Friday – it’s over, it’s over, it’s ooooooooover!

Before and after

Jump out of bed this morning despite barely sleeping a wink the night before – three hours’ sleep in the afternoon will do that to ya I guess! Everything is brought forward on the last day to allow people to hit the road just after lunch so we start yoga at eight instead of 10.45. The yoga with Surya has been one of my favourite parts all week but today I really struggle with it for some reason. It’s like I can’t get enough air into my lungs during the breathing. I mention it to her afterwards and say that I think it might be cos we started so early in the morning and that my breathing is rubbish when I wake up as I breathe through my mouth at night. Well, she practically recoiled. “Nooooo,” she said, “this is so bad for your health, you will have to change it”. Jeepers. Must look into it when I get home.

Before and after

Just as the heavens are opening we’re hitting the roads for the last hike and even though it’s lashing wet, the walk is fabulous and I feel really energised. We get back to an amazing reintroduction to real food lunch so the soup and salads are accompanied by oatcakes and rye crackers. With actual kerrygold! Dhara joins us for lunch and it’s a great end to a great week. With email addresses swapped, it’s time to hit the road. I thought that by this stage I’d be mad to get back to normality but, bizarrely, I’m kind of nervous at being back in the real world of temptations and reckon I could easily go another couple of days at Cloona. As my drive cross-country magically allows me to hit rush hour in at least three places, it takes me six hours to get home at which stage I’m like a divil and, as feared, practically inhale half a loaf of brown bread with butter (butter!) and jam (jam!). Ah well, all the good work couldn’t be undone, could it?!

Am too wrecked after all the travelling to take photos so that will have to wait to the morning but I feel much lighter and my psoriasis is definitely way calmer than when I left so hopefully the pics and measurements will show that it was all worthwhile on that front ๐Ÿ™‚

Thursday – nearly there

Thursday gets under way with a trip to a fabulous country market in Westport. It’s quite small but definitely one of the best markets I’ve ever been to with locally grown organic veg rubbing shoulders with gorgeous flowers in bunches and posies and award-winning jams and cheeses. After being entreated to taste some relishes I have to tell the guy behind the stall that we’re doing the detox up at Cloona. We should really have nil-by-mouth tags for the occasion…

Back to the house for wheatgrass and juice (I now hate cucumber juice, although the people having the two oranges and grapefruit seem to really, really hate their breakfast so it’s all relative I spose) and by the time yoga starts my stomach is feeling a bit dodgy. After a rather subdued lunch I have to leg it to the bathroom and I’m even starting to sweat a bit. Nice. I figure it’s part of the aftermath of the intestinal flush yesterday but Dhara doesn’t seem to think it is and says that maybe I have a bug. Yikes. Off to bed with me for the afternoon while the others head off for their hike. After three hours’ sleep, I’m feeling well enough to go for the sauna and massage so hopefully it was just a little hiccup and I’m not going to take everyone out with some mystery ailment.

The psoriasis, which had been driving me mad yesterday, has also started to ease a bit which is great. Dhara confirms that any detox will bring about a worsening of a condition like that before it gets better which is a relief. Can’t believe that the week is nearly over already. After a bit of a chat and a sing-song – the massage therapist couldn’t get over it: “you’d think ye were on brandy, not a detox ๐Ÿ™‚ – it’s bedtime.

Wednesday – the intestinal flush!

Wake at the ungodly hour of 7 o’clock for an optional practice called shankaprakshana, a sort of yogic colonic irrigation. This involved drinking two glasses of warm salty water on an empty stomach and then doing a series of five yoga postures or asanas eight times. The water step and asanas are repeated twice so by the end of it, you’ve taken six glasses of the warm salty water. The postures are designed to squeeze the water into the large intestine rather than the bladder. Sound appealing?! Most of us actually find it brilliant (if a little yuck) although a couple of people don’t notice any difference afterwards. This can be done at home too and it’s something I definitely would be interested in doing again as you can really feel that it’s working its, eh, magic.

After this it was wheatgrass time, but I can’t face water today so I skip that part. Today is to be an all-juice fast so I am treated to a glass of apple juice diluted with water for breakfast.

