I never thought I would be brave enough to go on a fasting retreat, but sometimes curiosity does the trick. Only later did I realise that our relationships with food tend to be just as complicated as relationships with other humans, and the best way to sort them out is to spend some time apart from this needy partner.
And so off I went away from it all, away from the tonnes of foods of all sorts we are being constantly seduced by in the city.
Anamchara is a fasting detox retreat at Moorleaze Farm, a set of beautiful cosy cottages nestled into the picturesque Somerset countryside. Being embraced by unspoilt nature definitely helps when you go through a myriad of things in your body and mind as your seven or 14-day detox retreat goes by.
There are many reasons to do a fasting retreat other than curiosity. I personally wanted to gain a sense of lightness and purity in my body, give my digestive system a break, and recalibrate my mind - lately it had been producing far too many thoughts per second. Relaxing and resting goes without saying.
The people I met on the retreat at Anamchara were there for various other reasons, from weight loss to stress relief to dealing with specific health conditions. One thing in common for everyone was the desire for some change in their lives to occur. If you are after those things, you couldn't be in a better place.
When I say fasting, I don't exactly mean that. Those scared of suffering from the lack of key nutrients should rest assured that Anamchara is not that kind of fasting-on-water-only retreat. We were having five yummy juices a day which were bursting with vitamins and other important micro-elements, and provided us with 500 calories daily. Multi-coloured combination of beetroots, carrots, cucumbers, pears, apples and ginger was something we all looked forward to every couple of hours. The juices were coming at a price though; each glass was preceded by two spoonfuls of Psyllium Husks, a natural plant fibre. The rational reason for taking it was very encouraging: when mixed with water, it expands in the stomach, giving you a feeling of satiety (helpful during the fast). On top of that, it acts as an internal broom cleaning out the colon walls from all the unprocessed food and toxins. Not so encouraging was the taste of it however, especially when you have it five times daily. Two times a day we were also given Spirulina tablets, one of the best sources of protein in the nature. That one wasn't so bad.
One key part of the detox process that had to be done twice daily was colonic irrigation. The fact that it was a self-administered process, done by each guest in the privacy of their own bathrooms made everyone feel better about it.
Without going into too much detail, it is an internal cleansing bath that you give your colon, allowing for water to course through the entire organ in a gentle flow, flushing out anything your body no longer needs from your colon.
This self-administered procedure can sound and look unusual to those who have never done it before. But once you have been explained how to do it and what the benefits are, you realise that there couldn't be anything more natural than getting rid of the stuff you body no longer needs. In fact, colonic irrigations are recommended to be done regularly (ideally at the end of each season).
Amongst other healthy pleasures at the retreat were various body treatments, from full body massage to shiatsu to acupuncture. My full body massage was heavenly, just what I needed on day one of the retreat to completely relax and surrender, getting ready for the detox experience. An abdominal massage is also highly recommended as it can assist the elimination process during the colonics.
There is a lot going on at the Anamchara retreat every day; however you are free to spend your time as you wish. The retreat organisers had been constantly reminding us that we are here to fast and detox, and should be careful not to overload ourselves with too many activities.
During the few days of my stay at Anamchara I went through an intense self-discovery process under the theme of "letting go".
It all started when I first signed up for the retreat, thinking how I am going to be able not to eat for few days. Luckily, I've managed to get rid of that worry right away on arrival; the person I was sharing the cottage with had been there for four days already, and to my surprise looked completely normal. When I asked her how she feels, she said that you don't actually feel hungry, with all the juices and Psyllium Husks that you take five times a day. It turned out to be true, and the thought of starvation never bothered me since then. I was also lucky not to have any major side effects that some people can experience in the first couple of days as their body gets into the state of detox.
On some level, the colonic irrigation experience was the physical manifestation of the "letting go" journey. After all, our emotions tend to get trapped in the body, and every now and then need to be released.
The more challenging one for me was mental relaxation; being able to stop and let go of unnecessary worries and invasive thoughts; learning to pull the break on my constant desire to plan things intensely and get stressed when the planning doesn't work; reminding myself that sometimes I should just go with the flow.
I came back to London with a very vivid feeling of lightness in my mind and body, which was beautiful. My mind calmed down, my emotional state was much more balanced, and my belly felt wonderful. My yoga practice also improved as my body was a lot more flexible than usual.
All I was thinking about was how to maintain that marvellous state of inner balance. I started with the purchase of the juicer. I'm also planning to do a one-day fast every now and then. And may be do a full two-week detox retreat one day, when I'm ready to go even further on my inner journey of letting go.