The stresses of modern day life can negatively affect even the most dedicated yogi or yogini who has a squeaky clean diet. Those who have committed to eating a strictly organic diet are still vulnerable to environmental toxins that negatively influence overall health and wellness. It is cliché, but we all know it’s true: most of us are “running in the rat race,” especially in a metropolitan city such as Seattle.  In a metropolitan environment, there never seems to be a “still point.” There is never a moment where the roads are empty, and never a time when all businesses have their lights out.  We have everything available to us 24-hours a day: working, shopping, fitness, and news media. Many people sleep far less than is recommended and upon waking, feel compelled to check their e-mail before even getting out of bed.  Where is the downtime?  Where is that pristine place where there is no car exhaust in our air or pesticides on our strawberries?

Living in the fast lane without time to digest and being in an environment with so many unnatural chemicals is devastating to our well-being.  The result is stress! Stress occurs when our resources are overwhelmed by the demands made upon them.  When a person lives under the pressures of a toxic environment with no downtime, their body tissues and their mind are swimming in a “stress stew” made up of the two main stress hormones: cortisol and adrenaline.  The sympathetic or “fight or flight” nervous system is fully in charge and prepared to react to a threat of basic survival. When under attack (stress), these hormones shunt blood away from the digestive tract to the arms, legs and head, so we can quickly assess a danger, then run away from it. Without downtime or living in a “clean” environment without harsh chemicals, far too many people are constantly dwelling in the sympathetic “fight or flight” nervous system and the “stress stew” is slowly taking a toll on their health.  Below is a list of signs and symptoms of stress.  If you are experiencing several of these signs, it’s time to decompress, and detox your body, mind and spirit before disease sets in.

Top 10 Physical Signs of Stress                                 Top 10 Emotional Signs of Stress

Headache                                                                   Anxiety/worry
Back and chest pain                                                   Restlessness
Pounding heart                                                          Depression
High blood pressure                                                   Job dissatisfaction
Shortness of breath                                                   Resentment/guilt
Muscle aches                                                             Feeling overwhelmed
Stomach upset: constipation, diarrhea                       Seeing only the negative
Sleep problems                                                          Forgetfulness
Sex problems                                                             Feeling on edge all the time
Weight gain or loss                                                    Irritability/Impatience

Much of the toxicity in the tissues of the body originate in that sympathetic “stress” response to the rat race.  For example, lets imagine a mother who is working a full-time job with a 45 minute commute in traffic.  She arrives at her job and is immediately under pressure from her supervisor to complete a big project that has gone over budget and over time.  Just as she is about to head into a very important meeting regarding the project, she gets a phone call from the school nurse saying her daughter has developed a fever and needs to be picked up from school right away.  Mom relates this news to her not-so-pleased supervisor, and leaves to drive the 45 minutes to pick up her daughter.  Along the way, she buys lunch from a fast food drive thru.  Due to the fact that our mother is under stress from work, is concerned for her daughter, has left work early, is driving in traffic again, and is losing pay, she is now dwelling in her “stress stew.” Her sympathetic nervous system has shunted the blood away from her digestive tract therefore making it even more difficult for her body to digest this high-calorie, low-nutritional value meal that she barely tastes due to being distracted while worrying, driving and eating.

Habitual reactivity to the stressors of life create poor eating, sleeping, and exercising habits and leave no time to integrate the emotions stimulated by life’s challenges.  Stress stew leaves behind physical, emotional, and spiritual residue.  In Sanskrit, this residue or toxicity is called Ama. In the nervous system, Ama creates chronic headaches, confusion, anxiety, insomnia and irritability.  In the digestive system, Ama creates irregular digestion, indigestion, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome etc…All of the body systems are ill-affected by Ama, so it is vital to create time in one’s life to cleanse and restore balance.

The ancient teachings of yoga and Ayurveda tell us that completing seasonal detoxification is an excellent way to maintain balance, which translates into health. Stepping out of the “rat race” during seasonal changes gives us the much needed time to retreat, reflect, recommit to positive eating patterns, and digest our life experiences.

A detox retreat can take on many different forms.  For those ready to take small steps out of the rat race, they may simply choose to turn off their technological devices for a day, or perhaps observe how many times in a day they allow the mind to judge or criticize others, or they may retreat from the day-to-day indulgences of that morning cup of coffee coupled with a carbohydrate-loaded breakfast of a bagel on the road to work. These simple steps may be what some need to begin to bring a new level of consciousness to their daily routine.  For others, they may be ready to take a much bigger and bolder step to detoxify their body, mind, and spirit.  An Ayurvedic rejuvenation or Panchakarma cleansing retreat provides a mindful journey of releasing toxic buildup, flushing these toxins from the body system, and cultivating new healthy routines of self-care on every level of one’s being.  Completing a detox retreat provides the opportunity to step into peace, stillness, and quiet reflection while taking herbal formulations to release Ama from the tissues, and re-establish health habits.  Creating calm and ease sets the internal compass and creates an environment suitable for self-reflection.  Look within to fully understand the motivations that have propelled one toward life habits that are counter to sustaining a healthy body, mind and spirit. There is time to breathe, to do one’s yoga practice, to meditate, to reflect upon one’s habits and routines, to eat healthy easy-to-digest foods, and to receive nurturing body treatments.  An Ayurvedic cleansing retreat is like pressing the reset button.  The release of Ama clears the pathways in the body, providing greater resiliency and a healthy responsiveness to life.

As a person returns back to their life after their retreat, they have greater awareness and resources to meet the challenges of life’s unfolding drama without shifting immediately into fight or flight reactivity.  They gain perspective and sharpen their skills of objectivity through cultivated yoga and meditation practice.  Those who have created the positive habit of seasonal cleansing retreats reap the benefits of personal awareness, balance, vibrant health and a joyful spirit.

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[Photo by Adams Homestay Cochin – CC BY]