The yoga session is really gently to allow for the fact that most of us did the flush and really enjoyable again. I am particularly loving the breathing exercises which seem like they would be really easy to incorporate into real life. I say that now though …Lunch is two large glasses of celery, apple, cucumber and ginger juice which although quite delicious doesn’t exactly hit the spot.

A beach hike is again on the gently side and we are blessed with another gorgeous day for it. Today we are told to focus on the lower back as well as the shoulders, hips and feet. Towards the end of the walk I can feel hunger creeping up on me, and by the time we get back I am ravenous.

Two glasses of water and a berry tea take the edge off somewhat. As it’s the first time I’m really hungry, it’s not bad going and as Dhara said it’s more because my body is used to getting a lot of bulk than that it’s not getting what it needs. Apparently on a juice fast, we actually take in about 100 times more vitamins, minerals and nutrients than on a normal day of gorging!

To distract myself I go for a facial which is just fab and the girl doing it is just so lovely to talk to. She’s all into alternative health and says that she gets the feeling that my psoriasis is a lot to do with stress or as she says that the tension in my head is bubbling up into my scalp, which I find really interesting. She says she knows a guy who is an alternative practitioner and promises to email him to see what he thinks might be going on and if he could recommend anything.

From there it’s into the sauna and shower which has become more and more enjoyable every night and in for a super massage. Sit around with the rest of the group for a bit of a chat (yes, about food) and with my stomach rumbling, I head off to bed at about half nine.

 

Tuesday

Wake up reluctantly at half eight after a fitful night’s sleep with really vivid dreams and nightmares. After the water-wheatgrass-cucumber juice ritual, I actually don’t have the energy to sit around chatting so I take myself up to the room for a 30-minute snooze. When the alarm goes off I seriously contemplate skipping yoga but I enjoyed it so much yesterday that I force myself to get up. I also would have felt like a total wimp as some of the women doing it are twice my age and they’re skipping around the place.

Anyway, the yoga is marvellous again and although I was really cold at the end of it (a side-affect of the detoxing maybe?) I feel much more energised and awake.

A delicious lunch of spinach soup (really!) and an assortment of salads and sprouts is once again wolfed down gratefully. Today Dhara’s niece Isabel gives the instructions and leads the walk, telling us that as well as focusing on the loose shoulders and swinging hips, to pay attention to our feet really springing upwards from our heels. I find focusing on the body much easier than yesterday and gallop off ahead again (you’re very much encouraged to walk at your own pace so I wasn’t being totally rude!) and really, really enjoy the walk. The fact that the sun was blazing down instead of the torrential rain of yesterday may have helped somewhat …

In the free time of the afternoon, I take myself off to the nearest beach at the foot of Croagh Patrick with lofty ideas about swimming that the Atlantic “breeze” soon puts paid to. So I just sit for a while reading before heading back to Cloona for a herbal tea and a good old natter with some of the others. Every conversation for the week seems to turn to food, no matter how it starts out ๐Ÿ™‚

After a bit of a snooze it’s dinner time and tonight I get a fruit plate with a banana, two golden kiwis, which I never saw before, an apple and six prunes, which I dutifully chomped down.

The sauna is fantastic again but afterwards when waiting for my massage, my scalp gets unbearably itchy. Later on I notice that two dormant patches on my face have gotten red and raised. I guess it’s just getting worse as the toxins are flushed out – hopefully!

Monday

The first morning begins with two glasses of tepid water (filled two-thirds from the tap and topped up with a bit of boiling water) as recommended by Dhara. He had explained that sipping water throughout the day is a bit like grazing when eating and confuses the body into thinking it isn’t thirsty. So it’s far better to drink first thing and at other intervals throughout the day, about 10 minutes before eating and not during or directly after food. Ten minutes later, it’s time to juice 40g of wheatgrass, which I was dreading as the smell was really, really, well, green. it tastes sweeter than I was expecting though and, as it’s only a little shot, goes down fine.

The standard Cloona breakfast is two oranges and a grapefruit as citrus helps to speed up the detoxifying process. However, certain conditions, like psoriasis would be agitated by this so I had signed up for the alternative breakfast of cucumber juice. Wild times indeed. It didn’t taste too bad at all though and I was able to chug it back fairly easily.

