Wellness & Health Retreat: Juice Fasting Part II
I love experiencing Costa Rica through the eyes of first-time visitors. Life’s ordinary moments become new and exciting once more. Waking up to the call of howler monkeys, sleeping under mosquito nets, and daily encounters with multiple-legged creatures – all typical of Costa Rica – were novel to my fellow fasters. Our cabinas at Hacienda del Sol were comfortably rustic, with a simple screen separating us from the great outdoors. We began every morning of our 7-day juice fast with a small glass of fresh-squeezed lemon juice topped with cayenne pepper. Immediately upon entering the body, the acids of the lemon become alkaline, which help boost electrolyte minerals and the immune system. An hour of gentle yoga moved the tart cocktail through my body as I opened my hips and lengthened my core in various restorative poses. Our yoga sessions, while challenging at times, were tailored to help our bodies heal during the fast.
While watching Jerelea instruct us on deep-abdominal breathing, I noticed the shallowness of my breath. Even more frustrating, I realized that I often held my breath for no apparent reason, starving my body of oxygen. Full yogic breathing is a wonderful way to release anxiety, frustration, and negativity. As the days passed, I began to experience some of its positive effects. One morning she was demonstrating “lion’s breath,” a pose designed to alleviate tension in the neck and face. The exhale is a loud “ha” sound, similar to a lion's roar as the breath drags across the back of the throat. Just as Jerelea opened her mouth to exhale, the roar of her inner lion was supplanted by the deafening bellow of a resident howler monkey. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect and we all laughed in disbelief.
The universal question posed by friends whenever I fast: “But don’t you get hungry? I couldn’t imagine giving up solid food for an entire week.” There were days when I couldn’t even finish the juices provided. Our bellies were constantly full; every two to three hours we drank nutritional delights made with varying medleys of carrot, watermelon, apple, spinach, coconut, ginger and beet along with superfoods like bee pollen, spirulina and maca powder. With the exception of spirulina, which has one of those love it or hate it kind of flavors, the juices were downright tasty. Our nightly ritual varied a little, but we always looked forward to a bowl of warm potassium broth made from seaweed, garlic, celery and potato skins with just a hint of Himalayan sea salt. Just before bed, we'd have a shot of kefir, a fermented probiotic made from young coconut juice. With a flavor not unlike sake, this fizzy tonic was one of my favorites and helped replace beneficial flora in the intestinal tract.
To enhance the cleansing process, we drank a mix of psyllium fiber, hibiscus flower and water twice daily to help absorb and move the toxins out of our system. And if this weren’t enough, I treated myself to several Thai massages throughout the week. A lovely – and incredibly strong – therapist named Ana used her hands, elbows and feet to stretch and apply pressure to my entire body as I rested on a soft mat. Using a sequence of flowing movements, she began at my feet and gradually worked her way to my head. Nearly two hours of therapeutic stretches (some very similar to yoga), and I was in a state of sublime relaxation. Our days in San Juanillo were never dull: strolls to the beach, twice daily colemas, mud baths, group circles and lots of chatting kept us in the moment. By Day 3, I had entered the zone. I felt remarkably lithe, as if food were a complete afterthought, although we'd occasionally have intense discussions about our favorite dishes that borderlined on food porn. Gina couldn’t wait to taste the delicate flavor of an avocado, while I craved homemade pesto sauce. We watched several mind-blowing documentaries on the healing power of raw foods that made me question why I ever ate a hamburger and fries. But then the taste memories would flood back to me: because they’re delicious! But what price do we pay for enjoying so many processed foods?
Unless you’re eating at least 50% raw, most people consume too much animal protein, saturated/trans fats, and alcohol that ultimately inhibit the body’s ability to naturally detoxify. Organs once able to remove unwanted substances from our systems become totally overwhelmed. The result is toxic material inside our tissues and gastrointestinal tract. The colemas removed these built-up toxins, and what fun it was comparing our daily results. The detoxifying effects of colon hydrotherapy are absolutely amazing. By Days 4 and 5 of the fast I felt not only lighter, but smarter – my brain was no longer muddled with fog. Unlike last year’s cleanse, I had great energy throughout the entire week and by Day 6, all three of us were positively giddy. Just as the sun peeked out from the clouds, Jerelea put on some tunes while we slathered our bodies in natural clay for a mud bath. Amy and Gina were fun girls to begin with, but as the week wore on, the laughter among the four of us amplified.
As usual, we broke our fast with fresh papaya, a fruit chosen for its ease on the digestive system. Jerelea sent us each home with raw meals for our travels. With no scale at the retreat, I hadn’t a clue how much weight I’d dropped during our weeklong cleanse. I was pleasantly surprised with the results: I now weighed ten pounds less than I did in high school, and had dropped eight pounds during the week! More importantly, I had boosted my immune system, and detoxed both body and mind. I couldn’t wait to get back on the raw wagon and start preparing healthy meals again. Sure, eating 100% raw is more time consuming and involves some actual planning with your meals, but the results are so worth it.
And once you get the hang of sprouting, dehydrating and juicing, it’s no more difficult than traditional cooking. Armed with a couple of new raw recipe books, I am busy preparing oriental noodle bowls, raw pizza, and mouthwatering maki rolls—each with distinct flavor profiles. I’ve found the key is lots of variety, and with no shortage of fresh produce in Costa Rica, I’m on track to a cleaner, healthier lifestyle.