In the ancient Chinese Medicine 5-Element tradition, Spring begins in early February rather than late March. Think of each season as a bell curve. The Western view has each season’s start at the top of the curve; but if you think about it, there are subtle hints of Spring long before late March rolls around.

Since living in the DC area, one of the earliest signs always surprises me — my son, Sasha, and I both wake up sneezing, usually around the second week of February in reaction to some unidentified (to us) allergen. Birds begin chirping enthusiastically around 6 or 6:30 and I notice more variety and sing-songiness among our feathered friends as they fill our little urban patch of woods with the sounds of hope. Crocuses start popping up here by the third week of February and by mid-March the first kitchen ants (not their scientific name!) begin appearing out of nowhere, one at a time at first. Even if you live in a tropical place like Thailand, there are hints that the season is shifting. We didn’t call it Spring in Thailand, we called it the Hotter Season (following the Hot Season and preceding the Hottest Season (before the Steamy Hot Rainy Season).

Especially for those of us who live in a temperate 4-season zone (Okay, the ancient Chinese observed 5 seasons that include Late Summer between Summer and Autumn — hence the term 5-Element — but that’s another story), a Springtime cleanse makes sense. We’ve just gotten through a cold winter eating richer, more warming foods and our livers and gallbladders are tired of processing the extra fats and diminished exercise most of us get once the weather gets cold. Even if you live in a climate where it’s warm year-round, doing a cleanse as you go from the dry season to the rainy season or whatever it is for you gives your body’s organ systems a boost of energy. And doing a gentle cleanse is also a great jumpstart to a balanced weight-loss program.

Below is my version of Elson Haas’ detoxification Master Cleanser fast, originally designed as a 10-day rejuvenation program for overall health. You won’t have to struggle to manage your hunger pangs since you drink this along with a “diet” of real, unprocessed whole foods. Hollywood’s stars made the original Master Cleanser no-food fast famous with claims of many pounds lost; however, I don’t recommend a dramatic liquid fast or starving yourself to achieve positive and sustainable results. Unless you have time to go sit in a mountain-top monastery to meditate and care for yourself away from the demands of daily urban life, I suggest you avoid fasts and opt for this gentler, and ultimately just as effective, approach.

In Chinese medicine’s 5-Element tradition, the season of Spring is associated with the liver and gallbladder, two organs that help us process fats. So by the end of winter, these systems need some extra TLC.

One of the ways we can tell these organ systems are feeling the negative effects of too much rich food is not only the heavy feeling in our gut, but also the changes in our moods. The ancient Chinese observed that when the liver and gallbladder are stressed or activated, anger rises up more easily in us and there may be a sense of agitation or frustration. As Spring approaches we experience what can be a challenging transition from the deep-down still energy of winter into the upward, sprouting energy of Spring. Many of us feel stuck and struggle to get ourselves moving, literally and figuratively. The Chinese recognized that Spring’s energy is about the vision we see ahead for us (in work and life) and how we can create and grow that vision like a seed grows into a flower or tree.

In fact, the Chinese 5-Element Medicine tradition identifies the tree or wood as the element in Nature that represents Spring. But moving out of Winter’s quiet into Spring’s bouncier energy can feel bumpy. (Think about a sprout pushing its way up through the cold, hard earth towards the sun!) So a simple cleanse goes a long way towards not only helping our bodies but also our minds and spirits move forward with energy, vision and a “spring” in our step!

The ancient Chinese also recognized that sour tastes help clear and soothe the liver, so think about getting more lemon, lime, and other citrus into your day, as well as strawberries. Eat plenty of steamed or lightly cooked vegetables that grow in Spring — snap and snow peas, asparagus, sorrel, young kale, spinach, collards — and enjoy with a squeeze of lemon or lime, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, sea salt & black pepper. Cook your proteins simply, without sauces. In general during Springtime, sauté, steam or boil foods lightly, rather than frying, stewing, roasting or grilling. Add seeds like pumpkin and sunflower, to salads, over steamed or lightly cooked seasonal veggies, or in granola.

Notice the energy you get from eating these foods and observe how your mind feels able to visualize the future, near or far, so your body and spirit can move forward in a creative and productive way. Those Chinese guys didn’t sit around observing Nature for nothing — they made some amazing connections between how the seasons, plants, animals and weather behave and applied it to humans in ways that still make sense today. How cool is that!?

(HOT) LEMONADE SPRING TONIC for your personal Spring Cleanse

1 mug boiling water (or tall glass room temperature water)
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon (or lime) juice
1 Tbsp. maple syrup*
Very light sprinkle of cayenne

Drink 2–3 times each day for ten days or more in-between regular meals of freshly prepared light, whole foods.

Adjust amounts as needed so it tastes good to you, like hot lemonade with a slight kick. If it’s so sour it takes the enamel off your teeth, it’s too lemony. And it shouldn’t be so peppery it makes your mouth burn. This will help clear the liver and gallbladder of congestion so they can break down fats and process toxins more effectively- and so you can feel calmer and clearer.

