You can reverse your biological age by eliminating toxins from your life. Every impulse of life can be considered in terms of whether it brings nourishment or toxicity. A nourishing experience brings you happiness, expands your awareness, and helps you grow younger. A toxic experience brings misery, makes you feel stuck, and accelerates aging. This is true whether you’re talking about toxic substances, toxic food, toxic relationships, or toxic emotions. An essential step to reverse the aging process is to identify and release toxins from every level of your life.
Aging and illness result from the accumulation of toxic reactions. Scientists now understand that toxic damage to cells and tissues is the consequence of free radicals that are formed whenever oxygen is metabolized. A free radical molecule is an oxygen molecule that’s missing an electron. These hungry chemicals are indiscriminate about how they replace their missing electron, and will strip one from any nearby source, including proteins, fats, or DNA molecules. Under controlled situations, free radicals are useful in metabolizing food and mounting an immune response against invading bacteria. However, the collateral damage of free radical formation is responsible for illness and aging.
Things that increase free radical formation include:
- Environmental pollution
- Radiation, including excessive sunlight exposure
- Barbecued and smoked meats
- Aged and fermented foods
- Chemotherapy drugs
- High intake of saturated and hydrogenated fats
- Stress and stress hormones
We have evolved a sophisticated system to neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals on our bodies. This is called the antioxidant system, and it involves many different enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. When your antioxidant system is fully operational, you’re able to deactivate the free radical molecules before they do harm.
Things you can do to enhance your antioxidant system include:
- Eat more antioxidant-rich foods: fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and beans
- Use antioxidant-rich herbs and spices liberally: dill, coriander, rosemary, sage, thyme, mint, fennel, ginger, and garlic
- Take antioxidant vitamins: A, C, and E
- Eliminate tobacco, excessive alcohol, and nonessential drugs
- Reduce your stress
Relinquishing toxic substances
Human beings have this curious propensity to be attracted to things that are not good for them. Part of this affinity is chemical, for nicotine, illicit drugs, and alcohol mimic natural biochemicals in doses that create cravings when the substance is withdrawn. Part of this tendency may be our childlike resistance to authority figures telling us what is good and bad. Whatever the explanation, once a toxic habit is established, the ritual itself provides reinforcement for the behavior. For example, just the familiar act of pouring a drink or lighting up a cigarette may soothe anxiety. The problem, of course, is that the short-term relief provided by the behavior may predispose us to long-term suffering.
Our experience at the Chopra Center has taught us that in order for someone to release something that’s not serving them well, several components must be in place. In order to unravel a toxic conditioned pattern and replace it with a nourishing one, you will need to systematically reinforce the transformation with your thoughts and choices. There are four critical steps to relinquishing something toxic in your life.
The intention to detoxify
The first important step is to form a clear and strong intention. If you’re not convinced that your life will be better as a result of eliminating something toxic, you won’t have the motivation or will to make the change. It’s best to formulate your intention in a positive rather than a negative way. If you want to stop smoking, state your intention as “I want to breathe more easily and feel comfortable in my body without the need for tobacco,” rather than “I need to get rid of these horrible cigarettes from my life.” If your desire is to stop drinking alcohol, formulate the intention that you wish to feel safe and centered without the need for self-medication. If you want to lose weight, formulate the intention that you want a healthy, fit body. Create a clear vision of how your life will be better as a result of letting go of the toxin. If you’re habitually consuming a toxic substance that you know is not serving you well, make the commitment now to release it. Form a clear intention and reinforce your affirmations:
“I commit to releasing __________________________ from my life, once and forever. Without _____________________ in my life, I look and feel a healthy ___ years old.”
Throughout the day, practice your affirmation and the envisioning of your life free from the toxic habit until your body/mind is spontaneously resonating with this vision for your life. Develop a clear vision of your new reality and create it through all your daily choices.
The second step is to turn the toxic behavior into a mindful meditation. This means shifting into a mode of witnessing awareness while you’re performing the action. If you want to eliminate smoking, focus your full attention on the action. Sit quietly and observe yourself as you slowly reach for your pack, remove a cigarette, light up, and inhale. Feel the sensations in your body and stop when your need has been fulfilled.
