We can Spring clean our homes until they’re sparkly and fresh, but what if we can’t take the trash out?
We can think of our bodies similarly. The first of seven steps in the Therapeutic Order of Naturopathic Medicine is to “Establish the Foundation for Optimal Health.” A big part of this means nourishing and supporting our organs of elimination – those places where the trash is taken out. Through a combination of straightforward home practices and big-picture diet considerations, we can go a long way in building a solid base for health and wellness.
Organs of Elimination
Specifically, we’re looking at:
- The lungs: Are you taking ample deep breaths throughout your day?
- The nervous system: Are you expressing your emotions fully and appropriately? How about finding some joy and pleasure in your day-to-day?
- The gastrointestinal system and liver: Are you pooping every day? Yup – this is a huge reflection of overall health. Are there clues that your liver detoxification pathways could use some support like constipation or premenstrual syndrome?
- The urinary tract: How’s your hydration game? Is your urine bright yellow or pale in color?
- The skin and lymphatics: Do you get warm, sweat and move your body regularly?
Foundational Basics: Home Practices and Diet Considerations
Breath Our goal here is 5-7 deep breaths per waking hour, if you can tolerate this*. Start in a comfortable seated position, spine straight and shoulders relaxed. Inhale deeply through your nose, filling your belly. Exhale through your nose for twice as long as your inhale. For example, inhale to the count of 4 and exhale to approximately the count of 8. Follow your breath – don’t force it. Breathing like this supports your lungs in processing the emotion of grief and ramps up the parasympathetic side of your nervous system – the side responsible for resting, digesting and healing.
*Note: There is a large body of work surrounding polyvagal theory which is important to mention here. For some people, taking deep breaths is anxiety-provoking or it may put them into a deeper “functional freeze” state (credit to Irene Lyon’s work for this term). In these situations, what’s needed is highly-individualized. Kimberly Ann Johnson explains that in women there is frequently a need for activating the sympathetic nervous system some – a healthy expression of fight or flight energy that may have been held in historically. Discuss what’s best for you and your personal nervous system with someone familiar with somatic experiencing or polyvagal theory.
Hydration What’s your bodyweight? Divide that number in half. That’s the number of ounces of water you ought to consume each day. This is assuming you don’t have a chronic condition where fluid intake needs to be monitored closely – always consult your doctor with any questions. If you drink coffee, up your water to make up for this, too. Filtered water is best and herbal teas count towards your goal. Finally, aim to drink the bulk of water 30 minutes away from meals to avoid diluting your stomach acid.
Food Hygiene Consciously smell your food as you prepare it. This stimulates digestive enzyme salivary amylase in your mouth which gets your digestion off to a good start. Eat in a relaxed environment and express gratitude. Chew your food 20-30 times per bite – work towards this especially if you have any gastrointestinal concerns. You aren’t what you eat, but rather you are what you eat, digest, absorb and assimilate (turn into energy).
Dry Skin Brushing Using a fiber brush you want to brush all of your skin, beginning at your fingers and toes and moving towards your heart. Use short, light and frequent strokes. This accelerates lymphatic drainage and feels invigorating. I like to do this in the evening when it’s time to change into PJs.
Hydrotherapy End your steamy hot shower with a 30-second cool water spray, starting with your hands or feet and moving toward your heart. This simple water therapy supports your lymphatics and tonifies the immune system. Pro-tip: Think of a favorite song and sing it to yourself (or out loud!) while moving through the cool water. Quickly and vigorously towel-dry to avoid catching a chill.
Play Do something daily that brings you joy and pleasure. There aren’t “guilty” pleasures here – do whatever it is you enjoy!
Movement Outdoors Aim to move your body for at least 30 minutes daily, outside in Nature if possible, for added mental/emotional health benefits. Cross-crawl motion (in which your opposite arm and leg go forward – as in walking or running) is a powerful tool in processing stress. We want movement practices to include cardiovascular work (get that heart pumping!), weight-bearing exercises and flexibility. Work with your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen to ensure safety!
Castor Oil At bedtime (or any 30-minute time frame in your day), rub a small amount of castor oil directly over your liver and abdomen. Cover it with an old t-shirt and go to bed, or let it soak in for at least 30 minutes if it’s another time of day. Some people enjoy applying heat on top of the t-shirt with a warm water bottle or heating pad – this will enhance the benefit. Do this daily as there’s a cumulative benefit – at least 4-5 days per week. Castor oil supports liver detoxification pathways, your gastrointestinal system and enhances lymphatic flow.
Sleep Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day and to get 8 hours each night – routine is key here. Discontinue screen time 30 minutes before bed and sleep in a completely dark room. This is central to supporting your body’s restorative abilities.
Diet Fruits and vegetables: 4-5 servings daily. Eat the rainbow. Include cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, collard greens and kale). Buy organic when possible, especially the heaviest pesticide-laden foods as identified each year by the Environmental Working Groups “Dirty Dozen” list. Spices, fresh herbs, onions, garlic, ginger and turmeric: incorporate as much as you can! Average plate distribution: 1/2 vegetables, 1/4 protein and 1/4 whole grain plus healthy fats (including grass-fed butter, nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado). Kerrygold is a great grass-fed butter brand. Protein with every meal will support blood sugar regulation, energy, mood and hormone health (Think: pastured meat and eggs, wild-caught fish, legumes).
There you have it! Returning to these ideas time and time again reminds us that when it comes to our health, at the root of it, we have a great deal of responsibility and power in our own hands. Of course, sometimes additional intervention and care is needed – there are six more steps outlined in the Therapeutic Order of Naturopathic Medicine! But, let’s not skip ahead to fancy protocols without always honoring Foundational Basics. Let’s also continue working to address social determinants of health as it’s glaringly obvious that not all individuals can implement or access the above recommendations as easily as others – and this is society’s issue.
As always, if you have questions or comments – please drop a note below.