At least once a year, before winter arrives, I take my car in for a tune-up. My mechanic adds fluids, cleans the filters, and returns it to me like it’s brand new. I wouldn’t think of not giving my car this annual cleanup, but offering my body an internal cleanse is admittedly a newer concept.

Holistic health educator and yoga teacher Alison Shore Gaines says that what’s beneficial for our automobiles is just as beneficial for our bodies. “Our liver, kidneys, lungs, lymphatic system—even our skin—are all filters that can become congested with waste,” she says. “Cleansing helps the body to eliminate toxins and waste, which can irritate the tissues and lead to systemic inflammation, an underlying condition present in most chronic disease.”

Alison says signs of congestion or metabolic imbalance that make most people especially good candidates for cleansing are fatigue, indigestion, headaches, constipation, food allergies, and bloating, as well as chronic diseases like diabetes, high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, and coronary artery disease. “These can actually be reversed over time through a healthy diet and lifestyle,” she notes.

During a cleanse, Alison suggests avoiding harder-to-digest foods and substances that enhance metabolic waste, like bread, sugar, dairy, caffeine, meat, processed food, and alcohol, while at the same time following some of these helpful tips:

Hydrate with water and fresh-squeezed lemon. “Lemon water on an empty stomach stimulates the liver to eliminate fats and toxins,” Alison says.

Consume more vegetables, preferably organic. “Veggies are made of fiber and water, so they flush and brush your system,” Alison explains. “Fiber brushes the walls of your digestive system and absorbs toxins.”

De-stress and look inward to understand unhealthy food choices. “Many of our food choices are a result of stress,” Alison says. “Find ways to relax: deep breathing, meditation, nature walks, yoga. When we slow down and connect with our bodies, wisdom emerges innately.”

Five- to seven-day cleanses are safe for about 90 percent of people, according to Alison. “The longer the cleanse, the deeper the effect,” she notes, “but longer cleanses can be more risky.” Alison doesn’t recommend cleansing without supervision for people with eating disorders or those coming off chemotherapy or drug addictions.

But, for the vast majority of people, cleanses can reap major rewards. Over the long term, they can jump-start a weight-loss process and even reverse chronic conditions like high blood pressure, arthritis, coronary artery disease, and acid reflux.

In the short term, the benefits include more physical energy and mental clarity, and a break from highly sugary and salty foods. “Processed food is designed to be especially addictive so, when we cleanse, we get relief,” Alison says. “Our brains work better and we feel more well-being.”

Originally published by Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health