Very few people actually enjoy their first smoke or taste of whiskey, which reflects the inherent wisdom of the body. It’s only after you have overridden your body’s signals with false mental messages — “I look cool when I smoke,” “Drinking alcohol makes me grown-up,” “Doing drugs is hip” — that your physiological impulses stop being sent. In its effort to conserve energy, if we don’t heed our internal signals, the body stops sending them. Performing the habitual action with “beginner’s awareness” will help you experience the honest effects of the substance.
The third step is to start a general detoxification program. Set a stop date and use the opportunity to clear both your mind and body. Focusing on purification will help shorten the period of withdrawal discomfort and help your mind and body shift into a healthier mode of functioning. Drink lots of fresh fruit and vegetable juices during this time. Try fruit juices in the morning, mixed fruit and vegetable juices during the day, and vegetable juices and blended vegetable soups in the evening. We often recommend gingerroot tea, prepared by adding one teaspoon of freshly grated root to a pint of hot water. Simplify your diet for a few days, favoring whole grains, steamed vegetables, and lentil soups. Take hot baths or go to a sauna or steam room to encourage the removal of toxins through your skin. Spend at least some time every day walking in a park or along a stream, lake, or ocean. Inhale fresh air, feel the sun on your face, and wiggle your feet in the sand or grass. Directly connect with nature’s purifying influence.
This is a good time to start a healthy daily routine. Commit to meditating twice a day, getting to bed before 10:30 p.m. and rising at sunrise. Drink plenty of water. Begin a regular exercise program. Get some body work to help mobilize the toxins from your body. Start a healthy diet. The more positive things you introduce into your life, the easier it will be to eliminate whatever is toxic.
The final step is to fill the space previously occupied by the noxious substance with something nourishing. We find the most important “thing” to fill the emptiness is the peace, comfort, and awareness that come from meditation. When people who have been indulging a life-damaging habit begin meditating, they often spontaneously lose their desire for the toxic experience. When someone who has relinquished a toxic habit complains that they have started it up again, the first question we ask is, “Are you still meditating?” Invariably the answer is no, often because their life was becoming so dynamic, their meditation time became a lower priority. Regularly accessing the quiet, expanded state of awareness through meditation is an essential component of releasing noxious habits.
Other approaches that can be useful in filling the space left by the habitual behavior include starting an exercise program, taking classes in a subject that’s fascinating to you, and dedicating yourself to healing your relationships. It’s sad how often a toxic behavior that compensates for a lack of love actually reduces the likelihood of finding genuine love. It can be very helpful to join support groups of people who have gone or are going through the transformation you’re seeking. Associate with people who support your healthy choices, and minimize your exposure to those looking to reinforce their toxic habits by disparaging your efforts to change your life.
Release Toxic Emotions
Although we’re all aware of the health-depleting effects of toxic substances and toxic foods, toxic emotions are often the most harmful accelerators of the aging process. Whenever you carry resentment, hostility, regret, or grievances in your heart, your vitality is eroded. Try this simple practice:
- Find a quiet place, sit comfortably, close your eyes, and settle your mind.
- After a little while, bring your attention into your body and scan it for any area of tension or resistance. If you identify a place of congestion, have the intention to let it go.
- Bring your attention into your heart and acknowledge all the things for which you feel grateful.
- Now listen to your heart and ask yourself the question, “What am I carrying with me from the past that is no longer serving me well in the present?”
- If you identify any encumbrances in your heart, have the intention to release them now. Let go of any resentments, grievances, or regrets that you find.
- As you release these toxic emotions, see if you can find the gift that this toxic emotion was hiding. For example, if you felt pain as a result of someone’s behavior, the gift may be that you learned more self-reliance.
- Make the commitment to regularly acknowledge gratitude and relinquish all grievances from your heart.
Encumbering your heart with toxic emotions prevents you from fully experiencing the magic, mystery, and joy that’s available to you right now. Make the commitment to release the resentments, regrets, and grievances that are causing more harm to you than to anyone else.
The process of releasing emotional toxins is similar to that for releasing physical ones. You must first have a clear intention that you want to replace life-depleting emotions with life-enhancing ones. The metabolism of regret and resentment into compassion and forgiveness can dramatically awaken your body, mind, and spirit to your primordial vital energy.
