Feb. 24, 2010 -- The start of a new year is often a time to go back to the drawing board and address all the health- and beauty-related issues so many of us have been meaning to get to for so long.
But forget fasting, juicing, going raw or going anywhere. Today's wildest detox regimes -- think "rebirthing," salt cave therapy or gold mask therapy -- are so au natural they can be found in your backyard, or even your mind.
One way to get to the new you is to return to when you were brand new. "Rebirthing" claims to do just that.
Rebirthing is a healing process triggered through breathing. Practitioners believe that it is possible to address anything blocking the way to the new and better you through simply breathing. Quite often, they say, problematic issues we deal with in our adult life go back to the moment we came out of the womb and took our first breath.
"For some babies the transition is challenging," said rebirthing practitioner Jane Okondo. "There may be some shock or pain. Very often it is an emotional issue, and that can impact your physical well-being."
Practitioners suggest a series of guided breathing meditations. As you progress, Okondo said, it is not uncommon to revisit your own birth. You may experience it all over again, or simply see it in a new light. Afterwards, the trauma of the experience can fade and, hopefully, cease to reverberate in a debilitating way in adult life.
For a snapshot of rebirthing I visited Okondo at her home in London. I reclined in a comfortable chair and Okondo sat next to me. In a soft, calm voice she guided me through deep breathing techniques. I wasn't trying to breathe in a certain way as much as I was simply focusing how I naturally breathe.
Okondo would point out the moments between inhale and exhale, instruct me to relax my jaw or brow or simply help maintain a vocal cadence to breathe in time as I grew increasingly relaxed (after only a few minutes I must admit I did begin to yawn.) Normally Okondo recommends a series of sessions. One session can help, but as many as five, 10 or more sessions are recommended to really dig deep.
At $130 for each two-and-a-half hour session, rebirthing is not cheap. After the first mini-session I felt more relaxed. When I went to sleep that evening I focused on my breathing to calm myself down into a peaceful sleep. On the feel-good scale, with 1 being couch potato and 10 being a fabulous, detoxified Super Me, I felt closer to the couch potato side. Still, I did feel more relaxed, and all I had to do was breathe.
From Salt Caves to Gold Masks
That was also the theme at my next stop: salt cave therapy. Salt caves have long been believed to be natural healers in many Eastern European countries. In London, I visited the first manmade salt cave to see what all the hype was about. In a room made entirely of salt imported from the Red Sea, tiny particles of sodium chloride are pumped into the air by a micro-climate generator. All you have to do is sit back and relax for an hour. As you inhale, the salt particles are said to infiltrate your lung cavity and work wonders on respiratory illnesses such as sinusitis and asthma.
Jenny Berman has been fighting to keep her asthma in check for most of her life. She says living in an urban environment has taken a toll on her respiratory system. She also found the medications prescribed to fight her asthma only suppressed her symptoms instead of treating them.
"I felt a very subtle change after six sessions," she says. "My lungs just felt lighter." After a dozen sessions she says she stopped using her inhaler and has not had to use it since.
On the feel-good scale? I felt slightly better than a couch potato, even though all I did was recline on a lounge chair and breathe. The recommended 20 sessions will cost you over $1,100, so be prepared to pay for each and every one of those tiny particles of salt.
To step it up I wanted in on a detox secret favored by Egyptian beauty queen Cleopatra. It's said she slept in a gold mask, believing that gold's natural minerals could work anti-aging magic. Today, an exclusive salon in London is offering a modern take on Cleopatra's secret.
John Tsgaris is a doctor of Chinese medicine who offers what's known as the gold facial. At first, it appears not so dissimilar from the average high-end facial. That impression fades with the first treatment.
Each product and even some of the key tools used in the facial contain some element of gold. After my skin had been prepped and my pores opened (a relaxing experience in and of itself), Tsgaris took out a paper-thin 24-carat-gold mask. He placed it on my skin, smoothing pure gold over my entire face. Next he began gently massaging the gold into my skin.
I could see the gold disappear as, apparently, my facial pores absorbed every inch. Then Tsgaris cleansed my face with a gold-infused lotion. Finally, he revealed something straight out of Star Wars: a Storm Trooper-like mask he plugged in after placing it over my face. The entire front lit up in a bright red light, which he said emitted tiny rays into my pores to brighten my skin.
The effect? Smoother lines and buoyancy that he promised would last for up to three weeks. At $650 a pop, my wallet would not be pleased. But on the feel-good scale: 8.
You can go to even stranger lengths to detox your way back to beauty and good health, from soaking in beer in the Czech Republic to being massaged by slithering snakes in Israel. The last one I tired? A bird poo facial. Yes, bird poo.
It's called the "Uguisu No Fun" facial and the main ingredient is Nightingale droppings. Japanese Geishas are said to have favored this odd element for its skin-whitening and brightening properties. It's relatively cheap, at around $20 a bottle, but it is also very pungent -- and I was loath to get it near my mouth. Which for a facial is difficult.