After breakfast, there was about half an hour of free time before the lovely Surya arrived for our morning’s yoga. Unlike other types of yoga I have practised before, the variety taught at Cloona (must look up the name) is very gentle and is practised with closed eyes most of the time, which is great as it puts a stop to my usual rubbernecking ways. Surya focused on the importance of the breath and talked us through some gentle postures and before we knew it the hour and three quarters had flown by.

Lunch was served in an adjoining cottage at 1pm, a genuine feast of carrot soup and glorious salads – broccoli with mushrooms in an avocado dressing, mung beans and an assortment of sprouts and a green leaf, tomato and pine nut ensemble. Although I was a little bit hungry afterwards, it was a really satisfying meal and, having had the juice for breakfast, just going through the physical motions of chewing and eating felt great.

Next up was the walk with Dhara but first there was “the talk before the walk”. Assembled outside as the skies opened and rain poured down on top of us, he explained that on these walks we would be loosening up those areas that we usually hold tight – our shoulders and hips for example – and instead of chattering and gossiping our way around the roads, we were to walk individually and keep our focus on our own bodies and physical movement. Suffice to say, I had forgotten what we were supposed to be doing within two minutes so I just took off at a gallop and instead of relaxing my mind, thought through all the usual distractions and diversions. Not great for day one, peut etre, but I had a chat with Dhara afterwards and felt like I understood it a bit better then. Onwards and upwards.

A snooze in the afternoon brought on a bout of hunger and a headache but both were bearable. Dinner at six o’clock was a little jug of cucumber and apple juice, about two glasses. Everyone else had a fruit plate which looked gorgeous (dates! almonds!) so I decided that from the next day onwards I would have the fruit at night and just stick to the juice in the morning.

Seven o’clock was sauna time and I thought the heat would kill me at first but I gradually got used to it. We alternated 10 minutes of sauna with a freezing cold shower three times so this took about 40 minutes in total. Our two massage therapists for the week had arrived at this stage and I had a fabulous back massage with Jackie which was just the right balance between pain and pleasure. I was just about able for a bit of chit chat afterwards and then it was time for bed.

Sunday night

After a few wrong turns and the help of some friendly natives, I arrived in Cloona at 6.45pm on Sunday. As it had been a good friend’s birthday in Galway the night before, I had been compelled to drink copious amounts of prosecco and vodka, as well as eating burnt sausages as if they were going out of fashion. Not to mention the cake. Sunday started off in a similar vein with a fry and two cups of coffee before a glorious sea swim worked up the appetite for something a bit more healthy, which I sated with banana bread. And more coffee… Anyway, no point worrying about that now.

My little room at Cloona

On my arrival, I’m met by Dhara Kelly, who runs the centre, having taken over from his mother who founded it. He was very welcoming and showed me to my little room which is simple and monastic with a sink, a single bed, a chair and a locker. And a painting of a naked lady. So far, so good.

There’s an introductory talk with Dhara at seven so I shuffle down to meet the 10 other participants who on this occasion are all also female. A mug of herbal tea and a chorus of embarrassed ‘hello’s from those already sitting in the requisite semi-circle and we’re ready to go.

The talk lasts an hour and a half and I’m delighted to find that not only is Dhara all the things one would expect – zen, kindly and bursting with knowledge – but that he also has a great sense of humour and an awareness, somewhat lacking in other purveyors of the good life, of the realities of modern living and all the things that go with that. He talked us through the week, explaining what we’d be doing and why and I found myself really looking forward to it.

Toxins, he explained, like sugar, caffeine and alcohol, confuse the body and agitate the nervous system, thus inhibiting the natural rhythm. Digestion slows right down (a typical Irish dinner of meat and two veg can take up to 36 hours to digest when the body is backed up – or even longer), sleep and mood can hugely affected and the body’s own messaging system is unable to send out the correct requests for things like water or healthy food. In detoxing, we would enable the body to work on healing itself rather than breaking down food (once all the old stuff is cleared) and this would be helped along by a daily diet of light fruit and vegetables as well as wheatgrass, yoga, walks, saunas and massages.

