There are many different flavours to cleansing and detox. Recently, I had a month contract working at a detox and yoga centre in Koh Samui, Thailand. Samui is your typical tropical island paradise but with a distinct contradiction. It’s dotted with a wide range of cleansing and wellness retreats and an abundance of beer-swilling barns, pill-popping nightclubs and prostitution bars. Two industries, one providing cool, clear purity and the other hot, sweaty sinfulness, thrive side by side.
It was wonderful to dive so deeply into the detoxification process at the retreat and to have clients so dedicated to their personal cleansing. I learnt a lot. The clients made up a broad demographic: smoggy city-dwelling ex-pats, international professional gamblers, self-made millionaires, military personnel, backpackers and even Thai nationals who’d won a detox as a magazine competition prize. Their stories were as vastly different as their levels, duration and types of toxic exposure. The things they had in common were they all wanted to cleanse their systems and they all lived with high levels of stress.
The retreat offered three programs with differing levels of intensity. The mildest was the 100 per cent raw food cleanse; the next level involved light raw meals and colonics; and the most intense involved fasting and colonics. The colonics programs used a protocol that essentially derives from Dr Bernard Jensen’s bowel-cleansing work. Bernard Jensen, a leader in the US naturopathic industry, spent his life discovering health and healing methods of different people around the world. One of his major contributions was his work with the colema board and the supportive supplement regimes he, with colleague JV Irons, created for detoxification.
A colema board is a device that is halfway between an enema kit and a colonic hydrotherapy unit. Jensen used the colema board to inject more water into the large bowel than is possible with an enema. It enters only under the force of gravity, unlike most colonic hydrotherapy units. The colema board is attached to a toilet, so there’s no need to get up and release over a toilet, as with an enema. You can lie there to release, as you can with colonics. The retreat uses a Thai-style colonic irrigation apparatus and provides manual abdominal massage and heat packs to achieve significant releases. As always after any bowel hydrotherapy, probiotics were provided to help rebalance the beneficial bacterial strains.
The program is not just fasting (or raw foods) and colonics, though. It involved three important supplements. First, the detox drink, a combination of toxin-absorbing bentonite (green) clay and the bulking laxative, psyllium husks. These were served with fresh watermelon or pineapple juice twice to four times a day. The swelling of the psyllium tended to somewhat satiate the appetites of fasters. Mixing the clay and psyllium creates a toxin-absorptive sludge that encourages the release of what is referred to as the mucoid plaque. (Do a Google images search and gape in wonder.) Whether the mucoid plaque is actually dislodged matter or the congealment of bentonite and psyllium is something I question. The juice provides some glucose to stop the body from resorting to breaking down proteins or fats to sustain functioning and makes the detox drink fairly palatable.
The second supplement is the digestive enzymes, taken twice to four times a day. These provide enzymatic action within the gastrointestinal tract, which purportedly ceases when we stop taking food in. They help to break down bacteria-produced toxins and clean up any bacteria dying within the gut. The third is the greens supplement. Jensen favoured alfalfa as the major supplement to support bowel cleansing. It also provides an antioxidant action and helps to alkalise the blood while undergoing a detox, helping to reduce negative reactions.
Another element of the program involved absorbing up to 30 minutes of sunshine each day (outside of peak times), either by the pool or down at the ocean, to top up vitamin D levels and slowly work on that tan. Relaxing was mandatory. There were also educational classes for guests to learn more about detoxification and healthy habits to take home with them. As detoxification involves a level of mental or emotional cleansing, I used Australian Bush Flower essences to provide ongoing support for the positive changes they had decided to make. This was also something they could continue after they left to remind themselves of the new energies they invited into their lives.
the retreat offered a variety of ashtanga-style yoga classes, including hot yoga. For me, the hot yoga was novel and an excellent boost to cleansing and detoxification. Obviously, given it was an incredibly humid time of year, drinking lots of fluids was fundamentally important. I started a lifelong and deep love affair with coconut water while I was there.
As a “local” I enjoyed many of Samui’s offerings. The ingrained Buddhist culture was a relaxing delight to dwell in. The celebration of national and regional culture was both beautiful and hilarious (particularly Son Karan, the huge water-fight ceremony celebrating the Thai New Year). Although pill-popping, beer-swilling and prostitution bars are not my style, I enjoyed dancing till all hours with ladies who looked suspiciously like men …
Sally Mathrick is a practising naturopath and runs Sound Medicine, a naturopathic consultancy providing workplace wellness solutions and health education.