New Year: Detox away... just don't get sold a load of snake-oil
The party's over, and now it's time to do penance. The first days of the new year are the time when we long to be purged of the festive excesses we've indulged in over the last few weeks. We've sinned, so we want to suffer - well, just a little bit - and we want to cleanse ourselves.
So what do we do? Roll naked on the icy ground and self-flagellate with birch branches, Swedish-style? No chance. As last summer's skinny-dippers discovered to their cost, the PSNI takes a very dim view of public nudity. God knows how they'd react to nakedness with an added hint of masochism, but let's just say that a stint on the sex offenders' register wouldn't exactly be a bright, healthy start to 2015, would it? And besides, birch twigs hurt.
We don't really want anything demanding or painful, anything that asks too much from us. We want a new year regime that will makes us feel thin and dynamic and energetic - physically and spiritually refreshed - with the absolute minimum amount of effort on our part.
Which is why so many of us fall for the bogus charms of the New Age detox merchants. January is their peak selling period. These snake-oil salesmen and women are ready and waiting to reel us in - guilty, gullible fools that we are - with delightful promises of karmic rebirth, healing journeys and all the other things you need for a sparkling new you.
Don't worry, this medicine tastes sweet. The only place it'll hurt you is in the wallet.
Take two tablespoons of powdered green sea-algae twice a day and watch your longevity double! Feeling sluggish after too much Baileys and eggnog? Try colonic irrigation - it gives your liver and gall-bladder a workout and flushes those deadly toxins away! You know what they say: when your colon is clean as a whistle, your soul will be free as a bird.
Or how about a "consciousness cleanse", as part of a specially-designed holistic retreat? Fuel your soul, eliminate toxic energy and release the true natural radiance of your inner being!
It's all high-flown rubbish, of course. Science has comprehensively shown that detoxing does not work. Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, says that the term 'detox' has been "hijacked by entrepreneurs, quacks and charlatans to sell a bogus treatment that allegedly detoxifies your body of toxins you're supposed to have accumulated". Your own organs - liver, kidneys, lungs - are the only things you need to naturally rid the body of impurities, and they're well up to the task without any assistance from a seaweed smoothie, or some bloke wafting 'sacred' smoke up your chakras.
Look, I'm not a total sceptic when it comes to 'alternative' therapies. I've been doing yoga on and off for the best part of 10 years, and according to Time magazine, I should do it a lot more. It says that taking up yoga should be everyone's New Year's resolution because it works wonders for the body. New gold-standard research shows that compared to people who don't exercise, those who did yoga showed "significant improvement" in their BMI, blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol.
Yoga isn't just about improving your physical health; in fact, I practise it as much for its calming mental benefits as for its muscle-honing, flab-busting properties. But while I love my current bright and breezy class in Belfast, previous yoga teachers have had me hammering on the door to get out when they started communal chanting in Sanskrit, or asking Mother Earth to receive and consume our cast-off negativity.
Perhaps the public appetite for this kind of guff - usually borrowed, pick 'n' mix style, from a variety of Eastern faiths, with a pinch of pagan mysticism for luck - is fuelled by the decline in Christianity. Yes, even here in stalwart Ulster, the faithful are dropping by the wayside. They're discovering that it's much nicer, and easier, to believe in personal angels that help you park your car and choose what to buy for dinner in Tesco, than to kneel in a draughty church and confess your sins to God, and worse still, atone for them.
This is candy-floss religion with all the trouble taken out: all you have to do is lie back and drink in the love (or receive the irrigation tube). Enjoy. Just remember, though: there's no such thing as a miracle cure.