When Dhara talked about the importance of getting the right sleep, i was fascinated to learn that the old wives tale is true and that sleep between 10 and 12 each night is actually the most beneficial and restful, as this is when our melatonin production peaks. Working til half ten at night and commuting for nearly two hours wouldn’t be great so…

With the talk and a quick demo of the juicer for the wheatgrass in the morning over at 8.30, a few of the group headed out for a walk but the 4 o’clock dancing from the night before was catching up on me and my little bed was calling. With a magazine flicked through, I was fast asleep by 10, soaking up the precious high-octane melatonin, for the first time in about 20 years.

Pre-detox: not a pretty picture

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So it’s almost D-Day and I thought I’d take a few pictures so I can see if there’s much of a difference after a week of detoxing, yoga and hiking. I’m a size 8-10 and my weight never goes up or down too much but my extended tummy and cellulite tell their own story. I always thought I was really lucky that I don’t put on weight easily but I can see now that my body disposes of toxins in a different way ie dumping them through my poor skin, and particularly my scalp which, for the last 10 years, has been cracked and peeling and itchy and sore. All the time. This is at best annoying and at worst really sore and embarrassing. Like when i started a new job and got an outbreak on my face. Lovely ๐Ÿ™‚

The psoriasis is quite red, itchy and inflamed at the moment. My internet forays have led me to believe that the itching is caused by some kind of infection – perhaps yeast (how charming!) – so at the very least I would hope that this should ease up fairly quickly. Fingers crossed. Whether the actual plaques start to clear up remains to be seen…

I’ve also taken some body measurements so I can see if there’s any difference afterwards. My waist is 31 inches and my hips are 34 so according to an interweb waist-to-hip ratio, I have a .91 ration and am therefore high risk. Pah. The circumference of my thigh is 20 inches. I am weighing in (in the red corner!) at 9 stone 7lb.

Aside from my skin and the dangerous ratio thingy, my main hope is to get my energy levels up. As a shift-worker of sorts, I have the luxury of lying in in the morning if I so choose and these days I find it nigh on impossible to extract myself from the leaba. And when I do get up I’m tired and cranky and generally fuzzy-brained. Any improvements in this would be magnifique.

* Update: Friday, August 10th, 19.53: My weight is actually 9 stone 5 lbs as I appear to have lost two pounds overnight. Virtuous pre-detox thoughts perhaps?

Psoriasis, low calcium and a very sloooooooooooow realisation

So, after battling psoriasis (mostly of the scalp but with lovely, unpredictable outbreaks of the face and other areas too) for more than 10 years I was becoming resigned to the fact that it would be just something I would have to put up with. And even though it could be quite embarrassing on those flakey days and, at other times, downright sore to the point of bleeding when I had obviously enjoyed a glorious night of sleep-scratching, it wasn’t life-threatening and, sure, there were lots of people worse off. So I trudged to and fro, to doctors and dermatologists, gratefully accepting whatever hundred-euro wonder potion or steroid they proffered. And every now and again, I would venture into the hairdressers where I would sheepishly mutter that I had psoriasis and then silently wince as they shouted “oh you do, I see it now, it’s quite bad isn’t it?” before assaulting me with 100 degree water and a hairdryer on the hottest setting. Ouch.

In the meantime, I began to notice that, as a 20-something-year-old, ahem, girl, my health wasn’t, well… it wasn’t quite what it should be. Although my doctor always seemed to find a satisfactory explanation and solution. My cholesterol,ย  at 7.3, was through the roof (“genetic predisposition, can be treated quite easily with a life-time of statins”), my calcium levels were low (“fairly typical of a girl your age, you’ll have to be careful now but you can up your intake of dairy and of course I can always prescribe Vitamin D and Calcium in tablet form”), I was starting to develop a seriously dodgy tummy and display all the signs of IBS (“anti-spasm medication”) and my energy levels were non-existant (“now you see, some people just don’t have a lot of energy…”. Hmmm.