*It’s better not to substitute honey for maple syrup since as a tree sap that has been boiled, maple syrup embodies the rising energy of spring and the element of wood/tree that is important for soothing and cleansing the liver. But if you live far away from maple trees where no one has ever heard of maple syrup, use another sweetener that is local.

Drink up as you visualize the positive changes you plan to make in the coming weeks and months. Enjoy!

GENTLE SPRING CLEANSE**
A gentle way to lighten your energy, rev up your metabolism & move forward to create the life you want!

**Make sure you run this by your physician or PCMO first to make sure a cleanse is right for you.

Here is a basic set of guidelines for anyone who wants to avoid the extremes of a fast and benefit from the sense of renewal and balanced well-being that comes with a cleanse.

Before beginning, be sure to consult your nutritionist or practitioner to make sure all individual health needs are addressed.

EVERY DAY for 5 - 7 days

  • Take a probiotic supplement (Acidophilus, Bifidus).
  • Each morning and as needed throughout the day, drink a mugful of the hot lemonade liver tonic. See recipe above.
  • Take 5–15 minutes, preferably before you begin your day, to sit in a quiet, comfortable place. Concentrate on your breath, taking deeper, slower breaths. Notice the thoughts that come up and just let them go. Feel any feelings that show up. Meet them head on and sit with them lovingly. Breathe. As distracting thoughts come up, take note of them, and bring your attention back to your breath-or to your positive intentions for how you would like your day and your week to go.
  • Move! Walk, run, ride a bike or work out 30–60 minutes to move energy through and sweat toxins out.
  • Sip on filtered water or herbal teas, about 6-8 glasses, throughout the day.

TYPICAL MEALS YOU CAN ENJOY DURING THE CLEANSE

BREAKFAST (between 7 and 8 am)

  • Cup or 2 of organic green or other local tea (not too strong) WITH
  • Bowl organic blueberries (frozen is fine) or 1/2 grapefruit or other local fruit that is sweet and sour
  • One bowl of hot organic oatmeal with currants or one bowl of low-sugar granola s/raisins and rice or soy milk OR if weather is warmer, a soy or rice-based protein powder smoothie with banana and blueberries is fine
  • Chlorella & Spirulina supplement to help with detoxification, clearing arteries and building immune system

MID-MORNING (around 10:30)

  • Tall glass of organic carrot juice (Odwalla sells this now if you don’t have access to a juice bar or your own juicer) w/1/2 tsp. Bragg’s Liquid Aminos stirred in.

LUNCH (around 12:30 or 1)

  • Small bowl of miso soup with seaweed
    OR
    Drink one tall glass of V8-like tomato/veggie juice (Knudzen brand is good.) PLUS:
  • Warm or room temp soba or brown rice udon noodles (or quinoa or brown rice) with 3-4 steamed/lightly sautéed vegetables such as yellow squash, spinach & shitakes. You can season the cooked noodles with a little tamari and rice/apple cider vinegar — and hot pepper flakes, if you want to spice things up. If you have quinoa or brown rice, you can drizzle fresh lemon juice and olive oil or tamari on everything.
  • If you know you’re hungry and will want more than this, add a helping from the legume family (black/other beans, lentils, or chick peas).

MID-AFTERNOON (around 3:30/4)

  • Sip on 1 Emergen-C dissolvable packet dissolved in tall glass of water
    WITH
    Handful of Almonds
    AND
    Piece of fresh fruit like an organic apple or strawberries.

DINNER (around 7)

  • Steam or sauté in olive oil over medium heat about 2 cups of fresh greens/vegetables such as kale or chard, onions, green beans or snap/snow peas/asparagus and w/parsley or cilantro. After veggies are tender but not over-cooked, serve with a squeeze of lime or lemon juice, and tamari or sea salt.
  • Cook quinoa or brown rice for an easy to digest, nervous system soothing, high quality protein & complex carbohydrate
  • One moderate piece of simply grilled or baked Salmon or other fish like cod, halibut, sole
    OR
    organic tofu or tempeh stir-fried with ginger and tamari.

BEFORE BED

  • Drink a glass of papaya juice.
  • Take a short hot shower; then blast yourself with a minute of the coldest water you can stand. Use dry skin brush after your shower to help remove any toxins coming out through the skin.
  • Before sleep, close your eyes and visualize physical toxins, as well as the emotional toxins (frustration, anger, agitation, grief, etc.) dislodging and leaving your body. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Imagine toxins leaving your liver, kidneys, gallbladder, lungs, and heart; send the toxins out through your bedroom window and deep into the earth far away to be recycled into loving, compassionate energy. Visualize pure, vibrant pale green light inside your body, clearing our toxic energy, building creative energy and immunity.

IMPORTANT: When you start eating a “normal” diet again, start with. at least 1-2 days of very light eating to avoid too much shock to your organs. Light eating means a diet of lightly cooked fresh vegetables in season with whole grains, brothy soups, plenty of clear fluids, whole fresh fruits, simple bean/lentil/chickpea dishes, small amounts of soy protein, simply prepared (not fried) fish and lean high quality meats.

HAPPY SPRING CLEANING!