When my childhood friend Judy invited me on a 2½-day yoga retreat/juice fast, I jumped. A pediatrician on a moshav, she was asked to be the physician and was told that she could participate and bring a partner as compensation. Never in my 16 years of being on the inside of the yoga world had I been invited to a retreat as a guest, and never in all these years of yoga-ing had I partaken in a deep cleansing.
By the time Judy and I got on the road last Thursday, it was almost 3pm, just in time for weekend traffic. Instead of a relaxing 1½-hour ride, we had a stop-and-go 2½-hour ride, winding our way north, finally turning off on a smaller road lined with Arab villages on both sides. Our destination was Kibbutz Tuval, nestled high on a mountain, overlooking dozens of minarets. The wind whistled and rain threatened the horizon. Thanks to WAZE and a printout of the organizers’ instructions, we reached our destination, saw a bunch of parked cars, grabbed our winter coats and raced into the building. Sensing we were the last to arrive, we walked until we spotted shoes on the floor outside closed doors, removed ours and entered. Men and women were seated cross-legged on the carpet, some on pillows, others on mats, in a circle. As soon as we arrived, they looked up.
“At Judy?” a small, dark-skinned woman sitting in lotus asked.
“Ken, ken, anachnu mitztayerim al ha ichur. Ha’aya pkkakim lo normalim,” said Judy, apologizing that we were late because of traffic. The woman smiled and patted an empty place next to her for us to pull up a pillow and sit. I immediately noticed people had drinks in front of them and some were sipping tea. The woman whispered to someone who left and returned with two large plastic cups filled with a deep, beet red juice for us. I took my first sip and decided that whatever was in it tasted good. I could do this juice fast thing, I thought to myself.
The organizers, a husband and wife duo named Assaf and Giovanne, introduced themselves as juicer/food expert and yoga instructor respectively. They asked us to say our names and why we came, how the preparation had gone and what we expected. Their team started first: one massage therapist, one Reiki/body worker, two nutritionists/juicers extraordinaire. Then, one by one, the participants spoke. There were 20 in all, three men and 17 women, including one young mom with her mother-in-law, one older woman with her grown daughter and son and his best friend, one woman and her sister and her sister’s friend. As to be expected, there were a handful of yoga instructors and, surprisingly, a bunch of less fit, less mobile people. Regardless of body composition and ability to move, however, about 90 percent smoked and 95 percent drank at least two cups of coffee a day. Very few mentioned alcohol, and I was the only one who admitted that I battled with sugar. Several were repeat customers, seeking a cleansing for the second, third and fourth time.
After introductions, Giovanne asked for a brave show of hands as to how many people intended to do the recommended enema. Judy and I looked at one another and she shushed me. Neither of us intended to but she didn’t want anyone to know. The first and last time I did one was involuntarily when I gave birth to Benjamin in Haifa almost 19 years ago, and I still remember it. Giovanne explained the importance of the enema, to truly, wholly clean out the intestines, and that, coupled with that, we would be moving our bodies through yoga and dance, relaxing our minds with guided meditations and nurturing our systems with juices and soups, fiber and other yummy treats over the next 48 plus hours.
I listened attentively, concentrating hard on the Hebrew. But every once in a while, I asked Judy to translate: fiber, calcium, small intestine, protein, carbohydrates. After six months in Israel, I had finally grasped anatomy vocabulary for kneecap, shoulder blade, joint, but nutrition was a whole new world. My head was spinning, and I knew I would be working double time.
Assaf took over, telling us that our afternoon juice was made from beets, apples, carrots, herbs and lemon. He explained that hot herbal tea made from I don’t know what was always available in the kitchen and, if we had brought thermoses as the preparation guidelines had advised, we were free to fill them at all times. Every morning we would have a fruit juice, followed shortly after with a shot of apple vinegar, which lowers the acidity in the blood stream, and early afternoon, we would have a measured serving of three different fibers to stir into our apple juice. Lunch was green: apple, pear, cucumber, herbs, colabri, parsley and I am not sure what else and, during the afternoon break, we could fill our thermoses with lemon juice, ginger, cayenne pepper, chili pepper to cleanse the skin. Dinner was miso soup and seaweed. He told us that we would be drinking something every two hours and probably would not feel hungry because of it.
