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.

Austerity Measures

Today I begin a 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. Agama Yoga, where I am practicing this summer, is a big proponent of this diet, as the theory is that most of us in the West have a significant Yin/Yang imbalance, primarily that of have too much Yin energy. 

Originally from Japan, the principle behind the macrobiotic diet combines tenets of Zen Buddhism with a Western-style vegetarian diet. Much more than a list of recommended foods, it is all about a spiritualism that transcends lifestyle, attitude, and diet practices. The word "macrobiotic" comes from the Greek and essentially means "long life" or "great life."

The macrobiotic diet regimen supports an Eastern philosophy of balancing foods to attain a balance of yin and yang. To achieve that balance, foods are paired based on their sour, sharp, salty, sweet, or bitter characteristics.

Yin foods are cold, sweet, and passive while yang foods are hot, salty, and aggressive.  Some foods are prohibited because they contain toxins or fall on the far end of the spectrum, making it difficult to achieve and respect a balance.

The brown rice cleanse or diet # 7 is considered the ultimate in yin and yang balancing, popularized by George Ohsawa, who supposedly cured himself of cancer by following such a regiment. Even today, many people with cancer and other chronic diseases attempt a macrobiotic diet of wholesome, nutritious foods.

Why am I doing this you might ask?  Several reasons.  First, I have been battling a chronic gastro-intestinal issue for over a year that I picked up some time during my travels to Asia in 2009 or 2010.  The theory is that I have some form of bug, a parasite or bacteria that is very persistent and not subject to the various attempts I made with strong antibiotics to rid myself of this unwanted guest. Plus, the more I learn of the side-effects of antibiotics, the more inclined I am to seek natural remedies. I have attempted Ayurvedic herbal remedies, various elimination diets (gluten and dairy) and while these things have helped, they have not eliminated my symptoms completely.  I’m not completely optimistic this will cure me, but its a step in that direction.

Second, I find I have a very interesting relationship to food. During my retreat last week, I found myself seeking solace or reward through food – even if just a cup of tea or piece of fruit, there was something of a cycle of deprivation and reward. Thinking back to my Zen retreats, this existed via a cup of chai or small bite of chocolate on a break. Not that there is anything entirely wrong with this sort of thing – I just have never fully removed myself from the cycle to investigate it.  Eating only brown rice for 10 days will surely do this! This whole relationship to food can be a blog post in itself, and something I will surely ruminate on over the next 10 days.

Finally, I am in a community that fully supports this. There is a group of about 8 of us who are starting the diet today, who will go ‘out to eat’ together and provide encouragement. I won’t be locked away in my bungalow alternating my glance between yet another bowl of brown rice and the bag where I stashed my snacks out of sight….

Wish me luck, I’ll try to update as I go along, although my posts may get progressively angrier sounding…