By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Ritual: Among the Cleansers
I’m flopping around the polished wood floor of an airy mid-Wilshire flat, thinking how weird it is that when a perfect stranger tells me to act like a frying fish, I not only do it, I know how to do it. At least, my trout-on-a-hot-griddle looks like everybody else’s in my yoga cleanse class.
It’s Day 3 of my venture into detoxification, or cleansing, part of the current Hollywood “wellness” buzz. Cleansing emerged out of the enema-bag-and-juice-fast fog of California’s food-faddist history. Strangely, it’s enjoying new life on the spa circuit.
The theory is that stress and pollution accumulate in the body as toxins that must be purged or they will surface as fatigue, malaise or disease. I’m skeptical. Quackwatch Web site describes detoxification as “unscientific” and “irrational.” Cleansing also has disturbing ties to the Christian Right (“With God as our main Partner,” one colon-cleaning product advertises) and to multilevel marketing. And many cleansers harbor an odd fascination for their own bowels and body wastes.
On the other hand, I’m not one to pass up a shot at “a state of optimal health, vitality and aliveness” just because the ad copy sucks. Besides, my cleanse coach, Becky Levin, does not give off that irritating Santa Monica yoginazi vibe. She’s charming. And I always wanted to try kundalini yoga, with its exotic promise of “unleashing the serpent” energy within. I have no idea what that means, but it sounds cool.
Day 1: I consult the supply list in my cleanse manual and go shopping. I can’t find umeboshi-plum vinegar (why do health-food people like weird food?), but I locate nearby Cuban and Mexican juice bars to drink my three-cup-a-day allotment of freshly squeezed (within 20 minutes) juice.
When I walk into yoga class I’m surprised to see several men among my fellow cleansers; yoga retreats are usually estrogen-rich affairs. The guy next to me wears a maroon sweatshirt with the words Truth Seeker. He introduces himself as “Zen.” He and two of the other guys have a ä clothes-design business; another cleanser is Will Smith’s chef. No one else mentions work, which is good, because cleansing turns out to be pretty much a full-time job: making or buying fresh juice, whipping up special cleanse beverages, popping handfuls of homeopathic and nutritional supplements, and cooking vegetables and grains.
The kundalini is less a workout than an ordeal: deceptively simple arm and leg motions repeated over and over until they hurt very, very badly. I’m not used to music with my yoga, and world Muzak at that.
Day 2:Today I try to buy cleanse-approved grains: millet and quinoa. Why not spelt? I wonder bitterly, eyeing the medieval-sounding labels on the health-food store’s bulk bins. Quinoa — pronounced, annoyingly, “keen-wah” — cooks up into a soggy mush. There’s a reason normal people eat rice and wheat, I grumble.
Day 3:I open my cleanse book to find in bold letters: NO MORE NUTS OR SOYBEANS. I don’t care about the nuts, or God forbid, the soybeans, but I hate dietary admonitions. Our other yoga teacher, Guru Tej, keeps issuing warnings about healing crises. I don’t want to have a crisis. I feel great. As class ends, several people start a pillow fight. I’m beginning to feel comfortable.
Day 4: Millet couscous! A cleanse dish I can love. At yoga, we play a clapping game where we have to stare at each other for several minutes; it’s surprisingly hard to maintain eye contact.
Becky turns out to be a Midwestern Jewish girl (Chicago; both parents were high school teachers; her father later opened a head shop). She came to L.A. to be in “talent relations,” hated Hollywood and found kundalini instead. Landing at the American Sikh headquarters in New Mexico, the big cheese, Yogi Bhajan, told her go to India. Her final image before leaving was of her mother, reaching her arm through the window of her rental car, screaming, “Don’t go!”
Becky lasted a year, returned to the U.S. and decided against becoming a full-fledged Sikh. Instead, she’s using cleanse “technology,” as she refers to it, to become financially independent for the first time (she’s 32). Her parents are pleased.
Becky assures me the cleanse is “scientifically grounded” and based on “thousands of years of research,” but when she talks about the 10 subtle bodies, becoming pure light and contacting the infinite, my eyes glaze over. And yet, I’m beginning to get those kundalini buzzes they talk about. We close with the kundalini theme song, a syrupy soft-rocker, the kind of music I usually hate. Becky tells us to sing it for someone we love. My eyes well up.
Day 5: So much for my high energy. I spend the day either eating or sleeping. I dream I’m a silver ball in a revolving wooden box, trying to keep from falling through the hole.
Day 6: It’s greens day: green vegetables and limited fruits only. I was cooking for myself, but today decide to order from chef Elisa Gross, of L’oven Life, a caterer, also a friend of Becky’s. Stuffed artichoke with dipping sauce, salad with dressing, broccoli-leek soup, baked apple — what was I waiting for? Still, after dinner, I chug herbal tea to stave off hunger pangs.