Write about the history that created the toxic emotion, describing both what happened and how you feel as a result of the situation. Studies have shown that journaling about upsetting emotional experiences can improve your immune function, as well as help you gain clarity and insight. In his book Nonviolent Communication, psychologist Marshall Rosenberg teaches an emotional vocabulary that avoids victimization. Steer clear from words like abandoned, abused, neglected, and mistreated; instead, describe the actual feelings of anger, sadness, loneliness, and fear that the circumstance evoked.
Once you have written about the circumstances leading to the toxic emotions, perform some physical ritual with the intention of releasing the hold these feelings have on your soul. Do some deep breathing, get a massage, pound a pillow, dance with abandon, or go for a long run until your body has released the tension that’s stored with the emotion. Then open your heart to feelings that generate the age-reversing emotions of forgiveness, harmony, laughter, and love rather than the entropy-evoking ones of anguish, resentment, regret, and despair.
Toxic emotions are often the most harmful accelerators of the aging process. Commit to releasing them from your heart and mind.
Transform or release toxic relationships
You may, at times, find yourself in relationships that are laced with conflict. Although you may enjoy the passion and drama these relationships generate, over time, they’ll inevitably make you feel older and depleted. It’s essential that you transform toxic relationships into nourishing ones. If you accept that reality is a selective act of perception and interpretation, the most empowering way to transform a relationship is to change the way you view the other person.
Every relationship is a mirror that can show you some aspect of yourself. When you’re engaged in conflict, ask yourself, “What is this situation telling me about my own nature?” Try this simple exercise that can be helpful in revealing the hidden meaning in a difficult relationship.
Write down as many traits as you can think of that describe the person with whom you’re having problems. Now look again at each descriptive word and see which ones create an emotional charge in you. For example, you may have described someone as: controlling, argumentative, needy, uncompromising, unappreciative, and stubborn.
As you review your list, you may see traits that really irritate you: controlling, needy, unappreciative, and stubborn. Now, look at yourself. Are these words that others might use to describe you? Do you have the tendency to reflect these traits? Have you expressed these qualities in the past? More often than not, the traits that bother you the most in another person are the ones you try hardest to deny in yourself. As you embrace these darker qualities in your own heart, you may find yourself less inclined to judge someone else for expressing them. As you relinquish your judgment and interpretation, you may open to the possibility that there are other qualities that may be attractive in the person — qualities that you have not allowed yourself to see.
Meeting your needs
Relationships thrive when both parties feel their needs are being met, and struggle when they are not. Put very simply: you feel good when your needs are being met and bad when they are not. Not getting your needs met leads to stress, toxic emotions, and toxic relationships. Learning to express your needs and emotions in a healthy way fosters nourishing relationships and reverses aging.
As infants, we expect our caregivers to fulfill our needs, even if we don’t know what they are. We wail a few times and anticipate Mother scrambling to determine if we are hungry, cold, tired, bored, or just want to be held. We carry these same desires into adulthood and become hurt, frustrated, angry, or depressed when our lovers, friends, or associates are unable to immediately figure out what we need and give it to us. This is not an approach that is likely to be successful. Let’s explore a more effective way to express your needs and emotions.
The dialogue of needs
The humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow described five basic needs that drive us all. First, we have basic physiological needs, such as food, water, and protection against extreme heat or cold. Once these needs are met, we are motivated by the need for safety and security. We all want to feel protected from physical and emotional harm. The third need is social: the need for community, friendship, love, and belonging. As these needs are met, we have the need for self-esteem. At this level, achievement, respect, recognition, and status are sought. The final need is to find meaning, beauty, and wisdom in life. Maslow called this final step self-actualization. In Eastern traditions, this is the state of enlightenment.
Self-actualized people are accepting, spontaneous, natural, and simple. They are dedicated to a life of meaning and creativity. They are as comfortable alone as they are in intimate personal relationships. They are playful and laugh easily. They know how to meet their needs.
In Nonviolent Communication, author Marshall Rosenberg describes a simple process to enhance the chances of getting your needs met. Whenever your needs are not met and you become upset, first ask yourself, “What am I observing?” Rather than saying to the other person, “You’re always late to every date!” say, “We agreed to meet at noon and you didn’t arrive until 12:30 p.m.” Separate your judgments and evaluation from your observations and you’ll be less likely to trigger defensiveness.
