Across health/wellness industry media platforms there are reminders, tips, recipes, warnings, in-depth studies and dire diagnoses regarding detoxification. I often overhear people saying things like, “I had such a big weekend. I really need to detox”. Frequently in my yoga classes and through online platforms I get asked questions about detox. There are numerous potions, pills, teas and regimes (quick-fixes and hard-slogs) being bandied about. I have been pondering about what constitutes a detox and why this is so recently such a huge phenomenon that so many are claiming we ‘need’ so critically.
I first thought about my grandmother. She was slim, vital and beautiful for much of her life. She smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 50 years. She drank gin, whiskey and wine. She loved good coffee and lavished cream on top of it. She ate meat, bread, and cheese. She liked veggies and fruit, but was not particularly passionate about salads and ‘health foods’ of today. She never said no to a scone at tea. She was never concerned with sugar intake, but was not interested in sweets and chocolates and bought ‘treats’. Cake/scones were for tea. Desert after a meal was a whiskey. She never over-indulged. Sure she would get a bit tipsy and raucous on her birthday or the like, but she never had benders or binges. She NEVER ‘exercised’ but she liked to stroll in the garden whilst ordering people about. She enjoyed it all, but never saturated herself in it.
My grandmother had a ‘rule of thumb’. If she felt her skirts or trousers were uncomfortably tight, she cut back on bread, and replaced wine with whiskey. I’m not kidding. It worked. She never went on any kind of ‘detox’. But she was forced to stop smoking in her seventies – rightly so, that habit is not defendable given the information we now know, and that her generation were not privy to.
Today we are paranoid about pretty much everything she consumed. And we feel toxic, even though we are far more – immeasurably more – health and fitness conscious ‘than she ever was.
Our bodies have a natural capacity to detox. We have the grand detox-mechanism built in. From the liver, kidneys and digestive organs, toxic waste is filtered and packaged so it can be eliminated through urine, sweat, exhalation and solid waste. When we exercise and sweat, this detoxification process is given a super-boost. So whats the problem? We ‘exercise’ – the ‘exercise’ industry is huge – why are we feeling so toxic?
The first and obvious possible answer is – over-indulgence. Of course, the mad benders and binges at nightclubs and supersized fast food chains, and order in ‘Mr Delivery’ options are toxic life choices. Pure and simple.
The second possible answer is – toxic environments. Cities, smog, fertilisers, GMO’s, polluted water systems, diminishing forests to ‘cleanse’ our atmosphere.
But its more than that. I know people who feel concerned about detox and they aren’t – for the most part – over-indulging and they don’t live in a smog-invested environment.
Its axiomatic to point out that the pace of life has quickened and become pressured. In this time of hyper-mobile-connectivity, we can never ‘slow down’. Its all happening, all the time, and we just have to refresh the screen to be swept up in a new drama. We are emotively and physically invested in what is projected from that little screen. Feeling anger, outrage, pain, pity, happiness, gratification, and so on, as our ‘news feed’ sweeps down. We cannot be disengaged for a moment. Imagine!? People – including teenagers – have reported feeling severe anxiety over separation form their smartphone, and there are a new list of physiological disorders associated with mobile connectivity and social media. We can’t get away, or slow down in this way, ever. I have friends who are just starting out in their careers, who already frequently clock in work hours (absolutely necessary, no absolutely – life threatening) whilst on holiday. Our phones are the first and last contact with the world each day, marking our sleep and wake cycle.
When we feel stress and anxiety our bodies produce hormones, such as cortisol, that inhibit the detoxification process. Stress and anxiety is everywhere and its computed into the very fibre of the post-industrial capitalist city. The lack of a holiday is toxic, not what you consumed on the holiday. I feel that our yearning and fascination with detox is both a reflection of how we frequently inhibit our body’s natural detoxification mechanism, and a deeply (often not conscious) need to break with this pattern of immediacy, connectivity, time-pressure, informational-overload and anxious attempts to ‘keep up’. Not necessarily break in final or totalising terms, but to ‘take a break’ so we can detox effectively.
Yoga for me is an entry point for, firstly, recognising my own source of toxicity through enhancing my self-awareness and mindfulness, and, secondly, giving me that focused will to make time to disconnect. I mean that in terms of a daily yoga practice, but also for ‘retreats’ for weekends and longer. A retreat doesn’t have to involve yoga or ‘exotic travel’ either. It could be camping or hiking, or fishing, or chilling at a beach in your grandma’s old cottage where there’s no wifi.