and I attempted a third one in late August while I was doing work exchange at the Crestone Mountain Zen Center. Work Exchange consists of hosting large groups, cooking, cleaning, doing millions of dishes and generally being on your feet all day long. Oh and you do still sit 3 or 4 periods of meditation in the morning and evening. Needless to say the time there is quite demanding and after about 24 hours ( I was hoping to get to 36) I felt very dizzy and light-headed. I still had the dinner shift ahead of me and decided to call it quits on on the fast, eating a light meal. While I do think you can do the majority of your daily activities when fasting, keep in mind it may be difficult if you are doing a lot of physical work.

Brown Rice Wrap-up

Maybe some of you think I perished on the brown rice diet because I failed to update you once finished! Quite the opposite, in fact. I truly have never felt better. Solarized, active, and masculine all come to mind. I didn’t weigh myself, but have a sense I lost 5-8 pounds, getting closer to my Yogi fighting weight. It became possible to clearly distinguish between true hunger and the more mental attachment to eating. When your only option was another bowl of rice, the running mind, you know that one that mentally scans the contents of the refrigerator, thinks about possible take-out options or the sweetness of chocolate cake, has no choice but to give up. It’s then that you discover that your body actually requires much less than the mind thinks it does. Please don’t misunderstand me – brown-rice only is horrible for long-term nutrition and many have gotten themselves into trouble with it. However, as an experiment, both to cleanse body and mind, I highly recommend it. Often people ask the question: what was the first thing you ate on day 11? Interestingly, I watched as no single craving stood out. I felt even, disinterested actually. Somewhat frightened to shock my system with something new. I ultimately choose to have some fresh mango and papaya and bowl of yogurt because it seemed like a good idea… A week and a half later I do find some habits creeping back in: over-eating, eating to satisfy craving, not hunger, etc. But – I am eating slower,  more consciously and carefully. I can acknowledge when I do want something only to satisfy a craving – salty and spicy food for me… and be OK with this sometimes, realizing that it’s not what my body really needs.

The diet didn’t have the miraculous effect of clearing out my friendly parasite and it’s becoming clearer that a true fast along with a shankhaprakshalana will be necessary soon.

That’s it for now – I’ll surely be attempting this diet again, let me know if you want to join me next time.

Brown Rice Fast : Day 7

Another morning, another bowl of brown rice.  Yes, I’m still at it. This has been a very interesting week, in a number of respects. First, I’ve simply never attempted any serious long-term cleanse or fast. Second, this diet is supposedly very solarizing compared to a typical western diet (increasing imagemasculine and emissive energies). And probably most interesting for me is observing another theory that has been passed down from the ancient Yogis: that the food we eat is only our second major source of energy. The first being the universal energies, cosmic and telluric that we can access through our pranic bodies.

The diet itself hasn’t been all that bad. I haven’t cheated once, allowing myself only the brown rice and a small serving of Gomasio (sea salt and sesame seeds) on top for each meal. I am supposed to have a limited amount of water and the only things I can drink are plain water or tea with cinnamon or mint. Surprisingly I’ve been eating very little rice and feeling quite well during the day.

…The Yogic tradition advises us to eat only if we are really hungry, while we usually eat when we have time or it is meal time. When the hunger settles down(don’t mistake hunger with appetite, which is only the desire to eat), the simplest food becomes savory, the taste refines itself, while the intricate meals loose their attraction. You will become a refined taster, in the genuine meaning of the word. A glutton doesn’t feel a real pleasure not even in the most refined culinary preparations. The yogis say: ‘Cease eating from the first signs of satiation, do not attain overcharging.’ The advise us to expel any other concerns, worries and talks during our meals…

In some ways, I’m relearning how to eat. One specific part of this brown rice diet is learning how to really chew food.  What is most important is what you assimilate from the food you eat, not what you swallow. The next time you take a bite of bread, rice, or something else, really attempt to chew it 30, 40 even more times before swallowing it. You’ll notice that there is actually a change of taste at some point, often with the brown rice I notice a slight sweetness. When you eventually decide to swallow, the food should be mostly liquid.  Now your food is more than half-way digested and places much less burden on the stomach and intestines, a source of trouble for so many individuals

I attempt to just eat, avoiding reading, talking or other distractions. This is not always possible unfortunately. However I’ve observed that when eating rice mindfully, versus when I’m in a hurry or otherwise distracted, I do assimilate more energy from the equivalent quantity of food.

Next, my energy level. Outside of the third day when I felt very lethargic ( I think it was mostly psychological withdrawal from food and kicking caffeine), my energy has been incredibly high and remarkably stable. My regiment has included a good nights sleep, daily Yoga practice, along with mindful practices such swimming, walking barefoot and sun salutations to the late afternoon sun. I fully believe these aspects have been a major contributor to my increased energy. I’m also carefully observing of my relationships and general mindset during the day: Am I open to receiving gifts from others and the universe (infinite capacity), or am I closed and working only with what I have in this physical body (very finite capacity)?

3 and a half days to go!