The second step is to identify what you’re feeling. Develop a rich emotional vocabulary that doesn’t make you a victim. Avoid words that require someone else to be there for you to experience your emotions — such as ignored, rejected, neglected, abandoned, or abused. You’re empowered when you say you feel alarmed, annoyed, exhausted, frightened, lonely, outraged, or sad, but you give away your power when you use the vocabulary of the victim.
The third step is to determine what you actually need from the situation. If you can’t be clear on what your needs are, it’s very unlikely that the other person is in a position to figure it out.
The fourth step is to formulate a specific request. Ask for what you need as specifically as possible. Rather than demanding, “You need to spend more time with me or else!” rephrase it in the form of a request: “Are you willing to come home an hour early from work Wednesday afternoon so we can take a walk together?” People are much more likely to respond to a request than a demand.
We would add a fifth step to Dr. Rosenberg’s original four. Whether your request is met or not, ask yourself, what is the gift in this situation? What can you learn from this circumstance about yourself and life? What is the lesson that can raise you to a higher level of awareness? Find the gift, even if it’s not the one you originally anticipated.
Make the commitment to communicate your needs consciously, and you’ll waste a lot less energy in conflict. Accept your differences as a cause for celebration, rather than finding it necessary to make the other person wrong. Because we believe that cultivating loving relationships is such an important component of reversing the aging process, we devote an entire step to it in Chapter 10 of Grow Younger, Live Longer.
Make the commitment to eliminate toxins from your body, mind, and soul — including toxic relationships and emotions. Identifying and releasing toxins from every level of your life will help you reverse the aging process and give you access to your inner reservoir of unlimited energy, creativity, and vitality. You’ll feel younger, and you’ll function like a much younger person, too. We welcome you on this journey to renewal and look forward to hearing about your success.
Ayurveda recommends a total detoxification program known as Panchakarma, which means “the purifying actions.” The full program as offered at the Chopra Center prescribes a systematic process to identify, mobilize, and eliminate stored toxins in the body. Luxurious oil massages are followed by heat treatments and then some type of eliminative procedure to discharge toxins through the digestive tract or nasal passages.
You can perform a gentle detoxification program at home by following these steps:
- Follow a simplified diet for five days with plenty of steamed vegetables, grains, and lentil soup. Eliminate fried foods, fermented foods, dairy and animal products, and refined carbohydrates during this time.
- For three days, eat sesame seeds and golden raisins to lubricate your digestive tract. Prepare a one-to-one mix of 1/8 cup of white sesame seeds and 1/8 cup of golden raisins. Ingest a teaspoon of the mixture one hour before or two hours after each meal. If you have any trouble digesting seeds, take 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil with three to four raisins three times a day.
- Drink plenty of ginger root tea by grating one teaspoon of fresh ginger root per pint of hot water and sipping it throughout the day. It is easiest if you get a thermos bottle so you can keep the tea with you. Try drinking at least one liter per day.
- On the evening of the fourth day, massage yourself from head to toe with a few drops of warm oil, and soak in a hot bath.
- Around 10 p.m., take a teaspoon of yogurt with a dose of standardized senna extract. We recommend Senokot. Most people will get a good elimination with four tablets before bedtime. Expect a few loose bowel movements within the next six to eight hours.
- Eat lightly the next day, gradually reintroducing more complex foods into your diet.
I am reversing my biological age by eliminating toxins from my physical and emotional bodies. I put this into practice by:
- Eliminating all toxicity from my diet and drinking two to three liters of water every day.
- Learning to handle emotional turbulence.
- Healing or eliminating toxic relationships.
Every day in every way, I am increasing my mental and physical capacity. My Biostat is set at a healthy ___ years of age. I look and feel a healthy ___ years old. I am reversing my biological age:
- By changing my perception of my body, its aging and time;
- Through two kinds of deep rest: restful awareness and restful sleep;
- By nurturing my body through healthy foods;
- By using nutritional complements wisely;
- By enhancing mind/body integration;
- Through exercise; and
- By eliminating toxins from my life.
This article has been edited and excerpted from Grow Younger, Live Longer: 10 Steps to Reverse Aging by Deepak Chopra, M.D. & David Simon, M.D. This excellent book teaches you you to maintain a youthful mind, cultivate flexibility, reawaken sexual energy, change your perceptions, improve your physical and emotional well-being, and enjoy a restful sleep. Since the experience of divorce is usually a toxic one, this book is vital for separated and divorced people.