In the days leading up to my first colonic, whenever I would tell anyone that I was going to be getting a colonic, I'd invariably get the same response: "Oh my god, are you nervous? What even happens with a colonic? Can you please make sure to tell me all about it? Oh my god, I'm so excited for you. I'm too scared to do it. But I want to do it. But I get freaked out! You have to tell me all about it!"
This is not what happens when I tell people I'm going to get a facial or try out a new sauna. This type of reaction is singular to getting a colonic, and I have a theory about why even the mere mention of the procedure induces an immediate response of both pure excitement and undeniable terror, and that theory begins and ends with one word: butts. Basically, in my long history of talking about butts, I've noticed that most people tend to get super excited and/or super scared about anything and everything having to do with butts. This is just a fact about the world we live in. And colonics specifically ignite people's curiosity and fear thanks to the fact that the basic elements of the procedure, and its attendant efficacy, are somewhat mysterious to most people, thanks to the fact that it's not something that most people think of as a form of physical maintenance or self-care, like massages or manicures. And while many alternative forms of medicinal treatments, like acupuncture, reiki, and LED therapy, are talked about freely, colonics haven't enjoyed that same kind of public praise—mostly because, I think, people don't want to talk too much about their butts. (Their loss!)
Before telling you about my experience, though, I should break down a few of the basics about colonics, the first of which is definitely that, no matter how much we all might associate colonics with butts, the real body part that's affected by the treatment is actually the gut. It is, of course, the gut which is being cleansed by a colonic, with the colon being part of our digestive system; the last stop on our waste's way out of our body. As Dr. Alejandro Junger explained in an interview with GOOP:
It’s where the final bit of nutrients and water from the food we eat are absorbed into our circulation. But just as importantly, it’s where most of the waste products are eliminated. This isn’t just what’s left of the food that the body does not absorb—the colon actually gets waste from our blood stream, and in a process opposite from absorption, dumps stuff from our circulation into the tube so it is eliminated with the feces.
The colon isn't just home to waste, of course, it's also where trillions of healthy intestinal bacteria flourish (or should flourish if you have a healthy colon), and the colon's health is an essential aspect of our overall physical and mental well-being. Or, as colon therapist Rachel Bastow told me during my colonic, "The gut is the second brain." In other words, how we're feeling down there—clear and clean, say, or strained and impacted—is often reflected in how we're feeling in general. Gastroenterologists at Johns Hopkins University concur, noting that the enteric nervous system (your whole digestive system) comprises over 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract. So when you feel things in your gut, you're, like, really feeling them.
Colonic therapy has been used for thousands of years (there's written records of its use in ancient Egypt, for example), but gained modern popularity about 100 years ago, with many Western medical doctors through the 1920s and '30s advocating its use and having colon hydrotherapy machines in their offices and hospitals, which were gradually replaced by things like enemas and laxatives. In more recent years, colonic hydrotherapy has staged a comeback, with many holistic doctors and centers, like WeCare Spa in California, offering the procedure as a way of aiding in the colon's natural elimination of waste, without negatively affecting the colon's supply of beneficial bacteria and intestinal flora.
The benefits of a colonic can vary from person to person, and it is always strongly advised—particularly if a person has a chronic gastrointestinal problem like Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Crohn's Disease—to check with a medical professional first, but some of the benefits can include relief when it comes to bloating and constipation, an increase in energy, and notably clearer skin. Colonics are usually recommended when someone is on a cleanse and isn't currently in the midst of consuming high levels of fat, alcohol, or sugar; if you are consuming those things, you can still get a colonic, it just might not be as effective—or comfortable.
When I went to get a colonic, though, I was about a week into Dr. Junger's 21-Day Clean Program, and so felt confident that my system could handle and benefit from this jump-start. I won't lie, though: I was still a little nervous. After all, it's not every day that I meet a new person and am, within minutes, naked from the waist down and breathing in deeply so that I can have a tube stuck up my butt. But my nerves quickly abated when I arrived at Bastow's serene Manhattan office. Bastow instantly put me at ease, talking me through any questions I had before beginning the procedure. It helped that she's in possession of a clear, calming energy, which was instantly contagious.
Before I knew it, Bastow had me comfortably positioned on my side on the colonic bed (think: a massage table) and was gently massaging my lower back and advising me to take relaxing, deep breaths, as she expertly inserted the tube. And then it began. The colonic felt like I was getting a water massage inside my gut (butt); the water was warm and, just like in a regular massage, the pressure changed from mild to very, very real in due course. Bastow would tell me when she wanted to fill my colon up with water, and I would tell her when I couldn't take anymore; it felt, unsurprisingly, like I had to... relieve myself. And as soon as I said that I was full, relief came—and it came in the form of waste leaving my body. (Bastow also asked at one point if I wanted to see what it looked like leaving through the tube; of course, I wanted to see! It looked like what you'd expect really. It was mesmerizing, to be honest. I felt cleansed. I'm a visual person, what can I say?)
Since the pressure and release came in gentle, regular cycles, I found myself quickly adapting to its flow and relaxing into it. This was helped by Bastow's soft touch and her use of hot stones to massage the rest of my body. I wouldn't necessarily have believed that a colonic would be one of the most peaceful hour-long experiences of my week, but it really was, and I was a little regretful when it was over. But all good things come to an end, and after changing back into my clothes and feeling lighter than I had in weeks, I also noticed that I felt the kind of buzzing endorphin rush that I feel after running long distances or doing a particularly intense exercise class: I felt like I was floating. It was great. The whole experience had not only been completely pain-free (and, notably, smell-free), it also helped me feel closer to my body and less shame about its natural functions than I had before going in. Look, it's easy to get embarrassed by anything having to do with guts or butts; I understand this. But having experienced now what it's like to get up close and intimate with my gut, I have a deeper appreciation for its many functions, and how integral it is to the way my body works in its entirety.
And bonus? In the week following my colonic, my skin glowed brighter than it had in ages and my bowel movements were regular and I haven't felt even mildly bloated since. There's no set schedule for how many colonics a person should do; Bastow told me that some people do them daily for a while when wanting to deep cleanse, but everyone should consult their colonic therapist individually. However, having experienced the benefits of one colonic, I am confident that I will go back for another. And I'll be ready to answer any questions people might have about them; gut health (and butt health) are not something to keep a secret.