You would think with all this going on I might have started to question my lifestyle, and eventually I did but oh so sloooooowly. Reading an interview with Bernadette Bohan, a Dublin housewife who changed her diet and lifestyle and beat cancer before becoming a best-selling guru (her book, The Choice, is well worth a read) flicked a little switch in my brain but it was another two years or so before I put all the pieces together.

The realisation, when it eventually came, was that I wasn’t unlucky to have psoriasis and a whole gamut of problems, I was *lightbulb* doing them to myself. With a toxic, stressful, deadline-driven lifestyle, a sugar addiction that bordered on destructive (mars bar square for breakfast anyone?) and a love for caffeine that was outweighed only fractionally by my love for my family (most days), I was poisoning myself, slowly but surely. Because I’ve always been fairly slim, I thought I could pretty much get away with anything when it came to food – ah how wrong I was! With a list of food intolerances as long as my arm (eggs, are you serious?!) and an immune system that was literally screaming at me,ย  my body had been trying to tell me for years that I needed to make some changes …and not by firing a load of drugs down my gullet, thank you!

Now I know what you’re thinking – oh another “I-changed-my life-by-giving-up-everything-that-makes-it fun-and-you-can-do-it-too!” type. Ah no. I wish! While other people seem to come to the same conclusion as me (the excellent Susan Jane Murrayย http://www.susanjanemurray.com and , across the water, Angela Liddon on http://ohsheglows.com) and renounce demon toxins and completely overhaul their lives so they brim with health and glow in the dark, I haven’t found it quite so easy. So while you could say (if you were a fan of catchy 90s pop music) I have the key, it would seem the secret is eluding me… Because, goddammit, I love the bad stuff!

So, I start the day with vegetable juice, I detox, I take supplements, I swig fish oils and flax seed oils out of the bottle and I start to feel great. That’s right, great. The terrorised skin on my scalp begins to heal, the gawdawful itch fades away to nothing, my stomach is serene and, for me, most impressively I SKIP out of bed in the morning! The mental clarity, oh god the mental clarity. Usually I wake up feeling fuzzy and cranky, particularly if its humid outside but, who am I kidding, the weather could be doing anything really. But when I’m looking after myself and my diet, I’m as bright-eyed and bushytailed as the original bright-eyed and bushytailed bunny. Not only that, but every last trace of pesky cellulite disappears from my thighs and bum. Even when pinched! A little miracle. Not to mention the fact that the pores on my face just shrivel up and vanish … So, all told, healthy living feels soooooo good. For about two weeks. Then what happens? Well, usually it’s a wedding, or a birthday party, or a holiday, or a colleague’s birthday, or a Friday or WHATVER. The point is that, at some point, I start to slip back into my old habits. Just a little bit at first but eventually I’m right back where I started. Except I feel worse. Because I know better.

And that’s where this blog comes in. Notwithstanding the little obstacle of being an absolute luddite, it has occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, if I was to chronicle my efforts, it might help me stick to my guns. I also love the idea that someone else might take away something from it that could help them, even a little bit. For all the years I handed over money, hand over fist, to the host of doctors and Co, not one of them ever mooted the idea of diet. EVER. Stress came up a few times and I would be told to take it easy but always with the offer of pills or tablets of some kind for something. And even though I’m a fairly adjusted, educated human being, I never questioned them. Or asked for an alternative. And, to be honest, I think they’re definitely trying their best based on what they’ve been taught. But sometimes, stepping back and asking the right questions can be a lot more valuable than hyper-prescribing. So if someone else can be spared from spending thousands of euro (and it is over time) on skin-thinning steroids and aggressive and unnecessary medications, I would be thrilled.

Cloona, where I'll be detoxing.

To get things started, I’m taking myself off to Cloona in the west of Ireland for a five-day detox (http://www.cloona.ie/) and I’m going to post a few ‘before’ pictures to help illustrate (hopefully!) the difference a week can make. I’m mainly hoping that some of their healthiness will rub off on me and that a week of detoxing will put me in a great position to make a few key changes when I get back.ย  So please feel free to pitch in with suggestions and comments and see if this time I can finally find a healthy balance … and stick to it ๐Ÿ™‚