After a short break, we unrolled our yoga mats to practice together as a group. Giovanne told us that for Friday and Saturday, we would be divided: one room for beginners/gentle/practicing less than a year and the other for intermediate/advanced/long-term practitioners. Since I hadn’t read about the retreat beforehand (I tend not to try in Hebrew, resorting to Google Translate only when desperate) and since I had assumed the yoga would be gentle-restorative since we were juicing, I had already practiced earlier that day. Tired as my body was that first evening, I pushed through another practice. Only this one was unlike any other. Giovanne put on music that was rhythmic and mesmerizing with a male voice beseeching us to let go and head to paradise. Called Kundalini yoga, we stood and shook our bodies up and down, bobbing our heads side to side, letting our arms swing freely at our hips to release untapped energy at the base of the spine that can be drawn up through the body awakening each of the seven chakras. At first it felt really silly. I closed my eyes to try and forget where I was and the people around me. We moved. For at least 30 minutes. We stood in place and shook. Endlessly. My breakfast and lunch and early afternoon snack of popcorn and late afternoon beet juice moved downward and slowly emptied out of my system. Then the music changed and we moved through poses that were more or less familiar to me. Then it changed again and we lay down on the floor for the final resting pose. By the time Judy and I got into bed that night, I couldn’t move and somehow still felt full.
Friday we awoke to yet another cold and cloudy day with rain and hail off and on that we watched from the large windows in the room. Despite the heat, which was on full blast, people wrapped themselves in blankets and coats and scarves for more warmth. The day began with meditation and then a shot of Noni, a fruit derived from the Morinda citrifolia tree indigenous to Southeast Asia and Australasia, said to be rich in anti-oxidants and support the immune and cardiovascular system. The Noni was just in time, right as the first pangs of morning hunger were settling into my stomach. I needed a dose of calories, of energy. Not long later, we drank breakfast, which was fruity and sweet and familiar, then headed back to the meeting room for two hours of yoga followed by lunch. Both days were divided by three-hour breaks to rest, do the enema, sleep, relax.
But I couldn’t relax. My belly was rumbling, rolling from top to bottom, as if talking to me, reminding me that juice was jolly but there was nothing like chewing food, swallowing real calories, maybe even a few carbs. Judy slept while I sat with my stomach, trying to read, anything to take my mind off of its emptiness.
When we reconvened later, we learned about the foods to fill up on versus those to stay away from. We went around the room to hear how each person was faring with the juice, the lack of cigarettes/caffeine/alcohol/calories, and, finally, to hear whether or not the enema was effective. I joked about how for me the hardest part was the Hebrew, being totally immersed in it.
Since Friday night was Shabbat, the kitchen staff treated us by putting lit candle votives on every table and blue table cloths and served us two soups—first miso then orange as in carrot, sweet potato, pumpkin. After dinner, we regrouped in the room where Giovanne turned off the lights, turned up the music and we danced. Endlessly. For at least an hour. Twenty something bodies moving all over the room. As if in a trance. That night, when Judy and I returned to our room, overcome by exhaustion, hunger called, reminding me of all the movement we had done during the day combined with the lack of food. I tried to push it away, but it started to scream. Finally, I fell into bed and slept deeply.
Saturday was more of the same, beginning with a shot of another intense, difficult to swallow, foreign fruit juice that cleanses one thing and protects another in the body. There was guided meditation, a breakfast juice, yoga, break for our vinegar shot, lunch, discussion on nutrition, a Q & A. All throughout, people were excusing themselves for the bathroom along with massages and body work and consultations with the team.
My first reminder of hunger hit at the same time as the previous day, when we got to the room for our three-hour break. Again, Judy slept while I fought the urge to steal her car keys and head to the nearest village—Arab or other—for pita and falafel, something to fill me up. Instead, I plugged away at The Seamstress by Frances de Pontes Peebles, about two sisters growing up in Brazil in the late 1920s, each striving to find their own version of happiness. It helped steer my mind in other directions. The sun was finally shining outside, and it warmed me.
Minutes before we were due back for our last session, Judy and I packed up our belongings and lugged them to the car. Refreshed and rested, yet lethargic from hunger after two and a half days of juicing, we were ready to return to a balanced diet—a cup of coffee a day, a cookie or two after lunch (okay, and dinner), a glass of red wine on occasion, a slab of beef every once in a Friday night while, cow’s milk on cereal. My body, I concluded, needs a little bit of everything, all in moderation. Juice fasting was fun, just not for me.
P.S. For juicier details, please email or call me.